Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Travelers tend to 'get stuck' in places. There are many reasons for that, but in Kunming you just 'get stuck'.
We planned on leaving the day before, but had a few more technical stuff to take care of, laziness of the previous day. It was 11:00, and we decided it'll be too late to pack and leave, so we stayed the day.
It's difficult to spend a few hours in Kunming. the city is sort of modern: wide streets, big buildings, expensive shops, McDonald's... But where is China? Where are the markets? the dumplings on every street corner? the 3'rd world country 'buzz'? and the tourist attractions - not here! Excursions around a 1.5 million city are not far enough from urbanity (we saw it was true when leaving).
So, we worked on our blog a bit more and socialized with non Chinese. But what we really wanted was to cycle!
It's been 2 weeks! 4 days in Kunming, 4 days in Hong Kong, and 4 days in Kunming again... we were excited about being back on the road.
Then, we got up and Gals' stomach hurt. we thought it was the excitement & pressure. We took our time, breakfast and packing and were ready to leave at 10:00. Gal was still feeling bad. We decided we'll go anyway, see how she feels. Worst case we'll stop after 10-30 km, just not to 'get stuck' in Kunming (and, there was NO CHANCE that Rami would take all the gear & bikes up two floors 10 minutes after he took it all down).
Our exit was amazing, logistically we left the hotel, we cycled on a bicycle lane. we cut through the 1.5 million city, 15 km, on bicycle lanes! then we had 1 km of cycling on the road, with little traffic, till the connection to the highway. but, this highway was not like the tiny 'one lane to each direction' road we had in the mountains. this one was an autobahn, two lanes to each direction, like the express-way, but the expressway was just one km to our right. and - there was a bicycle lane all the way on the highway!so, we cycles 35 km to Anning, only on bicycle lanes.
the funny thing is that we met a couple, who've cycled out of Kunming, and told us it was TERRIBLE! Pussies! wait till you cycle in to Hanoi!
another interesting observation we had was that these 30 km were not so urban. we expected much worse. the only problem was that Gal was feeling terrible, all over, just wanting to sleep and wake up feeling well.
we took a room in a rather expensive hotel, with an elevator. nothing worked there. even the hot water wasn't hot, or just wasn't.

Making a tubeless on a street corner. Rami is a bit mad about Gal for taking pictures while part of the priceless material is splashing all around...

Our favorite breakfast - "Boutse"

Benefits of the trade...

Leaving Kunming.

Bicycle lane on the highway.
Gal felt a bit better. we took the morning slow and started cycling at 11:30.
we took yesterdays highway, but after 7 km we met the expressway toll gate :-(
we were forced to return. after 2 km with no exits, we climbed over the fence and reached the highway.
the highway was nothing like the day before; lots of honking trucks, no bicycle Lane and the scenery was industrial or urban. the first 30 km went slow, very exhausting and frustrating. Rami even considered hitching, to get away westwards. Gal refused.
slowly the scenery improved. nothing to write about. We planned on sleeping in a semi-big town (50,000-100,000 according to our map), but, due to the late hour, we decided to stop in a small town, 17 km before. About 6 km before the town we started to descend. 3 km before the town (after descending from 1940 meter to 1740 m, according to Gals' new altimeter watch) we saw a 'motel' overlooking the wide valley far bellow.
We decided to stay. The view, the quiet, the $2.5 for the clean room, but, especially the tranquility.
We drank our beers at the balcony, enjoying the view, and later had a great Chinese meal, downstairs. The family running the place (actually a guesthouse) were very friendly.
Just to clarify the matter, this evening was one of the most relaxing evenings Rami had on this trip.

