Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 79-84: Beyond 3000 kilometers

I stayed one full day in Xichang to rest, refuel and take advantage of western influences, such as brewed coffee and fast food. By afternoon on my day off I felt guilty for not having seen more of the city of Xichang what I already was accustomed to, thus I rented a cyclo to take me for a tour around town. However, I was more excited about not cycling myself than of the surrounding scenery. Xichang looked just like any medium-sized city I have witnessed so far. Consequently, although my body told me otherwise, the following day I headed for Mianning, about 80 kilometers to the north on the bicycle. The first kilometers were awful, cycling through areas of factories on crowded, bumpy roads, passing one dump yard after another. All the foul odors of our planet were present. A mix of manure, droppings, garbage, fish oil, exhausts, and motor oil made its way up my nostrils and did not leave for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, the last kilometers to Mianning were pleasant and I arrived relieved having left the road behind. The next day I hoped for better conditions, but was bewildered by a long climb, lasting 50 kilometers. Although the environment was stunning, the slanting road was once again straining my legs to their physical limits. When cycling uphill for several hours, I tend to loose perspective of the road and can no longer tell how it angles. At times I believe I am traveling on a flat surface, going at a slow speed, believing I am too weak to go faster, when I am actually pedaling uphill on a fairly steep road. This became obvious when the road finally turned downward, and I was free-wheeling at great speeds for several kilometers, setting a new speed record (68 km/h). Shortly, I was in Shimian, 102 kilometers north of Mianning looking for a place to stay. Although it is a seemingly large city, I had difficulties finding a decent accommodation at a reasonable price. Every encounter with hotel personnel made me more and more frustrated as I was trying to communicate my questions. What seems to be an ordinary procedure was here an impossible task. ‘How much is a single room and can I see it, please?’, I gestured as well as spoke out loudly in both English and Chinese in my last attempt finding a room. The response was a series of words in Chinese I believe even a local traveler would have a hard time grasping. Although I clearly displayed my inability to understand they continued their blathering, involving more people to join the useless conversation. When they finally comprehended that I was not getting a word they were saying, they carefully wrote down the Chinese characters and pointed at them with a big smile, thinking that now they are really clever. Then the process started all over and it took a few minutes for them to understand that I do not master Chinese writing either. Eventually I received four fingers for 40 Yuan, and the rest of my questions I left for another day, although I had involved my entire body trying to get my points across, as if playing the charades. Sadly, this procedure has repeated itself numerous times in recent days. It is a tedious process, and making it every afternoon is tearing on my psyche. I am getting more and more impatient, intolerant and unfortunately unfriendly. To my surprise, however, the evening in Shimian was delightful. I walked up and down the neon illuminated streets, greeting locals, trying various foods from the street vendors. Again, I was the center of attention and was invited to join people at their tables or seats when passing by.

To break the daily routine, I decided to leave later the next day, having a peaceful breakfast in Shimian and update my dairy before cycling to Hanyuan, a mere 50 kilometers away. The peaceful setting I had imagined was quickly interrupted by curious locals surrounding me in large numbers, trying to strike up conversations in Chinese. Before I lost my senses I rolled out of Shimian just before lunch time but did not get far. Just outside of the city I was stopped by a hefty Chinese police woman, doing her best to explain that I was not allowed to proceed any further right now. ‘Twenteen, you go’, she confirmed. Not sure what ‘twenteen’ meant I ignored her attempts to stop me, thinking she is probably only demonstrating authority. After a couple of kilometers, however, I noticed a line of trucks building up, and as I continued following the sequence of vehicles I came to a road block. Apparently, traffic was only open between one and three o’clock due to several landslides being cleared from the roads. Having experienced a few landslides previously, I respectfully agreed to wait for an hour and a half until the road would open. The waiting did not concern me, nor did the company of starring truckers, but the fact that I was scheduled to share the dangerous zone of bumpy, dirty, rocky, muddy roads with hundreds of large, old, toxic trucks troubled me. The policemen kindly gave me fifteen minutes to get a head start. I pedaled as fast as I could, but the loose gravel, mud and dust increasingly slowed me down, and after ten kilometers the trucks were roaring behind me. Just as I entered a large area of deep mud and large water puddles, they starting passing me one after another, sending huge waves of mud and water waist high over me and the bicycle. I cursed, waved and desperately was trying to note my presence. But just as me, the truckers were eager to move on and leave this horrible scene behind, thus ignored me entirely but for a few loud honks of their horn. The constant roaring and the intense, thick fumes of black exhausts, forced me to stop and cover up my face in full bandit attire. I considered waiting until the traffic had passed but the line of trucks was kilometers long, and at creeping speeds it would last hours. Instead, I pushed on passing slow moving trucks, squishing between them when necessary. To my amusement, some trucks had flat tires or became overheated, coming to a complete stop and held up the traffic. I swirled my way through the maze of honking large vehicles, holding my breath in the dark clouds of diesel fumes, smoke and exhausts. Eventually, I left them behind and pedaled my way to Hanyuan over cracked, bumpy and littered roads. Hanyuan was a big disappointment. Just as the road on the way there, it is a dusty, muddy and filthy place of run-down concrete buildings and cracked pot-holed roads of poor tarmac. After having checked in at the nicest hotel I could find, I settle down for my evening meal. As I finished eating a young student approached me and asked if I would be her friend and teach her some English. Tired, I accepted, not knowing that it involved meeting her family, dog and boyfriend and 30 minutes walk from the town center. After yet a night of pleasant celebrity treatment, I crashed in bed later than usual.

