Cycling through China – Guizhou Province

Day 130: Xingyi to Anlong

Alarms were set for 0730, as we thought our normal body clocks might not wake us after a late night ‘laptoping’ in the hotel room. Coming round from our slumber, we realised it was absolutely chucking it down outside. As I lay in my warm, comfortable bed, I felt like asking Adam if we could just have another rest day and laze in bed, but I knew I’d regret it when I needed a rest day later down the line. With many, many kilometres to cover before we get to Hong Kong within our 30 day visa, ‘rest days’ are precious, and at this point, only 5 days in we needed to make some more distance before we could warrant a full day off (and we did have all afternoon off yesterday!). On a positive note, the rain was forecast to stop by 1000.

As breakfast was included in the price of our room, we filled up on the noodles, rice and cabbage on offer. (I am beginning to long for a traditional British breakfast buffet! China seems to just eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner!) Considering we had a late night and stayed in a hotel, we left the hotel at a respectable 1000 – which is good going. Thankfully, the weather forecast was accurate and it had stopped raining. Following yesterday’s chilly ride, we were well wrapped up against the cold weather. (We felt so grateful at this point for buying all of our winter gear in advance in Chiang Mai from Decathlon. It was definitely a wise investment – especially our gloves!) Xingyi was a big, bustling and busy town, but Adam did well navigating us out of the city.

As with many towns and cities in this province, Xingyi is nestled within a blanket of pointy, jagged hills which are unlike anything we’ve seen before. Abruptly jutting out of the ground, their acute peaks aren’t particularly high but look stunning. Researching this unique landscape online, I learnt that it’s called a ‘karst’ landscape; typically the rock is limestone, dolomite, or gypsum. Alongside the tall, steep rock cliffs, karst landscapes also include caves and surface sinkholes. South and central China has half a million square kilometres of karst landscape. This landscape is so impressive and is such an important part of China that it is World Heritage listed. It certainly provides us with pleasant views as we cycle through this special area of the world.

10km out of the city we were cycling across what initially looked to be a pretty ordinary bridge. Little did I know that it crossed the stunning Malinghe Canyon. As we were admiring the hills across the valley, I looked down and saw the fast flowing river, and then I noticed the soft waterfalls cascading down the steep cliffs into the river below. We stopped to take in the beautiful vistas. Adam really wanted to fly the drone but it was a restricted area due to a nearby airport, which was a shame. On the other side of the bridge, more waterfalls elegantly streamed downwards in a soft, wispy flow. 

On we continued, up and up a lovely incline contouring around the side of a precipitous hill. I really don’t mind the hills in China (so far!). Their low gradients and switchbacks actually make them fairly enjoyable. (I can’t believe I actually typed that.. me… enjoying hills! Who have I become?!)

That being said, this gradual uphill lasted for 15km, which is a shade too long in our opinion. And the stunning gorge was the last picturesque view we encountered today. There were several different routes we could take today, and we weren’t too sure which one would be best. In the end, we decided to opt for good ol’ faithful the G324, which we had followed for the past few days and it had provided us with some really pleasant cycling. Our luck on this route seemed to have run out, unfortunately, as today we were just cycling through drab, rundown town after drab, rundown town. Busy with traffic. No fun at all.

After 40km of this, we had had enough and turned off into a minor road instead. We had sections of peaceful, countryside cycling but the route was still speckled with busy villages and towns. Instead of stopping in a restaurant for lunch today, we decided to buy some succulent chicken drumsticks which were turning on a spit in a stall on the side of a road in one town. I also picked us up a portion of fried potato chips which are popular in China. In true Chinese style, everything was heavily seasoned with spices, and the potato chips had basil added too. We found a quiet spot in some abandoned road works just outside the town to enjoy our Chinese chicken and chips in relative peace.

Always a good thing to find for hungry cycle tourists!

Another glamorous shot of me eating!

