Saturday, April 19, 2008

Week 2: South-central Yunnan

Well, week two of this ordeal and so far there's not so much to say about it. Two weeks of roads that look like blast zones and blazing heat, and I'm about five or six days behind schedule already. Great.

The last few days at least the roads have been a little better (except the one that was completely out between Honghe and Yuanjiang, and cost me a four-day detour), and there have been a few nice vistas of rice fields and mountains. But overall I'd have to say, compared to Eastern Europe and Turkey, there's simply not all that much to see. Poland and Romania each had beautiful old churches and castles seemingly every 10 km, and Turkey had some of the most mindblowing landscapes you've ever imagined. But here, there's really been nothing but identical smelly crumbling town after town, with the occasional concrete monstro-city to round things out. And as far as personal interaction goes, it's pretty much limited to every time I try to stop and take a break dealing with millions of kids and men that want to come up and shout "HEL-LO" and then carry on conversations in whatever their native language is. (I've come to the conclusion that it's better just to claim complete ignorance and not respond at all, than to waste a bunch of energy trying to carry on a meaningless conversation in my limited Chinese). Ugh.

At this point, I've already decided to at least give myself the option of removing India from this trip, which would bring it down to just over six months left. And having been going nearly two weeks already, that means I'm getting pretty close to 10% finished. Phew, I think I can almost handle that.

As for the near future, I'm going to head up toward Dali and Lijiang, both of which are big tourist areas, so perhaps I'll have a little more opportunity for having some fun there. And then if the government re-opens the highlands to foreigners (A lot of Tibetan areas outside of the political Tibetan boundaries were closed to foreigners last month too, but will supposedly be reopening May 1), head into western Sichuan for a taste of Tibetan culture and some 4500+ meter passes. (I'm super-excited about the passes, given that at the start of this trip 50 meters would almost kill me, and already I've got two 1000-meter climbs and several 500-meter climbs under my belt). I just hope the weather doesn't suddenly drop to below freezing at that altitude.

And after that, I'll probably head through Qinghai and Gansu (again, assuming the government opens it up), on to Xi'an, Pingyao, and at this point I'm starting to lean more toward going on to Beijing and taking the train to Mongolia instead of biking all the way. (Most people say Mongolia is fairly monotonous, and I seem to have read a disproportionate number of bike blogs where the bike gets stolen in Mongolia too).

So, am I enjoying myself? Eh, not really. But I've been planning this for well over a year, and don't want to give up yet. Hopefully plodding along I'll be able to make something out of it.


Bill Westerman said...

Hey man, good luck with the next 90%. Are you posting pictures anywhere?

Blissfully Teal said...

Go Dax, GO! You can do it! Mike and I feel ya on the lack of loveliness in so much of China...and God, the pollution! I hope those mountains open up for you...I know that will make it all worth it. Loving reading your entries. Sending you lots of Chi for your peddlin' feet:-) Love, Teal

Tara said...

Hey! Sounds like you're plodding along and making the best out of something that isn't so great right now. Hang in there and hopefully you'll come across a few of those brief moments that remind you how worth it the trip is. :) Congrats on the high altitudes!

Aaron Lichtig said...

Hey -

You should try to speak some Chinese with the locals. Even a couple of words will score you some free food.

I'm so glad to hear you are going to Lijiang. It's a friendly provincial town that's a haven for backpackers. I hear that it's far more "touristy" now than it was 6 years ago - they've apparently built an amusement park and a 'minority village' near tiger leaping gorge (which you should see if you're nearby). You should also see the old town and stay at one of the hostels there. There's a really cool guy named "tiger" who works at a place called something like "the holiday inn."

I did some biking when I was in lijiang, but unfortunately the bike broke when I was riding through some guy's cornfield.

I know China can be dusty, impersonal, and polluted. Try to keep riding, though - Yunnan and Sichuan, especially the Tibetan areas, are well worth the effort.