Distance- 28 slow kilometers.
After seeing the great wall we boxed our bikes and managed to get them to the airport; more challenging than it sounds.
Relieved to finally be heading off we realised that we were a little early, our plane wouldnt be leaving for another 8 hours.
The time went faster than we thought and soon enough we were lining up in a Chinese queue... An hour or so later and we were asked to pay four thousand US dollars to check in our bikes... Luckily Shanna had printed out an email she had received from the Etihad hierachy that said bicycles were to be included as normal luggage.
Another hour later and at 2am we were heading off to Turkey. Still too excited to sleep we looked through the in-house movies- an amazıng selectıon...
After a stop off in the United Arab Emirates we landed in Istanbul around 16 hrs later. We made a huge mess in the airport, taking our bikes and assorted gear almost completely dissasembled and putting everything back together again. Two hours later and we were cycling towards Istanbul!!!
Initially cycling into the Turkish capital was a scary affair, traffic flying past us at light speed, and sometimes seeming to only swerve right at the last moment.
But then we found a walking/cycling path that closely followed the bay into Istanbuls old town, the water sparkling with a beautiful turquoise hue, and we stopped many times to admire the crumbling centuries old architecture in the cool evening air.
Whilst looking for somewhere to stay in the narrow picutesque cobblestoned lanes of Istanbuls stunning archaıc former CBD, partly surrounded by a 1500 year old wall, we found a man making kebabs on the side of a little laneway- we stopped to sit on a little pine wicker chair, and ate one of our best meals since...
THIS IS A REPOST OF A BLOG THAT WAS DELETED FROM THE SITE LAST NIGHT. WE’VE WRITTEN A LITTLE ABOUT WHY WE THINK THIS HAS HAPPENED, TWICE NOW, IN THE BLOG ENTITLED ‘CHINESE, NEW WORLD POLICE.’
Before you read this I should apologise, a pre-warning of sorts, for changing tense several (not sure how many) times in todays blog.
This morning we left Beijing at 6am for the Great Wall of China.
The past few days have been not only fantastic, but fascinating. Our new Chinese friends Roy and Carol (we couldn’t spell or pronounce there real names, but fortunately they already had some western one’s ready for us), invited us to come for dinner with them in there home town, around one hours drive from Beijing.
We accepted of course.
Earlier that morning Roy and Carol had kindly driven all the way into the heart of Beijing’s bustling city to help us retrieve our bikes from the Beijing train station. If you’ve ever seen the train station you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s a sprawling mass of a place, designed to overawe even the most weary traveler with it’s monumentally grandiose formation. I would say it looks more… overweight.
Apparetly they still hadn’t arrived, but after some arguing, and me trying to go our the back myself and look, they were finally presented to us, albeit a little worse for wear, along with all of our bags.
Unfortunately our speedometers had been broken off our bikes. The funny thing was that we had tried to take them off before handing them over at the other end, but were unab,e to as they were permanently locked on.
Interestingly they hadn’t bothered to take the computers on the bicycles’ forks that enable the speedo’s to actually work- they would have come straight off. After this we cycled back to the Beijing City Central Youth Hostel, (another fine establishment), and Roy and Carol brought our bags back.
Our bikes back safe and we were off with Roy Jones and Carol, two of the best looking Chinese people we’ve ever met.
The drive out via the expressway was an interesting one, as I’d heard that earlier that day there’d been a crash, killing over thirty people; and with a decent imagination I’d foreseen my own grisly death in another such crash.
Well, it wasn’t to be, and after we’d made a few short detours, picking up Roy’s beautiful but exasperated wife we’d kept waiting on the side of the street for an indeterminable period of time we headed off to dinner.
This turned out to be a wonderful affair, all the dumplings, duck, vegetables and unidentifiable other things I didn’t know the name of you could eat, and before long Roy had invited us to crash one of his mates’ weddings.
Did we accept, well of course, who’d give up the chance to see a traditionally Chinese Western wedding. True paradox aside, that night we stayed at Roy's, having a fascinating discussion about Confucianism, Taiwan, Tibet, suppression, murder and Chinese autocracy, and just before being warned not to speak to anyone else about such things (apparently if we had of we may have been rotting in a Chinese prison cell right now along with Rio Tinto executives) we slumped into a wonderfully comfortable bed and fell asleep with an uneasy feeling.
