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Abe Cripps and Jocelyn Fredlund
Abe Cripps
"Abe and Joc's Chinese Odyssey"

Abe Cripps cycled in Yunnan with Bike China Adventures.

copyright © Abe Cripps, 2003


We just got back from our 8-day biking tour of the Yunnan province. I was planning on emailing during the entire trip, but the Internet in China isn't incredibly useful. Most North American web sites are blocked due to political censorship. Therefore, I'll be sending messages in day-long segments, chronicling our entire trip.

Kung Hay Fat Choy! Yesterday, by the bye, was the first day of Chinese New Year. You can now say goodbye to the year of the horse, and hello (or bahh!) to the year of the goat. So far the New Year isn't incredibly interesting. We saw a parade on Harbour Road yesterday, but it might as well have been a Canada Day parade in downtown Calgary, with cheerleader troupes from Canada, and California, and British style marching bands. Nothing incredibly Asian.

Anyhoo, on with the trip:


We arrived in Hong Kong after a gruelling 24 hours on various planes and in various airports. Still a fairly good trip (free alcohol on international flights. Whee!). When we touched down in Hong Kong it was a balmy 20C, palm trees swaying peacefully, etc.. Quite a nice change from Edmonton. We spent one day in Hong Kong with Jocelyn's parents, did a bit of touring around the city, and rested after the flight. The next day, we were off to Mainland China.

The actual process of entering China was virtually painless. We hopped on the KCR commuter train in Hong Kong, and 35 minutes later we were standing at the border in Shenzhen (Shenjen). We worked our way through customs, still quite painless, and emerged into China! I've experienced a few culture shocks before, but this was unbelievable. All of the english\cantonese signs we had seen in Hong Kong were completely gone. EVERYTHING was written in script. We knew we had to find bus #101, ride it to the Hualien Daisha building, and transfer to the airport shuttle. Great! Swell! What was the Cantonese symbol for Hualien Daisha again? Oh, that's right, I DON'T HAVE A FREAKIN CLUE!!! We then proceeded to wander aimlessly around the outside of the train station for twenty minutes or so, looking at various bus stops, and trying to decipher the map in the Lonely Planet. We would occasionally have people come up to us, and warn us about pickpockets, then run away! After what seemed like forever, we somehow happened to stumble on a large parking lot filled with buses. We managed to find bus 101. Hooray! Too bad we had no idea how much the bus cost, or when to get off the bus, or why those three children kept laughing at us. Apparently we looked as pathetic as we felt, because an extremely nice man got off the bus, and said we looked like we needed help. We told him where we needed to go. He said he was going to the same place, so we should just get off the bus when he got off. (He also mentioned the fare was 2 yuan each. 5 Yuan = $1 CAD.) I can honestly say I have never felt so proud of myself for having caught a bus before. We sat on the seat, and waited for our stop. If that guy hadn’t helped us, I'm pretty sure we'd still be riding around on that bus somewhere. The only indication of each stop was a horrendous squawking from a loudspeaker in the roof, which I'm sure even the Cantonese-speaking people couldn't understand. Anyway, we arrived at the Hualien Daisha building, which in Cantonese bus language is apparently "mwaa mwamwa mwa, mwa mwa mwa mwamwamwamwa". Our new best friend got off, and we followed. After that, it got a lot easier. We caught the airport shuttle, emerged at the airport, found our plane with a small amount of fuss (Took us a while to figure out Chinese airports, which are QUITE different from any other country), and took off for Kunming.

On our arrival at Kunming, we met our guide, Godspeed. He was extremely friendly, albeit a little on the young side (he had reached the tender age of 19). We took a taxi to the first hotel of our trip. Quite a few surprises awaited us there. All of the hotels we stayed at were 2 stars or less. This one was pretty standard as Chinese hotels went. No heat in the rooms, the water cooler leaked (tap water is poison in China, unless your childhood dream is to become infested with intestinal parasites), the toilet plugged constantly, and the whole room smelled of Dank. Sound pleasant? It was. Actually, it was one of the nicer rooms during our trip. So once we made it into this vacation paradise, we unpacked our things and got ready for bed. OR SO WE THOUGHT!!! No sooner had we turned off the light, than the phone started ringing. Being a naive country bumpkin from Edmonton, I answered the phone. There was some pleasant sounding woman on the other end of the phone speaking Mandarin to me. I said "I'm sorry, I don 't understand". She said something else in Mandarin. I said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand". She said yet something else in Mandarin. I said "Uh, ok!". She continued to talk, so I eventually hung up.