As time got to about 1630, it was time for us to start looking for somewhere to camp. Sadly, we were just coming into the outskirts of a town (or perhaps a city). We spotted somewhere that looked fairly suitable straight away, but as it was only 1630 we decided to push on a little further (perhaps this was an error… as we were soon to discover). About 8km later, we spotted an area on the side of the busy road that had a flat lawn in front of a small lake, surrounded by plants and trees. Perfect! There was one man walking around the water, but other than that it seemed pretty deserted. No houses or buildings too close. Initially, we couldn’t imagine many people visiting here, as the area felt half finished due to the bridge over the lake not being fully built yet. Despite the spot not being hidden, we decided to hedge our bets and camp here, albeit exposed.

I had discovered a puncture a few kilometres beforehand in my back wheel (my first one in months). As the puncture wasn’t too bad, upon detection we just pumped my tire up to last the last hour or so of the day. So as I cooked dinner, Adam kindly sorted the puncture for me, and whilst he was at it he also sorted the front tire’s slow puncture that I’d had for weeks, possibly months. (As it was such a slow puncture, I only needed to pump the tire up every 2 days). Not wanting to erect the tent too early with our spot being more in view, we also attended to and cleaned our chains after yesterday’s rain.

Pumping up the tires after their puncture repairs.

At around 1900, we set up the tent as the sun had just set. However, the street lights illuminated us so we could still see pretty well (but anyone going past could also see us!) Unexpectantly, the park suddenly became much busier: three young men/boys came past walking their dog – they continued to linger and mess around on their phones fairly close to us. Then, low and behold, a bloody wedding photo shoot arrives, setting off small fireworks behind the happy couple for the perfect, nighttime wedding shot. Adam was pretty furious as the sparks from the fireworks narrowly missed our tent.

Our mind was made up, we couldn’t stay here. Initially, we thought this place would be quiet – we couldn’t imagine anyone coming by as it’s so deserted around here. But apparently, this is a popular nighttime hangout, especially for romantic couples walking around the lake, adolescent dog walkers and wedding photoshoots. If we had been in South Korea or Japan, we would have stayed in a more public place without a problem. But we didn’t want to risk it in China. As it was far too late to find another camping spot and it was so busy around here with people, we made the decision to pack up and find a hotel in the next town only 3km down the road.

As we reached the town we realised it was more like a city: huge towering buildings, clubs, music and flashing lights all assaulted our senses as we arrived. That being said, it had very few people, like a city on a ‘mute’ button. We turned off the main road into a slightly more residential street and found a hotel fairly quickly. It was slightly more expensive than we would have liked to pay, but as it was nearing 21.00 we just wanted to get in; it had been a long day and eventful evening and we just wanted to sleep. At least we had eaten and done some much-needed bike maintenance. And the best thing about this unexpected hotel stay – the shower was amazing!!

Day 131: Anlong to Wild Camp spot near Zhelou

We found it very hard to get out of our warm bed this morning, after our unexpected abandoned wild camp and late night. Those who read many of my blogs may have learnt by now that we’re not the best at getting out of bed in the morning! But eventually we did, after enjoying another amazing shower we managed to leave the hotel at a respectable 1000.

We experienced great Chinese kindness this morning which was really lovely. Firstly, as we were assembling our bikes in the hotel foyer, a lady who was having some breakfast with her small child offered us one of her dumplings! She spoke a little English and wished us well on our journey.

As we left the hotel, we were still pondering about which route to take. Either way, our next major target (before Hong Kong) is the beautiful area of Yangshuo. To get there from where we were, we could either head towards Nanning – which is the flatter route. Or, we could head directly east along more minor roads, but this route has a lot more hills. In the end, we decided to take the (hopefully) more remote but hillier route, counting on more opportunities to camp, (hopefully) quieter roads and (hopefully) better scenery.

Following the kindness of the Chinese stranger in the hotel foyer, we had an appetite for dumplings and went on the hunt for our own breakfast portion. We were determined not to leave the town until we found some! Thankfully, we were successful. On the way, we saw a huge cow being butchered in the middle of the pavement. We stopped to watch for a minute, both in awe actually of the skill required. They had just removed the skin and were in the process of cutting away the fat and flesh. I actually found it quite interesting to see! We found our dumpling house: we look out for the tell-tale circular wooden containers, usually surrounded by steam. We went in and I was able to order a plate of beef dumplings in Chinese. They seemed happy and impressed that I could say some words in Chinese. Two ladies were making fresh dumplings at the front of the restaurant so we knew they were freshly made this morning. I would say they were the most delicious dumplings we’ve ever had. So tasty, in fact, that we ordered three plates (30 dumplings in total!) They also served us a small bowl of clear soup, which they kept refilling.