The wedding was a wonderful affair, unlike anything else I’d ever seen, and a bite more, and I might have even shed a few tears, but they could have been induced by all the smoke in the room. (You get a free plate of ciggies with you pre-dinner snacks, seriously-they were laid out on a plate!)
Lunch was a sumptuous banquet with so much food on our already over-sized table that plates wre being constantly piled on top of one another. Even if I hadn’t eaten for days I couldn’t possibly have sampled every dish… Although, I couldn’t possibly have wanted to either. In fact this may have been about the time the tears started flowing, but I can’t quite recall. After another delectably eccentric (sounds a little like myself) meal we headed back to Beijing, deliriously tired from all of the weekend’s excitement.
And so, much to your exasperation (if you’re still reading that is) the following morning we were finally at the self proclaimed ‘worlds greatest monument’ The Great Wall! (to death and slavery I might add).
After being scammed by the operators of the chair lift, taking our tickers and pretending to be the cable car, we finally got to the top just before 9am. The wall was incredible, the view made it even greater, the breeze made it cooler and the lack of crowds made it ‘choicer’ (a new word I just made up).
After walking up stairs for around 4 kilometers (felt like ten to my legs) we came to a section that said ‘DANGER, DO NOT ENTER. To me this was like saying WECOME SIR, PLEASE ENTER THE PALACE OF MANY VIRGINS (oops, did I really just thing that…) They would have been better of saying VERY BORING HERE, BUT KEEP WALKING IF YOU CAN BE BOTHERED! Now I was excited, woohoo here’s the good bit I thought as I jumped the barrier.
It soon became apparent others had read the same thing I did when we passed an excited Japanese couple that gave us the thumbs up (around four times). When we reached what we thought was the top of the mountain (mountain plateau), some time later, the track went bush, and this was were we found the real Great Wall of China.
Unmolested and untouched for must have been millennia, trees grew through the centuries old decaying turrets whilst rocks were strewn about the ruins from years of neglect, and here the path became difficult to follow.
It was just at this moment when I was clambering amongst the rocks that I saw it, a giant python, right before I almost stepped on it that was. My mouth clamped shut and you might have heard my heart beating from Beijing. But unlike me this guy was a cool customer, and he slowly slid off and over the side of the wall whilst I was left standing there, with only a little dampness in my pants to prove the encounter ever happened.
(Note: As I write this in a Starbucks at Beijing Airport I am distracted by the man next to me who has picked his nose with seven different fingers and wiped at least three boogers on his shirt.)
During our time in Kunming we've discussed our impressions of China, a country which really is so different to the image we'd drawn up in our minds.
We expected factories upon factories, but found small villages built into the side of beautiful mountains. We anticipated forests and were surprised by many dry dusty plains. And yet in the South we also found dense monsoonal lakes and swamps.
We found a country with advanced sport stadiums and primitive hospitals; people who went out of their way to help us, some who treated us as family and others who ignored our pleas for help or tried to swindle us.
China is definitely different to what we're used to back home, and our experiences have been an eclectic collection of polar extremes.
One day we’d been waiting on a corner for a taxi for an hour (after being at the hospital on a day when Sam felt particularly bad), and just when we flagged one down a Chinese girl jumped in. When we tried to explain to her that we were there first she just gave us a knowing look and laughed.
When pedestrian lights go green cars still drive through. On the footpath I was nearly hit by a police car! Silly me for not expecting it. And every time we walked or rode in China we had close encounters with motorcyclists who sped around us, sometimes brushing against us, yet always calm and confident of where they were going (usually talking on a phone at the same time).
We've finally learnt the Chinese system of queuing. Push as hard as everyone else and when someone pushes in front of you, yell at them. Now that we understand this system we wonder why we initially struggled against it.
I admit that sanitation is not what we expected... The standard of public toilets in China has been the worst of our trip, far worse than even remote Indonesia. Often the water has been turned off to the amenities, and the smell and sight of the waste is overpowering. How can they be allowed to disconnect water to public toilets?!