After that wonderfully stimulating conversation, I felt quite fatigued, and settled myself down for a long chinesewinterwhichisactuallymorelikecanadianspring's nap. When out in the hall there arose such a clatter, yadda yadda. I got up, went to the door, and looked out into the hall. What should I find there, but a middle aged prostitute, looking resplendent in her skintight mini skirt, and 15 metric tonnes of makeup. I looked at her, she looked at me. I said "um, hello?" She said something that sounded oddly familiar, as though I had just heard in minutes before. I believe the sentence she used included the word "momma". I thanked her for her concern, but declined. She giggled. The door closed, and I went back to bed. What did we learn from this little adventure, children? NEVER SAY "OK" INTO A PHONE WHEN SOMEONE IS ASKING A QUESTION IN A LANGUAGE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!!!

Anyway, that completes the first day in a 9 day Odyssey across the Yunnan Province of China. I'll tell you about Day 1 of the trip later on this afternoon. I will also attempt to attach some photos of our pre-trip adventures.

No, it's not the world's easiest "Where's Waldo". This is the Tsim Sha Tseui district in Hong Kong. (That's Jocelyn's dad, by the way).

Kowloon Harbour in Hong Kong. Kinda smoggy, but still nice.

Our first hotel room. It looks nice, but that's because you can't smell the dank.

Day 1 - Around Kunming

After a somewhat decent night's sleep in Kunming, we awoke to the sounds of blaring horns and more blaring horns. China is a very interesting place. Our hotel was located on a fairly busy street, filled with traffic of all kinds (mostly bicycles and taxi's), bright lights of restaurants, clubs, etc. The noise was incredible... until almost exactly 11:00 p.m, when POOF! All the lights went off, all the traffic left, and all the people went home. I had noted earlier, upon landing at Kunming airport, that judging by the lights of the city, Kunming was barely more than a quaint fishing village. This is quite remarkable, considering Kunming houses several million people. Being a down-and- out communist country, amenities such as electricity are fairly precious. Therefore, if you don't need a light, why have one? Massive areas of the city are plunged nightly into almost total darkness, save a few measly streetlights every 3 blocks or so. Needless to say, street noise wasn't much of an issue during this trip.

Back to the story! We awoke, and met the other half of the group (Godspeed our guide, and Mike, a gargantuan Dutch computer programmer from Colorado who looked every bit the part including a beard with AT LEAST 2 years worth of unimpeded growth. -I'm sure I glimpsed a chipmunk nesting in there on at least 2 separate occasions). Godspeed took us around the corner to a small restaurant for breakfast. The restaurant, like every other business in China, had no front door, or even a front wall for that matter. Every single shop, cafe, bank, hotel, etc is open to the world. Even if the place comes with fully functioning doors, they're never closed. Why? Don't have a clue. That's just the way it is. Anyway, we had a wonderful breakfast of large steamed dough buns filled with meat, called baozi (bow-tzu), and boiled milk with eggs thrown into it. It was all very good. I believe the entire meal cost the four of us approximately 2 yuan (Four dollars Canadian). This was to be the norm for the trip; we'd eat like absolute kings (& queen), all for the low low price of a dollar or so. Food is the absolute cheapest thing in China. You could very easily live on less than five dollars a day, eating at exceptionally good restaurants. Ah, what a country!

Chinese Odyssey Day 1.2:

As I recall, we had just finished breakfast, and were preparing for the rest of the day. We first went to an old Buddhist monastery almost directly across from our hotel. It was at least 200 or so years old, and very beautiful, with ornate carved gates, giant incense braziers, and beautiful statues of various Buddha’s. I will attach photos to illustrate my point. After the monastery, we walked through a park directly in the center of the city, filled with old people dancing, young children playing, and every one else of every possible description going about their daily lives. We stopped at a man-made lake, and fed little buns to a flock of rather aggressive seagulls, which bombed us in a constant circle of death, snapping up the crumbs in midair. Only if we hurled the bread directly at the water, would it ever touch.

On the other side of the park was a bird and fish market, which are quite common throughout China. Although you can buy various animals of the eating variety, the primary commodity of the bird and fish market is PETS. We saw gigantic baskets of bunnies, hundreds of noses wiggling in unison. Cats, dogs, parrots, goldfish, lizards, spiders, all for mere pennies. If it were legal transport puppies in your carryon, I might have brought a friend home with me. Ah well, guess I’ll have to settle for the cat (who’s apparently letting Marion pet him, by the by).

