Banana and tea plantations

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November 13th 2012
Published: June 21st 2017
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After being in Kunming and hanging out there a bit too long I figured I'd need to get down the country before my visa expires. It was another cyclist that gave me idea of catching a bus part way, his plan is to cycle where he wants rather than routes you need to pass through although his time is more limited than mine, I can probably afford to just keep plodding away and realistically I could do with the exercise, I'm still huffing and puffing my way up along. I realize I will have missed some nice places from Kunming but I've not taken too much off my journey and it means I don't have to worry about getting to the border.

It's a bit of a saga getting here but to cut a long story short I got a sleeper bus to Honghe, but it was the wrong ‘Honghe' which meant I lost a full day, but the bus was great. I got on at 3pm and after 8 hours we parked up in a bus station, it was dark and I couldn't tell where we were, bus as everyone started to get off leaving their bags etc. I
just followed them. They went off to different places for food so I joined a few of them with a bowl of noodles together with some grilled ‘bits', I don't really know what the ‘bits' were, they didn't taste great but were edible and being invited to join them I tried not to think of what they were. After food everyone went back onto the bus and bedded down until we were woken up at 7am by the driver, time to get off. I thought I would need to find accommodation on arrival which is always a bit daunting when arriving somewhere late so I was really glad I didn't have to.

I arrive in a hillside town which has a nice atmosphere and I instantly take too, although because it's on the top of the hill it's a misty and murky old place. The town has a huge square with a massive screen in it showing Chinese TV, in the evening it is full of people dancing, I mean hundreds of them, this has got to be the biggest display I've seen yet, it seems like every part of China take part in this dancing every evening and is amazing to watch their slow deliberate moves.

The town also has an impressive market which I wander through the stalls of fruit and vegetables, spices, clothes, knick knacks etc. many stallholders wear traditional dress which is their everyday. It's different to what I've seen already, the woman wear heavily embroidered clothes, knee length skirts heavily pleated, long sleeve tops up to the collar, their legs have the same material wrapped around them and the headdress is set further back on the head, in more of a turban, it's wonderful to see and I didn't realize China had so many traditional outfits.

I sit in the market for lunch, right in the back of a wee place and I can tell they're not used to visitors by the nudges going on and looks I get. The food is laid out in big metal bowls so it's easy to order, I just pick a few vegetables that look good, and have them with a bowl of noodles which was excellent. The food is definitely not the ‘Chinese takeaway' you get at home, this is all packed full of local vegetables which is great, no curry sauce in sight. They also have a
lot of bbq places which open normally in the evening serving skewers for 1 yuen, it takes me a while to try them but when I do I head to one that's busy with locals and they were delicious.

The cycle down to the border was brilliant, although I was putting it off, when I get back on the bike I really enjoy it even though its hard work. The area is full of banana and tea plantations and I get to witness the whole process of the banana industry on my way down, often sitting at the roadside watching the processes. I'll never look at bananas the same again, they are bagged while on the plant with the flowers being harvested first; the stalks are cut and carried out two at a time on locals backs or sometimes being taken down by donkey's; it's not baskets they use but purpose built carriers, they're really heavy; they are then taken to a makeshift holding shed and stacked; when these sheds are full lorries come with all the flat pack boxes ready to get packed up to go. The bananas are taken to the back of the production line and are cut off the stalks, weighed, washed and boxed up being put straight onto the back of the lorry, it's quite a process. All the boxes I see are different from 'Slimming Diet' bananas to 'Produce' of different country bananas, some boxes are in English, or French, German etc. I'm starting to think China supplies the banana market worldwide.

When I get down to Hekou I still have a couple of days before my visa expires so I just relax and have a nosey around, I have a walk down to the border which I will be crossing and it looks very different. There are hundreds of 3 wheel carts stacked high with all sorts of products being brought into China although everything is covered so I can't see what's being imported. I'm staying next to a massive market which I enjoy wandering around, these places are just amazing and although I'm not able to buy produce while I'm staying in the hotel I love seeing what's on offer, it's different when I'm camping.

So I have my last look about before it's time to leave China and I have to admit I'm wary about heading to another new country but I will be fine when I get across the border. There have been many highlights to China starting with visiting The Great Wall of China, seeing the Terracotta Warrior of Xi'an, the rice terraces and mountains on the journey down south, Pandas, Shangri La's Songzanlin Monastery, Tiger Leaping Gorge, eventually ending with the tea and banana plantations on the way down to the Vietnam border town of Hekou. I think if I had flown into Beijing and just headed for a few weeks to different tourist places before leaving I would have hated it, China doesn't have volume control and as for the manners the hawking and spitting can turn your stomach, but travelling by bicycle has been amazing.

I've ended up in homes I wouldn't have done otherwise, having lunch in small farmhouses; cycling up high passes with breathtaking views; dodging traffic in metropolis size cities; viewing rice terraces; huge engineering works; massive power plants and millions of people. I've seen many different hill tribes and traditional dress and fascinating markets, every square inch of China is planted with rice, fruit or vegetables, no ground is left un-farmed (which can make camping difficult) it really is an amazing place, I would love to come back someday to see the millions of places I've missed.

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