The long but short descent

One unforgettable night somewhere in Yunnan, China

One unforgettable night somewhere in Yunnan, China

Country: China
From Zhaotong to Kunming
Lesson learned: always have some spare batteries for the light
Laughed about: 15 children taking over our tent
Most wonderful miracle: Dancing “Shampoo Shan” with an old lady in her house
Food we ate: So much delicious Chinese food that we had to staple it in the middle of the table
Greatest challenge: pretending to be a 1.62 meters small supermodel
Days on the bike: 4
Kilometers cycled: 355.99
Average Kilometers per day: 88.99
Total Kilometers cycled till Kunming: 8926.13
Total days travelled till Kunming: 498

Zhaotong was the biggest city on the map between Chengdu and Kunming, but in my opinion it was rather small with a giant industrial area surrounding it. The way out was easy to find and soon we found ourselves back on the road – uphill of course.

Cycling uphill

Cycling uphill

After 28 hard kilometers we had a great view down and then enjoyed a 20 kilometers long descent. We were as fast as the wind. Some trucks were even slower than us but I was too afraid to overtake them. The tears ran out of my eyes for all the wind. I checked our position on my hand-copied altitude scale and found out that we must have cycled down from 2100 to 1200 or 1300 meters. In the following days we would have to climb up to nearly 3000 again.

After our long descent the road went further up and down. Waterfalls, bamboo trees and snow fields were rarer now but fields of corn, cabbage, lettuce and spinach were all over. We saw few men and women plow their fields with the help of a pony, most of them worked with their own muscles. But we did not see any donkeys and only few cows.

It was quite hard to leave the highway since to both sides road guards were situated. At night we found a small hole and we squeezed through into a very small village.

Roberto and an old Chinese man

Asking permission

Roberto asked an old man for permission to camp somewhere. Neither our picture book nor Roberto’s great pantomimic performance helped. He did not understand what we wanted and sent us away. Just a few meters further a young woman with a baby tied on her back gave us permission to pitch our tent on a harvested corn field.

We are the center of attraction

We are the center of attraction

Within less than five minutes we had the entire village’s population standing around us. We were probably the attraction of the week and all children gathered around us, watched us unpacking the bikes, pitching the tent and bringing in the bags. I made an inviting gesture with my hands and offered the kids to get inside the tent and explore it. Within five seconds all habitants under 12 years were gathered in the inside.

Many kids inside our tent

Some kids would have loved to change sleeping places for the night – if their parents had allowed it

The kids and were very curious about us and I promised to myself that if I ever got back to China I would learn some more Chinese than just “want”, “don’t want”, “thank you” and “hello”. The woman with the baby brought us a portable coal oven and the children grilled our leftover French fries over the fire. We watched the stars, taught them the numbers in Spanish and German, sang the English alphabet and played with one of the kid’s torch.

When we got up the men of the village were preparing a big fire for a pig that they had just slaughtered. We enjoyed 10 kilometers of easy rides and 20 kilometers of ascent before we stopped for our first break. The only food we carried were two overpriced apples from Zhaotong and hungry as we were they tasted like the best food imaginable.

The tent on a harvested corn field

Our home for the night

With the time we had gotten a rhythm in our breaks. In the beginning we stopped whenever we were hungry, bored, tired or met some people. Sometimes we did not stop for 40 or more kilometers and on other days we made a break every five. Now we usually have breakfast before we get on the bikes, have the first break after 30 kilometers (on hard days after 20) and then stop every 20 kilometers for short or long breaks. If we are in a hurry we stop after every 30 kilometers. This helps us to better our cycling condition.

Potato break

Potato break

Just half an hour after the apple-break the highway we were cycling on converted into a proper autobahn with two lanes on each side and road guards all over. An old lady sold roasted potatoes outside a roadhouse for 1 ¥ each. We filled them with hot sauce and stinky tofu and filled our bellies all up. This brought us enough power to cycle uphill for another 15 kilometers. We must have been little below 3000 meters of altitude but there were no clouds to cover the sunshine and it was a lot warmer than on our first ascent two days ago. From up there the villages, rivers and the countless fields down in the valley looked so small. They were surrounded by high and snowy peaks to the west and plenty of needle trees to the east.