At the hospital, the floor outside the blood-testing room was littered with the cotton buds used to stop the bleeding. And the toilets were a mess of stinking proportions! Yet this was the place where six thousand (I kid you not) people go every day to recover from medical problems?
As a media junky I have been intrigued and entertained by the English news service on TV. All the news stories expound how China is the new world leader and the whole world is watching them. And people accept that. Those quoted on the news always praise the government for a job well done; there is never a critical word. China must look pretty good through the perpetual eyes of rose-coloured glasses.
And when life is not rosy it seems easier for people to turn a blind eye. Severine and Francois one day saw a man handcuffed to a pole being beaten by another man. None of the other passers-by seemed to care, and the only other people watching the scene were a sobbing 9 year old boy (likely the man’s son) and an amused police officer. And this was on a busy street in a big city.
But the spitting is what I remember most about this country. The grating sound of people hocking up phlegm as they spit often leaves me fearing some of it will land on me – like it did for Sam four times through a bus window. At least the footpaths are mopped every morning and the streets are clean again.
But what we've found in China, when we've paused long enough to take off our own rose colored glasses is a country filled with it's own version of beauty.
You can start with the strong familial ties branching through CHinese communities. Whilst this is the side to China which may not be so apparent to the Westerner it is no less real. And when you do see it, sense it, it will have you wondering if all of your previous ideas were simply misconceptions.
On my morning runs and in the evening we saw in Kunming and Beijing hundreds of people doing exercises in parks together. A healthy body is very important to many Chinese (excepting the effects of smoking of course). And it was nice to see people playing cards/dominoes in public spaces. People thrive on being together.
And finally, we want to thank the many Chinese young people (late 20s is young, right?) who have befriended us and chatted to us in their best English. You'll hear more about them in coming posts!
The Kunming Zoo was a blast.
That is of course if you like laughing at animals being kicked over and over.
Or seeing me throw up.
Sorry to say friends, but the Chinese do. Well the ones at the Zoo anyway.
I don't know about you but personally I don't find any of these kind of shenanigans too funny.
And when they chained the monkeys and the bears onto bicycles with no seats, the crowd only roared for more.
They needn't have worried, a whole lot more 'party tricks' were in store.
WIth a shove and a push, their speeds increased.
And just when we thought it couldn't get any better (or any stupider) the boys in pink gave the desperate bear a leg shattering kick sending the bear, and the bike he was chained to, sprawling across the concrete pavement.
Another swift kick in the pants and punch in the gut (literal) and our friend the bear was back on his bike, that was of course until, for fits and giggles, he was belted off again.
Next came the monkeys.
These little guys were jittery, so jittery in fact they looked as though they'd been sniffing the white stuff in the back office.
By the time the show was over anyone with half a brain could have seen why those amazing iittle guys looked a little on edge... they were scared shitless, and that's understating it.
Imagine for a moment a monkey chained to a bicycle, flying like a rocket around and round a cage, no brakes, pedals to far to reach, then imagine that monkey being randomly belted off the bike.
It wasn't pretty.
But the people screamed for more. And so more they'd get.
Without a moments notice the master of disaster reappeared.
Sadly, the desperate pant-less monkeys, and the monkeys in the cage with pants on (pretending to be people), passionately yearned to please the stirring crowd.
Well, despite the masses screaming for more I'd seen enough.
After the performance was over and the animal freak show had been returned to their separate cages, unable to find any solace in each others company, a switch went off in my head.
The animal kickers, heroes one minute, soaking up the applause, didn't see me coming...
A bear is an animal, so is a bird, so is a monkey.
What are clothes for?
I figured a swap was in order, monkey for man, freedom for a cage.
Give the animals a turn to run the show.
Now that'd be fun.
I went on a show ride, Shanna wouldn't go alone.
And what was one little ride going to do to me anyway....
It'd be fun, everyone loved it.
All I can say, watch where you walk.
Especially if you see a funny looking white haired foreigner flying through the air...
You could get sprayed.
PS- Happy birthday bro.
We got up the next day, absolutely exhausted but happy to be in what are becoming familiar surroundings.
