Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Passport Control 10/3/07

We left of the Vietnamese border in a beautiful mountain valley, arriving to the Chinese side. Everything was different:
1. The road - the 500 meters leading to the Chinese passport control were like a garden, with a sidewalk.
2. The guards welcomed us in English all around.
3. The line to the passport control was actually a line, as apposed to the mob in the Vietnamese side.
4. No one asked for money under the table (a bribe)!
5. All formalities were quick.
6. We were bed "good travel".

We were all excited. It started in the morning, setting off towards the border, still in Vietnam, and grew more & more as the day continued.
The highway (2 lanes on each side) was smoothly paved, and was all to our self. we assumed that Vietnamese are not allowed to drive in China, so all the bad drivers were left behind us.
we were heading towards Pinxiang, the big city (100,000) near the border. the landscape was still beautiful, hills all around, all green and lime stones here & there.
The weather was still wintry, the same since we left Hanoi. Not only wet and cloudy, but actually cold. Winter arrived a day after we sent 6.5 kg, moat of it warm clothes, back home. We were cycling with most of our stuff: long tights, long shirts, Apex jackets, wind jackets, Balaclavas, winter gloves and Gal finally switched to shoes.


We were told many bad things about China. People were unfriendly, crappy hotels, dirty, expensive, disgusting toilets and that " a billion of them can't be wrong".
Til now, a week here, China surprises us (to the better) more & more.
The scenery is still getting better all the time. We've still been cycling through lime stones, but, here everything is bigger! The rivers, the bridges, the roads are wider, the trucks are huge (but the drivers are very courteous, a word not in the vocabulary of the Vietnamese driver), the towns are bigger.
The food is finally full with taste and diverse and all around. Where ever we reach, or even stop for a short rest, people ask us if we ate - "are you hungry?" (one of the few word we already recognize).
The people... We fell in love with the Chinese! The contras from the Vietnamese!
They are polite, not touching our stuff (bike) without permission. they are calm & relaxed; They enjoy seeing us, with our funny clothes and interesting bicycle gear, but, there's never a big fuss about it.Smiling, but not laughing like a 4-year old. The chemistry with them is much better than with the rural Vietnamese.

Passport control
Why go around the mountain? Chinese solution.

Oops, our first broken spoke.

Gals' favorite red trees :-)
Hotels in China
We've cycled over 400 km in China, entered to Guangxi and climbed to Yunnan. We've passed through 200 km of lime stone pillars all around us, amazed how the road finds a path between them. We met a big river and followed it. At some point he tried pushing us to the cliff on our right, Gal panicked just a bit, walked part of the way, but survived. Later we crossed it on a beautiful arch bridge, into Longzou, a peaceful town with an impressive promenade on the cliff of the river bank. We staid there a day, Rami had diarrhoea. At least we had a fantastic hotel room.
Everybody told us hotels in China are disgusting and expensive. Meanwhile, after 12 days in Guangxi, we find the hotels excellent! Prices are around $4-8, there are (almost) always hot water, clean sheets, a TV with a million Chinese channels, drinking water and non-western toilets, which we find more hygienic.
Once we got stuck in a small village and we spent the night in a 3-bed/no-toilets/dorm-style/dirty room. The toilets were 2 floors down, near the pigs, chickens and rats. We got a bucket of hot water (for both of us).
But, the view from the balcony was worth it: many small houses, with old-fashion tiles, packed in a small valley, surrounded by lime stone pillars.
The bridge in Longzhou.
Back on the road 13/03/07
We left Longzou with a big smile on our faces. Its 3 days that we are smiling in China. the food, the drivers, the people, the towns, the scenery; everything going our way!
But when will it end?
everything around us was lush-green and wet (raining now and then). The lime stones surrounding us were getting bigger (as we said, seems like everything in China is bigger) and the valleys between them narrower, but amazingly the road found its way between them.
the first two days were totally flat, as seen in our Nellis map. Then we started climbing small hills, up and down. Not too tiring, but slow.
It was 16:00 when we reached a junction. Our destination, a small town, was 14 km off the road we wanted. The next town ahead was 22 km. So we decide to quickly go to our town, for the night (call us spoiled, but its too wet to camp, when there are cheap hotels around). Very quickly the valley ended and the road zigzagged up a mountain, steeply, and didn't stop for an hour. It took us by surprise. We thought we'll hit mountains only in a few days. Then we went down all that we've climbed. Gal was crying near the cliff (she has improved a lot since - lots of practice!).
Then there was another mountain, a bigger one, and sunset was not far away. We finally reached the pass, the sun was down, Gal was walking her bicycle down the cliff and Rami was trying to calculate if its worth it.
It was dark. We put our lights. The road was empty, as if the whole district fell asleep, even the pigs asleep already. We passed some villages, 3-4 houses each.
We finally reached the village, after crossing a small reservoir with some difficulties. Gal stopped at the first shop for cigarettes. We continued towards the first restaurant. The village was very dark, even the houses were dark. Mud everywhere, like a village in Europe, 100 years ago (according to the books and movies). We reached a 'hole in the wall' which specialized in some tasteless dumplings. We ate it as though it was the best tasteless dumplings we've ever eaten. After gathering our strength, we looked for a/the hotel, or 'searched' is more precise; Going up and down the street, asking illiterates loading logs on a truck in the dark by showing them our phrase book, the hotel being pointed at and we still didn't recognized it, or hoped it wasn't it.we've described the hotel earlier ("hotels in China") but, at the time, it was dark and we didn't have a clue of how beautiful the area is.