Preparing for the 82 kilometer's decent

Preparing for the 82 kilometer’s descent

Right behind the pass I was the first to spot the releasing street sign: “long descent: 82 kilometers”. I could not believe it. This descent would make it so easy to reach Kunming within only two more days! We took a lot of pictures and put all clothes on that we had – this would be a long and cold way. When we got started the street sign came closer and to my big surprise there was a tiny little point hidden between the eight and the two. Our 82 kilometer’s descent quickly decreased to 8.2 kilometers only.

82 Kilometers shrank to 8.2 kilometers only

Do you see that little dot? 82 Kilometers shrank to 8.2 kilometers only

The road grew bigger again and even though it was mostly uphill we were able to keep a good speed because there were plenty of bridges and tunnels to avoid steep ascents. The road guards were everywhere and though we did not find any way out of the highway we decided after 99 kilometers to take the official exit. We knew that bicycles were officially forbidden on the highway and we were afraid that we would not be allowed to reenter it by the following morning, but all police officers that we had met had waved at us and the girl in the toll both received us with a big smile.

View into the fields

View into the fields

The town of Daibu was grey and dusty. Trucks and restaurants covered the mud-street and it did not appear to be a welcoming place to pitch the tent. A group of rickshaw-drivers offered their services, two small stores sold alcohol and food wrapped in plastic and several guarding dogs barked at each other.

A lady in her fifties showed us the way to the town’s hotel, where we got a room with hot water and TV for 40 and a big dinner with endless rice and tea for 30 ¥. Less than 10 € for everything.

The next day started sunny. After 18 kilometers uphill I realized that the man at the gas station was not completely honest with his statement “No more uphill from here on”

I started thinking about our time in Turkey. Whenever we stopped for water or food the locals would come over and tell us “now it is all flat. No more uphill!”, no matter if there were 200 or 1000 meters to climb up right after.

View in the fields
I wonder if they construst the streets combining the highest and lowest point possible

The Turkey-Phenomena apparently also exists in China: people prefer telling lies to the tired cyclists than giving out bad news.

After 18 kilometers we reached the tunnel, and then we could have enjoyed a short 4 kilometer’s descent – if the wind would not have blown directly into our faces. Instead of relaxing and enjoying we kept fighting.

Chinese advertising

Chinese advertising

The second tunnel did not have an air-system. I cycled as fast as I can, but when the second car overtook me I recognized that the battery of my light was low. After a few seconds the light was off and I found myself in complete darkness. I panicked and shouted back to Roberto: “Come closer, overtake me, I can’t see a thing!” but he only heard some echo. His batteries had already been low since the morning. I had not a clue where I was, where the tunnel’s walls where and if there were any potholes. I had had no idea whether I drove fast or slowly, so I braked down a bit more. “What if I drove directly against the walls? What if another driver without lights hit us?” When a truck came driving towards me I recognized that I had been driving on the left lane. I used his lights to speed up, watch the road, prepare myself for potholes and bad asphalt and drove slowly again when he passed me.

After 700 meters the nightmare was over, I saw light at the end, cycled faster and left the tunnel of fear. Boy, that was close.

Snowy vistas

Snowy vistas

My mood was bad. Not even the sunshine helped against long ascents, headwinds and dark tunnels of deadly terror.

At night we spotted another hole in the fence, squeezed through it and came closer to ask a family’s permission to camp on the field. The lady was very happy to see us and invited us to sleep inside their house. The four children loved to watch our pictures and they asked us to take more and more photographs of them. The old men glimpsed over curiously but did not make a move while the young and old women kept asking us questions that we did not understand.

Annika, a women and some girls

With our fabulous hosts

At night they invited us to join their dinner. We ate seven different dishes and drank green alcohol served out of a gasoline canister. The two older girls started dancing a dance that their mother had told them and the song that sounded like “Shampoo Shan” filled the room over and over again. After dinner we had tea and sunflower seeds.

Chinese dinner in China

Our delicous dinner

The old lady wanted me to down my glass of green alcohol so we could dance as well. The men laughed about us but we had a lot of fun. I fed the youngest boy with peanuts, filmed the girls’ dances (they have never seen themselves dancing before) and braid their hair. The old lady told me about her seven children, three of them were still living with her. It was 11 pm when Roberto and I could hardly keep our eyes open. We had not slept that late in a while.

Man fillsdrinks out of a gasoline canister

I wonder what exactly we drunk that night. All I know is that it was green, strong and came out of a gasoline canister

One of the women prepared a bucket full of warm water so we could wash our cold feet and then she showed me the women’s room where I fell asleep within few minutes.