When we came to pay, they didn’t reply with any numbers but said something else. We didn’t understand so I took out the calculator on my phone, but she didn’t type in any numbers. I heard the word ‘bu’ which means no… we realised that they were saying our food was free of charge! Astonished, we were so happy and thankful to those wonderfully kind women who completely made our day.

We left Anlong in high spirits. Unfortunately, those high spirits didn’t last long for Adam, as he was having issues with his camera. His photos were coming out bright white, which was extremely frustrating for him. We stopped for several minutes whilst he tried to fix the problem.. to no avail. This left him, understandably, in a bad mood as his camera and photography mean a lot to him on this trip.

We trundled along, Adam consumed with thoughts about why his camera was doing this, so we stopped again for slightly longer this time so he could try to get to the route of the problem. It turned out that his manual shutter didn’t seem to be working, and was letting in too much light. Thankfully, the electric shutter is working, so that was a short-term fix for the meantime.

It’s not surprising Adam wants to maintain his camera’s capability when he takes great shots like this one…

The road we decided to take, hoping that it would be quieter, didn’t turn out to be all that much quieter in the end. Huge lorries and buses overtook us every few seconds it seemed, honking their loud horns we thought unnecessarily.

We cycled among those stunning limestone karst hills which provided a magnificent backdrop for much of the afternoon, especially with the mist and fog surrounding the tops of them, adding to their mystic.

We love a good mountain view.

We didn’t stop for lunch but stocked up on naughty snacks which we ate throughout the day. At 1630, we came to the top of a hill and saw a sprawling town/construction site in the valley below. To one side was a rest stop with two flat, concreted areas with wooden ‘picnic’ shelters. After much deliberation, we decided to camp here, as once we descended the hill into the town below, we knew it would be very hard to find somewhere to camp, and if we want to do this cycle tour for as long as we’re planning, we can’t afford £14 hotels every night. So as I typed this, we were in our tent underneath the wooden shelter, hoping that no one would come and disturb us.

Preparing to cook dinner under the wooden shelter.

Day 132: Wild Camp spot near Zhelou to Wangmo Wild Camp

Luckily, we were completely undisturbed in our concrete floor / wooden picnic shelter camp spot and we both had a great nights sleep. Upon waking, we set about our usual morning routine, which for the regular readers – I won’t bore you with!

Wrapped up well against the morning cold, we descended the hill into the town below us. Today should be renamed, ‘National Cycle Through All The Roadworks In China Day’. Horrid. We cycled through a multitude of wet, thick muddy roadworks; our bikes were absolutely caked in brown-grey sludge. Our panniers became categorically filthy and within minutes of us setting off, our legs were covered from toe to knee in silt and muck. 

Not a fan!

More road works 🙁

Conclusively, it wasn’t our best day in China. Due to the natural landscape of this usually beautiful area of southern China, we were either climbing or descending. Luckily, it did seem to be more descent today, which resulted in us declining below 500m for the first time in ages. Banana trees were a welcome sight again and signalled a slight rise in temperature. But even the sight of banana trees couldn’t raise my spirits from being crushed through the many, many construction sights we cycled through. Due to the scale of construction that is happening in China, hordes of buildings and new roads are being established, resulting in huge lorries belching past us; roads reduced to muddy rivers with deep crevices of potholes and constant uneven rubble underneath our tires, threatening us to skid and slide. It was really sad seeing diggers massacring the green landscape.

