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|10/13||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is about a 3 hour flight from Kansai Airport. We have finally arrived here after two days and about 11 hours of flying. But I'm ahead of myself.
We got up early this morning so we could have breakfast before the scheduled 7 o'clock airport check-in time for the 9 o'clock flight. We got to the airport and stood around until about 9. Then we were told to just unload your bags (from the baggage carts), leave them on a one-layer mass on the floor, and head for the loading gate.
We finally got off the ground about 10:20, arrived in Hong Kong about 2:30. We collected our gear, then waited around until Tim got busses and gear trucks lined up. About 3:30 we started loading on the busses. (We were lucky. We were one of the first 40 so we were able to get on the first bus trip from the airport to the hotel.)
Our first glimpse of Hong Kong was amazing! We had heard it was densely populated, but you can't really grasp that concept until you see it. On the highway, you almost have the feeling of being in a canyon, with the masses of immense buildings all around.
The Panda hotel is a basic hotel (nice public area -- small, clean but drab rooms) located in a somewhat seedy area of Kowloon. Kowloon is on the China mainland about 18 miles away from downtown Hong Kong.
We moved our gear into our room, then watched CNBC to see what's happening in the world. We napped a bit, then went to dinner.
Dinner was in the hotel. It was a pretty typical Chinese meal -- not exciting but good. We had soup, chunks of chicken legs (imagine a scrawny chicken leg cut into inch-long pieces), sautéed mushrooms, tofu in spicy meat sauce, some kind of sweet and sour dish, rice with meat, etc., and a whole steamed fish.
We walked around the neighborhood for awhile after dinner. It was the real thing -- a run down Chinatown. We found a couple of neighborhood bakeries, a few Chinese grocery stores, an herb store and a McDonald's before we became uncomfortable with the neighborhood after dark.
We went back to the hotel to have a drink with Larry and Joan before they left for their off-route tour of the Great Wall and some other sites in China. We had a nice visit until David got sick with stomach pains. Must have eaten something that didn't set well. So, back to our room.
Love to all,
|10/14||Hong Kong, China
This was our day in Hong Kong. It started with an early breakfast. David still felt a little queasy, so he didn't eat much. Lisa stuck pretty much to western fare.
We went back to our room to get the photo discs ready to send. Lisa went down to the desk to get a FedEX envelope. She was sent to their business office for the envelope. The young lady at the business office spoke very good English but she and Lisa couldn't communicate very well, So she came back with a box.
We filled in the Airway bill, gathered our DRG's and photo discs, and headed back to the business office. We told her we wanted to send these things out. She looked in every drawer in her desk, under every paper, under her blotter, in the cabinet and back through the desk to find the directions on how to fill in her part of the airbill. After about an hour, the small envelope was almost ready to go. Then she told us that, since it's only an envelope, it would be much cheaper to send it FedEX.
That started another round of finding things, calling for instructions, etc.
About 45 minutes later, the FedEX airbill was ready and the same old envelope was ready, but there was a problem with payment. It seems the hotel didn't have an account with FedEX.
No problem. We'll pay for it with our credit card. But if we did that, we'd have to have FedEX pick up the package from our room. No one will be in our room. We just want to leave it here (in the business office) or at the front desk. Can't do that. She may not be there all the time, and if we leave it at the desk, they will send it via DHL to FedEX and it will cost us more. HUH?
After another half hour or so, David finally said "Just send it!" She said okay, and it was noon before we finally got away. Oh well.
So why did it take so long? Most of it was because the business office person couldn't find things, didn't know what she was supposed to do, had to call for instructions constantly, and constantly dropped us in order to take care of other customers who walked in.
So a little after noon we headed for the subway. Since we were so far from the main part of town, the subway ride took about 30 minutes.
Nice subway. Clean, neat, fast. So fast, in fact, people sitting on the stainless steel, side-facing, bench seats would slide into their neighbor to the rear of the train every time the train would startup, then slide forward into their neighbor toward the front of the train every time it stopped.
We rode the subway into the center of the commercial district (in Kowloon right across from Hong Kong island). Then we walked around that area. Lots of traffic. Lots of tall, double-deck busses and street cars. Lots of people. AND LOTS AND LOTS OF SIGNS!
It was a lot like Times Square in New York because of all the signs and electronics stores. And, it seemed like every other person on the sidewalk was handing out a flyer to try to get you to go to HIS tailor to have a suit, shirt or dress made. And the bargain prices were real. Wool suits for HK$800, Mohair/Silk suits for HK$1200, Silk dresses for HK$450, Silk shirts for HK$100 -- and all custom tailored and guaranteed. (There's about 7.77 HK$ to 1 US$.
We had two kinds of noodle soup for lunch. Stopped in lots of camera stores, perfume stores, drug stores and clothing stores.
We noticed a place advertising "Steam/Massage" that piqued Lisa's interest --- but we passed. We walked around some more and came upon it again. Passed again. But when we happened upon the same place a third time, we thought, "Maybe this was meant to be," so we turned into the doorway under the sign. It lead to a brightly lit stairway with lots of incense burning along the sides. The stairway led down to a glass door -- painted opaque (so one couldn't see in???) But that's where we chickened out. We never did find out what "steam/massage" meant.
We walked down to the Victoria Harbour. The harbour is full of boats going every which way. We saw many close passings but no collisions. It's a wonder!
There's a wide promenade all along the harbour an the south end of Kowlon. It's a very nice, very clean pedestrian area. Every place there was a large sheltered area on the promenade, there were lots of young people sitting in groups. We don't know if they were on a visit, a tour, or just "hanging out."
We walked to the "Star Ferry Terminal" and took a ferry over to Hong Kong Island. The fare was HK$2.50 (about 32 cents) apiece. And no, Lisa didn't get sick. (She says she's preparing for the 4 hour ferry ride tomorrow.)
The city on Hong Kong Island is a long, narrow strip of sky scrapers along the harbour, backed up by the green hillsides of the Victoria Mountains. It seems that the Hong Kong Island is all business and financial center. Lots of tall, glass buildings.
We took the tram/funicular up to Victoria Peak where we had a drink and a light dinner while we watched the lights come on in the city. It was a beautiful sight in spite of (or perhaps because of) a light fog. But the fog made it difficult to take any good pictures.
After dinner we bee-lined back to our hotel to see what arrangements had been made for taking care of our camping gear until New Zealand (so we wouldn't have to carry it to all the hotels in Asia for the next several weeks.) We got there at 7:30 and found out that it was announced at 6 that all the New Zealand bags had to be loaded on the truck by 7. Super!
We found Britt-Simone sitting on the curb with one gear-bag. She told us the truck would be back in about half an hour to get the rest of the New Zealand bags. So, we had time to get our bag and the Dolinsky's bag (we're taking care of their NZ bag and their other bag until their return from their China tour next week) tagged and delivered to curbside for pickup.
Need to sleep early and fast tonight. Breakfast at six so we can catch the bus-ferry-bus to Wuzhou early tomorrow.
Love to all,
|10/15||China, Hong Kong to Wuzhou
We were up at 5 this morning. Showered, packed our gear and went down to breakfast by 6. Loaded our gear and the Dolinsky's gear in the trucks. Jumped in a bus by 6:30. Packed the bus full, then left for the ferry terminal at 6:45.
It was still raining out, as it had been all morning. The weather over the whole Far Fast for the last few days has been rain. And the forecast for the next few days is the same. In fact, the center of Vietnam -- where we're scheduled to ride -- is having record flooding.
At the ferry terminal we collected all of our gear, changed our Hong Kong dollars for Chinese Renminbi (about 8RMB to US$1) then went to check our luggage. We were allowed 20KG per passenger, then charged HK$5 for each kilo over that. We had 58KG. The attendant told us we owed HK$90.
Since we had just changed our $HK to $RMB, David pulled out $RMB and asked how much. (The clerk laughed and said no, no, no. He indicated he would only accept HK$. Just then someone else came up to try to pay his overcharge. We were standing there holding out Chinese money. The attendant looked back at us and waved us on. (TK&A agreed to take and pay for all the bags for the riders off on the Great Wall tour, so we gave Dolinsky's bag to them to handle.)
As we were loading onto the ferry, we saw (and got a picture of) bicycles being loaded onto the deck of the ferry. They were just lined up on the dock. Then a wide strap was run under the bar of about 20 bikes and the whole bunch lifted together, swung over, and set on the top deck.