To reach all of these areas, we followed Godspeed down twisting alleyways, and along streets so impossibly packed with bicycles, you couldn’t even fathom. Godspeed had wisely decided that instead of unpacking the bikes for the one day we were in Kunming, we would just walk around, and take taxis. We’re glad he chose that course of action. If we had tried to ride in Kunming, I might not be sitting here right now. Rather dangerous, to say the least.

After the bird and fish market, we visited a few historic towers, and a very interesting open-air caf? filled with old men playing Mahjong. We sat, drank several cups of tea, and just absorbed the atmosphere. It was beautiful.

We then took a taxi from the downtown core to the outskirts, to see yet another park. Not exactly as interesting as the first, considering the park was focused around a giant lake over 100 kilometers long. (It wasn’t very cold that day, about 12C, but there were gale-force winds ripping off the lake that made things very miserable). We putzed around there for an hour or so (I got rather bored, but Jocelyn seemed to be enjoying herself), and then hopped a taxi of sorts (actually an old van driven by some guy in a suit) back to the downtown area. We went back to the hotel, and then headed out for dinner. Quite a nice spread that night, as were they all. Being in the Yunnan province, which is heavily influenced by the Sichuan province (Si-chwan. If you hear anyone pronounce it Seshwan, rip their tongues out), and being led by a guide from Chengdu, which is the CAPITAL of the Sichuan province, we ate incredibly spicy food EVERY meal. It’s incredible how flagrantly they abuse the chili pepper. Anyway, the food was very good.

Feeling quite good about myself, I bought a beer from the grocery store on our way back to the hotel. How much did I pay for said beer, I hear you asking? 3 yuan (60 cents Canadian). The bottle was 1.5 litres, by the way. Did I mention I love this country?

That completes the end of Day 1. No prostitutes called that night (shucks), no strange disturbances. Just us, the leaky cooler, and the clogged toilet. The next day, we would be flying off to Zhongdian. Can’t wait to hear about it? Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Inside the Buddhist Monastery

Crazy Chinese attack seagulls

NOW do you believe me China's full of bikes?

Chinese Odyssey Day 2:

Upon awakening (at 5:30 in the freakin’ morning so HER MAJESTY will have enough time to dry her hair) the next morning, we began preparations for immediate departure to the incredibly elevated city of Zhongdian. Since our flight left so early, we would not be able to wait for restaurants to open, so we just settled for fruit n’ such we had bought from the grocery store the night before. The whole process was very uneventful. Packed our stuff, took a taxi to the airport, caught our plane, and voila! Zhongdian! (I believe I made note of the pronunciation last message, but for those who forgot, it’s JONGDEEYAN)

The city of Zhongdian has interestingly enough taken a partial name-change recently. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the fabled city of Shangri-La, made famous by the novel "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton (familiar with the name of the city, at least). Many similarities can be seen between the city of Zhongdian, and this fabled city in Hilton’s novel. Wishing to capitalize on these similarities, the Chinese government has decided to officially recognize Zhongdian with the name Shangri-La, hoping that this will lure in visitors. Pretty darn hokey, I know, but it’s still a fantastic city. At an elevation of 3000 meters, it’s one of the highest in China, and is also the closest you can get to the Tibetan border in China without being in Tibet. The vast majority of the people living in the city are part of the Lhasa minority group (Those would be Tibetans to you non-Chinese-minority-knowing folks). I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve NEVER seen a more colorful group of people. Fluorescent pink plays a predominant role in their clothing, decorating, and even their horse blankets and saddles.

When we arrived in Zhongdian, we weren’t quite prepared for the cold. Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t exactly the -44C we have to deal with at home, it was only -5 or so. Unfortunately, we weren’t equipped clothing-wise for sub zero temperature. The weather, even up there, was only supposed to be 5-10C. Since we had to pack all our gear on our bikes, we didn’t exactly pack excessively, either. During the day it wasn’t all that bad, but at night, HOO!!! Still no doors on any restaurants, hotels, or anything else. NO heat in the hotel room, no electric blanket, not enough hot water for a shower. Yeah, it was cold.