We eventually came to a long uphill climb and I lost Adam. He stopped at a service station shop to buy water and snacks but I was so focused on ahead (and the podcast I was listening to in order to distract me from the roadworks…) that I actually didn’t see him go inside, so I assumed he was ahead of me…

So I continued pedalling – on and on up the hill. After 10 minutes or so, I couldn’t see him ahead. As the road ascended around the hillside, I could see a few hundred metres ahead of me. I thought to myself, ‘Blimey! Adam’s fast today!’ and began to feel thoroughly annoyed with him for not waiting for me… Meanwhile, Adam comes out of the shop and is wondering where I am, as similarly, he couldn’t see me up ahead anywhere as I had continued around a bend. He decided to get the done out to see if he could find me ahead. I must have had a lot of energy as I had made it quite far up the hill and the drone could only just reach me. Adam tried to use the drone to signal for me to stop and wait for him, but as I don’t speak ‘drone’ language, I had no idea that was what he was trying to communicate! Upon seeing the drone, I thought Adam was ahead of me, and was using the drone to see how far behind I was. However, I couldn’t find him anywhere on the side of the road, and became quite frustrated. 

Drone photo whilst Adam was trying to get me to stop!

Finally, I reached the top of the hill and a small settlement of houses and shops where I thought Adam would be waiting for me, but he was nowhere to be found. I assumed that Adam just wouldn’t leave that area and start descending the hill on the other side, so came to realise he must be behind me after all. All the while, Adam has realised his attempts to make me stop with the drone were futile, and he began pedalling furiously up the hill in hot pursuit, hoping to catch me in case I just didn’t stop and wait for him. He too, is furious at this point with me, unknowing that I had no idea where he had got to…!

When we were finally reunited, let’s just say there was a heated discussion! Adam had cycled up the steep hill the fastest and hardest he has ever moved a heavily laden touring bike – so that certainly didn’t help matters. Luckily for us, we’re the type of couple who gets everything out and very quickly realise there was just a misunderstanding and it’s all done and forgotten within minutes (relatively!). 

Following our minor disagreement, our moods were lifted as we cycled through an amazing village with a thriving, bustling market. Young pigs were being sold in small wicker baskets; row upon row of fresh fruit and vegetables were lined up along the road; raw meat was hanging from wooden poles and lying across market tables and a wide assortment of plastic bric-a-brac were just some of the items being sold. We decided to buy some vegetables to liven up our usual camp cooked meal of noodles, so we purchased an onion and some tomatoes, plus 6 eggs and some mushrooms for a tasty breakfast. 

These little piggies went to market…

Not an unusual sight in China.

Finally, we were favoured with some picturesque views. Although we were still climbing uphill, we eventually left the roadworks, towns and villages and had around 20km of lovely, quiet tarmacked roads with pleasant views across at the rolling hills and mountains. The pine trees and colour of the earth reminded me of the Troodos mountains in Cyprus. It certainly made for some glorious cycling; regrettably, Adam’s previous extreme exertion of sprinting uphill after me left him feeling rather ill. Being the hero he is, he kept on pedalling.

The road in this picture was our lovely descent!

A long downhill ensued into a town, and you guessed it, the road was another horrific mud and pothole fest. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible. Once in the town, we decided to look for somewhere to eat as we hadn’t had lunch (which really upsets me. Food is very important!). It was now 1700! We found a dumplings restaurant and order four plates of pork dumplings. Not quite as tasty as yesterdays but I couldn’t complain considering how hungry I was.

We decided to push out of the town and find somewhere to camp. Unfortunately, the town appeared to be in somewhat of a basin or bowl: as the road leading in was downhill, the road leading out was uphill. Those who read my journals regularly will know: I hate uphills at the end of the day. Especially when I’ve been climbing ascents all day! (“Give me a break!” springs to mind…) I felt thoroughly tired, verging on exhausted – although, in hindsight, I do think it’s more a matter of mindset rather than physical capability. Compared to earlier, I had very little energy to tackle the wet, thick mud as we pedalled uphill… yet again. Ginormous cement lorries dragged past as I pedalled extremely slowly at 4km/h. 

Adam, understanding how tired and close to breaking point I was, was looking hard for a suitable place to camp. He spotted a potential spot off the side of the road about 3km out of the town. It certainly wasn’t ideal: a bit of a dumping ground for rubbish and much of it was on a slope except for one patch of muddy ground where we decided to pitch the tent. There are no houses nearby, just a small allotment and potting shed type hut which I hoped no one would visit before we left in the morning.

