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Day 1 from Lijiang:
It was a late start from Lijiang, as 3 new friends wanted to rent bikes to wish me off…along with my newly acquired ukulele. We had a late lunch at the edge of town and said our goodbyes.
I had planned on it only being a half a day anyhow, but majority of it was on a busy road with too many trucks and up a mountain. Where some of the trucks were turning off the main road (to a strip mine, I’m sure) a car got just close enough to wipe me out. We weren’t going fast enough for there to be a problem but I got a few scrapes. Do you think the driver stopped? NO.
At the top of the mountain it began to rain so I waited it out. I’m glad I did because as I continued down the road that was like this: WWWWW I saw a car that had spun out of control and was tipping over into the right lane.
Soon enough I was off this busy road and onto Route 226, a longer, less used route to Shangri-La.
I’d have to do some backtracking but that’s no big deal. Also, by the looks of the map, the road starts as a new highway to Shangri-La and then a smaller road north. I suspect there is construction from the city, North (oh yes, and there was!)
I find accommodation in a little place at Shiguzhen. First laobanniang shows me a room for 80rmb. It’s a fantastic newly renovated space, with that old timey rustic feel. I tell her I can’t, that I really can’t and I can only spend 30. My mistake, should have said 20. I got clean sheets, now shower, and a selection of 6 different Xinjiang channels. The commercials and cartoons are amazing.
Overcharged for dinner, I smirk and just assume I’m still too close to touristy areas to expect anything lesser.
The housing style is beginning to change from mud packed to a mix of stone and a lot of wood built homes.
Day 2 from Lijiang:
Nothing spectacular this day.
Passed by a rice field with a lot of military guys around. I guess it was a famous spot for the Red Army crossing.
I get off 226 at one point and take a little tiny squiggly road that runs parallel on the other side of the river. Great riding conditions – highly recommended.
A lot of mountains tipping into the white clouds. I did learn why not to ride during the rain as I saw the effects of a very recent rock slide.
I stopped in Shangjiangxiang for accommodation around 5:30. The little towns and villages up to this point seemed quaint enough but this city is a gnarly unwelcoming place. The “hotel” wanted 100rmb then dropped it to 60. Still too much. Another woman wanted 30 for a dirty bed in a place that truckers stay. As I saw one looking at me with those wolf eyes and then when I asked her what she meant was the difference between the 20 and the 30 she just joked with her friends over her card game without even looking at me.
Checking the GPS, it says I can find a place to sleep 26km ahead. I’m going for it.
I’m at Qizongcun about an hour before night fall. The mountains cut the light out quicker, but it helps prevent the skin from burning too. It’s a quaint town (recommended) and laoban was super nice. At first I had a hard time understanding (wu tian meiyou dian) as he is showing me a candle.
Finally it hit me, the village hadn’t had electric for 5 days. It’s just not something I encounter so my Chinese fails in those instances.
His daughter and her 2 friends show me to my clean room and they let me take a cold shower by candle light. As I step out of the multi-purpose bathroom, it’s dark.
Dinner in candle-light, a little girl, about 3 comes into the empty restaurant (owned by the inn keeper) and I make the motion for her to sit at my table. She sits for about 15mins staring at me.
The town is quiet and I sleep well, also knowing my stuff is safely locked up.
Day 3 from Lijiang:
I get back on 226 where the white cement stupas start making their appearances.
Stopping for mixian in a nice town where laoban can speak very Putonghua, he warns me of the mountain ahead. I expected it. He tells me it’s very steep. I think I can deal with it.
Around 3:30pm I’m waiting out some sun with a shop keeper, wearing a minority blue head wrap with another older woman with a lot of jewelry. This is at the base of the mountain where trucks can fill up with water. Each old woman has a hose of water, coming from the mountain top, and they charge a few kuai for fill ups. I can’t understand either of them.
A local girl sits with us, which can speak Putonghua, as her driver washes the van with the fresh water. She tells me she saw 4 foreign cyclists at the top of the mountain. I wait a little longer hoping that I may cross their path. Jewelry lady shares her packaged snack of spicy chicken skin – surprisingly good!
I’m ill prepared, I begin climbing on only a bowl of noodles and all I’ve got in my supplies is a jar of peanut butter. I’ve already put in 50km today and the heat and sun is beating on me.
I begin climbing the mountain and feeling the left side of my body beginning to burn. Then I notice less and less people and I’m racing for sunlight. Fortunately, the higher I go up, the more sunlight I get.
The sunlight is disappearing and I’m debating on camping but I’M STARVING!!! Must get to the top or find somewhere to eat. I begin asking resting men on the side of the road about “zhusu”. Nothing. Not until the top. About 15km from the top, I’m done.
I scoop some peanut butter into my mouth and begin walking. At 11km from the top the sun is gone and I get off to walk it the rest of the way up. Too many trucks and too much baijiu drinking in this part of the world. I switch sides of the road depending on where the headlights are coming from. Looking up at the mountain, I see the “WWWW” road pattern and I can’t imagine that I have to get up there!
At 10:30 and asking some locals I find accommodation above a restaurant where 2 teenage girls are working. I buy 3 beverages and a bag of bread, hand them my 20rmb for staying there. Shove the bread in my mouth and pass out.
*I saw 1 shooting star while walking and another from my bedroom window.
Day 4 from Lijiang:
Wow it gets cold at the top of these mountains at night. I can see a snow topped mountains in the distance.
I stayed in a town called XXX, where Route # meets up with Route # which only means more traffic and general grossness.
As I’m loading up at 8am, the 2 girls little sister comes downstairs with her disheveled hair and is with their father. Later their mother comes down. The two teenagers are running the restaurant.