Anyway, besides the cold hotel, everything else was fine. The first day we rode out to an old Tibetan monastery, which Godspeed toured us through. VERY interesting. The most memorable part of the tour, however, came when Godspeed took us into the residence to meet the living Buddha. (Every monastery has several statues representing Buddhas who had lived there at one time, but died. Each monastery also has one LIVING Buddha, who will reside there until his natural death, when he will become immortalized with a statue, and be worshipped). This Buddha was very friendly, although he didn’t say much. He gave us each a good luck medallion, and wished us well. I was quite touched, as was Jocelyn.

After the monastery we went for lunch. Once again, it was a remarkable experience. Not only did we eat yak meat and drink yak butter tea (almost every thing we ate, drank, or looked at in this city was either genuine yak, acquired from a yak, or married to a yak. Yak, Yak, Yak! Sick of it yet? We were after three days), but we also experienced some of the locals. No sooner had we sat down at the table, than 3 men came through the door. They grabbed stools, and sidled right up to us. Asked us questions, joked with us, and were incredibly friendly. That was the most exceptional thing about Zhongdian; the people. EVERYONE was friendly. You couldn’t go more than 5 meters down the street without someone yelling "Ni Hau" or "Hello" at you. It was truly wonderful.

After lunch, we just wandered around town looking at markets and stores, taking it easy. More plans were made for the next day, which would also be spent in Zhongdian. After a supper of various yak-related dishes, we went back to a very cold and freezing hotel room, and slept as best we could until the circumstances.

Chinese Odyssey Day 3:

We arose, mostly intact, from a sleep I’m sure most polar bears could relate to. Not my favourite hotel, to be sure. We made the wonderful discovery that during the night the water gnomes had visited our hotel room, but instead of bestowing gifts of hot water and hot water products (hot water bottles, cups of tea, boiled mutton heads, etc), the little bastards carted off our entire hot water supply. We couldn’t even get cold water out of the hot water tap. It didn’t run at all! Needless to say, this is the exact moment during our trip where we made the conscious decision to stop bathing. YOU HEARD ME MOM!!! NO BATHING!!!! And if you have a problem with that, I suggest you hop a plane for Zhongdian, sit in a hotel room with an ambient temperature of -10 for the evening, and then contemplate the extent of your own desire for a bath with no hot water….. I thought so.

As we emerged from the Ice Palace… I mean the hotel…. we were greeted by rays of sunshine marking the beginning of yet another perfect, cloudless day. Too bad the temperature felt like a perfect, cloudless day inside a vegetable crisper. We went to a restaurant for the obligatory breakfast of Yak. Wow, that even sounds bad! Don’t get me wrong. Yak isn’t all that bad; I’d just rather not live off the stuff for days at a time.

After breakfast, we headed off on the bikes once more for a place called the grasslands. It’s a giant plateau tucked up in the mountains, and is apparently quite green and breathtaking during the summer. It’s somewhat brown and breathtaking during the winter. The road to get there was, of course, straight up a hill. Quite a steep climb, especially at that altitude. We fought our way to the top of the hill, lungs bleeding all the way, and coasted down the other side. I’m all for coasting, but it meant climbing the opposite side of the stupid hill on the way back. Once down in the grasslands, we were taken for a little pony ride, and I mean LITTLE pony ride. Those things were barely up to my chin. Jocelyn, Godspeed and I were ok, but they had to search around for the heftiest pony they had to f it Mike, the big gorilla. They finally found one able to withstand his crushing girth, and we plodded off into the brown. It was quite interesting to note that the saddles the Lhasa used were made out of wood. Uncomfortable, but effective. We wandered in a straight line for a while, paused to take a few pictures, and turned back.

After the ride, we rode back up the hill (hooray!), and back into town. Another Yak valiantly gave its’ life so we could choke down yet another meal. Bless that Yak! (Maybe this is a good time to mention that China is NOT a good country to visit if you’re vegetarian. You will be able to eat really good meals most of the time, but sometimes, all you’ve got is yak!)

After food, we set back out on the road again, this time across rutted mud tracks, which kinda resembled roads if you looked at them sideways. We rode, and we rode, and we rode, and we rode, until we reached the edge of the plateau with the "road" continuing up the side of a fairly sizable hill. So we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed. Upon reaching the top, we coasted down the other side, and climbed again, and then coasted, then climbed, etc…. This continued for 20km. All the climbing wouldn’t have been much of a problem at a lower elevation, but all things considered, I’m amazed we made it out alive. It hurt. It hurt a lot. Anyway, after all the climbing and coasting, and climbing again, we climbed our way up to a natural hot spring tucked neatly down in a little valley (you had to climb up to it, then walk down into a little depression in the rock). Although the trip to get there was hellish, the hot spring made it all worthwhile. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring bathing suits with us from Hong Kong, so we had to buy suits (40 yuan each), and pay for admission (20 yuan), and rent lockers (15 yuan for two), and buy towels (we drip dried). This was easily the most expensive thing we did during the entire trip. You know what? IT WAS STILL WORTH IT!