By the following morning we got back on the saddles. I still hope that we will be able to return one day when we speak more Chinese.

Our new friends

Our new friends

We cycled faster and faster. At noon we had our first break of the day – breakfast after 50 kilometers! In the afternoon we reached our day’s goal: Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province. We had cycled more than 100 kilometers within short time and did not even feel too tired. Since no couchsurfers had responded us we checked into a hostel for the night.

I had not seen that many tourists in quite a while. There were maps, hostel-flyers and tour offers hanging on the wall, white backpackers asking each others, which provinces they had already “done” and in TV an English lady talked about the latest news in Syria.

By the following morning we were facing a completely different problem: there were no rooms available for the following nights, neither in this nor in other hostels and in half an hour we would have to check out. I read a couple of couchsurfing profiles until I stumbled upon Karina’s: “Don’t be surprised to find some Russian hardcore travelers and hitchhikers around and bring your own sleeping equipment” was written there. I was curious. She had her phone number written in her profile and Roberto called her.

Karina was curious to meet us, but she would not be at home during the day.

“You can call my roommate Peter or – wait, I have a much better idea: Would Annika maybe like to help out in a model job today?”

“What kind of model job?”

“Nothing special, just presenting some wine. She’ll get a dress and just needs to bring some high heels.”

I started packing to do the check out when the organizer Mia called. “I am so happy that you will join us. Come now, no time for high heels, never mind. Take a taxi, we are late!”

We stored our bags in the baggage room and five minutes later found ourselves in a bus together with fifteen other foreigners, a Chinese band and a magician.

Within the 5-hours bus drive I had the chance to meet Karina and some of the other Models. They explained to me why it was so easy to find a job as a foreigner in China.

Foreigners are rare in the smaller cities of China and in order to give value to a product many companies hire them to join in business dinners pretending to work for the factory. A Canadian model that we met in the bus usually worked in a restaurant. His job was to dress up in a chief’s dress and appear every now and then in the dining area so the customers would think he had cooked their meals. White skin and a foreign accent is all it takes to find modeling jobs in Kunming and I was by far not the only one smaller than 1.75 meters.

The Modelling Crew of Foreigners in China

The Modelling Crew of Foreigners in China

Mia first took us out for a fancy dinner in a business restaurant where the waitresses brought us so many delicious dishes that we had to staple them in the middle.

Too much delicious food!

Too much delicious food!

After that we went to a big fabric building with a red carpet, plenty of chairs and a stage. We all got a dress and posed for half an hour next to some expensive cars. The visitors came over to take their pictures with us – they even gave me a baby to hold! I wore Mia’s high heels while she had to walk around all night in my dusty and muddy trekking boots.

After that we gathered backstage. Mia handed us a bottle of wine each and asked us to “present the wine”. I asked some of the other girls but apparently none of us understood what exactly was our duty. The first two were already on stage when Mia shouted: “Just do as the others do and now go!”

Annika in her first modeling job of her life. She looks great!

Never in my life had I expected to walk on a catwalk. I walked, stopped, smiled, held the bottle in the air, smiled more, walked back and went offstage to get a different type of wine. I felt incredibly important even though I had red eyebrows (Mia decided to put make up on me and could not find an eyebrow pencil so she used waterproof lip liner) and after some 15 minutes the show was over and we all went straight to the buffet. We drank some wine and ate more cakes and nuts than any of the invited guests. Our wages were high and apart we were allowed to take some bottles of wine as a souvenir. I would have never imagined my first day in Kunming like that.

At 3 am we arrived back in Kunming. Since our sleeping bags and mattresses were still in the hostel we accepted our new Spanish friend’s offer to spend the night at hers. Aude had two spare sleeping bags.

By the following morning Aude and her boyfriend Levi took us out for a breakfast on a rooftop. It was finally really warm and we drank our bottle of wine while we enjoyed the view. What a great start in a great city.

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  1. Pingback: Couchsurfing Experiences on a long term travel from Germany to Bangkok | Tasting Travels

  2. calorie says:

    annika it‘s amazing that night

    • admin admin says:

      Calorie! so nice to hear from you. Pleas stay in touch. PS Roberto writing and Annika by my side.

    • admin admin says:

      It was great meeting you dude. please keep in touch.

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