I spoke to the hostel manager, who speaks a little English about seeing a doctor and he told me the only place I'd find one who spoke any English was at the Kunming Medical College Hospital. Our travel Insurance then advised us that this was the only place they recommended in Kunming, so we headed off to the hospital.
Out the front and we walk into a swarm of people, cuing (pushing each other and trying to get an advantage on the person next to them- believe me, if you've been to China you'll know what I mean...) in all manner of places.
Where do we go I wondered out loud. We both had no idea what to do so we stood there, dazed, looking around and wondering. Deciding we had to do something we attempted to cue at a counter, but no-one would talk to us and when it came to our turn, others pushed in front.
But luckily, after some wrangling we managed to find a nurse (I think?) who took us up three flights of stairs through the masses to a big hall were people were swarming to get there blood tested en masse. After some pushing and shoving to hold our place in one of many queues, it was finally my turn, but it seemed there was some sort of problem and the nurse was no-where to be found.
They pointed to the paper's I had given them and yelled something in Chinese, whilst pointing that I go someplace else. Where or why I didn't know. The nurse had already taken us to the payments desk were we had forked out money for the privilege to get jabbed. Everyone was looking at me and after seeing me hesitate decided I was fair game. One person pushed up to the side of me, jabbed his arm out on the desk in front of me in preparation for a little blood letting. In amazement at the audacity of these people I hesitantly got up and left, figuring my only chance was to find the nurse that had abandoned us.
After only a couple of minutes we got lucky, bumping into our nurse lady. Not understanding what had happened she took us back to the blood letters where we were told (in Chinese) to go back down stairs and pay more money.
Half an hour later my arm was seized and within seconds (so fast I didn't realise they'd done it) a vial full of blood was taken. As the needle was removed I looked down and saw old bloodied, large cotton buds used to mop up excess blood from freshly opened veins scattered all over the floor, and a cockroach looking bug clambering over them.
The blood was analysed almost on the spot, very efficient, then I was told I had to give a stool sample (I know you all wanted to hear that, haha). This was bizarre, walking into the bathroom was like walking into a public train station toilet (ala Ringwood station), it looked, and smelt as though it hadn't been cleaned for days...
I'll save you any more detail and skip to the part where we were ushered past the masses to see a doctor who spoke a little English (think Chinglish). I was told to come back the next morning for another blood test, and then four days after that for the results.
In the next week we ended up visiting the hospital four times seeing and communicating (with varying degrees of success) with six different doctors, taking four different types of medications- so far none of which have worked. and learning that the hospital treats over 6,000 patients per day! The results showed that there was blood and a high level of white blood cells in the sample (the best word I could think of for poop) and I was told on the last visit that I should go back home to Australia.
So we're headed to Beijing in a couple of days via a 40HR train journey, and then we'll fly straight to Turkey. We have decided that leaving Asia is the best plan, and instead we'll change our route through Europe to cycle through Switzerland and the Alps with our friends Severine and Francois and then ride up to Norway to sail with Rune to Scotland.
We'll chuck up another couple of posts over the next few days about our adventures in and around the city of Kunming, most notably our visit to the Zoo where we saw some major animal rights abuses (particularly of bears and monkeys). And I'll tell you how I had a spac attack at the people responsible.
Distance - 96km (plus an extra bit more...)
Sam was sick again. Well again is the wrong Word，because it never really went away。 it was always there with different levels of severity. But this time it was bad。and so I (Shanna) insisted that we return to Kunming to see the doctor, but this meant we had to leave Francois and Severine.
The initial plan after the stone forest was to return to Kunming via a two to three day route through the Chinese mountains, camping in the countryside.
By the time I had climbed up the first hill, I knew my body was coping worse than it had been for a long time. During the night bathroom stops were long and more frequent than usual, and my usual methods of coping were simply not working anymore.
To make things a little harder my throat and head hold cold had jumped up a notch, and despite wanting to continue with the plan, I actually didn't think I could do it.
But before Shanna and I had made the decision to head back to Kunming we once again got lost. This time it started when I got off the bike to film everyone climbing a hill, putting the camera back in my bag and getting back on I was only a couple of hundred meters behind, a distance I had been covering back to the group without too much difficulty during the morning. But as I got to the apex of the hill, the guys were still not in sight.