Despite my short visit, I was pleased to leave Hanyuan, although I was clueless to where to cycle next. After asking over ten locals the way to Yonghe or Jinkouhe, I was still in disarray. I decided to follow the advice of the last man pointing me in the direction I arrived the previous day. Still uncertain of the way, I stopped one last time to confirm my route. The woman at a gas station pointed me in the opposite direction, and I almost gave up, ready to cycle to the next bus station, and give up cycling altogether. Also, I had lost my compass when bumping over the cobbled roads a week ago. Now I really needed it. Finally, I decided to trust my instinct and head towards the sun, which had recently risen in the east. I also decided to follow the stream of the Dadu River, which logically would be going down-stream towards the city of Leshan. My theories proved to be right, but before I had the opportunity to catch up with the time lost asking directions, I was stopped once again by a road block a few kilometers outside of the city. Again, the road was closed due to massive landslides in great numbers, and I was forced to wait until the road opened almost three hours later. The same procedure repeated itself from the previous day as I covered my face with my scarf, pulled my hat down as far as possible and tightly placed my sunglasses over my eyes. Dirty, exhausted and hungry I was lastly closing in on Jinkouhe 70 kilometers later, a city set next to the mighty Dadu River. The city looked beautiful across the river as I was approaching, and instantly was overwhelmed by relief and joy. The thought of a warm meal and hot shower made me forget all the difficulties and impasses of the day. I stopped at the first restaurant I saw at the edge of the city, close to the river, ordered my food and drinks and made myself comfortable by whipping off as much dirt and sweat of my body as possible. When my meal arrived so did a group of middle-aged men who sat down at the table next to me. One of them quickly came over to greet me and spoke comprehensible English. He welcomed me to Jinkouhe, but also kindly explained that no foreigners are allowed here and after my meal I had to proceed to the next town ‘thirtyeen’ kilometers away. I politely responded that I was just staying one night, I was exhausted, dirty and that I was not going to cause problems, and honestly I was not going anywhere further tonight. When he nicely insisted on me leaving I humorously asked what would happen if would stay. ‘Would the police arrest me’, I joked. ‘Yes’, he replied. ‘We are the police’. Instantly, one of his colleagues came over to proudly show his police badge. ‘It is not safe here’, the officer added. 'You must leave now.’ After my meal and additional pleading, I was still not being allowed to stay. Exhausted, my muscles stiff and soar; I cycled out of the city, amazed by the principles of the Chinese police. I quickly thought about heading for the other side of the city and secretly find accommodation, but when I saw the police following me in their private car, waving enthusiastically, pointing me in the right directions, that option suddenly became obsolete. They were escorting me out of the town. Sadly, not only did the ‘thirtyeen’ mean thirty kilometers opposed to thirteen, the entire road was under construction all the way to E’bian. As the sun was setting I entered the city which was bustling with life. However, I was too tired to take part and after dinner I collapsed in bed, once again utterly exhausted.

Surprisingly, the next day I woke up feeling great. Maybe because it was my last day before I would reach Emei and take a break from cycling for a few days. Out of the last thirteen days I had cycled eleven, and it was taken its tow on my body as well as tearing on my psyche. My bum was in bad condition and I was almost running out of my German wonder cream, my knees slightly aching and legs generally stiff. More significantly, I was having difficulties handling the daily routine of getting up early, pack my packs, check-out of the hotel and later in the day check-in, unpack, all while trying to communicate with the locals. I was also feeling a bit lonely not being able to speak fluently with anyone for almost two weeks. Therefore, excited and astonishingly full of energy I pedaled the last 60 kilometers to Emei over one mountains pass and through several of construction sites. Emei is referred to the area of Emeishan city but primarily people associate it with the Emei Mountain, 3099 meters high, spotted with Buddhist monasteries and temples. The hike up and down the mountain is now a common tourist attraction, and I will join all the travelers in the next few days to walk through Buddhist history and culture.


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1 comment:

  1. AnonymousJuly 05, 2007

    Riktigt grym upplevelse, jag önskar att jag hade kunnat följa med dig hela vägen....vi får köra ett race i Syd Amerika om några år.
    Ska bli kul att få hem dig!