Preparing dinner in our ‘dumping ground’ camp spot.

Despite my moanings, I actually enjoyed today’s cycling – especially that 20km of nice views – not the roadworks! As we lay in the tent ready to sleep, I felt considerably tired. This is the longest we’ve cycled without a rest day so far (8 days), but the visa deadline hanging over us and the distance we need to cover is spurring us on… for now at least! 

Day 133: Wangmo Wild Camp to Naye Wild Camp

Thankfully, we were undisturbed again in our wild camp spot in China. No one decided to visit our dump of a campsite or the little vegetable plot or potting shed. Once risen, the regular morning rituals ensued: I am getting decidedly bored of porridge now. (First world problems I know… I would love some nice granola and creamy Greek yoghurt for a change…)

Setting off we were surprise surprise, treated to a long, long uphill to start the day. And surprise surprise, it was very muddy and gravelly. Similarly to yesterday, it was pretty horrible, although some nice views almost counteracted it.

Eventually, we reached the top and surprise surprise ( – sorry… enough surprise surprising!) we had a long downhill. Dirty, fuel-hungry lorries continued to overtake us, but many of them took a turning into a large quarry. As we cycled past, thick black smoke billowed into the morning air: climate destruction in action. Luckily, the views were actually quite lovely this morning. As we climbed (because in this region, every day we’re climbing) or descended, we always had, on one side a steep cliff face or upwards grassy slope, and on the other side a steep drop with views across the green, brown and dark orange rolling hills and mountains. Decidedly pleasant I’d say.

We came into a riverside village and through another busy, bustling market: we love these places! There are always many people selling all sorts of things. What caught my eye on this occasion was two women selling live chickens in pens. They would pull a chicken out by its feet, unfazed by its flapping and squawking, attach the thrashing thing by its feet to one end of a metal pole. On the other end was a weight so they could see how much the bird weighs, and therefore how much to charge the waiting customer. I watched the exchange in fascination: this is certainly different from choosing which plump chicken breast you would like from the fridge in Morrisons or Asda!

Just a young boy carrying the live chicken home for dinner.

Our dumpling sensors were on high alert as we spotted that tell-tale steam, so holding Adam’s bike for him, he went to buy some for a tasty lunch. Whilst I waited, I gathered quite a crowd. Men, women and teenagers all crowded around me, taking photos and videos of me and with me. They were all very smiley and polite though so I didn’t mind: it’s not every day they get a foreigner in their tiny village, let alone one on such a peculiar bicycle! Adam returned with the goods for lunch and the crowd wanted a few photos of us together. A slight pause in the Chinese paparazzi allowed us to take the chance to say, “Zàijiàn,” (“Goodbye”) in Chinese and pedal off.

Just outside of the village we managed to find a quiet spot hidden behind a tractor from the road to enjoy our lunch in relative peace. The dumplings were good but an amazing spicy flatbread type thing stole the show – and Adam bought two each – wise choice. Delicious lunch.

The afternoon cycling continued much like the morning: long, long uphills. Often nicely tarmacked, the road was in an OK condition, but in many places, it was thick with gravel which made our wheels feel considerably unsteady. The downhills were steep in places and I couldn’t fully enjoy them as the road condition was steadily getting worse. However, the views all afternoon really were worth the climbs. I made a mental note not to take this landscape for granted. It can be tempting to get used to your surroundings, but if I try to look at our vistas with fresh eyes each day, I will continue to be in absolute awe at the magnitude of these Chinese hills and mountains. Beautiful autumnal colours of brown crispy leaves, fallen from the trees creating a blanket nestled in the crevices on the side of the road. In contrast, bright green fields of crops lay in the valley far below, alongside sunshine bright yellow rapeseed fields.

Pretty happy with a lot of the views in this region.

On one particular uphill, we could see the road ahead stretching around the hillside and across the other side of the valley. When we eventually reached there, we looked back at where we had come from with a sense of pride. Due to the poor road conditions in places, Adam got a flat tire today, which took 30 minutes or so to sort. (This gave me a chance to have a rest on the long uphill slog!) We listened to podcasts as we relentlessly pedalled uphill and music on the long downhill sections. 

