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"Three China Cycling Adventures"
Copyright © Neil Bryan, 2004.
China 1: South China and Eastern Sichuan (Kham) - Page 1
My goal was simple: cycle across China, over the Tibetan Plateau, to Nepal, to "boldly go where not many cyclists had gone before". I started out in the late spring of 88, cycling through hot, humid Guangxi Province. The land was like a giant vegetable garden/rice paddy, which, combined with ever curious peasants, made camping and going to the toilet (privately) challenging.
The peasants were friendly. One day a guy invited me into a village for meal and to stay. Six hours after sharing a fine meal of rice topped with oily veggies and some kind of meat, my intestines were twisting! But finding the village toilet in the middle of the night was no problem; I just followed my nose and was soon relieved to be relieving myself into a pit of maggots and shit.
Near Yangshuo I was camping on a hillside when peasants armed with lights and sticks "captured" me. This helped me to realize another dream - riding in a Chinese police (PSB) motorcycle sidecar. The local officials locked me up for the night, interrogated me in the morning and then came my written confession! That taken care, they cheerfully gave me a motorcycle escort the county line.
A week later my camera was stolen near a village, so I stupidly called the police. Several jeeps with annoyed/curious PSB arrived. My interrogation was going into its third hour, when the translator insisted, "you are Canadian, you know Betu, you must know Betu!" All eyes were on me - it looked like I would be writing another confession. Suddenly I remembered and smiled, "yes, Dr. Norman Bethune, the Canadian hero of the Peoples Revolution who was martyred on the Long March, yes, of course I know all about him!" All of the officials breathed a sigh of relief - I was not a spy after all. We finished the evening with a banquet and plenty of beer. Put safely on the bus the next day, I decided to Go West to Chengdu, Sichuan.
From Chengdu I went straight at "The Wall", the series of mountain ranges that separate China proper from Tibet.
It was exciting heading into the mountains on a dirt road with only a vague Chinese map to guide me. In the mountains, I saw beautiful tall wooden houses belonging to ethnic minority people.
Balangshan was the first pass, and it was a monster. About eight hours to grind my way up, but what a great view from the top. The next day was all downhill, no pedaling! I flew past the terraced fields of rapeseed (canola) which is grown for cooking oil. At one shop I bought three duck feather jackets which I later took apart and made into a sleeping bag, a vest, and warmers for my poor skinny legs and blown out knees.
I rode through valleys and over passes, following the road up through Dawu and Garze. In one valley the river was pockmarked with pits dug by gold miners.
Climbing yet another pass, I could see clearly the difference between the brownish Tibetan houses and a whitewashed Chinese compound with grey roofing. Usually there was a store of some sort just a room stocked with dry/canned goods. Meeting Tibetans on horseback, with their long braided hair and big knives, I got the feeling of what the Old West might have been like.
The villages were surrounded by green (until it ripens) fields are barley; which Tibetans bake and grind into a flour called tsampa. I got my introduction to tsampa when some Tibetan women spotted me taking a break. Though sometimes very shy, these women crossed a stream to give me some tsampa. They poured black tea into my cup, dropped in a glob of yak butter, and I gulped it back. They laughed you are supposed to melt the butter in the tea and then mix in the tsampa flour to make chewy, but delicious ball. I would find in the following weeks that I absolutely craved that fetid yak butter; it was like jet fuel.
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