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Published: June 19th 2010
The battle was lost but the victory was mine. I made it out alive and in a few months this road will be all asphalt
Metal slices through the flesh like a knife through tofu. Trousers get torn like a spider web in a storm, blood gushes from a deep wound above the right knee. I look to see if my leg is still attached. Check. Look at the damage to the bike. Check. Give the pricks who forced me to swerve and slide the finger. Check.
I'd been riding Route 214 out of Jiangcheng for less than a kilometre when all of a sudden the broken, potholed asphalt vanished. In its place a snake of dust that, thanks to the daily downpours had turned into mud. The authorities had decided to reconstruct the only route linking Southeastern and Southwestern Yunnan and, as I was about to find out, it was being done the Chinese way. No bypass roads, no 5km stretches at a time. The whole 200km plus was being done at once and the whole road was now a construction lobbyist's wet dream but also a traveller's nightmare.
The lady running my hotel crossed her arms at me as I was about to set off that morning. She was either asking for another 10 Yuan for god knows what or telling me
Another Day in Paradise
Dusk settles on the Yuanyang rice terraces
the road was impassable on two wheels. I was going to find out.
Leg condition ascertained, I remounted and hit the road, er, mud. In all fairness, there was still asphalt below. The mud was simply residue from the hillsides that lay exposed after the bulldozers had had their way with them. Safety and thoroughness aren't words you'll find in the Chinese vocabulary.
I pushed on but at a rate of 5km an hour I was getting nowhere. Three hours in and I decided to turn around. I was hungry, sweaty, dirty and soon my bike would be in need of the first repairs of the trip.
The thick mud collected between the mudguard and front wheel it inevitably stopped spinning. Losing control, I found myself on the ground far more times than I care to remember. A comedy of sorts with me panting and swearing each time I had to pick the bike up. I scampered back into town and found myself spoiled for choice when it came to repair shops. Covered in mud and still bleeding, I opted for the one opposite my hotel. The locals were bemused. A foreigner paying them grace. I was
A New Dawn
The sun illuminates the land behind the Bamboo Curtain
offered the ubiquitous cigarettes, tea so hot I had to mix it with equal parts cold water before I could even start to drink it and began a game of charades to express where I'd been and where I was heading. Visa requirements made me dismiss the recommendations to go through Laos to save on distance and time. Another road existed which would only require me to backtrack for a couple of hours before doing a semi-circle route to Simao. Two days travel, not ideal, but only half as long as going through Kunming would entail.
I had come from the rice terraces of Yuanyang, a landscape of hand sculpted mountains. Minorities seemed to go about their daily lives much like their ancestors. If it weren't for the electricity lines marring the views and the motorbikes shattering the silence, you could be forgiven for thinking you were transported centuries back in time. The smell of manure as it hung in the air was certainly authentic. When the light reached perfection, my camera shutter had it's best work-out in months.
Sadly, it turned out to be one of only a few rare occasions I would use my dedicated equipment
Different people, different strokes. Xishuangbanna autonomous area
to photograph Yunnan state. Roads of hell, cities of concrete, brain-dead people and a grossly human-changed landscape make it one of the most boring places I've ever been to. So much for the hype.
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