Once our expensive soak was completed, we hopped back on our bikes, and began pedaling back to town. Mike got a flat halfway back, so we amused ourselves playing with neighboring yaks, and talking to passing people until the tire was repaired. The rest of the trip back was uneventful. Once back, we ate again (lots of eating on this vacation), and went to sleep, due to me episode of moderate heat exhaustion due to prolonged exposure to the sun under a very thin atmosphere. Cursed black hair! Ah well, who needs the ability to thermoregulate, really?

Chinese Odyssey Day 4:

See? Told you I’d start combining. We awoke the next morning, freezing as usual, to discover the water gnomes had once again paid a visit to our humble hotel room. Not only had they refused to bring back the hot water, but just to ensure our misery was complete, they took our cold water too. Couldn’t even flush the toilet. How happy are we now?

Breakfast was a rushed affair, cuz this was moving day. We packed up our panniers for the first time, and strapped them to the bikes. Jocelyn got the wimpy little ones filled with cotton balls and kitten whiskers, and I got the massive hefty bags filled with manly heavy things like bowling balls and car jacks. That made cycling a tad more interesting.

We began our 100km cycling day climbing out of the valley. I found it somewhat difficult. Jocelyn found it substantially more difficult. Mike and Godspeed might as well have been baking apple scones. (Jerks). We climbed, then coasted down a teeny bit, then climbed again, and again, and AGAIN! Each hill got longer, and higher, and bumpier. Granted the exercise was invigorating, but our butts really hurt from the day before, (They fortunately went numb at lunch, and never bothered us again). Finally, at about 1300hrs, we crested the main drainage for the entire valley, and beheld a glorious sight: As far as the eye could see, the road led down, down, down. We coasted down that hill for the rest of the day. Things got interesting when we encountered road construction halfway down. For 40km we had to follow what used to be the road. It was now a mass of upturned mud and gravel mixed with pieces of old pavement. The tiny width of road was also congested with dump trucks, backhoes, graters, and approximately 3000 or 4000 workers. Those were only the local workers, the other 18,000 or so having already gone home for New Year. We were very lucky to have mountain bikes with shocks, as we whizzed through tiny gaps left dump trucks, over huge mounds of dirt dumped almost on our heads, around large boulders, and through gulleys. As we passed each worker (all 3,000 of them) every single one said "hello", or "Ni Hau", and one guy yelled, "You guys are crazy!" Did I also mention that even though the road no longer exists, it’s still only 1 of two routes to Zhongdian, which means traffic still pushes through regardless? We were passed by buses, trucks, 4X4’s, and taxi’s all heading up the mountain through places we could barely fit with our bikes. One suicidal wacko even took his immaculate BMW through the gauntlet. About 300 meters into the construction, he caught his rear bumper on a mound of rocks. Not to be dissuaded, he wrenched his car free, to the sound of ripping metal. The last tie I saw him, he bounced around a corner, and was seen no more. Wonder if he made it?

After 2 hours of this mayhem, we ended up in the quaint little mountain town of Qiaotou (Chow tow). Not much to see here, but it had the best hotel we stayed in during the trip. We were given a Chinese thermos filled with hot water on our arrival, and found two cups with tea leaves in them in our rooms. The hot water stayed hot enough to burn my tongue the next morning. Love those thermoses. Since there was nothing to do, we just had dinner, and went to bed. We needed to get our sleep, for the next day we would enter….. TIGER LEAPING GORGE!!!

The streets of Zhongdian

Voici Jocelyn avec le Yak


The surviving members of the Yunnan bike safari.

