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Published: October 28th 2007
Hello from San Du in Guizhou Province. We had a lovely break in Guanling to see the waterfalls, and stayed with a very friendly family. The eldest lad was teaching himself English from the internet and doing well. He wanted to know about our journey and after seeing our family photos on the blog, with the garden in the background, he looked at Ockbrook on Google-Earth. His dad gave us a lift to the waterfalls. It was a bit of a hairy ride, though interesting to see the view from the other side of a windscreen.
Since then, we have moved steadily Eastwards. The scenery has changed and become more undulating and less mountainous. There is less intensive cultivation and it is lovely cycling along tree-lined roads. There is a real autumn feel now: the leaves are turning and as we ride, big crispy-dry leaves tumble down on us. We have also seen harvesting of the rice and corn come to an end. Huge mounds of rice straw are brought down from the fields on the backs of men and animals, and rich, dark manure is hauled up to the fields in baskets. The landscape is changing from green to
brown, as each patch of the quilt is ploughed by oxen. I imagine that little has changed in centuries. Meanwhile, the news channels are excitedly following the progress of China's first lunar rocket. What a complex and fascinating country this is; the non-mechanised age, the industrial revolution and the space age all happening at one time.
Last night we had a few beers with a dutch touring cyclist, six months into his own year out. He had travelled through Turkey, Iran and the 'Stans and is now a day ahead of us and heading to SE Asia.
On the gastronomic front, the food continues to change with each valley, reflecting the local produce and custom, though not necesarily to our taste. Our lunch one day had to be postponed when we realised that the town we were in specialised almost exclusively in dog. In every kitchen window, were proudly displayed very small, prepared animals, tails still cocked as if in greeting. On the outskirts of the town, piles of neatly bundled skins sat at the roadside for collection. The next day, outside a market, we watched a couple fasten a lifeless dog to their motorbike then drive off,
leaving only bloody tyre tracks. There is no shelter from the practical realities of life here, and however much we have been exposed to it in the past few weeks, we are still shocked.
In Ping Ba, we had a first hand experience of vermin control chinese-style. As we rode along the busy main street, searching for a hotel, there were loud cracking and slapping noises, and a rat shot out from the pavement between our tyres. In hot pursuit, a posse of men with brooms and shovels trying desperately to whack it. Rat last seen heading for the expressway.
Regarding the practicalities of life, Friday was a day of rites of passage. At eight in the morning, while on the dumpling run, we watched the strange sight of a young man, dressed in rags and with a straw bundle around his shoulders, being paraded around the town centre by his friends. Behind followed a cavalcade of cars, one festooned with pink ribbons, bearing family and friends. What was this? Some kind of early morning pre-wedding ritual? As we left town, a funeral was taking place. A heavy, dark wooden coffin, ccovered with a large pink and white
floral rosette, was fixed to a huge timber raft then, to the sound of gongs and drums and exploding fire crackers, a dozen or so men hoisted up the heavy load and set off down the street. No one else followed. They were bound, no doubt, to one of the many buriel sites that dot the upper slopes, always facing out over the valley below. A tomb with a view, you could say. When we arrived in Guiding, it was to find a wedding party standing on the steps of the hotel. It is pleasing to note that somewhere in a wedding album lies a photograph of the happy couple, and between them stands a scruffy, sweaty English cyclist with a severe case of helmet hair.
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