From Sichuan on the climate became wet and and the landscape turned into a real jungle (a bloody mountainous one). Sichuan is an earthquake hotspot and I’m glad none went off while I was pedaling my way through. I imagined being on a road cut into a wall of rock when the earth starts shaking – scary.
Here mother nature decided to poor a few tons of rock on the road to Chengdu that I was about to take. Fortunately there was an alternative road without too much of a detour but it left a funny feeling in my stomach knowing that landslides could come down from the tall walls of rock next to me every moment and every now and then large rocks as big as a fridge where laying on the road.
However, these mountains were so steep, that even the Chinese didn’t manage to squeeze some field into the valleys and so the traffic was pretty light and the air clean. I found some nice spots to camp there in the mountains of Sichuan. There is hardly anything better after a long and exhausting day on the bike than sitting in the nature by the fire, cooking coffee and listening to the steady noise of a river. (And play some guitar if the noise gets boring)
This is where the mountains and the idyllic part of Sichuan suddenly end and the concrete jungle of Chengdu with a population somewhere between 10 and 14 million begins. On the map Mianyang looks like a small town just before Chengdu but I looked it up and it has a population of 1.3 million itself, that’s just how it is in the east of China, one big city after the other and in between a never ending village. I could have had a few more empty valleys though.
In Mianyang I found a coffee place but the three girls working there seemed like they don’t ever get to use the coffee machine. But after some confusion and a look into the instruction manual they managed to make a coffee and I was happy. In general you don’t get coffee in rural China, in bigger towns you can go to KFC or McDonald’s but apart from that China is not prepared for coffee junkies like me. You might be lucky to get instant coffee powder in a bigger shop, that’s as good as it gets and it will most definitely be Nescafe and very expensive. One single time I found real ground coffee, that was in IKEA in Chengdu.
In Chengdu I took two days of rest in a typical Chinese hostel in the 17th floor of a skyscraper that is so hard to find that even the Chinese police doesn’t stop by to check if there’s illegally some foreigners around. Or maybe they really had a licence, I doubt it but I also didn’t ask. Anyways, acommodation in China is a whole topic for itself but the hostels in big cities are cool, they are more of a flatshare where students live during the semester to study. So, there’s young and smart people around, a very pleasant contrast to the country life. And Chengdu is amazing, there’s a lot of funny things to do like eating unrecognisable and spicy food, go to a market and study anatomy, visit some really old temple, watch pandas eat bamboo, rent a bike or just dream the world. And of course you can go to IKEA and buy coffee as mentioned!
The way out of Chengdu is like the way in, a never ending construction site. It is just unbelievable how much residential towers they are building.
South of Chengdu you drive through a never ending village with small towns every now and where ever it is not so built up every last piece of ground is used for agriculture. You can literally stand on the road and pick some cabbage. To make it even worse the traffic was heavy as hell and the air full of dust and fumes blown out by the cars.
By the way I could write a book about driving habits in China – to make it short, the drivers are bizarrely reckless and it’s even a pain to sit next to the road and watch them almost killing each other with one risky maneuver after the other. And probably to compensate their lack of attention they are using their horn all the time, so much that they don’t pay attention to the horns anymore. So, some smart Chinese guys must have thought, if the horns don’t attract the peoples’ attention, we have to create louder horns. And now there are some ridiculously loud horns honking along Chinese roads. The buses are the worst, their horns are so loud that I almost fell off the bike a few times.
So, retrospectively I have to say that this stretch was probably the least fun of the whole trip so far. Maybe I should have taken a smarter route but my visa was about to expire and I wanted to get to the next big town from where I could take a train to Hong Kong to exit China and possibly to renew the visa there.
Here I was lucky to put up my tent on a tiny unused patch in some clementine plantation that they must have forgotten.
Here they packed the fruits already on the tree, probably to keep the dust off or maybe they just like packing.
This is in Guiyang from where I took a bus and then a train to go to Hong Kong to renew my visa. When I came back to continue cycling it was exactly as grey as when I left just a few degrees colder.
Pomelo paradise south of Guiyang, if the traffic is too annoying you can always have a pomelo break. Just don’t expect a nice spot to sit down and eat your pomelo.
Here I made the waitress in a restaurant try some real coffee. Can you see enjoyment? And of course a selfie has to be made.
One day the wire of my gears and the cable of my brakes broke. So I ended up walking my bike downhill along the road through never ending muddy roadworks with horrible traffic. There was just mud everywhere! Eventually I ended up camping on this gravel dump and I was asking myself if it could get any more inconvenient. I know I should never ask myself such a question, that is just asking for trouble.
Here’s my bike power cleaned on the next day. I read somewhere you shouldn’t power clean you bike but the guy did it for free and really enjoyed it.
I decided to try a smaller road to Yunnan through the mountains in hope for a little bit less traffic but that didn’t help at all. The traffic was as busy just that now I was on an even smaller road with all the trucks. The weather got really cold up there and unfortunately my winter clothes were already on the way back to Germany. But there where some very nice scenic parts.
So, after two ridiculously cold nights with bad sleep and frozen tent in the morning I decided to skip a bit and took a bus to the next big town Kunming where I knew there was gonna be an international hostel. It was so nice to speak to some foreigners and the american breakfast was amazing.
This is on the way out of Kunming, still crazy traffic but finally it got less and less as the road goes south towards the Vietnamese border.
This is in a small town called Mengzi on Christmas Eve. As I walked around looking for a place to eat I ended up in some old district with small houses and narrow streets. There I realized that I haven’t been to an old town in China. In any city I’ve been, the buildings looked like maximum 30 or 40 years old. And they where by the way already in the process of demolishing this old part of Mengzi.
I left Megzi with quite a hangover as some Chinese guys convinced me to drink with them an as it was Christmas I thought why not. In China it seems they’re drinking either 3% beer or 55% rice wine, the range in between seems not worth it. But the way down to the Red River is a pretty hangover friendly 50km more or less downhill, it gets warmer and at one point you’re riding through banana palm plantations and papaya trees. And somewhere down there it’s the end of China and Vietnam begins.
One thing I really regret is that I didn’t learn to speak some Chinese in advance as it would have made so many things much easier. In the end China leaves me with a big question mark over my head. Now it all seems a bit surreal to me but maybe after a while my mind will filter all my memories and leave a smoothly strange picture of this massive piece of human civilisation.