Chinese Odyssey Day 5:

I’d like to say that we awoke in the morning feeling revitalized, and invigorated. Nay, that was not to be our fate; or not mine, at least. My fate was to be awoken at 4 in the morning by an arrogant, self-inflated, cock-o’-the-walk rooster who took great pleasure in repeating over and over that dawn was apparently upon us. How he could tell that through the inky blackness I couldn’t fathom. The rooster wasn’t too bad, really. He did cease his infernal crowing around 0430. Not that he wanted to, but he just couldn’t compete with the screaming pig. This pig wasn’t making pleasant barnyard grunting noises. He wasn’t rooting for truffles. The way he was screaming, someone was after him with a big, sharp knife. The first time I heard him, I felt saddened. "Aw", I said, "Another pig has just lost its’ life. Its’ dying screams fill the night. Farewell Mr. Pig! You’ve died an honorable death, and you must take your place in the circle of life!" My wonderful speech lost some of its’ emotional impact as I realized the pig wasn’t going to stop. In fact, he continued to scream all the way to 0800 or so. I was certain I’d see a bloodbath when I awoke in the morning and looked into the courtyard. Nope! Same number of stupid pigs as the previous day. Apparently Sir Oinksalot just liked the sound of his own screams. Idiot!

Once all the pigs had been marked present and accounted for, we had a quick breakfast, and jumped back on the bikes. Today was supposed to be a short day, with only 30km to travel. The entire distance would be done inside Tiger Leaping Gorge; the most famous (so says the Chinese tourist board) gorge in the world. Maybe it is. Who am I to judge? Regardless of its’ level of notoriety, it was breathtaking. I’ll attach pictures. Tiger Leaping Gorge is so named because, as the legend goes, a tiger (who’d a thunk it?) was being chased by a hunter down into the gorge. The tiger escaped by leaping across the gorge, with the assistance of a large boulder in the center of the river (it’s the Yangtse river, by the way). Beautiful story, very motivational. Anyhoo, we biked along a VERY precarious road VERY high on the side of the gorge, with a VERY long drop straight down to the river below. Did I mention there were no guardrails? And that there was a constant stream of traffic in both directions? And it was almost entirely uphill? That was the best part. The initial uphill was hard enough, especially for poor Jocelyn, who had two episodes of exertion-induced asthma, but after lunch, the switchbacks started. I really didn’t know if Jocelyn would be able to make it under her own power. I had visions of piggybacking her to the top, before turning around to go back down for her bike. Luckily for me, Godspeed came back down to check on us, and offered to take a look at Jocelyn’s bike. He made a rather interesting discovery. Jocelyn had spent the entire trip, up each and every hill, in second gear. Her bike wouldn’t go into first. She asked if maybe that was why she was having such difficulty on the hills. Ummm, YA THINK???? Needless to say, it became a whole new trip for her, once Godspeed shifted her gears manually down to first. Of course, it was all downhill after that. Ah, cruel fate. We coasted down into a tiny village called Walnut Grove. Walnut Grove, with a population of about 30 or so, is literally clinging to the side of the gorge. While there are many terraced fields above and below the road, the primary source of income for the villagers is tourism. We stayed at a particularly hokey guesthouse named Chateau de Woody. Bad name, but you really couldn’t beat the view. We got to Chateau de Woody at about 1400 hrs, so there was plenty of time to kick back, and enjoy our surroundings. We met up with a few other English-speaking backpackers there, and had a fairly entertaining evening. Cheap beer definitely helped. Sleep came early that night. We were very tired, and there were no angry pigs to distract us from oblivion.

Chinese Odyssey Day 6:

It’s amazing how well you sleep when you’re too tired to move. We passed an uneventful night, and were moderately prepared for our final day of cycling to Lijiang. This final day was to be anything but ordinary, however. In the interest of saving precious time, and making the trip memorable, we would be making use of various supplementary methods of transportation. Let me elaborate:

We started off the morning like all our other mornings; get on the bike, and start pedaling. After an insignificant little uphill, we coasted down the road to a collection of houses and other buildings. Once there, we met a man, his wife, their two sons, and their pony. These five individuals had been hired to assist us on the next leg of the journey, which basically involved throwing the bikes over someone’s shoulder, and hiking straight down the cliff face to the river below. Fortunately, we didn’t have to carry the bikes. Actually, for the hike down, we didn’t have to carry anything. The pony took all our panniers. We just had to saunter down the path, look at scenery, and stay out of everyone else’s way.