Bark, bark... Your day will come.
We had our morning instant coffee at the balcony, enjoying the valley, filled with mist, (though, we hoped for a better photo opportunity).
It was the first time that Gal agreed to start cycling before breakfast, so we left quite early, 09:30. We descended 200 meters (again, according to Gals new altimeter watch:-) to a small town and had noodle soup - what a surprise. Then, we fixed Gals Body-Geometry gloves (which she's proud of), which just started to tear, but still have all their gel in them (as apposed to Ramis' gloves...).
Finally, we were truly on our way.
The scenery became rural farm land, with hills & small mountains all around, very picturesque. The road was smooth and we enjoyed the ride, finally taking pictures.
We reached Lufang exactly for lunch, cycling through the modern town, till we found a packed place, meaning the food is good - and it was!
The maps showed that from that town the road follows a river. That's good; always fun cycling next to a river.
But then 3 thing happened:
1. It started to rain, easily, and later strongly.
2. The valley became a gorge, 18 km long, with no villages, but a few tunnels.
3. On our side of the river the road lead west and on the opposite bank the road lead east.
So, we cycled down the beautiful gorge, barely any traffic, and only the rain preventing us from taking pictures.
In one of the tunnels we wore our fantastic "The North Face" winter pants & jackets & attacked the rain. Soon the weather has cleared and the road turned, climbing another river.
P.S. - Rami has developed an ingenious technique to take Gal through long, dark tunnels (15-200 meters): we wait near the entrance till we see an approaching vehicle, and then start cycling inside. Thus, the vehicle sees us, slows not to run us over and escorts us with its' lights.
It worked every time and the drivers were always patient and understanding ;-)
A very bad picture of the beautiful valley from the balcony of our guest house.
Fixing Gals' gloves.

Another storm is coming...

Towards the gorge...and the rain.
Wearing all our warm clothes, after being soaked :-)

We go around the mountains and the train goes through them.

Another tunnel.


we started the day continuing yesterdays' climb.
The scenery was very tranquil: farming in the valley & forests around.
Finally we reached the pass, with one of Ramis' favorite views: many valleys filled with forests.
We reached Chuxiong, the district capital, and took a semi-expensive ($8) room, again, in a hotel with an elevator (not that common, till now, on our trip). We asked the usual questions, using our Mandarin Phrasebook: "Is there hot water all day?", "yes"...
No Water
We returned to the hotel in the evening, finding there is no water (only the big mineral-water fridge).
Gal talked with the reception. The girl said that the pipe broke - no water! She added that we can leave the hotel without paying (yah, at 21:00, with all our stuff thrown around the room). So, we were grumpy. When it happens in a cheap hotel - OK, but, we're talking about the "Ritz - Mao Tze Tung"!
After half an hour we heard a knock on the door. An un-uniformed woman (the hotel staff were uniformed) told us she'll take us to a shower...
So, we quickly took our 'shower flip-flops', shampoo & stuff, and followed. A van was waiting outside. A short drive and we arrived to what seemed like Fancy hotel.
In the lobby we were given 2 pairs of used flip-flops. We insisted on using our pair. Gal felt a bit disgusted, so Rami went in first.
Rami: I was leaded to a spa, 10 showers, 10 massage tables and 'everything was happening': men everywhere doing stuff, shaving, jumping in the big jacuzzi, etc.
I was lead everywhere. A shower, the water temperature prepared for me, a big cart with over 20 types of shampoo & conditioners. Then the first towel.
Then the sauna, I prefer the dry one. Gal was waiting, so I stayed only 5 minutes. I went out and was lead to the shaving/teeth-brushing stand (self service). After trying 2 dispensable blades, I understood why Chinese barely have beards: because their blades are shit!
So I brushed my teeth, had another quick shower and was lead to the massage table...
When in the sauna, I was looking at the massage area: lots of naked Chinese men getting scrubbed all over with a special towel,
So, I was being scrubbed all over for 15 minutes. If I were the only one there, I would have felt a bit awkward, my pecker being hit now & then by the fast moves of the towel, my balls raised for 'aerodynamic towel movement'. But, everybody so natural about it (but, maybe they took me to "The Blue Oyster Sauna"...).
Then I was lead to the shower, for a final wash. The amount of dirt the massage took off was incredible. My feet have never been so clean in 4,500 km!
I met Gal after 50 minutes, a bit angry (thank good I brought our books).
The woman who took us was the daughter of the hotel owner (her "mother" owned the hotel, not her "father", or "parents"). She was sorry about the water and told Rami about her coming wedding. Weddings in China are a big industry, like all around the world. "I didn't know that"...
What's wrong?
Self portrait.

Rain again :-(

Winter has disapeared as quickly as it arrived. On our first time in Kunming it was a dry summer. Then we flew to HK and returned after 6 days, to a cold, wet winter.
Till 2 days ago we were cycling with long clothes, in the rain, at times, never seing any stars at night.
But, then, summer arrived. We were on a 'rest day', a bit sad for missing the good visability. We sat at the roof of our hotel, getting a tan & writing. After half an hour we started to get burned.
The following day we were back cycling. Just loading the gear on th ebikes made Rami sweat. We cycked with long shirts, protection from the sun, poring water on them every few km.
We had a 30 km climk that day, passing the 2,000 m', climbing to 2,400!

Village of the Idiots
It was around 17:00, getting late, that we thought of looking for a place to sleep (a hotel).
We reached a small town, actually a village, that was marked on our Chinese map of Yunnan. The highway passed through the center of the village, or moved the center towards it, where all the 'action' is. We asked a few people where is there a hotel. They pointed straight ahead (how much ahead?). We cycled 50 meters and asked another group, using our phrase book. They pointed to where we came from, and to the left. So, we cycled back, looked left and asked again. This time the answer was "there isn't" (one of the words we know).
We made a quick dissision: we had 20 km to the town we hoped to reach (64 km). It was 17:10, sunset at 19:00, light till 19:30. We'll probably need to hitch a truck for a few km, to not cycle in the dark (5 km uphill may take about 45 minutes).
But, better leave than stay at the Village of the Idiots!
We hoped, after climbing so much, that we'll be granted a few km of downhill. But, we started with another uphill. An hour long uphill. Then we reached a pass and saw the long downhill waiting for us. We also saw that the sun is higher than we've expected. It was 19:00 and the sun had at least 30 minutes. We guess it's because of the "Beijing Time", and end of the winter, us going west and not cycling into the sunset for some time. We zoomed down at 15-25 km"h (Gal doesn't go faster, yet), enjoying the scenery.
The downhill ended at a small village on the bank of a lake, with about 5 km to go. It was becoming dark. We put our lamps, barely any traffic, finally reached the turn off to the village, entering the village at around 20:30.
We expected something bigger. The place was very dark and very asleep. We passed THE restaurant, and with some help found the hotel - no showers! We quickly went to the restaurant, but they closed it on our face. We crossed the street and ate an 'Instant Magi-Noodle-Soup' dinner, thanks to the nice old lady at the shop, who elegantly threw all our trash to the street.

Sunday, market day.

Riding to the sunset.

A typical money box.
It was hot, very hot. The 3'rd summer day in a row, after a week of cold, rainy winter. We had a long lunch rest.
We finally gathered our strength and started cycling. Rami told Gal we do'tneed to climb the giant cliff on our left: "the road goes straight...".
5 minutes later the road turned left.
We climbed for 20 km - about 3 hours and 600 meters up. We finally passed that side of the ridge and stopped at the village. It was 19:15, almost dark, with 20 km till the next town. A villager told us there's nowhere to sleep here, but from this point it's downhill 20 km. So we continued.
This side of the mountain was beautiful, but it was late & dark, so Rami was stressed abd didn't enjoy the ride. We decided we'll stop at a shity side-road truck-driver 'motel'. It would be our first 'road motel' experience, and we both prefered the options of the 'big city'. The first motel we stopped at, we left after 1 minute. We decided we'll decend as much as possible. It was finally dark. We stopped at 'our home' for that night. No shower, of course, but the room was OK, an our bicycles got their own room.
Then we were called for dinner. 2 more guests, the 4 running the place & living there, and us. The food was good, lots of meat, and we all drank the local 'fruit liquer', home made, in big jars. The one we tried was tasty, strong. We all slept well that night, Gal dreaming of the snow-covered peaks, waiting for a warm shower in Dali.

Helping the locals, runing over wheet.

We are in the garlic paradize.

Before the climb.

Resting, long climb.
We reached the top!
Good bye Valley.

Enjoying dinner & the local spirt in our road motel.

The view from the roof the next morning.

Rami taking a dump...


On the highway to Dali.