Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Yangshuo - Nanning. Confucius says: "The cautious seldom err".

I set off towards Nanning, my next destination, not so early the next morning, feeling not so great after the late night and beer consumed. I hit the road and decided to take a few more risks in the way that I travelled and planned my routes. This time I used google maps to give me the most direct route to Nanning by walking, and decided to follow it. If I'm not going anywhere, then it's impossible to be lost, unfortunately I was going somewhere, and was at times lost. Seeing as I had no problem finding a camping spot the first time, I thought it would be easy to pitch my tent by nightfall in the cover of some trees. But when I began looking, all I could see was long stretches of wet and muddy rice fields. It quickly became dark and I still hadn't found anywhere so I stopped by a small shop and attempted to follow Rodrigo's advice and ask for a place to pitch my tent. After some fantastic miming on both sides, the young woman said to me "You are welcome here", and that was the only english I heard her speak. I will probably say this time and time again, but sometimes very small notions of kindness can have enormous consquences, and I felt my eyes welling up with tears when she said that to me. We attempted to chat, but all I could really communicate with them was my name, which they couldn't pronounce, my age, and which country I was from. Even though China is a very important country for Australia, I feel that this stance is not reciprocated for a big player like China, and few people know much about Australia at all.

The road leaving Yangshuo

I would have been happy to set up my tent on the floor in their shop - in fact I craved being alone in my tent. But they offered my their young daughter's (who I think was 5) bed, and instead she slept with her parents. For some reason, all Chinese beds seem to be about as comfortable as sleeping on the floor. I was grateful for the sacrifices they had made for me and when I woke up in the morning, they prepared breakfast for me and basically forced it down my throat. They also gave me some tins of congee, but I'm not really sure what they are and I haven't opened them yet.

Watching the sunset yet again long before I've reached my destination for the night
My hosts were kind enough to offer me their daughter's room
The obligatory photos before leaving my generous hosts

Saying goodbye
That day I took even more cryptic back roads, and it ended up being like a good old game of "dodge the pot hole". I enjoyed the change in terrain, it was a bit more interesting than boring asphalt, even though my progress was much slower. My brother always says that short cuts lead to long delays, and I think in this case he may have been on the money. Anyway, as the sun was setting, I still hadn't found any decent camping spots, again being surrounded only by rice fields. By the time the sun went down I found myself riding through masses of wet, muddy, red sludge, and decided I should probably call it a day, because I got the feeling the roads I was riding on weren't really roads at all. So I tried my luck again and stopped in at a village I had passed. I signalled towards my tent and got out a picture of my tent and did a mime of me sleeping. The first people I approached shook their heads, and I suddenly had a pang of fear that I wouldn't have a place to stay that night - maybe rural chinese are actually quite racist? But after I spoke to them, word of my presence began to spread around town, and before I knew it, there were about 50 people all gathered around trying to catch sight of me. Some of the kids would just stare at me for minutes on end as if I was some kind of alien creature come to take over the world. Eventually one of the women signalled for me to come with her, so she took me into her home and sat me down and gave me dinner. It was delicious and exactly what my body needed after a day on the road. She told me through gestures that I could sleep in a room in her house. I thought that maybe the town would have an english teacher or someone who could help translate, but no one came forward, so we struggled on with our signals and gestures. As I ate, there were still around 50 villagers that had piled into her living room, all chattering loudly in a language I could not understand and watching me eat - the pressure was on to assert my dominance of the chopstick!

Farmland on the way to Laibin...camping spots were rare

The quality of the roads quickly degraded and I found myself rolling through this sludge. It rained and flooded the following day.

After dinner an older woman put her hands to her face to signify washing - she was asking me if I wanted to shower, so I got my things together and showered using soap and a bucket. I came downstairs ready for bed, not wearing a bra or underwear, and my host noticed straight away and seemed rather unimpressed. In the end, the town leader came and collected me and instead moved me to the council offices, where I set up my tent and later slept. Either the whole town thought I was some kind of serial killer, or they were all scared for me riding my bike and travelling alone as a woman. One of the first questions that all women ask me is whether I am married and whether I have children. After I set up my tent, my original host sat down with me and we talked using google translate for several hours. I still can't work out whether she wanted to check my credentials or protect me, because when I answered all her questions she sounded very sceptical. for example, she asked me what happened to my phone (it has a big crack at the top and a second crack now at the bottom from when I stepped on it with my cycling shoes). When I told her I got it from a friend she looked at me with a concerned face, as if I wasn't telling her the truth. When I told her I worked as a scientist in Australia she again brought out a look of concern and disbelief, as if I made up that profession on the spot to fool her, "very young for a scientist" she wrote. I didn't really like where the conversation was heading, and she warned me about the many dangerous people that lurk in the countryside, to whom I am very vulnerable. I told her I was aware of that and that although it might not seem so, I do take precautions when I travel. 

Bucket shower that night
My bed for the night in the council offices

I slept poorly that night, waking up to any sound I heard, fearing that the villagers might have stolen my bike, after the fear mongering conversation I had with the old woman. Half of me also thought they might call the police and have me arrested. I was locked in the council offices and couldn't get out without someone letting me out, a prisoner in the village. I woke up early and was all set to have an early start, but it was raining heavily and much of the countryside was flooded. When I went downstairs to the shed, the town leader and his wife followed me down and offered me a bag of things I could eat for breakfast. The town leader showed me a message on his phone that had been translated, it read "I can drive you to somewhere". I was grateful but didn't want to cause any unnecesary trouble. But I recalled how muddy and treacherous the roads were on a sunny day, let alone during a storm. The town leader assured me that the rain wouldn't be stopping any time soon, so I accepted a lift onto the main highway (the first broken line on my trip), and he dropped me all the way in Laibin, a 45 minute drive from the village. I was somewhat relieved to leave the village, and sure that many of the people I met had never encountered a foreigner like me before. At least it would give them something to talk about for the next week.

Driving out of the village to the main road with the town leader

Heavy rain flooded the rice fields

The town leader and his wife gave me a lift to the main highway in Laibin so I could continue cycling

Walking the wild boar to the fields
From Laibin it was about 170km to Nanning, but by the time I finally hit the road, I was mentally prepared to tackle it in one day, and I did. I felt strong on the bike, and when I arrived I was so pumped full of endorphines that I felt I could ride for much longer. I found a hostel to stay in, the Youth Star Hostel, and was surprised to have the female dorm all to myself. The train to Kunming left at 5.40 in the afternoon but by the time I got myself organised and down to the station, I was too late to check my bike and luggage in, so I waited around for the next day.

China day 9: Yangshuo to past Dalezhen
Distance: 117.6 km
Average speed: 17 km/hr
Max speed: 46.7 km/hr
Total ascent: 1064 m
Total descent: 1019 m

China Day 10: past Dalezhen to Laibin outskirts
Distance: 105.6km
Average speed: 12.4 km/hr
Max speed: 49.4 km/hr
Total ascent: 775 m
Total descent: 846 m

China Day 11: Laibin to Nanning
Distance: 179.2 km
Average speed: 17.8 km/hr
Max speed: 44.4 km/hr
Total ascent: 1125 m
Total descent: 1122 m

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