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!