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Published: June 15th 2011
We were heading down to Tiger Leaping Gorge on a ride over three passes with the corresponding descents so it was gutting to have to sit out the day in the minibus but my knee hadn't improved at all and I was having trouble with stairs, let alone a day's cycling. The Jaffanaut stayed in the van and Vernon rode John's bike while I sat out the best ride of the trip. Ah well, time to take many photos, hurrah for digital photography!
We were driven to the top of the first pass where everybody else got on their bikes and hooned off down the hill while He and I chased them in the minibus, we caught them riding up the second pass and stopped at the top to get some action shots of the group riding up through the trees. They were soon off down the next pass, we caught them again at our lunch stop where there were a fine collection of huge grins around the place (and then there was me 😞 ). Vernon had rigged up the Lumix to his handlebars and set it to video mode on one of the descents so
at least I got to watch it - sadly not as much fun as riding it.
There was no restaurant on the route so we stopped with a family from the Yi tribe for lunch; while we waited for the kettle to boil we were shown around their home which was a single roomed wooden barn with a central fireplace. there were very few possessions on show, some cooking and eating utensils and a couple of lamps were all we saw, outside a couple of pigs and some ducks and chickens. A low table was found for us and we shared little benches, designed for two but our western sized bums had trouble fitting. We had bought food in Shangri-La, the family supplied hot water for our instant noodles and sat giggling and laughing as we ate, we shared our food with them, the children were very shy at first but quickly overcame that when bags of crisps were produced although the youngest was still a bit wary of the giant pale people who had suddenly invaded his world.
After lunch David produced his iPad and showed our hosts some photos of the tour plus some of David and Sonia's
home in New Zealand, they were fascinated by both the machine and the photos. One of the younger women then produced her headdress for us to look at, it was quite amazing, a trapezoid shaped wooden frame covered in black cloth lined in green with side drapes which was attached to a skull cap, the edges of the cap and the cloth drapes were embroidered beautifully. It was an amazing piece which must have taken an age to make but she was happy for us to try it on, I had seen a lot of women wearing these headdresses whilst working in the fields so it was quite a surprise how difficult it was to balance one on my head even standing still.
We set off again with the sounds of laughter and cries of "Zai jian" from our hosts, the happiness that they showed and their huge smiles were a wonderful tonic taking my mind off my dodgy knee, although it was a shame they didn't get to see the Jaffanaut rolling down the hill from their home. Sonia joined me in the minibus for the afternoon as she was still recovering from a cold and we discussed how
happy most of the local people seemed to be, admittedly a lot of the smiles and laughter could be based on the sight of the five giant people on four bikes but there was a genuine feeling of happiness from a lot of places which we just don't get in the west.
When we stopped John warned us that we would be staying in a "basic" place that night, we walked into a large, marble reception area and made our way to our en-suite rooms commenting that it was about as basic as every other place we had stayed, the only difference was that rather than having a kettle in the room we were given a flask of hot water for tea. Before dinner we were driven out to Baishuitai to see the water terraces, a rock formation formed by limestone deposition, we could take a pony ride up to the viewing areas but it wasn't that far to walk and we were soon up there admiring the rock formations.
The next morning I was back on the tandem, my knee was hurting less and we had another day of riding down through the passes which I didn't want
Reaching the top
Photo: David Wansbrough
to miss so we set off slowly, stopping occasionally for photos (and getting shouted at by a local for taking a shot of the view! Although having looked at the picture later she could have been a genuine critic). We spent most of the morning crawling slowly up a 20km ascent as the solo riders disappeared off ahead of us, some idiot (ahem) had taught He to yell "Allez, allez" as an encouragement to cyclists as they struggled up hills, we soon heard him calling in the distance, slowly getting louder as he caught up with us on John's bike. He had decided he wanted to do some riding so John was on minibus duty, He usually rides a singlespeed and for utility purposes only so it was rather sad to be overhauled so quickly and watch him disappear off up the hill as we plodded on. We soon caught up again as the gearing flummoxed him and we twiddled past on the granny ring finally reaching the top of the pass where the others were waiting for us. He appeared shortly afterwards to huge applause from the group. There then followed a stonking descent through the forest to Haba,
starting with a load of hairpins to test the brakes then a series of swooping curves into the village.
