Sichuan (15/04/11-28/04/11)

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June 15th 2011
Published: July 5th 2011
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We arrived at a rather crowded airport but quickly saw the sign with our names on it, getting to it was going to be fun though; we gave up being polite, "Excuse me" just didn't cut it as well as a nudge with a bike box, people would look round, glance down, do a double take, then leap out of the way. We finally got to Li who grinned at the comedy luggage trolley and led us out to the car park via an international standard bollard slalom.
I usually avoid breathing air that I can see but in Chengdu not only could we see the air we could also taste it and we couldn't see anything at all over 300 metres away. After the amazingly clean air in the Himalayan foothills the difference was one hell of a shock and we both developed nasty dry coughs very quickly.
We arrived at Mix Hostel after a lesson in how to drive the freeways of China - use any lane that is empty including, but not limited to, the correct carriageway, if there is space at traffic lights for another line of traffic then start one regardless of where the white lines lie, if there is a gap in the traffic in an adjoining lane move into it, the horn should be used as your primary communication device, traffic lights are advisory unless augmented by police personnel and whatever else you may do, under no circumstance should you give way to anybody. We also discovered that Li's mobile ringtone is Strauss' Viennese Waltz played in a Chinese stylee, we found this out when he answered a call as he was changing lanes at an intersection, still the cacophany took our minds off the driving.
In the evening Danny Chen (from Bike China) wandered over for dinner and a chat about the tour we'd just done and our route onwards from Chengdu, he suggested flying to Xian then cycling west from there, all knee dependant of course.
Saturday was a day of leisure, first lie-in for weeks followed by a very late breakfast before we headed to the old town to wander around the shops and stalls. We tried to buy tea in a tea house and managed to get rosehip and hibiscus herbal stuff, not quite what we thought we had ordered but still drinkable. Later we walked into the centre of Chengdu to find a veggie restaurant, it took some finding as it was on the fourth floor of an office block but once there we had a very good three course meal with beer for the princely sum of 157RMB (about 15GBP).


Up early on Sunday for a ride to Panda Base Chengdu where we got to see loads of pandas doing their favourite things - eating and sleeping, there'll be pictures on here to ooh and ahh at. The base was an odd place, I couldn't quite work out how much of their work was to save pandas and how much was a commercial enterprise to supply captive pandas to zoos and collections but considering there are currently about 2000 pandas in the world whatever they are doing needs to be done fast.
We learned a few fascinating facts about pandas, mainly concerning reproduction:
Pandas were originally omnivores but for some reason they evolved down a spectacular dead end to become dependant on bamboo shoots for food, nobody knows why this evolutionary step occurred.
The gestation period is anywhere between 3 and 5 months but baby pandas are always born extremely prematurely.
Female pandas in captivity don't seem to understand what to do with baby pandas and many have to be hand reared.
Pandas aren't really very good at mating, preferring eating and sleeping and when two do finally get within hitting distance of each other it is quite likely that is exactly what they will do before both wandering off for a feed and a kip.
For the above reason Panda Base Chengdu has become rather good at artificial insemination, originally they knocked the male out and "used electrical stimulation", however it was decided that this wasn't so kind to the panda so they started using "sedation and hand massage".
It's amazing what you can learn from a twenty minute video!

Anyway, back out into the park and more pandas to ooh and ahh at; pandas do their own selling really, you have to feel sorry for whoever is trying to save (for example) the Oregon Giant Earthworm -a very worthy cause but not one I'd get up at 07:00 on a Sunday to photograph. Did I mention there'll be panda photos on here somewhere.

Two wheels - aaaargh

On the 18th Vernon rebuilt the Jaffanaut and we decided to try our luck with the traffic of Chengdu. We should have realised how the day was going when we ordered tea with our lunch and got weak asparagus soup instead but no, we still headed out onto one of the main roads in rush hour. I did pretty well really, managing about 2km before downing tools and refusing to go any further. Just watching the battleground that is a Chengdu cycle lane in rush hour is bad enough, being in it and with no control is quite frankly terrifying. We were on the hunt for a map shop and it really should have been no surprise to find it had closed down when we finally got there. We moved on to the Bookworm bookshop and cafe where we locked the bike up in a wheel pringler and wandered in to browse the displays and chat with the owner. When we got back outside again we discovered a couple of the cafe staff had moved our bike to help somebody get their bike out of the rack and had lent it over in such a way that all the weight was on the front wheel which was twisted in the bike stand. We yelled