(I wonder what condition our tandem will be when we get it back. It's a good thing the bike mechanics are scheduled to work tonight and tomorrow morning.)
The ferry was a twin-hull "fast ferry". Almost, but not quite, a hydrofoil. The ride was very smooth as we traveled from the South China Sea, through the very large mouth of, then up, the Pearl River to Zhaoqing. As we went from open sea to river mouth to river, the waters got smoother.
The cruise up the river was interesting. The vegetation along the shore was, of course, very tropical. Sometimes it looked like plantations of banana trees, sometimes small palm trees.
We passed quite a few areas of homes along or close to the shores. Most are small, square boxes -- most with a partial second story and a deck on the roof of the first floor -- most without windows. All looking very weathered and run down.
We passed many industrial operations, some materials handling plants, some loading docks. All had old, rusty, nondescript buildings. Couldn't tell what the use might be.
Several times our ferry slowed as the river narrowed through towns and villages. Many had multistory buildings that could have been either office or apartment buildings. All were pretty run-down and severely weathered. A few of the newer and/or bigger commercial and apartment buildings had windows. Most of the smaller residential-looking buildings did not -- just blank, dark eyes looking out at the river. This varied though, apparently with the size of, or wealth of, the town.
We passed many old, rusty (but operating) commercial boats sitting in the river. There were many, many materials-carrying boats going upriver with us and a few ferry boats going the other direction.
We passed many small fishing boats. (They looked like long narrow canoes built of rough, irregular wood.) We knew they were fishing boats because the one or two men standing on them were casting nets.
We passed a lot of Sampans that people lived on. Most just parked. Some moving. Some with smoke rising from something on the deck.
As we travelled farther and farther up-river, the background became more mountainous. Several times we passed under big power lines. In a few of the bigger cities, we passed under highway bridges.
One strange thing happened as we went through a wide section o the river that had development along the shore. We were cruising along at speed and suddenly a small motorboat pulled along side. A man in a black uniform was waving a red flag at us. We don't know what was going on, but our ferry immediately slowed way down. The small boat shadowed us for some time, then, finally, dropped off. As soon as it was pretty far behind, our ferry speeded up again.
Along the lower end of the river, there were often levees along the river. Some had roads on them. We saw several bicycles on those roads. All with either two or three people on them, or loaded with baggage.
As we continued up-river, the river shorelines became nountainous and closed in on us. Then, as we came closer to Z..., the mountains pulled back as the river widened again.
About 30 minutes out, the Chinese passengers started lining up in the aisles with their baggage. It looked just like the airline aisles after landing.
It was an interesting contrast in cultures. The Chinese all standing packed in the aisles with their baggage, anxious to get off; the Odyssey riders, who are all used to (and tired of) standing in lines, all sitting in their seats, reading, napping or talking. No rush.
We docked about 1 o'clock. It was warm and humid outside. It had stopped raining.
Lisa visited the bathroom in the customs and immigration office as soon as we docked. Her comment: "I don't think we have enough Purell." (For those that haven't discovered it yet, that's the brand name of a waterless, antiseptic hand cleaner. We use it all the time after visiting a bathroom for any reason, and before eating.)
We gathered our gear from the baggage claim area (called "Taking Baggage" area here, "Baggage Reclaim" area in Hong Kong), went through immigration, then -- pandemonium!
People, gear and bicycles all over. The local officials and workers were overwhelmed. They finally stopped trying to check people and things and just moved everyone and everything outside, then closed the doors! (Don't get the wrong impression, though. All the locals were very helpful with the gear and bicycle moving effort.)
We loaded the gear and bicycles onto trucks, then we all piled into busses for the 4-hour ride to Wuz Hou.
We mnoticed that most of the buildings in town had windows -- they are just mostly open and/or very dark looking. We noticed, too, that the farther out of town we got, the more homes we saw withut glass or anything in the windows.
The apartment buildings were mostly looking very, very run down and had laundry hanging off most of the balconies. (Were the clothes dirty? Or were they just dull colors? Both, probably.)
We saw some newer looking commercial buildings and hotels along the main street that we drove out of town on. But, right behnd them were the dingy, run-down-looking apartment buildings.
SURPRISE! The cars were back to driving on the right side of the road. Different from Australia, Japan and Hong Kong.
We saw lots of bicycles and small motorcycles along the streets and roads both inside and outside of town. We noticed, as we rode the bus out of town along the Pearl River, that the bus driver's solution to bicycles and motor scooters on the road was to blow his horn at them. Other motor vehicles got the same treatment. We think it's a courtesy -- to let others know that we're coming.
Again, there were a lot of sampans and small, motor-driven barges on the river. And, again, the mountains pretty much came right down to the water's edge, except where they have been cut back for buildings or a rood.
Along the road, at the toll booths, we saw Chinese people sitting, smiling and waving at us.
Away from the city, there were lots of closed and abandoned-looking commercial buildings (like stores and gas stations) and lots of roadside shacks selling things. (Actually, this aspect was also seen in many Central and South American countries.) In some areas we saw houses or small buildings that looked like they were abandoned in the middle of construction. This is something we often saw in Greece, and to a lesser extent, in Italy.
We stopped at a nice-looking restaurant for a bathroom break. It was surprisingly nice -- western toilets, toilet paper, and sinks. We bought some Dim Sum treats for snacks.
Leaving the commercial area, (we had departed from the river for awhile) the scenery turned much more rural. Everywhere flat was under cultivation. The hillsides were all covered with lush vegetation. Ebvery so often we'd come upon a small residential area -- more two and three story cracker boxes. ALL looking very worn out and run down.
About 3 o'clock, as we were again following the river, it started raining. That didn't seem to bother the bicyclists and moterscooter's along the road though. They were still out there -- getting honked at by the bus driver.
Most of the drive today was along four-lane highways with bike lanes marked along the sides (where a shoulder might have been). At one point however, as we were racing -- yes, RACING -- along the highway, the pavement just ended. Didn't phase the driver at all. The lack of pavement just added a vertical dimension to our travel. We hardly slowed our forward motion at all.
We arrived at the WuzHou Hotel about 5:15. In the fancy marble lobby, with signs in both Chinese and English, we had to fill out a Foreign Visitor registration form. It asks for our wherreabouts yesterday, today and tomorrow. It appears that the government wants to keep close track of us.
The rooms were, surprisingly, quite nice and very western. Ours was on the 13th floor overlooking the city.
Remember that most of the houses and apartments had decks on top? Well, in the morning we looked out at about 7 and saw lots of activity on those rooftops. Two people on two different roofs were practicing Tai Chi. There was a schol playground on the roof of a multi-story school building. There were gardens, and there were clothes hangng. Quite a different view from last night.
Love to all,
|10/16||China, WuzHou to Xindu
WE'RE BIKING IN RED CHINA!!!
Bike wise, the primary damage from all the handling and shipping was bent front brakes and a loose head set. Both easily fixed by the mechanics. Then I cleaned and lubed the chains and we were ready to go.
The first experience was right out the front door of the hotel. We were in the middle of a frenetic "farmers market" as we would call it. And it was PACKED with people!. On the way out of town, we saw people making their way to the market with more, fresh vegetables. Apparently, people get up early (like 4?) and pick the vegetables to take to the morning market. Also, it appears that the locals purchase their food for the day each morning -- always fresh that way, besides, with no electricity in most of the homes (and therefore, no refrigerator or ice) it's hard to keep things very long.
As we left the area of the market, we came across an area with about 200 bicycles parked. Apparently all visiting the market.
Many, many bicycles in the towns, fewer on the open roads. Quite a few small trucks, lots of busses and a few big (like american dump trucks) trucks around the construction areas.
While we're on construction areas, the one negative of the day was the road construction. At least 50 of the first 80 KM's of road was torn up for a big reconstruction project. That meant: no pavement, lots of construction trucks, and riding on either wet mud or dry, dusty pavement. The native soil is a red clay that is very slippery when wet, and that turns into a very fine silt when dry. We were breathing and eating the silt whenever we weren't slipping and sliding in the mud. We mad it through all right, though.
Several riders fell in the mud. No one was hurt, but Bill Bliss came out the worst. He went down and rolled over trying to get up. He looked like a tar baby in red mud.
