So then, Tiger Leaping Gorge… It was pretty fun. A Chinese guy in my carriage in the sleeper train could speak English so the following morning he helped me buy a ticket back to Kunming but also gave me a lift with his Dad to the bus station. From there it was a 2-3 hour minibus ride to the start of the gorge. I met a South African Jacques working for an oil and gas company out here in China and he would be my companion for the trek. When the bus pulled up we had to buy our tickets immediately, but they never got checked anywhere. The road wound up to what was presumably the entrance (no real signs of gorge at this point, just a big valley). On one side of the valley you could see snow speckled mountains which I think were over 4000m high. It was impressive but I’d seen a lot of similar stuff already so I couldn’t really describe it as breath-taking. I had been warned by a few people back in the hostel in Kunming that on top of the fiver entrance cost there were various points where you had to pay extra to take a photo, and that at one of these points there was a woman who spat at you if you didn’t pay. It took only a matter of seconds to realise that the first woman we encountered was the spitter. We trotted up to the viewpoint and she shot out of her booth and started demanding cash. She motioned that she had constructed this viewpoint by herself and maintained the path. Noticing that we weren’t really that interested she then took her game to the next level and jumped to the ground flipping open a box to reveal some ‘Tiger Leaping Ganja’ she had on sale, and thrust a newspaper cutting in Chinese in our faces to give her story some credulity. We tried moving on and she tried physically blocking us! That didn’t really work so we walked past at which point she launched into a tirade and actually started spitting at us. This continued until we were at least 50metres away. It was all pretty theatrical and a little difficult not to feel bad, but what did just pay that fiver for? What an introduction…
The map showed that the first challenge we would encounter would be the ‘28 bends’. A woman was selling ‘Wind Fungus Root Chinese Medicine Energy Enhancer’ to help conquer the ascent. I can’t say it helped. The bends were easy enough, but by this time the sun was fully out and on us so it was shorts and T-shirt weather and hot enough to break a sweat. Two mountain bikers were half pushing, half down-hilling the path which was pretty brave of them. The path continued pretty uneventfully until we got to the Tea Horse Guesthouse where we stopped for a drink. I was tempted by the ‘Foot Feflexology’ [sic] sign to stay there the night but it wouldn’t have set us up particularly well for the next day so we missioned it on to Half Way Guest House. I think in total there were 6 westerners walking the valley that day, and guess what…two of ‘em were from Brizzle! Haha. The hostel was pretty beautiful – definitely one of the best guest houses I have stayed at this trip. It got pretty chilly at night but the stars were out in full…
The next morning we made our way down to the road in the valley below. Until this point the TLG experience had been good, but not OMG-good. I was a touch disappointed that the whole thing was a big valley and not a gorge. That was about to change.
You had to pay an additional squid to go visit the gorge itself, but thankfully this transpired to be the main event. It was a tricky descent which was at times hard work on the knees. In places there was the option of the ladder or the “safe” option. We took the ladder on both occasions – the sketchiest I’ve ever climbed down. You had to pay another squid to go on the Tiger Leaping Stone. According to the legend the tiger leapt across the 25 metre gap to the other side of the gorge to escape a hunter. Yeah it was a big tiger. It didn’t really look worth it, but right next to the stone was another one which took you close enough to get sprayed by the water. I don’t think you were really meant to be on it, but here and only here could you feel the raw power of the gorge. Wowzerz. That bit alone made the whole trip worth it.
That evening I went for food with the Bristolians in the “Old” Town back in Lijiang. Lijiang seemed different to any of the other cities I had visited in China; it was super clean and had very few high-rise buildings. The fact that it is at a higher altitude means that it doesn’t suffer the same pollution problems that affect places like Chengdu which sits in a bit of a basin. It would have been good to stay the night and explore the city a bit more the next day, but I had a 10 hour train to be catching…
Back in Kunming I’ve finally replaced the cassette and chain on my bike which have now seen the best part of 10K km and are looking and feeling that way. Last night I experienced the sensory overload that was a few hours in a Chinese discotheque – a magnetic mix of electro, karaoke, and Mah-jongg. It was strange – the music was too loud to talk but no one was dancing, just people sat around small tables, and an amateur karaoke singer who fancied herself as a pro singing and gyrating on various podiums. One to avoid. The temperature here has dropped again and it certainly isn’t shorts and T-shirt weather any longer. I really feel like I’m done with the cold now and so I’m gearing up for cycling South. After getting some great advice from a South African/British couple about S.E. Asia my plans for the continuation of my trip are coming together after the unexpected change of direction. I really wanted to go see the beautiful karst peaks out in Yangshuo (and even more so now that I know about it the 800m high karst peaks at Wulingyuan where they filmed some of Avatar), but that would entail sorting out another visa extension, and it just doesn’t work out logistically or financially, and I am really really done with waiting around for visa stuff. So I have picked up my Thai visa (£23 – 60 day single entry. Bizarrely you only get 15days if you travel by land but you get 30 if you fly), and Vietnamese visa (£53 express 1day service for 30 day fixed entry) and tomorrow I’m leaving for Hanoi with Herbert a 66 year old cycle tourer from Germany. He has cycled all the way from Germany and is cycling to Bangkok where his wife is flying out to meet him. Cambodia and/or Laos might also be on the cards but for those countries you can pick up a visa on arrival so we’ll see how that all pans out.
The border is 430km away and the topography is pretty flat or even downhill (Kunming is 1900m above sea level, Hanoi is just 50m) so it shouldn’t be too taxing. I think it’s another 350odd K to the capital so all in all about a week’s cycle.
China has become the country I have spent the most amount of time in (Iran at number 2 at 30days). Apparently the language is actually quite easy to learn to speak but of course reading and writing are a different matter. I have met a surprisingly high number of westerners out here who can speak Mandarin or are in the process of learning it. Alas despite nearly two months spent here my vocabulary extends only to ‘Ni hau’ and ‘Xie xie’ (Hello, and thank you). Oh and ‘Chow mein’ ain’t how you pronounce it back in the UK.
The whole spitting thing is something worth half a mention. People who were out here 5 years ago say the situation has improved drastically but it is still pretty bad. Women are nearly just as guilty as men. The worst thing is when it comes to eating in a café or restaurant – people will spit and flob on the floor the bits of their food they don’t want to eat, and then someone comes along and scoops it all up after they are done. I have on occasions witnessed people cough up a super-loogie and spit on the floor inside a restaurant. Imagine a large dark cancerous chunk of bronchus landing next to you as you’re just about to tuck into your Kung Pao chicken. Mmmm. Chewy. At least the situation is improving huh?
China is where it’s if you’re looking for a comprehensive retail experience. It’s impressive to see so many clothes shops about – if you’re into shopping. I’m not the only one to have commented that by European standards a lot of the women here dress quite provocatively and that’s not just in the dodgier parts of town. Meanwhile you’ll notice that a lot of men dress sharper than their European contemporaries. It seems the Chinese sport the power-clothing to match their economic prowess. In some of the more provincial towns however you could see still see some really beautiful traditional clothing.
I’m pretty sure there were other things I wanted to mention but they don’t come to mind right now. It is such a vast country that you could spend many months cycling around China. I feel like I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of what it has to offer. It’s shame I didn’t make it out to any of the Alpha cities in the East and some other scenic spots, but you canne do everything. All in the all though I have to say that I enjoyed my time here and look forward to returning one day when, perhaps, the country is just one giant Babel of a skyscraper.