Lunch was outside a little restaurant with the most amazing views of Haba Snow Mountain, our hostess was a wonderful character, she was a mountaineer who had climbed the mountain many times and the restaurant walls were covered with photos of climbing groups. Once again the Jaffanaut attracted a crowd while we ate, one of whom started fiddling with the gear shifters, amazingly when we set off again we discovered he'd put them back exactly where he moved them from!
The afternoon began with another climb for 7km which we did very slowly and with a lot of "photo stops" before a 23km descent to Dajuxiang which started in a fairly benign fashion through the upper slopes, a few hairpins but nothing too scary, then a rolling downhill across a plateau. We had to stop to cool the disc and rims a few times. The fun began when we moved onto the steeper section dropping down to Dajuxiang, a series of hairpins cut out of the cliff awaited us along with a vicious side wind off the slopes of Haba Snow
Mountain. Vernon used the usual descent method of "roll freely to close to the bend then brake sharply" I sat on the back wimpering quietly and occasionally screaming "BRAKE!!" When we got to Dajuxiang we turned into the wind and had a horrible 16km slog through roadworks into Tiger Leaping Gorge where cold bottles of Dali beer awaited us.
Alternative means of transport
The next morning the more able section of the group took a hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge leaving Vernon and me to walk along the road to meet them at Tina's Guest House in Dashengou. My knee was just too sore to play about in the gorge and Vernon managed to fall down a step last night in the bedroom and bash his ankle somewhat. At Tina's we absorbed weapons grade coffee and tried to work out what was wrong with the Nikon which was refusing to focus at any zoom greater than about 45mm, not good for the scenery around the gorge. Unfortunately we couldn't get a signal so couldn't look on the internet for any advice, we soon exhausted our knowledge of all things camera and resigned ourselves to a lot of
distance shots until we were back in civilisation. The others arrived with tales of dodgy ladders and sheer drops making me glad I wasn't there and of stupendous views making me supremely jealous.
After lunch we climbed into the minibus and drove to Lijiang through a load more roadworks. In the evening we watched the Naxi Orchestra performing traditional music using instruments such as "ten small gongs in rows" which we didn't manage to get a photo of but you should be able to form a rough idea of how it looked. Throughout the performance members of the audience made and received mobile phone calls. Amanda, Sonia and I got bit annoyed with a guy behind us taking a call loudly and told him in no uncertain tones to shut up or get out, amazingly despite the language barrier he seemed to understand and left the auditorium to finish his call.
Breakfast on the 11th was our last one as a group, Amanda had to return to Australia and the real world of work so she remained in Lijiang to get a flight back to Shanghai while the rest of us took a bus to Lugu Hu. We couldn't take
the minibus because there is a charge for any passenger carrying vehicle entering Lugu Hu National Area unless it was registered there. Dave's van was OK as it is not a passenger carrying vehicle. The journey started badly with the driver yelling at us while waving the tickets we'd just handed to him, I phoned John (who was travelling in the van with Dave and He) and gave the phone to the bus driver who proceeded to shout at John instead before giving my phone back, starting the bus and pulling out of the station. At the next stop John appeared with the other halves of our tickets, apparently the driver needed both halves of each ticket to be paid for carrying us. Crisis averted we settled in for the journey, 7 hours in seats with less leg room than any of us had legs on roads in various stages of completion, thankfully the bus wasn't full and we were able to spread out to a double seat each.