So much for the bad, because the day was overwhelmingly good! We saw people and things that we have only seen before in a National Geographic -- and a few that we hadn't even seen there.
Most of today's ride was through very rural areas. Most of the houses looked only half finished. None had windows. Many were missing all or parts of walls. Some were a piece of plywood propped up with bamboo poles for the roof and fabric (like old sheets but not as nice) for the walls.
Almost all had clothing hanging on lines, apparently to dry. But with all the construction dust, it's no wonder that most of the clothes we saw were a dull reddish brown.
We passed lots of motor scooters and small trucks, busses and large trucks, and BICYCLES! Everyone (except the bicycles) would sound there horn as they approached us. Some would toot, some would blast, and all the riders, drivers and passengers would give us a big smile and say "hello" or "hi," to which we would respond "hello" or "hi" and nehou (pronounced KNEE-HOW) which is Chinese for hello.
We passed many, many people on the road. People walking. People on bicycles. Construction workers. Farmers. People leading (with a rope tied to their head) and guiding (with a switch or stick) water buffalo along the road so they could forage on the roadside growth. People carrying materials (rock, bamboo, vegetables, etc.) in two, balanced baskets hanging on a long stick that rests on their shoulder. People just squatting alongside the road. (Why? Who knows?) And lots of people sitting in the dirt and rocks in front of their VERY humble dwellings.
All of the kids and most of the adults gave us big smiles and called out "hi" or "hello." The rest just gave us very serious looks, but even they responded when we initiated a hello or nehou.
Just like we saw in Baja, Mexico, many of the homes in the very small villages that we passed through had tiny store counters as the front wall of their home -- all with drinks and snacks to sell.
And prices. Lisa bought two sodas at one of the "stores." When asked how much they were, she thought they indicated 5 Yuen. She gave them a ten and got nine-fifty back. They were only .5 Yuen each. At 8 Yuen to the US$, that's about 6 cents each. Cokes were aout 8 cents each. We stopped for lunch, had two sport drinks and a BIG plate of fried rice and paid 12 Yuen for everything (about $1.50).
And whenever we stopped, we were mobbed by curious locals. Most had not seen a tandem bicycle before. And no one had seen so many Americans at one time -- and we were all on bikes and wearing yellow helmets and colorful bike attire.
We finally pulled into Zinaau. Because of our large size and the hotels' small size, we were staying at five different hotels in town. Every one of them had a crowd of townsfolk watching us pull in, handle our bikes, handle our gear, etc.
Our hotel had 20 rooms on five floors. No elevator. Ours was, of course, on the fifth floor. It was clean and barely adequate. (In fact, it set a new definition for us for adequate). The main room had a double bed (felt like a box with a pad on it), a small desk and chair, a night stand and a side chair. It had white walls and ceiling (with exposed wires), a tile floor, a 4-foot naked flourescent tube for THE light, and a 5-speed ceilling fan. Oh, and a window with wood bars on it.
The bathroom had tiled floor, painted walls, and a small, bare light hanging from it's electrical wire. It had one, galvanized, cold water pipe running around the walls. That pipe served: a wall spigot over a galvanized bucket that sat on the floor; another wall spigot over the small, pink, porcelain sink; a small "flash" heater on the wall, out of which came a short hose with a shower hear on the end; and the flush lever for the pink porcelain squat toilet in the floor.
We're hoping this is as basic as rooms wil get on this trip, but we heard that the rooms in one of the other hotels were even MORE basic. This is rural China.
We walked to dinner in a different hotel. We had vegetarian tonight -- in eight coarses. (And the whole meal probably cost US$2 per person.)
All in all, today was an adventure we're glad we didn't miss. We could never duplicate it.
Oh, and how did TK&A do today? Just great! They had several support vans on the road. (They had to rent drivers with the vans. That caused some consternation with some of the staff, but they were out there.) There was good mechanical support this morning, at check-point and at this evening. Lots of water. (You cannot drink tap water here.) They provided help with getting the gear from the main hotel to the outlying hotels. On the downside though, we had to walk about a block and a half with our gear. It would have been much nicer if they had dropped everyone's gear at the hotel that they're staying in. But all in all, they did a good job.
Love to all,
|10/17||China, Xindu to Zhongshan
This was a 100plus km day. And, unfortunately, we had a head wind for the first 85km of it. On top of that, we had big hills for the first 50km. It added up to a tough day for a tandem.
BUT, it was another very interesting day seeing more of the real China. We saw lots and lots of terraced rice paddies, some taro plant, and more rice paddies. (No wonder we get rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)
We are at the edge of the region of the famous Limestone Carsts of China. Never heard of them? We neither, but they're sharp, steep (and fairly small) mountains that were formed when the teutonic (sp?) plates pushed into each other. They seem to be part of the background for every Chinese landscape painting.
We saw lots of Chinese people standing, sitting, squatting, walking and riding bikes along the road today. (By the way, so far, as long as we've been in China, besides Odyssey riders, we have seen ONLY Chinese people. Perhaps that's why we're such an oddity.) Everyone has a big smile and a friendly greeting for us.
Many people do a double take and really stare (and then smile, laugh or giggle) as we go by. I don't know if the look is because of the beautiful, double bike or the blond on the back. Both are very unusual in China.
And we saw lots and lots and lots of kids -- in the front yards of homes, in small, medium and large groups along the side of the road (many try to give us "high five's" as we go by, but we are VERY CAREFUL doing that because the boys, especially, think the harder they hit, the better), in school yards, hanging out the windows of schools, in trees, on top of walls -- everyplace. They ALL call out "hi" or "hello," then giggle or laugh when we respond. What a fun bunch of happy faces!!
On the road today we saw many more interesting things:
On our way into town, we came upon a HUGE, several block long, flea market / farmers market / outdoor food market. It was wall-to-wall people, bicycles and carts, so it was a real challenge to get through -- but it looked really interesting!
We had quite an experience tonight on our way to dinner. We had to walk a few blocks to get there. On the way we were beseeched by hundreds of kids wanting our autograph. They each had a pen and something to write on, ranging from a piece of paper to a tablet to a textbook -- and each had their own pen. (In fact, this was the first time in a long time that we had to write with a fountain pen.) Most could only say "please" and "thank you", but a few of the older ones even spoke some English.
As has become the norm in China, dinner was both varied and plentiful. We've noticed that al Chinese meals END with a large bowl of rice. Tonight we found out why. In case you didn't like what was served, or otherwise didn't get enough to eat, the rice is meant to be a filler so you don't go away hungry. (By the way, occasionally, we're served some very interesting and unusual dishes. Tonight's was half a chicken that was gutted, then sliced into half-inch thick pieces as it lay on the plate.)
After dinner, David went back to the room to rest (very tired today) while Lisa walked with Rich and Jane back through the huge public marketplace that we saw on the way in to town. Here are some of the interesting things she saw:
Our room-was significantly nicer than it was last night. The twin beds had the same pad-on-a-board mattresses, but the room was nicely furnished -- kinda like an older Ramada or Holiday Inn. It even had a western-style toilet.
Love to all,
|10/18||China, Zhongshan to Yangshuo
We rode about 120 km today. Beautiful weather -- not too hot, not too cool. A light tail wind most of the day. "Fairly flat" to quote Tim from the DRG. (That means just enough hills to keep it interesting but not enough to make it a killer ride.)
The highways were pretty good today. And as we've come to expect, there were lots of trucks and busses, lots and lots of people on bicycles and walking, and lots and lots and LOTS of kids all over.
Again, everyone was VERY friendly. Many, many hellos and nehous (in this area that's pronounced knee-haw), lots of smiles and waves, and lots of giggles and exclamations when they see us. (Still don't know if it's the tandem or the blonde. :-)
So what was new and unusual and interesting on today's ride?
On the way, we stopped in a very small "restaurant" in one of the towns we went through. They had three tables. They had noodles. And they had three pots over fires in two-gallon cans. One pot had boiling water for cleaning dishes; one pot had boiling water for cooking the noodles; and one pot had soup.
We ordered two big bowls of a noodle soup mix. We don't know everything that was in it, but it turned out to be really tasty! (And it cost all of 4 Yuen each, or about 50 cents.)
Though we rode the whole distance, Lisa was not feeling great today. She had a sore ankle, a sore calf, a sore hand, and she's tired. She took a nap as soon as we got in -- felt better -- had a massage before dinner -- felt better still.