An enjoyable day of cycling was had by us both as we were treated to blue skies in the afternoon which always lifts my spirits after seeing the blanket of white in the sky all day.

At about 1600 we cycled into a town. Stopping at the largest shop the town had on offer, we decided to stock up on food and snacks. Adam went a bit crazy, but we definitely have enough treats now to last us the next three days – at least! Sweet treats are a much-needed boost of moral on these long uphill routes.

A much needed moral boost!

As I waited for Adam to exit the shop, I watched one young man board his scooter, with a live chicken in a bag. The chicken’s head was stuck out of one end and its feet were tied together in the man’s hands. On the subject of chickens, earlier in the day we had cycled passed a man securing a live chicken to the back of his scooter; the chicken did not sound or look best pleased at all. I understand this is their culture and way of life which I respect, but I can’t help feeling sorry for these chickens and feel like they are being treated cruelly. I am not a vegetarian, but still feel uncomfortable seeing an animal treated that way. Perhaps hypocritical of me or a sign of our sheltered upbringing in the UK in regards to the animals many of us eat…

This was not a happy chicken 🙁

Anyway! As we left the town, our huge stash of treats safely packed into our panniers, we swerved around the trademark potholes; one pothole was filled with blood as two men casually butchered a whole pig on the side of the road. This is becoming a common, daily occurrence.  The time was nearing 1630 and we’d had an arduous hill climb day (over 1,200m elevation, but the day before we climbed 1,500m) so we decided to start searching for a camp spot as soon as possible.

Luckily, the town we left was small so it didn’t take long until we were climbing out of the basin the town was snuggled in and up into the quiet hills. We actually found a spot after about 30 minutes or so of looking. Adam spotted a large, white stone sign on some scrubland at the side of the road on a bend. The sign was on flat ground so he figured there would be flat ground around the sign. He was correct. We climbed up the slight mound, away from the road up to the sign and realised the area was thick with long grass, but it was nothing we couldn’t wade through. There were already some goat tracks through the long grass.

The view from our camp spot.

We found an area where we wouldn’t be seen from the road to make dinner: a delicious bowl of noodles with fried onions, tomatoes and mushrooms, with another helping of suspicious ‘ham sausage’ meat. It was devine. As I was cooking, we were visited by a herd of goats on their way down the valley. They passed within three metres or so of us, eyeing us suspiciously on their evening commute. It was nice to have some different company for a few minutes!

Camping chef

Yum!

Just before the sun set, we pitched our tent. The only flat area was in view of the road but as our tent’s flysheet is dark green it’s well camouflaged from the road. So a good day all in all has been had. We didn’t quite make our 57km minimum today with it being so hilly, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable day which is the most important thing. In a few days time the hills level out (I think… I hope!), so the final week or two before Hong Kong should be flat (er) and we can make up some distance then.

Day 134: Naye Wild Camp to Hongshuihe Wild Camp

Another night left alone in our tent for a good nights sleep. Luckily the goats didn’t visit us during the night either. As usual, we were packed up, eaten breakfast and ready to get on the road just before 0900. I thoroughly enjoyed a different breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and tomatoes; it made for a delicious change to the usual porridge.

The first agenda on our cycle today was tackling the first big hill. Spoiler alert: we climbed over 1,800m of elevation today – which is the highest we’ve ever done. By the end of the day, our legs were absolutely aching! However, as to be expected, the views surrounding us today really were magnificent. We experienced more of the same as yesterday really: rolling mountains in autumnal hues of dark orange, moss green and shadowy grey rock. 

Super stylish in my luminous vest!

The road wounds its way around the mountain ahead, slowly but surely inching its way higher and higher. Reaching the opposite side of the valley after ascending, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, to reach the top, we looked back on where we had come from, a triumphant feeling channelling through our veins. The road was beautifully quiet which made a peaceful change; only the odd vehicle passed us now and then. At this moment, we were considerably glad we chose this route, despite the hard climbs, the peace and quiet alone in those breathtaking views was worth it. 

