Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nanning - Dali. Confucius says: “When the wind blows, the grass bends.”

I didn't have much inclination stick around in Nanning, and spent most of my time there recovering and organising the next leg of my journey. It was the first large city I'd been to since reaching mainland China, but it didn't capture my attention very much. On my second day there, just as I was about to leave my hostel for the train station, I ran into a guy at the supermarket who had an Ortlieb handlebar bag. I suspected he was some kind of cyclist, so I stopped and spoke to him at the check out. It turns out he (Steve from Switzerland) was indeed a touring cyclist, and he began his trip in Hong Kong at the same time as me. In fact, several weeks earlier I had attended a couchsurfing meeting in Hong Kong, secretly hoping I would meet someone there who was also travelling through Asia by bike. Of course, I met no such person, but it turns out that Steve was at that very same bar on the same night at the same couchsurfing meeting, we just never spoke. Steve had tired of China and was on his way across the border to Vietnam. We shared a meal and a beer at the train station and parted ways. 

Bikes and scooters share the chaotic roads in China

Initially I hoped to be a cycling purist and make my bicycle my only form of transport, but China is far too big and I came to accept that I wasn't going to be able to ride across it in 30 days. From Nanning I purchased an overnight train ticket to Kunming, and realised why I chose my bike as a means of getting around. After checking in my bike and panniers as luggage and getting a separate ticket for myself (and later having to wait 3 hours in Kunming train station to pick up my bike), I was glad I didn't have to catch a train every day. It was a 14 hour trip and I was travelling on the cheap, so of course I didn't get a sleeper, just an upright, crowded seat. The trip wasn't unbearable and I was able to get a bit of shut-eye, but when I arrived in Kunming, I quickly felt my exhaustion.

Kunming had a nice vibe for a big city, the capital of Yunnan province, and I made a mental note that if I ever wanted to return to China to learn Mandarin, that would be where I'd return to. I was staying with a Chinese guy called Hui in his bike shop, so after a bit of extensive detouring (getting lost), I made it to his shop and we chatted about bikes and bike touring and life in general. Hui was passionate about riding and had done tours of his own through Tibet (on a folding bike), and down to Laos, as well as regular rides in China. He told me that he likes travelling and he likes bikes and when he came to Kunming initially he wanted to open up a youth hostel. Apparently it was too hard to find a space for it so he had to settle for his second passion and opened up a bike shop. In a sense he got the best of both worlds by hosting warmshowers guests in his bike shop.

Inside Hui's Pegasus Bicycle Shop

Feeling at home sleeping amongst the bikes for the night

Green Lake in Kunming
From Kunming it would be another 3 or 4 days riding to Dali, so I decided to jump on another train and maximise the riding time I had in the heart of Yunnan. This time I carried my bike on with me and they charged me a negligible 4 yuan (less than $1 AUD) to take my bike on the 6 hour journey. I was happy with being able to escape the bureaucracy of checking my bike in. My bike and luggage weighed around 40kg and between Kunming and Dali train station there were several stair cases I had to carry my bike up and down. At one stage I tried rolling my bike down the steep ramp next to the stair case but the weight of my bike dragged me down and I tumbled down the stairs into a few passers by. The people were nice and they helped me and my bike up, with no damage done. It was rare that someone would offer to help carry my bike, even though it was quite apparent that I was struggling. It was a stark contrast to the machismo of Italy or Mexico, where people were more than willing to display their athletic prowess in lifting your luggage.

Riding into Dali old town from the train station
Looking out from my new home in Dali

Development happened very quickly in Dali, there were guest houses shooting up everywhere
Dali new town feels like any other city, but Dali old town is where the tourists flock to. I met my new host, Louis from Canada, at Dali old town gates and we rode to his glorious dwelling near the centre of the town, which he was sharing with a bunch of relaxed and creative expats and chinese. It felt nice to be in a share house again, indulging in delicious vegetarian food each night, usually prepared from fresh fruit and vegetables picked up from the market 50 metres away. I was impressed by the delectable chinese cuisine, and I quizzed everyone on ingredients so I could attempt to recreate his masterpieces back home. Lockie, an Australian in the house, gave me some Furu (fermented bean curd) to sample. It's used to flavour rice or porridge and it tasted suspiciously and deliciously like vegemite. Nice to know I have a vegemite alternative if my emergency vegemite stocks are depleted.

Furu - Chinese vegemite

In the Dali house I did some juggling, acro yoga and after a 6km ride up a steep cobblestone hill, even got to do some bouldering in a dried up river bed. On my second day there I was craving to get back on the bike, so I pedalled down to Erhai lake and began cycling. It was 120km around the lake, but I thought I'd just go for a short ride. When I got 45km into the ride I was feeling good, so I continued and just rode the rest of the way around the lake. The North and South sides of the lake were quite nice, but the urban areas close to new Dali town weren't very beautiful. The ride around the lake takes you through several villages along the way, and gives you a unique way to slowly admire the lake and its mountainous backdrop from every angle.

Louis and Dane bouldering in a dried up river bed west of old Dali town

Lockie, Louis and Dane scaling some more boulders - too tricky for me to conquer
The dried up river bed and our bouldering hot spot

Riding around Erhai Lake

The house contained many weird and wonderful objects and peculiar pieces of art inscribed on the walls. One of the chinese guys that lived there had welded together a two bikes to build a tall bike. Louis said the tall bike attracted a little more attention than a regular, single level, bike. There were obvious difficulties in mounting and dismounting, but the view from up there must have been quite good.

I slept on a room on the roof of the Dali house, and always woke up early as the sun trickled into my room. It was impossible to sleep in because the world looked so beautiful from up there, that I had to get out and enjoy it.

Inspecting a new potential home in a village close to Dali

China day 17: Around Lake Erhai
Distance: 113.2 km
Average speed: 18.3 km/hr
Max speed: 41.3 km/hr
Total ascent: 688 m
Total descent: 702 m

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