For dinner, we had what they called a "western barbeque." They had several fire boxes burning. We cooked corn on the cob, and beef, and chicken and vegetables on skewers, "shish-kebob" style, over the open fires. Fun!
We had great difficulty sending email over the only phone available. The phone was a problem. One of the phone cards we had purchased in MD had an illegible number on it. Annoying things. Had some harsh words over it. (Happens sometimes when one of us is not feeling up to par or has had a bad day.) But, finally, the send was successful.
We went to our room. (Except for the scuzzy bathroom, it could have been a cheap, old hotel/motel room from any of a thousand different places in rural America.) Lisa was really tired so she took some ibruprofin for her foot and went right to sleep. David read some and battled with the one visiting mosquito for most of the night.
Love to all,
We woke up this morning to a light, steady rain. It was pleasant, since this was a layover day, so we lazed around a bit. (read: stayed in bed)
We left for the TK&A 8 to 9:30 breakfast about nine. On the way, we ran into a few people just returning from same. They strongly suggested it wasn't worth the trip across the courtyard. All that was left was an orange juice drink (which we are suspect of because we don't drink the local water), a glass of milk (which we don't drink because it's not pasteurized), and a hard boiled egg. Whatever else there may have been was all gone.
We opted to walk over to a street called "Foreigner Way" (because of all the English language restaurants) instead. It was still raining.
We went to a place called Captain's Cafe. They had an English/Chinese menu and a Chinese host who spoke beautiful English -- and understood it too! We opted for two, "strong black" coffees, a pancake topped with bananas and peanuts, and an omelet with cheese and mushrooms. The food was pretty tasty but the "strong black" coffee just meant two scoops of Nescafe instead of one.
While we were waiting for our order, Dan and Monica (currently from Portland, but her family Germany originally) joined us. We talked about all the good things -- and not so good things -- about the Odyssey. They didn't have any new takes on the trip or the problems. Like many of us, they're doing things (supplementing) to make the trip work for them.
As we were sitting there eating and talking (for more than two hours) the rain kept coming down -- harder and harder and HARDER. Finally we all agreed that it didn't look like it was going to let up, so we headed out into it. Lisa had her umbrella and rain jacket. I just had my umbrella.
At first, we thought we would just walk in the rain, no sweat. In about a block, our feet were wet, our pant legs were wet and our sleeves were wet. We gave up and headed back to our hotel. Lisa agreed that was the best thing anyway because her foot was still hurting.
We got back not too much wetter in spite of the heavy rain. We hung our wet things to dry. Lisa crawled under the covers with the Pocketmail. I curled up with a book.
About 3:30 the rain let up (and we woke up from our snooze.) I asked Lisa if she wanted to go walk around town and get a snack before dinner. She opted not to because of her foot.
I was again impressed by the masses of people on the streets. Pedestrians, bicycles, pedi-cabs, motorcycle-cabs, small trucks and cars -- all fighting, very politely, for the same space. (Here, space and right-of-way allocation seems to depend on who gets their nose in the space first. And it's amazing how smoothly everything flows and blends that way.
I noticed that the bikes have mechanical brakes that are operated with metal rods. When the rod under the handlebar is squeezed, it acts through a series of other rods to grip the underside of the front wheel rim with either one or two big, thick brake shoes. It seems to work all right, although speed is not one of the strong points of these bikes. Almost all of the bikes follow the Henry Ford model of marketing. You can get any style or color you want -- so long as it's basic and black.
As I was walking, I noticed that every building was a store front. Each was about 3 meters wide by 6 to 8 meters deep. The front of each storefront was a garage door that rolled up when they opened up. Most were retail shops, but there were a lot of restaurants (sort of -- at least they had pots boiling and at least one table and two or three chairs), a few service places (like filthy mechanic shops) and almost all had a residence in the back.
There was everything and anything that you could imagine for sale in those buildings. Clothes of all types, food of all types, drug store stuff, hardware store stuff, 5-and-dime type stuff, even stereos, color TV's and clothes washers (no dryers or refrigerators though.)
I spotted a bakery. I bought something (haven't a clue what it was) to take back to Lisa.
On the way back I made a wrong turn. I headed up a narrow street and walked right into the town's local shopping mall. Since it was almost five o'clock, a lot of people were buying their food for the evening meal. (Remember, with no refrigeration, everything must be bought frsh every day.
The "mall" was a large open-air, roofed area on a very rough and uneven concrete or asphalt floor. I couldn't tell which, it was so covered with ?garbage? waste? debris? or something.
Along the outside of one side (a 5-foot wide alley where I was walking) was the slaughter house. There was stall after stall of cages of live animals -- chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, young dogs and young deer -- all for sale fresh for dinner. In each case, a customer would pick an animal, inspect it, squeeze it -- and if they liked it, get it weighed.
The weighing process ws interesting. A very basic balance scale was used. It was a metal rod with a support chain in the middle, a tray hanging from one end and a weight that was moved along the other end to counter-balance whatever was in the tray.
Lets say the customer wanted to buy a chicken, and wanted it ready to cook. They would pick the chicken. The merchant would wrap a cord around the chicken's feet and hang it from the tray-end of the scale. The merchant would then move the weight along the other end of the balance rod until the balance was only slightly in the buyer's favor. The marks on the rod showed how much the chicken weighed, and, therefore, how much the customer paid.
Then, since the customer wanted the chicken ready-to-cook, the merchant passed the chicken to a man who deftly cut it's throught and drained the blood -- squeezing a little to help it along. Then the chicken was tossed into a round drum that looked like a washing machine drum, hot water added, and the chicken was thrashed around for a very short while. As more water was added, feathers ran out the bottom. In a few minutes the customer received a drained and dressed chicken, ready to cook. (And yes, sometimes that is just the way the chicken is tossed into the pot to cook. The Chinese eat EVERYTHING!)
All of the other animals I mentioned will eventually suffer the same fate. (Yes, ALL! . . . but I won't describe the process.) After all, they're all raised to be food -- just like we Americans raise cows and sheep to slaughter and eat. . . but watching the slaughter, and knowing that in a few hours that animal would be on someone's table, is somehow different.
Next to the slaughter house area was a butcher shop-like ara. Here all the variety of animals were butchered and further prepared for cooking. I saw many people inspecting -- and rejecting -- the pig's legs. (I wonder what criteria they didn't meet.)
I continued through this "mall" to find that the center area and out the other end was filled with fruits, vegetables and condiments -- all waiting to be purchased for dinner.
There was a fish mart where fish could be purchased live or in any state of preparation -- from just gutted to fully cleaned and filleted.
Then came a cooking area. One could purchase, already cooked, anything that was sold here. Including all manner of freshly cooked meats -- including sheep tongue, stomach, intestines, etc. -- with all manner of seasoning.
When I got back to the room, I didn't feel much like eating anything.
That's when Lisa complained that the room smelled like rotten sewer. It did. It smelled like sewer gas. I told Britt-Simone, who told Tim, who gave me to Andy, our Chinese interpreter. Unfortunately, there seems to be no Chinese word that explains "gas" as an odor.
Well, Andy's first suggestion was to "close the door." I said that was not a good solution since we have to go in there, and since that is the only place we can hang clothes.
Tim agreed that I had a problem and that I would just have to keep after the hotel people to fix it. Andy sent a maintenance man with me to check it out.
I led him into the bathroom, held my nose and pointed to the floor drain. He checked the toilet to see that it was flushed. (It was.) Flushed it again. Then grunted and left. A few minutes later he came back with some room spray. He thoroughly sprayed everything in the bathroom -- with special attention to the drain -- then walked out and showed me how to close the bathroom door.
Lisa came back (she had been out chatting with people after dinner) and said the smell's gone. I guess it was successful -- for a while. A few hours later, Lisa smelled it again.
Oh well. We'll just have to sleep with the window open, the exhaust fan on and the heat on.
Love to all,
|10/20||China, Yangshuo to Guilin
Short riding day today -- only 65 KM scheduled.
We woke up at 6 to the sound of heavy rain. By the end of the day, we were pretty used to it. It rained medium to heavy all day.
We heard that someone had lined up a bus for the trip. That was tempting, but it was full. Not a problem, though. We started the morning thinking we would just ride no mater what. Nothing had changed, so we rode.