I meet a nice (and nice looking) young Japanese man with 2 locals. They are filming a documentary in the area. The local men warn me of the condition of the road ahead to Shangri-La.
Seeing a monk pass by the restaurant and then a minority group comes into the restaurant I do not recognize. One man smiles as he hears me speak Mandarin and the women seem to be nosing around in EVERYTHING. I had been speaking with the youngest girl (about 8) and she showed me her English textbook.
A commotion is brewing, with the new guests so I push off.
25km to Shangri-La and 20 of that up on gravel, pot holed, orange dusted road. Sometimes turns into a single lane which I have to walk. The trucks drive like “bats out of hell”, too many a$$holes thinking they are competing in the F1. I have one truck honk right next to me and then stop ahead of me and he’s laughing saying “hello”. I tell him in Chinese I’m not happy and “gwen” which basically means “get lost”. (That’s not the correct pinyin) That wipes the smile off his face.
I have a teenager race after me asking to be my boyfriend. I tell him my husband is 5 minutes behind me and I roll one.
This road is absolute shit! It takes me almost 5 hours to get in 25km.
At one zig zag in the road they are building a ski resort. I tell a local man that is working on the construction across the street from the “add water” station that I think it’s too short and too extreme. And explain to him what they look like in the US. I then get my first question about (insert title of that man that makes Tibet famous). I play stupid.
There is an old man sitting on the porch wearing a minority dress apron and gives me a thumbs up. Adorable.
Here a truck driver, that I recognize from the morning restaurant tells me foreigners can go to Tibet. I reassure him I can’t and he reassures me I can because “there are many foreigners in Lhasa”. I really doubt these people have done similar research of foreigners entering Tibet alone on a bike. Doubt it.
As I peak over the mountain, I can see the plateau ahead of me and a tiny little airport. I’m almost there. It reminds me so much of Ulaanbaatar except without the black cloud of smoke hovering over it. The green plateau with mountains surrounding it.
It’s around 1pm so I decide to take my time getting to town. I did begin to notice that the “looks” of the people are beginning to change. The skin has gotten drastically darker and there is a more pronounced nose – far from the traditional Han look.
Thinking I had arrived to the edge of the city, which I was still about 6km away, I saw a little prayer building and some older locals spinning the prayer wheel. I stop on the side of the road and watch, making eye contact with one old man, I then pull my bike into the parking lot.
The dark and round shop keeper, that looks like a Tibetan cowboy, asked me what I need to buy and I said I was going to go take some photos. He smiled and gave me the go ahead.
Slowly approaching the little building, taking worthless photos from outside, the old man taps the bench inside letting me know to enter and sit.
I’m not sure where to start with this story.
I sit down next to the old man while others are spinning the wheel. There are about 4 women in minority dress, the old man with a felt hat, 2 middle aged men, one just a round man and the other with red tassels wrapped around his head, and a small child with obviously sunburned cheeks.
One older woman passes the man next to me a Double mint tin canister; I thought they were sharing mints. I was not offered one and then I saw the old man put it to his nose and snort – inward. I also noticed the skin below his nose was tremendously lighter than the others.
A woman sits next to me and she is curious about the knee supports I wear. I explain them to her. Surprisingly she can speak Putonghua. I’m also playing a little hide and go seek with the little boy. He switches between the front and back of his father, “the round man”.
I’m taking photos and no one seems to mind. Then the round man comes back with a young teenaged boy and he the boy stoops over and his staring at me with a giant grin on his face, I smile and say “hello”. It only takes a few minutes to realize this boy has brain damage of some sorts. His father later tells me he can’t speak and I reply kindly that “I understand”.
The teenager can’t take his eyes off me. The old folks go along their prayers and chatting and just let me photograph as if I’m not there. This must not be the edge of town or it would be swarming with tourists. We can hear them building a house across the street. This is a stone and mud brick home that will eventually be painted white like the rest.
Later, I cross over and sit next to the little boy as he plays with his toy cars. The group of adults seem to care for the child and teen as if they are their own. The boy really is not interested in me taking his photo OR looking at it. The teenager really wants to see and approaches me every now and again pointing at the camera, stooped over, and drooling. Poor thing.
Trying to play cars with the little boy, I finally see the fading black eye! Who would give a 4 year old a black eye and I’ve never seen a child shy away like this. I finally show the camera back to the teen and he gets excited. I keep my distance because I don’t want to excite him too much.
Did the teen boy punch the younger one?
After about an hour I quietly step out and continue on my journey. The shopkeeper comes up to me and asks me the basic questions. I answer, say thanks, and get on my way.
Within 2 minutes pedaling down the road I put the 2 together. Was the teen so badly abused that he was left with brain damage? I’m in a part of the world where life is tough, people are poor, and there is a lot of baijiu.
I arrive to old town Shangri-La, which is quite nice. A very over eager and hyper young lady approaches me with an 18 year old Hong Kong boy. I guess she is cycling with a group of folks to Lhasa. Again, I’m told that I can cycle to Lhasa. I really hate this conversation. I’ve decided to just tell people I’ve already been OR I don’t want to go.
They help me push my bike to a hostel they are staying at. She’s a little intense for me and wants to plan my route to Xinjiang for me. Ummm, yeah, no thanks. I know how Chinese cyclists travel. I asked her what roads she took here from Kunming – Lijiang – Shangri-La and it’s exactly what I predicted. The newest, biggest, fastest roads possible. Not my style.
We do have an excellent bowl of mixian, which I’ve had 4 more since.
Tomorrow I head off.
Please check back in a few months for pro photos.