After the long uphill came the inevitable downhill slog. I say ‘slog’ because it really was! Although it’s always great to have some pedal free kilometres, the steepness and rough terrain meant we were pulling the breaks hard – and my word – my hands were absolutely killing me by the end! 

Just before midday, we reached the town of Sanglang. As we cycled in, we saw a gathering of around 100 people, many people huddled around cooking stoves, others congregated around small fire pits on the side of the road. Almost everyone was wearing a white linen type top over their ordinary clothes, and some had white cloth wrapped around their heads. (I have since learned that Bai people hold the colour white in high esteem). We stopped to take in the hustle and bustle of our surroundings. As we gazed around us at the commotion, the 100 or so crowd gazed right back inquisitively at us. A huge dead pig was marched down the road on the back of a flatbed vehicle, colourful ribbons tied around its ears. A small band were playing traditional music as the congregation appeared to be preparing a feast. We set our bikes to one side and Adam went to take some video and pictures of the band whilst I stood by the bikes. A friendly man came over and said something to me, which I understood none of. A younger man, of teenage, came over and said, “Come and sit! Relax!” or words to that effect. Still unsure, a smiley woman came over to me and beckoned me to sit with a group of women around a fire pit, so I gladly took her up on the offer. She tried to speak some words to me but struggling to understand one another, there was lots of smiling and laughter instead. Someone brought me a plastic cup of warm water; everyone was extremely friendly. 

The men on the right of this picture were gathered around the cooking stoves.

Adam got talking to a woman my age who spoke good English, who we would later learn her ‘English’ name is Sarah, and she ended up inviting us both to enjoy food with them. We gladly accepted the opportunity to spend time with locals and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. We learnt that these people are an ethnic minority called Bai. One woman made it very clear they were not ‘Han’ Chinese. (Since this encounter, I have learned that China officially recognises 55 ethnic minority groups in China, in addition to the ‘Han’ majority. 91.5% of the country are Han Chinese, the other 8.5% of the population are made up of the 55 ethnic minority groups, although there are some nationals who do not recognise themselves as Han or one of the 55 ethnic minorities. Interestingly, there are around 730,000 people who fall into the category of “Undistinguished” ethnic groups. The vast majority of these people live in Guizhou province). 

These people had gathered together on this day as a member of their community, Sarah’s grandfather had died, and this was his funeral. Apart from the sharing of food, this event couldn’t be more different from a traditional English funeral. A circular metal table with a hole in the middle was placed on top of the fire pit we sat around, and a large wok of delicious food was put inside the hole above the fire. Eight or nine plates of food were also placed on the table for everyone to share, and we were each given a bowl of rice and a pair of chopsticks. In addition, two bowls of homebrewed alcohol was also placed in front of us, which we both took one sip of – no more! 

It was so incredibly kind and generous of Sarah to invite us to eat with them; the food was absolutely delicious. (All except the bowl of warm pig’s blood which Adam was encouraged to try. Years of having to down suspicious liquids at university came into good practice on this occasion! I managed to avoid it thankfully.) The people we sat around the table with were amazingly kind – offering us food we couldn’t reach around the table and refilling our water. Sarah spoke with us and translated a little between us and the other people. 

After we had eaten, Sarah invited us to ‘worship’, or I would say ‘pay our respects’ to her grandfather. In what appeared to be a shop or empty restaurant, a shrine had been erected in front of a screen, behind which I think her grandfather laid. We were shown how to hold three burning incense sticks to our foreheads and bow three times in front of her grandfather’s picture. We did so, as a crowd gathered to take our photo and video. Sarah said her grandfather will continue to bless us on our journey.

We were then invited to sit with Sarah’s father and uncle for a few minutes before I think they got bored of being unable to communicate with us and politely left. We took this as an opportunity to get back on the road. We thanked Sarah profusely for her kindness and after two children, eager to help, refilled our water bottles for us, we waved goodbye to the kind people left attending the Bai funeral. Everyone smiled and returned our waves. As we pedalled away, we reflected on how much that truly was such an amazing and remarkable experience and one we will not forget in a hurry. We are so glad we accepted Sarah’s kind offer to enjoy food with them and didn’t think we had to decline and rush off to ‘get today’s kilometres done’. We do have a visa deadline but when opportunities like this arise, we must take them, as this is the whole reason we travel in the way we do to the places we go to: to experience these literally once in a lifetime, random, unplanned experiences with kind locals who allow us to have a tiny glimpse into their extraordinary lives. 