The rain was heavy but coming straight down; there was no wind; the route was flat; so the riding was easy. Once we were dressed and riding, the only negative was the dirt on the highway. We were covered in no time with fine dirt from our tire spray.
We had ridden about 35 KM in a little over an hour when the troubles began. We had a front flat. Not a big deal. It was a simple and neat puncture. Probably a thorn.
Rather than try to patch it in the rain, we pulled out a spare tube, installed it, and started to pump it up. It exploded!
Usually we carry two spare tubes, but Lisa noted that we only had one today. Fortunately, as I was pulling the blown tube out, Judy (from Florida) came by and loaned us her spare. We installed that one, pumped it up, installed the tire on the bike . . . and that tube blew!
We decided then to sag. We waited about an hour in the rain but no sag vehicle came by. By then, we were soaking wet and freezing. What to do?
Then Alfred Ennes, Larry Gore, and Michael Hahn (Piedmont) stopped to see if they could help. We decided we had better fix the flat and ride.
Alfred loaned us another tube. We all very carefully inspected the rim and the tire again. Alfred reinstalled the tube in the tire, pumped it up and helped install it on the bike. It looked good! Ready to roll.
We took off down the road and, you guessed it, it went flat again! When we stopped we noticed that the back tire was ALSO going flat!! (If you're counting, thats FIVE FLATS in a very short time on a very short ride.)
We gave up on riding for today. We decided to walk until a sag vehicle came by.
We came upon Ken. He was having the same problem. We walked together for awhile, then, luckily, in a sag vehicle came by. We sagged in to the finish.
The hotel, the Guillin Yinli Overseas Chinese Hotel, a 3-star property, is very nice -- even without adjusting for our lowered expectations due to the hotels we've experienced in the past few days. Comfortable, medium size rooms. Nice western-style bathroom with a tub/shower-hose combination. Reasonably comfortable beds. More than we've come to expect in China.
We were freezing, so we checked in, got our gear and jumped into a hot tub. I (David) was feeling really tired so I lied down.
By the time Lisa came out, I was snoozing. She went downstairs and rustled up some lunch for us. Then we both took a nap.
While I was sleeping, Lisa got another book from the Odyssey library to replace the one she had just finished. Then it was dinner time.
The dinner was, what has now become, run-of-the-mill. (Have we said before that almost everything is cooked in oil -- TOO MUCH oil. It's all oily/greasy.) The primary difference was that the requisite fish was essentially boned and had much tastier sauce than usual. (Both the fish and the basic rice is steamed.) The other unusual thing was sliced watermelon for dessert.
Larry and Joan came back from their tour today. They wanted to meet after dinner and trade stories. We looked for them but never connected. Since we were both really tired, we went back to our room and right to bed.
Love to all,
We were serenaded by the sound of gently falling rain all night and into this morning.
After breakfast in the hotel, we set off on a day long cruise of the Lijiang River. On the bus to the river we learned some new things about China from our tour guide.
The tour guide said that Guilin is one of the prettiest cities in the area. As we drove through, we noticed much of city looked like it had been through a war and only the buildings had been worked on (but few finished).
Actually, we've noticed throughout China that the streets and sidewalks in the cities are in major disrepair. The buildings are generally in poor shape. Everything looks run down. Guilin was no different.
(I found out that, in fact, the cities are still showing damage from being bombed by Japan in WW II. The reconstruction and repairs are taking a long time.)
The boat ride up the Lijiang River was very smooth and comfortable. The Lijiang River is known as "...the cream of the landscape..." in South China. It really is quite beautiful. Lots of carsts and caves, many areas of quite water reflecting colorful rock walls, and lots of interesting life along the sides.
We saw fishing boats, tour boats, bamboo forests, an old, abandoned tourist hotel complex that was quite fancy. We saw people poling from boats that looked like giant surf boards. The top surface of these boats barely broke the surface of the water, so it often looked like the people on the boats were standing on the water.
We had a pretty good lunch on the boat as we cruised the river. We ordered some "caramelized water chestnuts" (at extra cost) for dessert. They were REALLY good!
As one would expect, they had lots of food, stuff, and "things" at extra cost -- including snake wine. The snake wine came from a big jar that had, in fact, a large, whole snake coiled in it. The "wine" was the juice in the jar.
The boat dock area was solid tourist sales booths. We found that everyone expected to bargain. We were told to offer 30% of the asking price and negotiate from there. (That is not a typo-- 30% OF the asking price, not OFF!)
Lisa found some pretty Chinese, bookmarks. The asking price was 85 Yuen for four. We got them for 30 Yuen.
On the bus back to the hotel, we saw more interesting features of the area. Along the road in the rural areas were lots of fruit stands -- kinda. They consisted of 4 to 5 meter square roofs of lightweight material, held up by several bamboo poles. Under these "shelters" were fruit drying stands, cooking pots, and a bed with swatches of material hung around it for privacy. Apparently, families lived in these shelters.
After getting back, we walked into town (in the rain.) We saw that most local bicyclists wore "ponchos" that covered them and their bikes. Imminently practical here because of two things.
First, the rain seems to only fall straight down, so only the top of you needs to be protected. Second, being open on the bottom, they let air circulate, thus helping to cool the rider in this hot, humid weather.
We also saw lots of riders with umbrellas. Some were carrying them, some had them mounted on their bikes. All seemed to work.
We found that the way to get through the incredible congestion in the cities is to "just set out and then maintain a steady pace" in whatever direction you wanted to go. Everyone seems to judge the pace and direction that others are moving, then adjust their own pace and direction to avoid a collision. It seems to work.
We tried at several banks to get some cash from our account. All directed us to "The Bank of China." When we got there, "No way Jose" was the response. "Not without a passport." And TK&A has our passports while they get us visas for Vietnam. So, no Chinese money. We found out later that TK&A will loan us Yuen until we get our passports back and can get money out of the bank.
We had another big meeting tonight. Tim dropped a big bomb. He needs $3,000 per person to finish the Odyssey. There was lots of shock, lots of discussion, lots of suggestions, some crying, some stoic acceptance. Finally, agreement was reached that Neal will try to get a consensus solution, so any suggestions should go to him; everyone should indicate to him whether or not they are willing to pay the extra 3 grand; and that we will meet again in two days.
It should be interesting.
Love to all,
|10/22||China, Guilin to Longsheng
What a day! What a country!
We got up this morning to a steady rain. I had to fix flats on both tires. (I had brought the wheels to our room last night. Lisa wanted to pack and take our gear to the gear truck before breakfast, so I put off the flat fixing until after breakfast.
Of course, breakfast was filled with talk about the bomb Tim dropped last night. Everyone's asking everyone else, "What are YOU going to do?"
From what we hear, the consensus seems to be that few are willing (or, perhaps, able) to kick in another $3,000. We'll know more after the meeting tomorrow night.
After breakfast, while I fixed the bike, Lisa borrowed some Chinese money from TK&A. Then we met our bus group to load the bikes.
Oh yea, our bus group. Who is that?
Yesterday it rained all day. Last night Tim told us the route today would have some "significant climbing" and that there was some real bad construction over the last 12 KM or so. He would check it out and maybe get a bus to shuttle the riders through the construction.
With the weather and that route information, we decided we didn't want to HAVE to ride. So we joined with a group of like-minded riders and hired two busses and a truck (to carry the bikes), with drivers, to take us part or all of the way to Longsheng. And, the deal was, the busses would take us to see the famous Longjin Terraced Rice Paddies on the way.
So, this morning we had to decide whether to ride our bicycle or ride the bus. Since it was still raining pretty steady, Lisa had a sore throat and I still had the intestinal distress (read: the runs) Our decision was not hard.
We started to load the bikes on the truck, but the truck was too small -- about eight singles and one tandem too small. So they brought us another truck.
By about 10:30, the truck and the busses were ready to roll. The drive was mostly through very rural areas, lots of long climbs, lots of hairpin turns, lots of narrow roads where we could barely pass other trucks and busses. In fact, a couple of times either we or the oncoming truck, had to back up to a wider spot to pass.
When we got to the turnoff for the terraced rice paddies it was about 1:30 and still raining. About half of the riders on the bus didn't want to take the time to go up to the paddies then, so we continued on.