I kept riding, a little harder now so I could catch up quickly. Another 500 or so meters and the ten kilometer downhill began, and still no sign of anyone. Riding a little harder by this stage but struggling to get enough oxygen to my lungs whilst coughing up flem, I amazed at how fast everyone had gone over the apex and down the mountain, but decided that as I hadn't yet seen them they must be further down the mountain.
Another thing that convinced me they must still be further ahead was that recently Shanna had been becoming more confident riding her bike down hill, picking up her speed whilst overcoming her fears of riding down long mountain passes.
After almost ten kilometers I came to the bottom of the hill and still no sign of anyone. What the hell I thought, I must have missed them somewhere. I waited for a little while and decided that they must still be waiting for me somewhere, maybe near the top of the hill, but then I thought, how did I not see them...
After around ten minutes waiting, I realised that I was going to have to ride back up the hill. I turned around and began to ride back up. When we had ridden up this pass on the first day it was a super challenging mountain pass, and I was wondering how I'd make it back up in any less than an hour, when suddenly a truck pulled out from a side street and I hatched a plan to try and hold onto the truck up the hill.
Pedaling as hard as I could I just managed to get up enough to speed to grab onto the back of the truck before it began it's ascent. But the driver realised I was holding on the back, and not to happy with this began gunning the engine. Soon enough we were flying all over the road at ridiculous speeds and I quickly decided that self preservation was the best option and let go, my arm feeling like it had almost been pulled from it's socket.
After a couple more kilometers my legs and lungs were burning, and the diesel fumes from all the traffic heading up the mountain were making me cough like an asthmatic. Three kilometres later and I decided I was going to try and hold on to another truck.
I saw one approaching, clicked down a few gears in anticipation of a desperate burst of speed and gave it all I had as the truck came towards me. Pushing at the pedals as hard as I could the truck flew past, it was going way too fast. That was gay I thought, must have been an empty one.
After one more try and fail I wondered if I should give up on this idea before I saw an old red cattle truck spewing out black diesel fumes everywhere and going really slow, easily slow enough for me to make my attack. I pumped at the pedals and easily enough, grabbed onto the back.
At first I thought it was great, but soon I realised that the truck was going so slow that I was almost pulling myself up the hill by my left arm (the one holding on.) Because of this I decided to alternate riding beside the truck and then holding on.
Whilst riding beside the truck at top speed I saw another truck behind coming up the hill with a lot more speed. Screw this, I'm getting onto that one I thought. Shifting down a few cogs and pumping the pedals as hard as I could I cycled past the truck I had been holding onto and up to the truck that had just overtaken us. Hell yeah, I thought, this is way better.
A kilometer later and my arm was killing me, I went back to intermittently cycling beside and holding on. Whilst all this was happening I had a fair few curious onlookers in cars and on motorbikes, some seemed to look at me, dissaproving but others would look over in amazement, decide that it was a good idea and either smile or give the thumbs up.
Laughing to myself I thought of the spectacle I must be to them, a white guy with white hair sticking up, on a bicycle with six bags on it and hanging onto the back of a truck in the Chinese coutryside... lol! Finally I was back on the top of the hill, and seeing everyone on the side of the road waiting I let out a big grin, half relief for finding everyone (because I was still not sure they'd even be there) and half a little inner self-congratulation that my plan had worked.
I pulled up next to everyone as we all wondered what had happened.Then, we all turned around and cycled down the hill.
A little anti-climatic I thought.
When we got to the bottom my bowels were screaming again. Shanna and I decided that enough was enough, and we (sadly) parted ways with Francois and Sev, deciding to ride back to Kunming and go to the hospital (by this stage I'd lost 14 kg, and with my seeming inability to keep any food inside my stomach for long things where only getting worse).
After working out our options we decided the only real way back was to cycle. It was only 60 kilometres from here, but with an altitude gain of over 1000 meters we knew we'd be in for some serious pain. And just as we headed up the mountains towards Kunming the wind picked up and became so incredibly strong that for the next hour we wouldn't get out of the lowest 'granny gear' on our bikes.
With some encouraging words to each other we pushed on, but secretly wondered to ourselves if we could make it back.