We spent about 90 minutes enjoying lunch with Sarah and her family, so we really pedalled hard this afternoon. Without talking much to each other, we just put our heads down, podcasts on and pedalled as hard as we could for about 3 hours solid, up more of those long uphill climbs. 

In the afternoon I noticed what I would call a clash in climates, highlighted by the vegetation we cycled past. Reminding me of colder climes were pine trees, which somehow grew skyward, defying gravity on the steep inclines. Alongside them were banana trees and acres upon acres of dragon fruit plants which are typical of warmer climes (which we saw a lot of in Thailand). Thankfully, we had many kilometres of downhill in the afternoon which also helped us make up some kilometres. 

At 1630, we considered stopping, as we spotted a pretty decent looking place to camp, but we decided to push out another 11km to a scenic spot in Hongshuihe. We knew there was a huge lake there, which might provide us with an impressive camping spot, or alternatively, Adam spotted a hotel on the map as a backup. After one final uphill and some nice breezing downs, we reached the lake, which really was spectacular. What did upset the view though was some random tourist attraction ‘stuff’ they put in the middle of the lake… unnecessary in my opinion! But China doesn’t care about my opinion I’m sure!

There definitely wasn’t anywhere to camp around the lake, as it was impossible to get to the water’s edge as it was surrounded by slopes. But as we approached the road leading to the hotel, we saw what appeared to be a huge abandoned building. When we reached it, we managed to squeeze by the metal gate blocking the entrance to the car park. Our initial thoughts were correct, it clearly was an abandoned building as deep cracks in the car park allowed plants and weeds to grow through. We almost felt like we had cycled onto the set of the TV Series ‘Walking Dead’. Tiptoeing inside, it looked as if the building was half built and left to ruin as perhaps money was cut or investments lost. We thought at first we might sleep inside, but we became a little concerned that something might fall on our heads as the building was so dilapidated: damp and mould clinging to the walls and metal bits hanging precariously from the ceiling. 

A huge abandoned building, all to ourselves!

As we patrolled the perimeter, checking there was nobody else living there, we suddenly spotted a police hut on the road. Quickly backtracking, hoping no one saw us, we made sure we kept our voices low! In the end, we decided to pitch our tent on some flat gravel behind the building, out of view of any houses or other buildings, the road and the police. Our neighbours were piles of unused bricks. 

We managed to cook some noodles and vegetables for tea, despite some mishaps with the stove as petrol is running very low. It’s been a long, eventful, difficult but sincerely enjoyable day. As I typed these notes into my phone, rain was starting to patter onto the tent. It was 21.10, so it was by time I closed my eyes to get my 10 hours sleep! That’s what you need on a bike tour: plenty of sleep, plenty of food and preferably, great supportive company. I’ve got all of that right now which makes me a happy cycle tourer indeed. 

Happy and slightly crazy!

Returning to the Road - Yunnan Province
Cycling through China - Guangxi Autonomous Region

2 comments

Richard Miller

Lovely! I enjoy reading your Journal and following on YouTube as well. I do say the journal give a bit better perspective on the day to day travel experience for you both. I did enjoy (sorry it made me laugh) the sorry of the hill climb and Adam was no where to be found. It reminds me of some Touring adventures I have had with friends. I have the mind set of “well I have food, shelter, clothes, water, battery packs, first aid kit, So screw them! LOL” Lu you could have looked at it in this light. You were the advanced scouting party out looking for supplies. Anyway, both of you stay safe and keep the pedals turning.

Hi Richard! Thank you for your comment and that’s great to hear you enjoy reading my journal: that makes me very happy! Haha yes if Adam and I did get split up we would sort of be OK – although Adam carries the tent so I would be in for a chilly night (or I would have to find a hotel!) and I carry the cooking equipment so he would be going hungry if we were somewhere rural! Thank you again for following and supporting our journey.

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