We got to the construction area a few minutes later. It was still raining. The roads were VERY rough in places, but all rideable (for the die-hards.) Actually, except for the rain, it was better riding conditions today than it was the first day when we had to ride through the wet slimy clay in that construction area.
The town of Longsheng is ghastly! The streets are torn up and dirty, the buildings are old and broken down, and the poverty is almost overpowering. We were thrilled by the initial impact of China, but the constant impact of the extreme poverty is hard to take day after day. (I'm sure the dreary weather doesn't help either.)
Our hotel doesn't help either. It's pretty basic, fairly clean, and VERY MUSTY. Everything is damp and there's no heat to dry things out. (Crawling into bed between cold, damp-feeling sheets is not very exciting.)
Speaking of beds, our beds have what appears to be a box spring and a mattress. Pretty classy, huh? But, upon closer inspection, (the sit test) we found that both pieces are wooden boxes with zip-on mattress ticking. On top of that, for added comfort, is a thin mattress cover.
The bathroom has a single faucet sink, a fan, a mirror, a shower hose, and a squat toilet to which everything else drains.
We do have a window. It looks across a narrow alley into the windows of some very poor and rundown apartments.
By the way, it's not that we're in the cheapest hotel in town, or anything like that. This is just the way the hotels are in a small city in China.
Joan and Larry are in the hotel next door so we walked back from dinner with them. (Our meals are all in the main hotel which is about a half-kilometer away from us.)
On the way we met a very charming and delightful Chinese girl named Li Xioa (pronounced Li-sha). She is 13, is learning English, and struck up a conversation with us. We talked about a lot of different things while she took us on a search for some ice cream. We didn't find any ice cream but we had a nice visit with Li Xioa.
Returning to our hotel, we discovered that there is a karaoke bar on the 4th floor ... our room is in the 5th floor ... uh ooh. Sure enough, we were right above the off-key singing.
Karaoke bars here are the same as those in Japan. Asians (travelers mostly) sing along with a video featuring a scantily clad model with a faraway gaze. They LOVE it!
And besides the very loud karaoke, we have some very loud neighbors. Oh well. It's all a part of the fantastic and unique experience of "Odyssey 2000".
Goodnight all (and soon, I hope!)
Love to all,
Lisa was not feeling well today. This morning she had one of her old fashioned sleep-till-noon days. I went over to the main hotel and did some maintenance and repair work in the tandem.
Many of the group went up to the Longjin Rice Paddies, an all day bus trip back through the construction area and up a mountain. (Lisa and I opted not to go back because: We've seen the pictures, we've seen many other terraced rice patties, we don't want to spend most of ANOTHER day in a crowded, bumpy bus, and, Lisa's sick (bad cold) and I'm still feeling "intestinal distress.")
I walked through the local market street. The usual -- produce, meat, fish, animals, then a whole stretch of flea-market booths. Lots of stuff for sale. I wonder where everyone gets the stuff for their "stores?"
I picked up the questionnaires that were generated from last night's meeting. Since they had to be returned by 3, and it was already 1:30, I hustled back and got Lisa up.
We walked up one of the torn-up streets to a restaurant that Pierre (staff) had recommended. He said at least they had an English menu. True, but they neither spoke, read or understood English. But we ordered by pointing, and they understood by the Chinese next to the English. Again, it was very tasty. In fact, the food that we've bought in local hole-in-the-wall restaurants has been universally better than the food the main hotel has been providing to the Odyssey group. (In this town. The food at other hotels has usually been pretty good.)
After lunch, we walked down some more rubble-strewn streets and window shopped. I ran the questionnaires back, then rejoined Lisa.
(The questionnaire asked if you would be willing/able to pay the additional $3000 per person; how much, if anything, you WOULD be willing to pay; and what you think should happen. We don't want to spend another $6,000. We figure we can go to New Zealand on our own for less than that, and they do speak English there, so it would be easy to put together our own trip, if we wanted. So...we're willing o skip N.Z. with Odyssey, and would like if they came up with some less expensive itinerary.)
We both find the small cities AND the countryside that we've been in to be EXTREMELY depressing. There's so much poverty, dirt, mud, dust, debris, garbage, rubble, unsanitary conditions, buildings in such bad shape that you can't tell if they're being CONstructed or DEstructed.
In fact, remember when you were a kid and your parents told you "If you dig a hole deep enough you'll end up in China."? Well, there's so much dirt and debris around, we're convinced that lots of kids in AMerica have been digging holes, and they all end up in this town!
Anyway, I didn't want to walk around anymore so I went back to our room to try to set up an MCI WorldCom account so we could send e-mails again from China. (Our IDT number won't connect.) Lisa said it's too depressing in our hotel to read, so she went to find someplace more pleasant.
No such place.
Later we went to dinner and to the meeting. A few things of note:
Love to all,
|10/24||China, Longsheng to Rong'an (Chang'an)
It was a nice day today. The weather was partly sunny, partly rainy, and always cloudy. Good riding weather.
We started out this morning and promptly threw a chain off the rear sprocket. (Probably someone messed with it last night and I, David, neglected to check everything before we started.) That, combined with the totally dreary aspects of Longsheng over the last few days, took Lisa over the edge. We had MELTDOWN!!! Almost a nervous breakdown. But she vented and got everything under control.
I got the chain unstuck and adjusted the derailers. By then it was 9, (later than we wanted to start this hilly day) so we decided to take our bus to checkpoint and ride from there.
As we drove along, we stopped and checked on every stopped rider to make sure they didn't need help. We came to one group of riders, locals and vehicles and were surprised to find our good friend Richard (Richard and Jane from Portland) standing in the middle looking dazed. It seems he had gone down right in front of a motorcycle. He hit the ground and the motorcycle hit him.
We brought him onto our bus to sit and for first aid. His arm was pretty chewed up, and his ribs and his thigh hurt. We gave him Purell antiseptic to clean his arm and elbow wounds, then we got word that HIS sag-support bus was coming back to get him.
We saw him later. Good news. No serious injuries, just sore.
We hopped on our bike at checkpoint and headed in. We started with a steep, curvy downhill. Suddenly, our rear brake went out!
We managed to stop with our front brakes and I checked to see what was the matter. I couldn't fix it with a simple adjustment. I think the hydraulic system is "in vacuum.". (It looked like someone had messed with our brake adjustment while the bike was parked for the past two days -- and I failed to check it before we left.)
I think someone had adjusted the brake cable too tight. Then, when the brake got hot and the fluid expanded, there was no room in the reservoir. That caused the piston to stay low in the cylinder. Then, as the fluid cooled, it sucked the piston down where it froze in place.
I didn't have a place to check and work on it tonight. I'll have to do it tomorrow night. Meanwhile, we decided to limp in on just the front brake.
The ride was very scenic and very quiet. Most enjoyable. We even passed two strong riders (Edwin and Michael) on an uphill! So, how did that happen??
Well, we have to brag a bit. As we were cranking up a long hill, they went flying past us. There was a long downhill on the other side, leading to a short, steep uphill. We were really steaming down the hill, then stood to keep our momentum going up the hill. That's when we passed them.
The city of Rong'an is pretty big. And, though it's very dirty, at least it's not in the midst of construction. And the sidewalks are whole. And the street lights work.
The riders are spread over four hotels. We have a VERY nice room (for the back country of China) in the hotel that is the farthest away from the headquarters hotel. But, probably because of language communications problems, we ended up in a large, single, room. One twin bed, one set of towels, one set of amenities, etc. We'll make do, but I WILL tease Britt-Simone about it.
Dinner tonight was unusually good! A welcome break from what were very meager and unappetizing meals in the last hotel.
Time to hit the (hard) sack.
Love to all,
|10/25||China, Chang'an to Liuzhou
The breakfast today was really bad! Bland rice soup and a hard boiled egg. I guess they knew we were leaving.
The route today started with 53 km of heavy road construction. TK&A provided busses and trucks to transport riders and bicycles through. We joined our group in our hired bus.
It's hard to describe the construction scene. Unlike anything we've ever seen in the US. The entire road was being constructed. They had totally removed the road for 50 km, and there was nothing but mud. The construction started with a lot of heavy slick mud, single lane tracks and slippery sloping edges for our bus driver to navigate through. After about 30 km the wet muddy road gave way to rough, hard-pack mud.