Five hours later, exhausted we found our way back through the maize that is Kunming city (thanks to some great navigating from Shanna and crankiness from me) and absolutely exhausted, carried our bikes up to the fourth level of the Kunming backpackers hotel, threw down our bags and collapsed.
Just before I was about to enter the dreamtime I ran off again to the toilet, where I stayed for the next hour. Sitting there though I started thinking that at least I wasn't having to pedal, and I decided that even this was not as bad as riding back to Kunming.
Around 9 am we all set off for the stone forest, an ancient forest of stone that was apparently unearthed when the waters receded from the last ice age.
Getting out of the city was a challenge, but once we were out ofthe navigating was a snitch.
We climbed a nice hill, splitting the peloton, and then after re-grouping at the summit we descended for what seemed like an eternity. I started to hope that the descent would end, the further we went down the higher we'd have to climb.
As we approached a tolled road (they are absolutely everywhere in this country) we attempted to cycle around the steaming diesel fumes, smoke and road dust, but at an innoportune moment (not that any moment is really all that opportune for a break down) Shanna's chain broke again. Four link on the chain were spectacularly damaged and it proved lucky that I'd been able to buy more replacement links whilst we were in Kunming. It was hot and stinky here but we took the time to readjust Shanna's derailleur whilst we were stopped.
Sure enough late in the afternoon and the climbing is painful, we are all breathing in copious amounts of dust and diesel fumes whilst getting honked at truck after truck. The road went up for over ten kilometers, and there were numerous times I thought we were at the summit, only to turn another corner and see the road ahead continue in an upward spiral.
Finally we reached the top, and the outer reaches of the Stone Forest. Fascinating outcrops of rock jutting awkwardly in every direction amidst a barren landscape.
Exhausted we all arrived at the Stone Forest youth/travellers hotel thingy were we decided to share a room between the four of us to help cover the exorbitant cost. Little did we realise that there was no fan, no AC and no fly screen on the windows. This wasn't so bad for Francois and Severine who had a fantastic mosquitoe net that covered the bed, but I found the heat and the noise unbearable.
What to do? Quietly we snuck into a different room. This one had bunk beds, hard ones; still hot but not so bad, and a lot less noise- we fell asleep wondering if we'd be caught...
Distance: Various distances riding around the city... Sam more than Shanna
Our second day in Kunming we decided that the boys would go look at bike shops in the morning while Severine and I updated websites and went shopping. Actually, the truth was that Sam's rear bicycle wheel had developed a large crack in the rim, which he had been dangerously riding on since our last day in Lao.
As Sam also discovered after we got off the bus, his front wheel had three large gouges in the brake surface arising from the bumpy bus ride. This meant he would now have to find two new (or used) V'brake wheels before we could leave Kunming and begin riding across China.
At lunch Severine and I ate at a small cafe and sat with two Chinese boys who went to high school across the road, and spoke good English. They told us it was hard to be a student in China. School went from 7am until 6pm and you took 9 classes. We were surprised to hear that everyone learns English from the age of six, as even most young people haven't been able to speak to us very well. They explained that the teachers were terrible - they spoke better English than their teachers. The boys had been practising with foreigners since they were ten and they were determined to study in Hong Kong or Canada - they needed good English if they wanted to go to a good university.
Sam and Francois didn't return until mid-afternoon, having to our amazement not eaten a thing since 8am in there quest to fix our bikes. They had seen cheap parts, frames, wheels and second hand bikes in there search for a solution to our wheel problem and Francois had been lucky enough to convince a bike shop to sell him two wheels from a tandem bicycle they had for sale.
As these where the only two wheels suitable they had found after visiting seven bicycle shops in Kunming Sam decided to put Francois' old wheelset on his bike, solving the problem temporarily. He then took apart his old wheels as the hubs and spokes were still usable to send back to Australia. Afterwards we rode to one of the bicycle shops they had found to find a new axle for Sam's rear wheel (a tandem is wider than a nornal bicycle).