The hike down only took about half an hour. We would have done it sooner, but the pony didn’t like skittering down rock faces for some reason. Once at the bottom, we waited for the ferry (If you could call it that) to come from the other side, and collect us, which it EVENTUALLY did. The ferry ride across the Yangtse took mere seconds, and once again we were faced with a very vertical embankment. Maybe this would be a good time to mention that the elevation gain here was quite impressive. We had already climbed down approximately 1200 meters almost straight down to the river. We now had to climb 1200 meters back up the other side. We had lost our friend, the pony (much to Jocelyn’s chagrin) on the other side of the river. Wimpy horse couldn’t even handle a little boat ride. This meant that we had to hike our panniers up the opposite side ourselves. Fair enough, I suppose. This is OUR trip, after all.

The trip back up to the road took substantially longer than the trip down. We spent probably a good hour and a half carting those bikes and panniers up the cliff side. I made it up first (tarantara!), and Godspeed emerged about five minutes later. The rest of the group wasn’t too far behind. Thankfully, we made both climbs without incident, and were very glad to see the top.

That section of our trip out of the way, we now turned to the next leg: climbing over the mountain range to Lijiang (Lee Jeeyong) on the other side. Had we been foolish enough to attempt this on our bikes, I’m sure that someone would have died, and it probably would have been me. It was 40km of straight climbing. No downhill, no breaks, no fun. We didn’t even attempt it. Godspeed (bless his heart) had already arranged seats on a bus over the mountain to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The bus even picked us up at the lip of the gorge! What service in this country! The bus arrived on schedule, and we loaded the bikes. This made for a very interesting trip. Although our bikes in the aisle, our panniers piled into the back seats, and ourselves sitting in four seats took up almost all available space on the bus, the driver piled just as many passengers into the remaining seats as he normally would, had there been no bikes, no panniers, and no us. One poor guy had a handlebar sticking into the side of his head, and almost everyone else had to share a seat with a pedal, or a pannier. 75-year-old men were climbing over seat backs, to fill empty spaces; women with babies were cramped against the wall to avoid tires. It was cozy that’s for certain. The bus ride took almost two hours of bouncing and jostling to get us over the mountain. I’m very thankful we didn’t try to ride it. It would have been the death of me. As it was, we were dropped off at a golf course near Jade Dragon Snow Mountain none the worse for wear, except for a lingering stench of cigarette smoke, and a slight queasy feeling from the bouncing. I wish I could say that we then fought our way through mile after mile of unforgiving terrain, thought about turning back, but kept going forward, heartened by thoughts of our mothers. Didn’t quite happen that way. After climbing up a measly little hill, we coasted all the way down to Lijiang. Even with the gigantic headwind attempting to blow us back up, we still made terrific time. We stopped briefly in Baisha to look at some Frescoes painted by the Naxi (Nashee) minority. The frescoes were all right, but the hideous tourist trap of a town that surrounded it destroyed any enjoyment we might have experienced. After that, we continued our downward coast, right into Lijiang. That, my friends, officially completes the riding portion of our trip. Have no fear, the fun continues in Lijiang. That, however, will be left until tomorrow, during the THRILLING SPINE TINGLING BED WETTING CONCLUSION!

Behold Tiger Leaping Gorge in all its splendour

The Gorge with Walnut Grove on the side

A relatively flat part of the trail back up the side of the gorge.

Chinese Odyssey Day 7:

The day began like most others; breakfast at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel, a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, and then the sightseeing. We couldn’t wait.

Lijiang is an ancient city, dating back at least 1400 years, when the Naxi (Nahshee) minority first founded it. The Naxi themselves are an extraordinary people. They are a matriarchal society, with women holding much of the power in their society. Until recently, the women owned all the property, and had automatic possession of all children born by them. 1000 years ago, the Naxi developed their own written language, consisting entirely of pictographs. The language is still in use today, and books can still be purchased written in Dongba.

