Contrary to the weather reports we ended up of leaving Emei Shan in pleasant sunshine, not the rain that was forecast. We decided that we would take smaller roads en route to Kunming (800km away) as opposed to the juggernaut filled A-roads. This immediately took us into the mountains. There was a lot of climb but the roads were good so it was no worries. Huge factories could be seen on our way following a river [photo]. At various intervals were those brown tourist road signs indicating a scenic spot and a grand canyon. Cool I’d like to check those out I thought. In the late afternoon we took a small detour into a small town so Christian could get some cash out. There we met a South Korean who told us it was not possible to head down the road which lead to the Grand Canyon because they are building some kind of secret military factory. Well, he didn’t need to say a great deal else to make us want to go down there. We got to the junction and had a think. I said that I wanted to try it, and if the other guys weren’t up for it then I could meet again a few hundred K later. The alternative route went up a steep valley so Gauthier and Christian decided to come with. Plus how could you not want to? Secret military factory + Grand Canyon = a must see. And so we continued downstream, the valley sides getting higher and more and more canyon like. We didn’t get very far until we were greeted by a whopping sign saying ‘Aliens out’. So we cycled a bit further until we could get a peak around the meander, and took a snap [photo]. It was in fact more or less the same photo that they had used to advertise the canyon so perhaps we saw the best bit. Keen not to end up in a secret military jail, we figured this was a wasps’ nest probably best left undisturbed. On our way back to the junction an ensemble of police cars some with blacked out windows passed us in the opposite direction. Hmmm. What the hell are they building down there….?
And so the steep valley road it was. We climbed for a bit but there was no point in starting the ascent that evening so we looked for a place to stay. In the valley below was a big apartment block and what looked like a number of abandoned sheds. They looked pretty homely, but failing those there was a flatish patch of rubble where we could pitch our tents. We went down to the apartment block to say hello and ask if we could stay. They said they had to check with their boss, and then 2minutes later he turned up in a 4×4. They were all very friendly people and the boss said we could sleep in one of the shed rooms no problem. They asked us if we were hungry to which of course we replied yes, to which they then said OK dinner is at 6. Winner. One of the workers, a 23 year old called Liu Chao, spoke good English which helped facilitate the conversation at the dinner table. Nevertheless the boss thought he’d kick off the dialog with our edification: ‘Tibet = China, Taiwan = China, The Dalai Lama = Bad Man’. ORLY? As guests of honour we weren’t really in a position to debate the minutia of his arguments so we kept shtum. Now that grace had been said, we could get on with enjoying the food and it was really very good. A simple rice, veg and pork dish but it rivalled anything we had been served in a restaurant. I asked what the score was about the whole secret military factory just a couple of K around the corner. Mysteriously they didn’t know a lot about it, although strangely they seemed to think it wouldn’t have been a problem us cycling down there. After the food it was a doubles game of badminton to see who the real boss was. They were pretty good. We thanked them for dinner and retired to our shed where we had a little film night using Chris’ Mac Book Air and my Solar Sound II speakers…
The next day was a bit of a weird one. It started off well with rice and bread for breakfast but then later we all got split up (Gauthier way ahead, and Chris way back ‘cos he had a puncture), and then Gauthier continued alone for political reasons. The higher up the valley we went the wetter it got and the more the road deteriorated. There was a 250 metre long stretch which was particularly sketchy. A small backlog of trucks and buses were half blocking the road. I weaved in and out them to the front of the queue to see what the hold-up was. I arrived at the lip of small downhill to see a bus sliding down a bank of thick mud brakes fully locked to avoiding going over the edge. I proceeded with caution. At the next small peak a guy on a motorbike overtook me and started bumbling down the other side. For a second he looked in total control navigating the slime like a pro, but then a split second later it became evident this was no Chinese Valentino Rossi, but someone at real risk of getting himself killed. He slipped one way, half re-corrected the other, went over a bump and lost control. I watched on in horror as he made a moved ever closer to the barrier-free edge of the rocky valley drop. About a metre from the edge he fell off, the bike landing on top of him. Had he gone over then I doubt it would have been fatal but it was all rock and pretty steep so it wouldn’t have been pretty. Still, he took a good crushing so I went to help lift the motorbike off him and offered him some water. The guy was definitely in shock (and possibly under the influence), but his mate arrived and helped sort him out. It was a little a little unnerving.
Camping that night was pretty chilly, down to around 4 or 5°C. The next day the road conditions deteriorated yet further into a giant mudslide travelator. Up and up the road went with a thick fog to accompany it. Then, incredibly, after about 5 or 6 hours just beyond the top of the pass the cloud broke and revealed a pristine blue sky. Wow, that was unexpected but 100% welcome. We blitzed it down the switchbacks on the other side lush forest all around. The further south we got the more tropical things were becoming. We cycled through many a mountain village and town picking up a few bits along the way. I got given a bag of Sichuan hot peppers for free which given the opportunity you simply have to try. It’s really strange stuff – a novel gustatory experience for me. True explosions of flavour. I can recommend it….