It took two hours in this bike shop and it was dark as we rode to the cafe for dinner. As we zipped through the traffic, sometimes on the road, sometimes on bike lanes they provided and other times on the shared bike/pedestrian path, I had a crash. I didn't see a bollard separating traffic from the bike lane until it was too late. I knew I would hit and probably land on the raised concrete barrier (raised about 30cm). I expected the worst.
It all happened quickly - I was on the road on one of the barrier and my bike was on the other. Somehow I had got my feet free in the moment before I hit. The others were ahead of me but they heard the crash and Sam was quickly heading back to me. Luckily, there was no other traffic near us at the time, and within seconds I was on my feet moving myself and the bike to the side of the road. I felt ok. My arm was scraped and I banged my knee, but I didn't really feel any pain. Francois sprayed my grazes with disinfectant and Sam made sure my bike was ok to ride. I assured them all I felt ok and as it was late we should just keep going to the cafe where I would ice my knee.
As we rode the adrenalin wore off and I started to ache. My arm was really stinging and my knee hurt. During another delicious dinner I tried to keep my mind off the pain, but it was hard. I hurried everyone through the meal so I could go back to the hotel and go to bed.
After I'd had a shower, a couple of panadol, and Sam had cleaned and put some antiseptic cream on my scrapes I felt better and was able to get a good night sleep.
In the morning we decided to delay our departure from Kunming for another day so that I could rest some more and hopefully my swollen knee would be ok. It was still very stiff and sore but my scrapes seemed to have scabbed over nicely.
Another day was spent looking at bikes, visiting the beautiful area of Kunming around the lake and university, and eating McDonalds one more time. It had been a restful day and I was hoping I would be ok to leave the following morning.
Distance - 680km on the bus, 28km on the bike
A few hours into the bus trip to Kunming we realised there was a problem. The bus slowed down while going up a hill and then spluttered to a halt. The driver got it moving again amidst a cloud of dark, toxic smoke and we pulled over by the side of the road.
The driver and a few others, including Sam and Francois, got out to have a look. Francois is a mechanic and was keen to have a look to see if he could do anything to get the bus going. After about 15 minutes the bus started again. Francois came back and said he didn't think it was fixed. He said there were problems with the the fuel pump and he thought it needed to be replaced, but all they could do was clean it.
Sure enough, the bus soon stopped again. Another break to have a look and see if it could be fixed. It was the middle of the night and we were all cramped and tired. We just wanted the bus to keep going.
After the third stop Francois stopped getting out to help, and we all became used to the frequent jerks as the bus stopped in the middle of the road and the driver forced it back into action. Progress was slow, as the way to Kunming is uphill (Kunming sits at 1890m altitude). We couldn't sleep very well as each lurch of the bus woke us.
In the morning we stopped for a toilet break and some food while the bus was checked over again. The toilet block looked modern and clean - thank goodness! It had been 9 hours since our last toilet block stop! But as we walked in the smell was overpowering. And inside was the dirtiest bathroom I have ever seen (up until that point). The facilities were modern, but the water had been disconnected. I checked 8 cubicles and couldn't stomach any of them. Then I found a sit-down toilet (as opposed to the squat style the Chinese use) and it was the cleanest of all.
Breakfast was cake and juice from the nearby service station while we watched the driver under the bus. We didn't know how far we were from Kunming, but we knew we should have arrived an hour ago.
The bus started again, sounding the best it had the whole time, and we all reboarded. We soon passed a sign pointing to a town and we eagerly checked our maps to see how close we were. Still about 150km! And although moving a bit faster than it had during the night, the bus still moving slowly.
It was hot, smelly and cramped on the bus to Kunming. We were stopped at one point and police got on - checking IDs and doing bag searches. Many young men were told to leave the bus and taken into a van by the side of the road... they returned looking shaken but relieved. One of the men near us indicated that the police were looking for drugs.
Finally, we reached Kunming. Well, the bus stopped and unloaded us, so we must be in Kunming. And only six hours late.
As we loaded our bikes a crowd gathered to watch us. Severine and Francois attract even more attention, as they have a tandem. Once we loaded we decided to head north, as we hadn't passed a city yet and that must be the direction. After 10 minutes we asked a guy selling drinks which way to Kunming. He drew a little map for us and we headed off. But it was still confusing. How far away was this city?