At the lunch stop we had to order our own food for the first time, usually John did this for us but this time he wasn't there. Showing an uncanny ability
to spot the responsible adult he had given Sonia the cash to pay for lunch and our entry into the Lugu Lake area, so while she chose a suitable table (the shadier the better as the sun was very fierce) David, Vernon and I wandered into the kitchen to select some food. We used the standard method of pointing at what we wanted in the vegetable rack and then, luckily, one dish we wanted was being carried past as part of another order, so we pointed at that and David pointed at a dead thing (chicken - ed.) and that was our dish selection done. By the time we found the place settings, the rice cooker and the teapots our food was appearing from the kitchen and, amazingly, what we hoped we had ordered actually appeared. Buoyed by our success we got ice-creams for dessert, including a dairy-free frozen item for me, a pea-lolly which looked just too healthy to be anything but vegan; it wasn't as bad as it sounded.
The afternoon's journey was more of the same with an ever deteriorating road surface culminating in a series of switchbacks down a spoil heap, 200km in 7 hours under
power, that's got to be a record! We crawled off the bus and slowly straightened up. In other news Sonia received a text from Amanda, she had reached Shanghai on time and with all her luggage but her onwards flight was delayed, it seemed we had passed our flight woes on.
In the morning we got on the bikes to ride to Lige with a detour to the monastery at Lamasi, it was slow going around the edge of the lake as we rode over a series of headlands before turning towards Lamasi and straight into another series of roadworks which entertained us for a couple of miles before we got to the relatively smooth cobbled section. The monastery was very quiet, it only has a few monks with one staying there full time and all the other monks were away at their home villages helping with crop sowing. We wandered around gazing at all the paintings and brightly coloured wood carving before returning along the same road, stopping to meet a local family and see their home which was built around a courtyard with three sides raised off the ground and used as family accommodation, and the fourth for
animals. As we approached the roadworks again John veered off to the right along the old road which is slowly being replaced, hoping that it would be smoother than the roadworks. Unfortunately it was mainly dirt and, because of the very dry conditions, it was covered by a quite thick layer of sand which caused the back of the tandem to slew about wildly as Vernon wrestled with the front end. I kept up a running "I'm not happy I think we need to stop" commentary for a while to no avail before finally shouting "STOP" loudly enough for everybody to screech to a halt and stare in our direction as I collapsed in a gibbering heap on the stoker bars. I refused to ride any further and started walking, soon to be joined by the rest of the group as we forded a stream and Sonia decided enough was enough and marched back across the waste ground to the new road. Once back on tarmac we rolled down to Lige and walked along by the foreshore to our hotel. As we had some time before dinner we wandered around the town and found a bar on the waterfront which
served Erdinger Weissbier and Dunkel, well it would have been rude not to.
The next day we were up early for a minibus back to Luoshu where we got breakfast before getting into a traditional rowing boat to go across to the island, we all had a go at rowing it, some with more success than others. He was very taken with our boat guide and seemed keen to cut short our tour of the island and return to the pier. On the return trip we could hear singing from some of the other boats, when it stopped Sonia sang a beautiful choral piece in response.
In the afternoon the tandem got boxed for it's next flight but not before everybody had a go on it, as stokers obviously, Vernon doesn't relinquish the front seat for just anybody. When all was safely boxed up we walked down to the Old Tree Cafe to try a local delicacy - plum wine, not so much wine, more 97% ethanol 3% plum juice, it was actually rather nice, after dinner we went back for a second taste.
Another day, another (even longer) bus journey. Once again we were on the road to Lijiang
Back (L-R): Dave, Amanda, Sonia
Middle: He, Vernon, Clare
Front: John, David
being bumped and jolted around. This time the bus was full so we couldn't spread out there were even people sat in the aisle. The lunch stop toilets were entertaining, the women's side was up a flight of steps and once there you could look over into the men's side, as Vernon and David discovered when I yelled a cheery greeting to them.
Back in Lijiang we had our last dinner together before mooching around the souvenir shops and the old town for a while, failing to find a pub we had been recommended and heading back to the hotel for an early night before our flights the next morning.
John met us in the hotel lobby with bags of cakes and breads for breakfast as the buffet hadn't opened, then we all jumped in the minibus and He drove us to the airport which we couldn't find the entrance to because of (you guessed it) roadworks. We checked in, said our goodbyes to John, Dave and He, then through security and saw David and Sonia off on their flight before settling down to wait for our plane, on our own in China at last.
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