The city of Lijiang is a shocking contrast between ancient and modern. It is divided between Old Town, and New Town (aptly named, don’t you think?) New Town is an urban sprawl, which looks like every other urban sprawl in China. Old Town, however, is a beautiful maze of cobbled streets, fast-flowing canals, and old wooden buildings. Vehicles are not allowed in Old Town. You can’t even ride bikes there; they must be pushed. We spent the majority of our time wandering in old town, but we did make a few excursions. We went to a park called Black Dragon Pool. Very nice photo opportunities there. We saw several renovated old buildings, the Dongba Language Research Institute, and Elephant Hill, a pint-sized mountain with a wonderful view of Lijiang. We spent a good half the day wandering around, enjoying our freedom from the bicycles. After we finished in Black Dragon Pool, we walked back to Old Town for lunch. We stopped at a cozy little restaurant, and had various types of food. I had won ton soup, which Jocelyn helped me eat, Godspeed had noodles, and Mike had a large disc of bread. We also sampled some rice sausage. I won’t be running back for more of that any time soon. After lunch, everyone separated. Mike went off in search of powdered yak butter tea, Godspeed went off to prepare the bikes for flying the next day, and Jocelyn and I went in search of adventure. We stopped in some shops, bartered for a few things, and then went looking for a suitable place to have a beer. We ended up having chocolate cake & beer/coffee at a neat little Japanese caf?along one of the canals. Very beautiful. After that, we met Mike and Godspeed, and headed out for dinner.
After dinner, Jocelyn wasn’t feeling very well, so we dumped her off at the hotel, and went out looking for trouble. We had beer and pizza at a place called the Prague caf? It was quite nice having western food for a change. There are only so many noodles a guy can eat. After a beer or two, we went back to the hotel, and went to sleep.


Chinese Odyssey Day 8:

I was awakened at 0300 hrs to the unpleasant sound of Jocelyn heaving her cookies into the toilet. Poor girl had apparently been up since almost midnight, and I had apparently slept through most of it. Callous heel, you say? How can I live with my shame? Not to worry. After I had been awake with her for about an hour, comforting and soothing, etc, etc, I suddenly began feeling a tad unwell myself. I was just on my way to the bathroom to take some prophylactic gravol, when my stomach decided that it didn’t want to wait. I officially joined Jocelyn on the bed, sick as a dog. We both took turns vomiting in the bathroom for the entire night (intermixed generously with explosive diarrhea or course), and well into the morning. That is a night I probably won’t forget for a long, long time. We were supposed to spend the next morning walking around Lijiang on our own, but we couldn’t even make it to the front door. Jocelyn and I both opted to stay in the hotel room until the last possible second before we had to go to the airport, to fly back to Kunming. Godspeed was once again very accommodating. He even paid an extra half-day’s fees at the hotel, so Jocelyn and I could stay past checkout. If he hadn’t arranged that, I really don’t know what we would have done. Probably laid in a gutter somewhere, vomiting on our own shoes.

Anyway, departure time finally arrived. I was feeling a little better (I could stand without falling over) so I helped carry our belongings the few blocks to the van rental place. I managed to prevent Jocelyn from wandering into traffic during this time, as she was still nearing death. The flight back was less than pleasant. Our flight was delayed for an hour, so we propped ourselves into chairs, and waited. The flight itself was barely an hour, so once we took off, things were all right. Neither of us yakked on the plane, so we were thankful for that, at least.

Once in Kunming, we went back to our original hotel from the beginning of the trip. We poured ourselves into bed, and were asleep almost instantly.

Chinese Odyssey Post-Trip:

The next day I was feeling substantially better. Jocelyn, unfortunately, was not. She spent our last day in Kunming in pretty much the same way she spent the last day in Lijiang. Mike and I went out for breakfast, while she groaned and wailed in bed. Poor thing!

Mike made the horrifying discovery that he had somehow lost the memory card to his digital camera, with all 300 of his pictures on it. This means that all of a sudden my pictures are a lot more valuable. I felt pretty bad for Mike, but he’ll be getting a copy of our pictures, so all is not lost.

When it was time to go to the airport, I threw my backpack over one shoulder, Jocelyn over the other shoulder, and headed out with Godspeed. We caught our flight with no trouble at all and whisked back to Shenzhen.

During the flight, we met Lawrence, an entrepreneur from Hong Kong who had been in Kunming on business. He insisted on helping us back to Hong Kong, and wouldn’t even let us pay for the cab to the train station. Once again, I am pleasantly dumbfounded at the friendliness and helpfulness of almost everyone we have met here. I sincerely hope North Americans will learn from these people some day.

With Lawrence’s help, we made it safely back to Hong Kong. We took a taxi from the subway station back to the University, and back to Jocelyn’s parents’ apartment, thus ending our Odyssey. It was an incredible trip, which I will probably never be able to repeat in my lifetime, but will remember always. I bring back many fond memories, a few painful memories, and a newfound respect for this great country we have chosen to visit. I sincerely hope our trip to Beijing is as fruitful. Which reminds me, our train leaves in two hours, so I better get going. Thanks for listening to me as I relate my adventures. It’s much nicer having people with whom I can share my experiences. I wish you could all be here with me, but as that would be rather impossible, this would be the next best thing.

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