It was windy and a dust storm seemed to be blowing around us. Many roads were bumpy and as trucks passed dust blew into our faces. We found a sign pointing to the city but it was an expressway and we weren't allowed through. We followed a terribly rocky road in the direction of the city and eventually found a series of highways and interchanges. Finally, two hours after we got off the bus, we were riding down a street in the city and saw McDonalds - time for some food!
The McDonalds tasted good, the ATMs gave us money, and the hostel we checked into had free internet - life was good!
We spent the afternoon riding our bikes around Kunming looking for bikes wheels. This time we followed two uni students who were so helpful in finding shops and talking to the owners. Unfortunately we didn't find what we needed and would need to look again the next day, but the day ended on a high - with delicious pizza, potatoes and cheesecake at a western cafe. It was good to be in Kunming!
We had heard that the Chinese may be the noisiest people on earth, and so far we would have to agree. In the hotel foyer Sam and I had to go outside to hear each other speak, because one man on the phone was speaking (yelling) so loud.
During the night we had to ask to move hotel rooms because we could hear the karaoke two floors down as loud as if we were there. We moved up another two levels but we could still hear it. And it was terrible – they really couldn’t sing.
We also quickly realized that not many people spoke English. The info man became our lifeline – translating for us about food, bike shop locations, laundry prices and bus tickets. His information wasn’t always accurate, but at least it was something to work with.
We were in desperate need of clean clothes so in the morning I set off with Francois and Severene to find a place to get our clothes cleaned. We walked the streets, asked people, showed them pictures of a laundry (from a little book Francois had) and didn’t find one. The info man was little help here – he just offered for his wife to take care of it for us for 100Y ($17) which was way too much. The hotel wanted to charge the same amount. We ended up finding a big metal bucket and clothesline on the 6th floor and did the washing ourselves.
The next task was to find a bike wheel. The first shop we found was no more than a cupboard with a pump and some spare tubes, but some local girls who spoke a little English got us to follow them down the street where there were a couple of bigger shops. Bigger, but still no wheels. Sam and I decided we would need to catch the bus to Kunming to get a new wheel. Severene and Francois decided to come with us, and from there we would all do some rides around Kunming, particularly to a place called the Stone Forest.
At the bus station there were buses leaving that night, but the lady (who spoke little English, mainly about bus times and prices) seemed insistent that we couldn’t take bikes. We had to go to Jinghong if we had bikes. It seemed everyone in this town thought we should go to Jinghong!
I went back again to explain that the bike was broken and we had to catch the bus. She seemed to say ok, but only on the late bus. When I confirmed four people with bikes she changed back to saying no again.
It was all very frustrating. We decided to just turn up an hour before the bus left and see what happened- maybe it would be half empty and so bikes would be no problem.
Talking later with the information guy he said that many foreigners take bikes on the bus to Kunming, so Sam, Francois and I went back over one more time. The info guy followed and proved helpful in translating.
We found out there were five tickets left for Kunming that day – we had to make a decision fast! We went to the bus station down the road (where the buses waited) and checked out the storage area under the bus – there was enough room for our bikes (including Francois and Severene’s tandem) so we went for it.
We ran back to the office, bought the tickets (the last four available) and then packed our things. We took our bikes to the bus station an hour before departure to see about loading them early (to make sure we got the room we needed and packed them the way we wanted). The drivers were not compliant. They tried to get us to leave, told us to wait at the departure area down the road. But we insisted. We tried to give one of the men some money but he wouldn’t take it. Luckily the ticket had the bus number plate on it, so we were able to find our bus and load it up. It took us 40 minutes to pack everything compactly and securely. Different people came to watch but no one stopped us.
Severene and I stayed with the bus, while the boys went to get food and wait at the departure area, in case we had packed the wrong bus. But luckily, we hadn’t. When the driver arrived Severene and I jumped on with him and rode to the departure area.
Our beds (because it was an overnight sleeper bus) were all together up the back of the bus, on the upper level. It was nice to all be together, but very squashy! Especially when the fifth guy up there turned up and had to get on with us.
Despite that, we were in good spirits as the bus departed. We had managed to achieve the impossible – get four people with bikes on a bus to Kunming!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia