Xian – the last “break” in riding before the final push into Beijing.
Went to see the Terracotta Warriors with the rest of the group – hoping that in the 15 years since I saw them, they’d have progressed with excavating more of them. Nope. They’ve spent the last 15 years building a commercial complex out the front – complete with all the tourist-tat which used to be pushed in your face by hawkers; and big gaudy KFC, Subway, McDonalds, etc, etc. The actual archeological site(s) – looked exactly the same as my hazy old memories, down to the information plaque explaining that the Chinese had discovered chrome-plating 2,200 years before Germany in 1930s and Americans in 1950s… “How awesome it is!”.
Group dinner last night, at a place specialising in dumplings. Including many dumplings which resemble the contents… duck dumplings twisted to look like a duck, pork dumplings with little pig faces on them, etc, etc. And several beers had in the night heat down in the bar-quarter.
And other than that – just a lazy day today. Shopping in the market for some fake-brand-name bags to shift all the luggage into in about a week’s time. Let some fish eat all the filth off my feet – which would have been a feast for them, after an hour or two of wandering around Xi’an in (very slippery) jandals in the rain. Couldn’t find the area of town which I’m sure last time had establishments aggressively selling “mah-sah-jay! mah-sah-jay!”
A short ride into Xian, where we’ve got an entire 3 nights in the same bed. 75 miles of awesome road, twisties through greenery, following rivers – and a little bit of a wrong turn which took me through a panda-park. Many times during today’s ride, I thought “this could be New Zealand”. And then 45 miles of just highway and city. Even with the short ride – it was hot enough that I’d resolved to get a swim in, near the end of the 75 miles… but just as I’d decided “next place I see, I’m in…” – the road climbed, the way to the river started being blocked by fences and cliffs… and I never got my shot.
Now in Xian – staying across the road from the central Bell Tower – my view is directly onto the thing. Went searching in the laowei-bar district for any place showing the Super-Rugby final, but couldn’t find it. Instead – a couple of the local craft beers at Xian’s sole brewpub – where the staff seemed to find such an idea a huge distraction from their planned itinerary of doing nothing.
The cellphone was dead today, so photos had to be taken on the backup old-school camera, and therefore of minimal quantity and quality… but here’s all of them…
So close to the end now, it sometimes feels like just that…”just the final thousand miles to get to Beijing”. The last two days, I’ve fallen asleep on the bike – but that’s due to me, tired, stuck behind a vehicle, not bothering to wake up and just keep it crazy. A bit of water, I’ve typically been better. But… it has been two days of waking up, leaving in gloomy/dreary weather, and doing nothing more than “battling” the traffic… which can be fun, considering it consists of all the outrageous manoeuvres one wouldn’t normally consider outside of Asia.
Both yesterday (to Guangyuan) and today (to Foping), the G108 had the same story – several hours of battling the local “red trucks”, and then an afternoon of nice twisty roads. It reminded me somewhat of the agenda through Europe – where that seemed a deliberate tactic of the route; but here… it’s just this one road, with multiple personalities which seem to fit that same agenda quite nicely.
Yesterday – visited a couple of temples… I’m pretty “temple-d out just now”, but figured I might as well see as much as I can as the days-left are dwindling… Temple-Complex-#1 – nice, fine. Temple-Complex-#2 – sold/advertised as the “Temple of the God of Literature” – which obviously intrigued me. It turned out one of the mini-temples was to one of the kings who fancied himself as a it of a writer, therefore his temple/statue made him a god of literature. Life as a lord/king in those days was pretty sweet, apparently.
Did have a touch of the round-magic-stone which apparently made one guy a god, and also a bit of a lie-down/kip in the stone bed which allowed some other guy to have dreams come true. Also tied my little red thing to the wall, assuming I was supposed to write my name and “wish” on it. On reviewing every other such tag – it was actually “name, and date”. Still… safe travels all…
Left Mount Emei – not sure if I ever really got a decent view of the mountain itself. I saw something in the rear-view mirror – one of those nice hill/mountain pictures where there are multiple layers, each one a different shade/colour – but nothing that jumped out as justifying the title of “China’s #1 Mountain”. But – did stop off in Leshan, and have a quick look at the largest Buddha statue IN THE WORLD! That was alright. Fairly big.
Then the ride to Chengdu – fairly short, and nothing spectacular about it scenery or road-wise. Rather, the traffic. Constant traffic, and some fun to be had when you just bought into the local driving style. Every rider in the evening was saying something like “I should be in jail”, “I broke every single road rule today”, “I can’t believe some of the things I did today”, etc, etc. And yes – me included. Running red lights – several. Overtaking on the outside of the road – many times. Squeezing through gaps which didn’t really exist – yes. Using the sidewalk to overtake… yeah, sure, nobody else was using it. Overtaking when there wasn’t really room, but just yelling at the oncoming traffic to “move over” – that’s how things get done. Several times during the day I had the thought “I am really going to need to make sure I cleanse myself of these habits before I get back to riding in NZ or the UK”. But – eventually got to Chengdu, and a lovely hotel – “the Pearl of Chengdu”, apparently. And, got talked into joining everybody at that most horrible of establishments – the ex-pat Irish Pub. And a good night was had by all.
