China | Mohan - Mengla - Mengyang | 22nd to 25th July 2015 | 11461km
The Chinese border crossing was big and fancy but not as intimidating as we’d feared, we were quickly stamped through and rolled into the town of Mohan and the start of Xishuangbanna national park. Complete contrast to northern Laos. Managed to successfully order veggie food, with much pointing and the phrases we’d written down in Malaysia, which arrived in humungous quantities. Looking around (with everyone else looking at us) it seems that huge meals are the done thing, as is leaving quite a lot too. Any bones, grisel or unwanted bits tend to be deposited unceremoniously on the floor, straight from the mouth. We didn’t leave a morsel, but it was a worthy challenge, as was the use of chop sticks for rice. Went to withdraw some Yuan only to find out that Visa cards will only work at Bank of China ATMs, the nearest one being in Jinghong, over 200km up the road. This has never happened before, panic. Remembered we had just over 30 USD somewhere from East Timor and got that reluctantly changed by a dodgy looking chap outside the bank (he didn't like how scruffy the notes were). Some clever budgeting needed over the next few days - the thought of completely running out of money, or not having access to it, made us feel a bit vulnerable.
On the advice of the American guy we'd met earlier that day in Laos we followed the silky smooth new highway the 40km to Mengla, trying to digest the mega meal. Bit of a push for Flo as we ended up covering 110km, first day back on her knee. We caught some enticing glimpses of the old highway, the G213, meandering alongside us, we’ll look out for that tomorrow. The 'town' of Mengla was huge and we arrived at dusk as the public synchronised dance sessions were in full flow. Endless clothing and mobile phone shops. Struggling to see a hotel so motioned to someone that we needed a (cheap!) place to sleep. From where we were stood they pointed at 3 different ones! Got to learn some of these symbols. Clocks on the wall behind the desk is a good give away.
Without fail, each hotel room provides a comb, toothbrushes and condoms. There is always a smokey oudour and bathrooms are pretty stinky with showers of wildly varying usability. They almost always have an image of a busty lady holding assorted fruits, as seen keeping Luke company below. Most excitingly for tired, wet cyclists though, they regularly have kettles, which isn't a thought process we thought we'd ever experience. In the morning, it was raining hard and the brightly lit town of the night before looked very grey. As we were packing up we were collared by Ellen (the Chinese often choose an English name) who spoke excellent english and even in the wet was impeccably dressed, holding an energetic one year old daughter. She took us for breakfast and insisted on paying for some shopping which was wonderfully kind and quite a relief as we shoved enough noodles into our panniers to get to a big bank. She happily translated our story to every other person we went passed.
Knowing we had to make some progress we opted to try and find a mix between riding the new highway that ploughed through mountains and over valleys in much more of a straight line, and the G213, which was distinctly wigglier but promised much better cycling. Both are audacious feats of engineering. The highway, however, soon proved a no go as we spluttered out of a terrifyingly long and dark tunnel we looked behind us to see big No Bicycles/Carts/Motorcycles sign that hadn't been on the other side. The G213 it was then, our new friend (and enemy) for the foreseeable, running all the way from the border to Lanzou in the North. Without tunnels and bridges it relies on following contours and switchbacks to make its way. We soon knew that when it diverged from the the main highway, it usually meant we were in for a big climb. Unable to find out much from blogs or google, all blocked in China, we never knew how long a climb we were in for. When motorcycles come the other way with their engines off, you know it's a biggie. From Mohan, Kunming was marked as 674km away on the highway, we couldn't help but think it’d be a lot more when we looked at how wiggly the old road is. It was spectacular though, our photos don’t do it justice as it was just too wet to get the camera out.
Like the two roads, there were the two very noticeably different sides to China. The basic rural villages linked together by the G213 with bananas and rice grown by weathered looking folk in pointy hats. Increasingly angry dogs outside rundown houses. Compared to the lively towns and cities, high rise developments on all available flat ground, coffee shops, Chinese bakeries and high heels. Umbrellas and ponchos are popular all over, in rain or sun. Peaches are in season and are a size Roald Dahl would be proud of. Chicken feet are the most popular street food. Dodgy biscuits and soybean drinks. Drivers love to use their horns and rarely indicate. Whilst the pipping is used more the alert one other to each others whereabouts, preempting an erratic change in direction or swift lane change, it's still hard to suppress an angry reaction to a car horn as a british cyclist. Shameless littering is still very popular.
Rain. Trying to negate any need to go into the panniers. First time in a while we've used waterproofs as it's actually chilly in the wet now. Flo using her Flouro gillet and feeling like a plonker, but oddly she fits in with some of the Chinese ladies sense of style. The grit and mud taking toll on the bikes and we were also desperate to get to a bike shop for some brake pads as Flo's was down to the metal. With enough money left for a bus ticket and Flo trying to avoid using her rear brake we got to Mengyang from where we could take a day off and get to Jinghong. As per, it rained and we wished we had ponchos too. Splashed our way to a laundry, both down to one riding tshirt now, the Bank of China which worked as promised and a Giant bike shop. Watched a man trying to pickpocket women's bags in with little to no subtlety, even with people looking on. Luke puffed out his pigeon chest and shouted at him, victory for morality. The hocking and spitting takes some getting used to, but it’s just what they do. Happy to be back in our hotel for the afternoon with out busty lady friend, watching Breaking Bad season 3 and eating noodles. Not exactly testing our cheffing ability but they do make good instant noodles here, except for one that smelt like cat food. Mission for next week is to survive until Kunming where we get our chance to regroup.