Another of the statues in Chengdu old town
at the two vandals lifted the bike back up and checked everything for trueness, thankfully the new front rim is pretty bomb proof and there was no damage as far as we could see. I hate those damn bike racks.
The next day we decided to hire solos and try riding them through the city, even on a way too small single speed of dubious parentage with dodgy brakes I was fine riding around and we made our way over to the People's Park and the silk museum where we saw a loom being worked by two men, one to do the weaving and one to raise the correct warp threads to create the damask pattern they were weaving. It was amazingly intricate and the threads were incredibly fine. There was also a display of antique silk including a collection of very tiny shoes with ankle pieces too wide to be for a child - shoes for bound feet. Although fascinating to see and of stunning workmanship they made my toes curl knowing the processes involved in keeping feet that small. Thankfully that is one "custom" which is no longer followed.

We needed to find some duct tape for the tandem box and spent most of the 20th trawling new areas of the city centre trying to find some with absolutely no luck but hey, we got to see more of Chengdu.

Made a major decision about transport in the evening, I haven't really felt comfortable on the tandem in China, the attitude of other road users scares me and I have spent a lot of time just holding on grimly and trying not to either scream or cry. On the open road with no traffic around has been fine but the minute we entered any built up area or roadworks I have been uncomfortable with the lack of control and in some cases downright petrified. I don't want the next few months to be like this, in these traffic conditions I need to have some control over my own destiny, I can't cope with having no idea what is going to happen and Vernon doesn't communicate well enough to keep me informed. The Jaffanaut is going home. Whether we travel with it and return with solos or post it back and continue on foot is still undecided.

Emei Shan

As a knee test we
Transporting bambooTransporting bambooTransporting bamboo

This was one of the more sensible loads we saw being carried.
headed out to one of China's four sacred mountains; Emei Shan is about two hours by bus from Chengdu, we finally left the outskirts of Chengdu after about an hour and had 30 minutes of views of farmland before entering the urban sprawl around Emei Shan. We reached Bauguo and checked into the Teddy Bear Hotel, terrible name but the facilities were good, with an English speaking manager and a decent menu. We walked around the town and checked out the routes up to the mountain.
An early start on the 22nd had us getting to breakfast just after a French tour group had ordered their food, we were even further delayed by our order getting lost and by the time the French tour leader had been trying to marshal her troops by blowing her whistle for 10 minutes my plans for it's (and her) disposal had moved beyond imaginative to quite probably illegal. Thankfully they did finally set off up the mountain and we got to eat our meal in peace as the strains of "Pheeep, Pheeep" faded into the distance.
We walked through the town to the start of the mountain paths and began our climb up to
Taking a break on Emei ShanTaking a break on Emei ShanTaking a break on Emei Shan

The small child had previously been forced to have her picture taken standing between Vernon and I, she wasn't too happy about it.
the first monastery, walking up a tarmac road accompanied by a large number of runners who seem to be trying to run the entire 50km route. Having bagged our first monastery we tried to find the path to the next one, asking at the runners support car for directions, they pointed us up a track behind some houses and gave us a couple of bottle of water for the climb. We were soon on a stairway which went on for hundreds of steps up to the next monastery where we joined a group of recovering staggerers. A short gasp later we set off up more steps to our third monastery (they really should hand out a brevet card to be stamped at each stop), half way up we were accosted by a group of Chinese lads walking down the mountain who wanted their photos taken with the fat, red-faced foreigners - ah well, it gave us a bit of a breather! The steps finally took their toll and after the fourth monastery we headed back down to Wuxiagang bus station for a ride back to Bauguo.
On the 23rd we cheated by getting the bus to Leidongping for the final
Golden Summit BuddhaGolden Summit BuddhaGolden Summit Buddha

Reached by 3000 steps, or take the cable car like most of the tourists there had.
assault on the mountain. The first part of the route was packed with people walking to the cable car station but once we had passed that the path was fairly clear. There were groups of men carrying people up the path on chairs attached to poles which they hoisted onto their shoulders, I was offered a lift by two men whose combined weight was probably less than mine. Even with a duff knee I couldn't be that cruel, we continued to walk passing stalls selling walking sticks, souvenirs and food wherever there was a space for them. We had 3000 steps to get up before reaching the Golden Summit and were soon suffering in the altitude and gasping for breath. Once again we became photo subjects, including having two small children thrust at us by their fathers while we were sat at a viewpoint. the children didn't seem too keen on the idea and we certainly weren't but we all managed the required victory signs and smiles. Further on we came across another group being photographed in front of a view but this time they hadn't seen us so I snuck up behind them and then leapt up hands raised
The "view" from Golden SummitThe "view" from Golden SummitThe "view" from Golden Summit