Today, a little jaded, visited some pandas. I very nearly passed on the opportunity again (last time I was in Chengdu, we got off the bus – tried to figure out how to visit the pandas, it seemed too hard, and we got back on another bus to head onwards)… but talked myself into battling through the hangover. And, yeah – Giant Pandas. They’re kinda cute. And, it turns out, used to be trained by chinese warlords as weapons/soldiers. I can’t figure out what my reaction would be if I saw a Giant Panda approaching me on a battlefield… melt with “awww… how cute!”, or run away yelling “holy shit… they’ve got monsters!”. So, Pandas – several hours wandering around the rather large complex, amongst many many loud chinese tourists. Not great hangover cure. Saw a couple-dozen of the Giant black-and-white variety, and by the time I got to the section of the little red fellas – I was happy with just seeing a couple. Eventually headed into town, wandered some local streets – before trying to get back to the hotel. Taxis – would not stop. Long story, but the combination of rush-hour and rain… I could not get a taxi for about 3 hours. Started walking, then realised that the show we had booked for that night was where I’d started walking from – walked back – and caught the second half of a “Changing Faces” Opera show… which was quite interesting. Too tired to really explain much of that just now, but there was some finger-pupper stuff, some sort of chinese-pantomime skit, and then the actual “Changing Faces” – where the “actors(?)” would change their masks and/or clothing in a split-second… sometimes out in the crowd right in front of people… so quick you can’t see how it’s done.
A day off at the very foot of Mt Emie (China’s Number One Mountain)… with most people too tired to do pretty much anything. Being stinkin’ hot didn’t help any motivation levels either. I went for a wander, visited a couple of temples – and was hoping to visit the local museum, but it was closed. Temples – standard Buddhist fare… one almost next door to the hotel, nice enough. The other – about a kilometre up the mountain, in the middle of the bush/forest/bamboo – which made for a nice setting. This one had a building dedicated to 500 statues of different Buddhist monks… a little odd.
Didn’t really get a proper view of the mountain itself, nor did I see any of the monkeys which the area seems to be famous for (and proud of). But tomorrow, I’m hopeful there’ll be a decent view of it, to go with visiting the most famous attribute – the biggest Buddha Statue in the world – on the ride out.
30 June – China (Sichuan) – ~190 miles – 314 miles
Well… what a day. A long long day.
At breakfast, we discover that we can’t take the intended route, as there’s been a landslide. So, there’s some hurried perusing of maps… but with no confirmed alternate route at leaving time. We start riding, and get to a point where the decision needs to be made… and wait there for a while, watching as other traffic, mostly trucks, start to pile up at all three roads leading to this central little village. Eventually, we think we have a plan – and get back on the bikes… initially picking our way through all the trucks which have filled both lanes of the chosen road. Get free of that, and some nice riding for a while, albeit all as a big group, not really knowing where we’re going yet. First attempt at an alternative route… dwindles down to “a goat track along the edge of a cliff”. Which – to be honest – sounded like a bit of fun, but also – the main recurring nightmare I had leading up to this trip… just a slight mistake on such a road, and the bike (maybe me) falling off a cliff. It’s decided to find another way.
“Another way” is found – with about an hour of following the van, as the roads involved don’t appear on any of our GPS systems. And then… “it’s simple – just follow this road for another 40 miles or so, then follow the G108 up to Ya’an – where we’re back on the official/documented route… but make sure to not get on the Expressway G5”. So, a spot of lunch, and then everybody heads off in their own time. And yes – it was that simple (excluding some extended roadworks)… until Ya’an. I’d been starting to feel a little cocky, leading a couple of riders with my flawless navigation – wondering why anybody had thought this little detour had been so difficult… until Ya’an, where the directions/route-notes to get out of town, on to the non-expressway road – led to a no-longer-existent road. Quite a lot of time was spent trying to find alternative ways out of town in the right direction, with no luck – until eventually a local pulled up, and offered to guide us to the correct road… successfully. Thank you random local.
Then – the notes on how to follow that road also seemed to refer to things/intersections/roads which no longer existed, or had been moved… but I eventually got to the city at Mount Emie/Emie-Shan, where we’re staying. And for one final time – 2 miles from the hotel – I follow a road to a dead-end, where there’s a big blue fence blocking me from where I want to go… once again I’m looking over a barrier – to see the exact road I want to be on just 100m away. Aaarrgh. But, find another way, and finally pull into the hotel – 12 hours after leaving in the morning – thinking I must be the last rider in… but no, there’s still 3 out, who do eventually pull in, about two hours later.
Other than the rather large difference in expected riding time… the ride was nice. Went through some extended sections of metres-high bamboo on each side of the road, once again reminding one of certain Kung-Fu movies, and imagining “Wire Fu” scenes playing out on either side and over me. And, road-signs which seemed to be saying “Giant Pandas live here – so don’t cut down or dig up the bamboo”. Didn’t see any pandas, but the wildlife here at Emie-Shan seems prolific, in the short time I’ve been here. One toad jumping over my feet as I walked from the bike, and then discovered a 4-inch long stick(/branch?)-insect which somehow attached itself to my back/shoulder.
I don’t seem to have taken a single photo today, although I think I got some video footage… instead, here’s a photo from many weeks ago, which I only recently discovered – my riding through the deepest stretch of sand we encountered in the Wukhan Valley…