The view from our balcony.
Detian Scenic Area 14/03/2007
The next morning we were ready to return the 14 km we did the last night, heading north west. fortunately, we took the time and communicated with the locals about it. They said we can go east, as well, the roads will collide. But east is 20 km more! We asked: "bicycle?" and pointed to both directions.
They all pointed east!
So we continued in the direction of last night, away from our general direction, but away from the ridge.

"So what did we have today?"
1. We learned a bit about using our Chinese map. Small 'red' roads are potentially problematic.
2. every now and then its smart to listen to the locals. The road was flat most of the way, till we connected to the other road, after 40 km.
3. Probably, one of the reasons they sent us this way was so we'll go through "Detian scenic area", some kind of a national park.

So we cycled east for 20 km, on a nice road dotted with small towns. We were almost tempted to take a dirt road (mud after the rain), but decided it not worth the 5 km.
We cycled quickly, surprisingly, and reached one of the most beautiful areas of our trip: “Detian scenic area”. A flat road enclosed by 300-500 meter high cliffs. It continued for about 20 km.
We merged with the road not taken, and the uphills began and ended after 50 km (including a sharp downhill which Gal took smoothly.

More lime stones.

A 'red' road on the map.

Detian scenic area:

Cleaning the bike.
First contact! 15/03
After a short climb we reached a semi-highway (later reaching the provincial highway) and saw a million huge trucks. They were flying around us. The road was smooth and easy, next to a river, with nice scenery, but the trucks were too much for Gal, so we decided to stop cycling early.
We stopped at Hurun, a small town. The hotel was nice and friendly, machine washed our laundry (finally a sunny day), but most important – they had Internet!
Till now, since we entered China, we couldn't access our blog. It frustrated us, we tried in many Internet places with no success. We new Googles’ blogger, Blogspot, was censored for a time, but currently, should be O.K.
We started thinking of solutions: sending the pictures home on CDs & the stories by Email to Alex with instructions of how & what. Solutions like that – very tiring…
Sending the CDs with the pictures (for backup) failed, the government office didn't approve them! They looked at them and said “No”.
So, finally, at that hotel in that no-where town, we managed to sign-in! We worked on the blog a few hours, but more importantly, we could update our journey & memories :-)
Fixing Ramis' Trek cycling pants.
Another climb.
... but no descend.
Beers on our hotels' roof top with the owner - Jingxi.


Water pipes. You see them everywhere, and we mean EVERYWHERE!
Our hotel roof top.

Tuna comes from cans, pork comes from trucks.