featuring the cloud that stole our view.
in a victory salute and a stupid grin on my face just as the shutter was pressed - the photographer was delighted! If we are destined to be giggled at over countless dinner parties we might as well enjoy ourselves.
We finally reached the Golden Summit breathless and with thumping hearts just as the clouds rolled in and stole our view, even so the golden Buddha was amazing. I rubbed the right knee of the accompanying elephant and then my own knee as I had been told to, apparently it would cure the pain and I was pretty much at the try anything stage of knee treatment by then. We couldn't find the path to the actual summit so rode the cable car back down (there was no way I was walking back down 3000 steps). We hobbled the last few metres to the bus station, got the bus back to Bauguo and fell into the Prague Spring Cafe where we found rather decent coffee and WiFi and our leg muscles found time to sieze up.

After a day off to let the legs get moving again we bussed out to Leshan and then got on a local service
The Big Buddha, LeshanThe Big Buddha, LeshanThe Big Buddha, Leshan

By big they mean huge, if you look closely you might be able to see people on the terraces to the left of Buddha's head.
to the Big Buddha, it is an amazing sculpture carved out of a rock face, there are about 100 steps down the side of it with a huge queue to walk down them. We looked on from above before wandering around the temples and back out to the road being chatted to all the way by men saying "Bus to Chengdu, bus to Chengdu." As they were all riding tricycle rickshaws I'm not sure how long it would have taken us to get back to Chengdu. We caught the local bus back to the bus station and played seat draughts as older/more infirm/very young/pregnant passengers got on the bus and seat holders moved to let them sit down then other seat holders judged those that moved more deserving of a seat and so moved to let them sit down and so on. It was very difficult to determine whether or not you would offend somebody but I think we did OK.
Back in Chengdu I limped off the bus, got turned down by every taxi driver and hobbled across the centre to Lazy Bones Hostel, checked in and hobbled up to Mix Hostel to collect our bags. We managed to

There are male and female chilin, the males have one foot on a ball and the females have one foot one a cub. The stone in the mouth represents a pearl and usually is loose and can be rolled around.
find a taxi driver prepared to get us back to Lazy Bones and applied beer as a pain killer.

Heading home

The state of my knee when I woke up on the 26th was enough to tell us that we wouldn't be riding anywhere soon, our options were either to try to get treatment in China or to get back to the UK and get it sorted there. A no-brainer really, I had to be somewhere I could understand what was going on. Our visas expired on 29th April so at very short notice we needed to get flights into the UK one or two days before a royal wedding - brilliant planning on our part and another thing to blame my right knee for. We managed to arrange it all though and spent another fruitless afternoon limping around the electrical stores trying to buy gaffer tape, eventually giving up and getting packing tape instead.
Up at 04:00 on the 28th for a taxi to the airport, check-in and no excess baggage charges, onto the plane for our connecting flight to Shanghai where we bounced down the runway and into our bay. Unfortunately our baggage wasn't through ticketed so
Another shot of the Golden Summit BuddhaAnother shot of the Golden Summit BuddhaAnother shot of the Golden Summit Buddha

The elephant obviously hadn't been told that it could cure ailments, or it was on a lunchbreak when I tried rubbing it's knee.
we had to collect it all and re-check it for the onward flight to Heathrow. We were cutting it fine to make the connection and were guided through the airport by a China Eastern Airways employee who kept yelling at us to run and frowning at me as I hopped and hobbled after her. On the plus side we again got the comedy luggage through with no excess baggage charges. On arrival at Heathrow we once again bounced down the runway, so a quick plea to China Eastern Airlines - please teach your pilots how to land a plane.

Once back in the UK we got a hire car and drove off to a field in Wales to spend the weekend with friends and no TV so no coverage of the royal stuff - hurrah!

P.S. Having got treatment for my knee we are planning to head out into Europe for a short tour around on the solo bikes to see how the knee holds out. This blog has been taking way too much time and is beginning to get me down so I'm not sure how it will go when we set off again but we'll
An enormous Mao.An enormous Mao.An enormous Mao.

Seen in Chengdu, this was the only statue of the Founding Father that we saw.
speak to you later.


Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


More public artMore public art
More public art

this time a rather sweet little bench.
Turtle statue.Turtle statue.
Turtle statue.

Also a useful place to park oneself for a rest.

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