Our bus driver was VERY cautious. So much so that he got way behind the other bus and the bike truck, and he always had a line of traffic behind him. I know, caution is not bad. However, whenever he would approach deep ruts in the thick mud, he would nearly stop, then try to start up slowly.
Well, that's like trying to stop every time you get in deep snow, then trying to start again. It often doesn't work and you're stuck.
It finally caught up with him. He stopped as he entered a sea of mud. When he tried to go again, the bus slide sideways. The right side of the bus sank up to the axle.
The driver had us all get out of the bus. He thought he could drive it out if it were lighter.
Getting out was no small feat since the door opened upon the deep, gooey mud. One of the riders sunk up to her ankle. When she pulled her foot out, her shoe stayed in the mud -- and it started to slowly close over the shoe! She was able to grab it and pull it out, though, before it was lost forever.
The driver's helper finally put a plastic gas can down for the first step down. That worked to get us all out, but he lost the gas can.
Of course, the driver couldn't drive out. The rear wheels that were not sunk in the deep mud just spun. The right side was in too deep. The riders and some of the spectators tried pushing. First backwards, then frontwards. It still wouldn't move.
Since we were blocking the one lane through the mud, a lot of people had an interest in seeing us get out. Quite a crowd gathered. One was the driver of a small truck. He tried to pull the bus out but his truck was too small and light.
He was able to move aside and let a larger truck get through to give it a try. With his dual wheel, loaded truck sitting up out of the deep mud, he was able to slowly back up and pull the bus out.
Meanwhile, traffic was backed up a long way in both directions. Both the truck and our bus were finally sitting facing each other up on the only good track through the mud. But, I'll make a long story short. We all walked a couple hundred feet up the road to clear the thick, gooey mud. The traffic sorted themselves out (looks like the drivers are used to this type of problem) and finally started flowing through.
We all hopped back on the bus and got on the way. (The driver did apologize for getting us into the problem. We gave him a hand for getting us out. He beamed from the approbation.)
Finally, we got through the construction. The predicted two hour trip took 4 1/2 hours! (And remember, 53 km is only about 33 miles!)
The bike truck had beaten us there, and, since many were planning to ride, all the bikes had been off-loaded. Unfortunately, a lot of the bikes had been damaged from the truck's wild ride through the construction. (The truck driver was not nearly as timid as the bus driver. He blasted through the rough construction and beat us by more than 45 minutes.)
Our bike had a chain bounce off the front chainring. When they unloaded it, someone tried to push it with the caught chain. That bent the deraileur and the chain-minder. We couldn't ride until that was repaired.
Fortunately, the TK&A mechanics, Jason and Merlin, had stuck around waiting for our group to arrive. We ended up with Jason. (Unfortunate because he hates tandems.) He was having an attitude attack, but he did do a quick-fix on the deraileur. He just hammered the chain-minder out of the way, saying, "I don't work on those." Unfortunately that meant we could not use our granny gear. We lucked out though. With our newly developed standing talents, we were able to carry all of the hills today.
So what are these "newly developed standing skills?"
Well, most experienced bicycle riders stand to climb short to medium hills. It's harder on the legs and knees, but it's a much faster way to climb hills.
We've been able to stand together to climb short steep hills, but, since it's such a leg burner, we couldn't do it on the medium or longer climbs. We had to just gear down into our great-granny gear and slowly crank up the hill.
Lisa has always been able stand on her own, but when I would try, the bike would wobble too much. Recently, we developed the ability to keep the balance while I stand and she sits.
Now we put our independent standing skills together to allow us to keep the speed up for longer climbs. We stand one at a time. When one gets tired, the other takes over. By alternating that way, we can keep the speed up for long climbs.
We got to our hotel about 4:30. I set to fixing the chain-minder while Lisa got our room key and picked up our gear.
The hotel is terrific. The room is a real breath of fresh air. It's so nice and so "Western," we can even forget that we're in a filthy dirty, poverty stricken area of the world. Except that the bed is VERY firm, the room could be in a Mariott back home.
The buffet dinner was great too. Mostly western stuff. (We do like Chinese food, but after more than a week, three meals a day, this was a welcome change.) Lots of choices, lots of quantity and good tasting too.
Love to all,
|10/26||China, Liuzhou to Binyang to Nanning
Today was a great riding day! It started with a busy morning for us.
We had a wonderful breakfast at our very nice 3-star hotel, with a varied mix of "Western" style and "Eastern" style food.
Then I stood in line for the mechanic while Lisa got our gear down from the room. While Merlin and I fine tuned our front derailer and fixed our chain-minder, Lisa loaded our gear on the truck.
Then I scrounged some brake fluid from one of the Chinese drivers, got Richard to help, and followed the directions for relieving the "in vacuum" state of our disc brake system. It sucked the brake fluid in, but didn't relieve the system. Back to the drawing board.
We decided to ride again today with just the front brakes. We set out about 8:30. The route took us right through downtown. We were surprised how large the city is and how upscale the downtown. It had large department stores, reasonably clean streets and sidewalks, street lights that work, and everything!
You may wonder why we make a big deal of a downtown that's just like the what you find in every city and town in the US. It's because we've been riding through a pretty poor part of China, and none of the tiny, small and medium size towns we have traveled through have clean, vibrant downtown. All have the flea market look of combination store/restaurant/home in a garage, along with filthy streets and broken sidewalks that look like a combination of war zone and garbage dump. (It's not that we expect it to look American. Most European cites do not look at all American, and that is their charm. )
The ride took us through miles of countryside and numerous small towns. The countryside started with lots of rice fields. Most were in some stage of being harvested by two or three person crews. (They mostly looked like family operations.)
By the way, the other day I misstated that the rice thresher had a small motor. No way! All the rice threshers -- both the older, wood models and the newer sheet metal models -- are operated by foot treadle. Obviously, they have to be to be light enough for two men or one bicycle to carry.
Since it was mostly sunny all day today, we saw lots and lots of patches of rice spread to dry. Mostly on concrete slabs but some on the roadside, some on plastic tarps and some on pieces of wood.
Some of the other notable things we saw were:
We finished 96 km by 1:45, then joined our bus group for the two hour ride into Binyang.
We were spread over three hotels in Binyang. The first, the Government Hotel, was adequate in some rooms, unacceptable in others (cockroaches, rodents, filthy floors and filthy bathrooms.) The second, the Bian Yun Hotel was the same.
The third, the Tian Hue Hotel was a real roach coach of a flop house. Besides the other problems, there were drunks in the lobby, putrid squat toilets that hadn't (and wouldn't) flush, and surly staff.
None of the hotels had all of the rooms ready. Most had Army personnel spread out in rooms that had been assigned to us. They moved promptly, but that still left dirty rooms for us.
One of our riders (Art) had checked into the Tian Hue Hotel. He found he had a dirty squat toilet that wouldn't flush, light bulbs burned out and rodents and cockroaches in the room. When he went to complain at the front desk he was harrassed by some of the local drunks that were camped in the lobby. One even came at him with a butane cigarette lighter.
He reported the incident to TK&A. (It turned out that his wasn't the first such incident -- only the worst.) To their credit, they decided to move us all down the road to Nanning, tomorrow's destination.
They cleared it with the hotel at Nanning and arranged for busses. They told us to eat there at the Government Hotel restaurant. (Given the state of these hotels, the thought of dinner was a bit scarey. But it turned out to be surprisingly good.) Then, after dinner, they would take us by bus to the 5-star hotel in Nanning.
And they did. We were at the Guangxi Nanning International Hotel by 9:45. When we arrived we were first greeted by a VERY LARGE BANNER which said, "Warmly Welcome All The Excellent Riders Of Odyssey 2000." Next, we were welcomed with glasses of champagne, punch or coke accompanied by live piano music. There was hotel staff everywhere greeting and helping us.
We thought we had all died and gone to heaven. We couldn't believe this posh, classy hotel was in the same country as the fleabag hotels we had left just two hours ago.
The rooms were very nice. Fairly typical of a U.S. hotel: two comfortable double beds, a desk with a lamp and chair, a small table with a floor lamp and two side chairs, a TV on a cabinet with an honor bar, two low "suitcase holder" pieces of furniture, two pictures with a lights over them, two reading lights, and air conditioning. And all of the lights, the TV and the air conditioner were controllable from a master console on the night stand.
Of course, there was a large, Western-style bathroom with a tub/shower, a Western toilet, and a sink in a marble counter. (We had almost forgotten that this was just a normal, run-of-the-mill bathroom in the states.)
Not bad for two nights!
Love to all,
David got up, had breakfast, realized he was coming down with a cold, and spent pretty much the rest of the day in bed.
When we went down for breakfast, the news was our passports would be back this afternoon and we would leave for Vietnam by bus at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning. The Chinese bus would take us to the border. We will have to schlep our bikes and gear to the Chinese border, check through there, haul it another 300 yards to the Vietnamese border, then board another bus for the long ride to Hanoi.
On the way back from breakfast, we came across a non-stop line of newlyweds coming down the grand, curving stairway into the lobby, then getting on busses. Couple after couple after couple came down the stairs.
All the women wore different models of traditional wedding gowns -- all white, all long, full skirts with hoops. The women were original in their shoes. Lots of bright red pumps, but, more interesting, quite a few work boots, sneakers, and otherwise clunky shoes.
All the men wore dark grey slacks, white shites and dull ties and black shoes.
We were told that this is the official State wedding for all of the marriages that occurred in this area during the year. They all (about 600) gather here for the "official " wedding and reception. The word is that the state doesn't think people should waste money on individual weddings so the State sponsors one, comprehensive wedding per year.
After breakfast, David went back to bed to nurse his cold. I went for a walk about a mile or so around the hotel.
This city is definitely more modern than others we've seen in China. But still not quite all there. From a distance, you see modern-looking tall buildings. But up close, as you're walking down the street, are the same dreary-looking shops and markets.
One thing I'm not sure we've mentioned: despite the drabness and poverty, the people generally seem to be very happy. This is in marked contrast to St. Petersburg, where the people seemed so miserable.
As I was coming into the hotel from my walk, ANOTHER group of brides was in the lobby. Renee (staff) was walking in also, and the brides wee all very excited and anxious to have us in their photos. So here we were, dressed completely casually, carrying our various parcels from town, hot and sweaaty, hair a mess, etc. etc., posing with these brides! There were about 10 or 15 photographers, all flashing their photos. Such celebreties we were. It was pretty funny. I'm just sorry I did't have OUR camera with me.
After the photo sssion, I learned the NEW news: the passports and visas were due at 9 a.m. tomorrow and we should plan to leave at 11. Allowing three hours for the border crossing, that would get us to Hanoi by midnight.
I went to the room to see how David was. He was in bed watching soccer and reading.
We went downstairs for lunch. We checked out the "Western" cafe. Minimal menu, very high (for China) prices, and, we were told, very slow service. We didn't see anything we liked, so we went downstairs to the "Businessmans" cafe. It was Chinese buffet so we had lots of choices for food. The prices were closer to the standard (very low) Chinese prices, and we had lunch with about 60 newlyweds. Fun!
After lunch, David went back to bed and I read.
When we went to dinner, we got the NEW new news. The passports haven't yet been returned. (Some kind of snafu -- the sort of thing we've come to expect in tis part of the world.) Now the plan is to leave, by bus, right after breakfast Sunday. So we have to stay one more day in this five-star hotel. I think we can manage!
Love to all,
I (Lisa) got up and went to breakfast this morning. David was up half the night with his cold. I let him sleep, and brought him breakfast in bed.
After he ate, he felt he had to work on the bike brakes, so we both went down. Dennis (the staff jack-of-all-trades) was there. He was both curious about the hydraulic brake system, and willing to help fix it. So David and Dennis set out to bleed the brakes. He tells me it took them until about 1 p.m., but the brakes are like new now. Horray!
I went downtown with Joan and Pam. ("Downtown" is a lot further than where I walked yesterday. We took a cab.)
The downtown actually has a couple of large depatment stores, lots of smaller stores, hotels, restaurants, and even a McDonalds.
We wondered around one of the department stores. The best way I can describe it: a low-end U.S. department store that's down on its luck. But I understand that ten years ago, no such large stores even existed here.
We noticed that there were LOTS of sales people and clerks. All government employees, I think.
Even though this was a large department store, with some expensive merchandise, they did not accept credit cards. Not realizing this, Joan handed a salesperson a card. We were told to follow him. We had no idea where we were going as he took us down three flights of sairs. We assumed maybe he had to get the card approved, or something like that. Turned out he was taking us to the bank, so Joan could get some cash!(Which she didn"t do.)
Here's what amazed me most about the store -- they used abacuses! The abacus has become a common sight for us at the smaller street markets, but this was a large store!
We went out to look for a place to have lunch. Struck up a conversation with a young Chinese man who spoke some English. We asked for a restaurant recommendation, and he ended up having lunch with us. It was great to be able to spend some time with a local. His English wasn't great, so it was difficult to get beyond the basics. I would have loved to find out a bit more about what it is really like to live here. He asked me to write him when I get home so that he can practice his English. One thing he really wants is a recipe for apple pie!
We had another TK&A meeting after dinner. Nothing new. We'll keep you posted.
Tomorrow we head into Vietnam. We expect communications to be even more difficult than it has been in China.
Love to all,
|10/29||Nanning, China to Hanoi, Vietnam
We were up early this morning. Had to load our gear and bikes, then have breakfast, in time to catch our 8 a.m. busses to the border.
The weather was cool and overcast all morning. Actually, it would have been a great bicycling day over a nice route to the border, had that been an option.
The busses were modern -- spacious comfortable seats, air conditioned, smooth riding. They moved very quickly up the highway.
The route went from Nanning, in Southwestern China, in a West-Southwesterly direction. The roadway was consistently smooth concrete.
The terrain became a little rougher and a lot hillier. The predominant crop slowly changed from rice to sugar cane. The native vegetation got more lush and denser -- more jungle-like.
Villages were fewer and farther between as the area became more remote. Then we came upon a walled compound with military guards at the entrance. We did not go in, but as we drove past, we had to stop at a checkpoint. The bus in front of us was inspected -- we were not.
Fifty meters later we came to a huge concrete arch where we stopped. It was 12:30. We were at the border. We had to unload the gear and bikes, then carry them all across both borders.
The crossing out of China was very smooth but very slow. The border crossing into Vietnam was also smooth and slow. The only differences were, at the Vietnam crossing, there was a lot more military presence, and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a lot of locals, there to help with our bikes and gear.
The loading of the bikes was a thing to behold. The Vietnamese did the loading. After carefully making a row across the front of the truck, they put several bamboo poles across the width of the truck above the bikes. Then a second row of bikes was set on the bamboo poles -- thus keeping the second row and the first row from tangling. They tied about every fifth bike to keep them from shifting. Finally, they put a bamboo pole across the truck and through the frames to help secure them in place. (I hope they take as much care with the tandems.)
We left on the first bus out -- about 4 o'clock (3 Vietnam time). The small villages we passed as we drove through the mountains looked just as dirty and dingy as those in China. The streets were dirty and lined with rubble. There were more trees and greenery along the streets, though.
We went through several military checkpoints on the way to Hanoi. The bus never stopped for them, though.
We saw several work crews moving piles of gravel and small rock. They had an interesting way of working a shovel. There was one worker on the handle and one worker on each of two ropes that were tied to the working end of the shovel. The man on the handle would push the blade into the pile, then the two men on the ropes would pull the shovel ahead -- thus moving a shovelful of rock.
The roads in the country are narrower and in worse shape than those in China. Much of our 150 km trip was over and through construction. Shades of China!
The predominant crop, again, was rice. Many terraced rice paddies in the valleys. Not so many rice terraces carved into the hills though.
Once we left the mountains that are along the Chinese border, we drove through more small villages. They were all as dirty as the first ones.
We drove through urban areas for a long time before finally reaching the Trang Loi Hotel in Northern Hanoi. These urban areas were nicer in that they had some street lights and a few trees, but they were equally full of dirt, dust and rubble with an occasional pile of garbage.
When we first saw the preponderance of dirt, dust, rubble and debris (in Guilin) we thought it must be just because there was a lot of construction going on there. But, it's the same in every city, town and village. It just seems to be the standard for living in China and, so far, in Vietnam.
We saw more, narrow 4 and 5 story buildings with fancy fronts then we did in China. As in China, at least some of the ground floor space of every building contains some sort of commercial enterprise.
Tomorrow we plan to walk into town. We'll see if our observations change.
Love to all,
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