Cycling the waterfall-road

Roberto feels like a celebrity in China. Everybody wants to take pictures with us.

Roberto feels like a celebrity in China. Everybody wants to take pictures with us.

Country: China
From Yibin to Zhaotong
Lesson learned: Be careful with earth slides!
Laughed about: The other’s face while eating rubber-like chicken feet
Most wonderful miracle: The car-wash road
Food we ate: Too many instant noodle soups
Greatest challenge: Crossing the earth slide
Days on the bike: 4
Kilometers cycled: 285.06
Average Kilometers per day: 71.27
Total Kilometers cycled till Zhaotong: 8570.24
Total days travelled till Zhaotong: 494

By bike through Yunnan (part 2).

With a new visa extension we left Yibin facing south. For several kilometers we followed the Yangtze Kiang River that I had only heard of back in primary school.

Annika and a river

Picture at the famous Yangtze Kiang River. Later I found out that this was another river that also flew through Yibin

The weather was as usual in the province of Sichuan: foggy and cool. We cycled parallel to the train, the highway and the river and constantly cycled up and down the hills. Wild camping in China is not an easy thing to do though all flat land is cultivated and finding a spot for wild camping is hardly possible. But we came prepared with our picture book and some Chinese characters as “tent”, “one night”, “here” and “bicycle”. When it grew dark we got the permission to camp next to a house, ate sugar cane and drank hot water till after sunset.

Monk in the Taoist Temple of Yibin

Monk in the Taoist Temple of Yibin

Yunnan, the province that we were in now, did not differ a lot from Sichuan, where we had started the day before. There were fields with cabbage, herbs and any green vegetables you can imagine, mandarin trees, bamboo forests and of course fog and clouds.

We cycled through various tiny villages and stopped for a late breakfast in a small restaurant. Usually we come prepared, bring our own food and cook at night. But in China prices are different. Cooking your own food is only slightly cheaper than eating in a cheap restaurant or at a street stand and it takes far more time. We were running out of ethanol and had not been cooking for quite a while with our camping cooker since street food was just too delicious.

beautiful view on a river

View from the chicken-foot-restaurant

The owners, their children and the other two customers were very curious on the foreigners and asked to take a lot of pictures with us and our bikes. In return they gave us two yellow-pink chicken feet that looked and tasted like rubber with long claws. We did not manage to eat them all, but at least we tried.

Annika eats Chicken foot

Yammi!

When we arrived in Yanjin the sun was about to set. Usually I am a big fan of camping and saving money but all the mountains made me sweat a lot and I was all wet and cold. We cycled by a small hotel and I decided to ask for the price. It was quite cheap so we stayed and enjoyed a good and hot shower. By the following morning we switched on the TV and watched the Chinese news. An earth slide had happened in the North of Yunnan province, but we could not find out more about it. We must have been lucky.

We had breakfast outside before we got back on our bikes. After a few of kilometers through downtown Yanjin the road was closed. There were cars, rickshaws and men with bamboo backpacks everywhere. In front of us the road was covered with a big pile of earth and stones. How happy was I about my laziness the night before. I do not know when the earth slide had happened but I was happy that we had not been on the road in that moment.

Earth slide

Earth slide

Left of the earth slide there were a few intact houses standing on poles. People had created a path under them next to the river. Plenty of men and children offered us their services to help carrying our things to the other side. Roberto chatted with them while I took a closer look to the path and the road conditions on the other side. There was a steep descent down to the river followed by a mud way through where the toilets of the houses would have flushed to and after some 40 meters I found myself on an equally steep and slippery ascent.

The new main road

The new main road

Three men carried a motorcycle through the path and I knew that it was theoretically possible to cross. For 10 ¥ (about 1.50 $) two of them helped us to carry the bikes and a few bags. The poles under the houses could have collapsed in every moment and we were all glad when we arrived safely on the other side.

Everybody wants to help Roberto

Everybody wants to help Roberto

We wanted to stay and help but did not see neither injured people nor others searching for their family members. Probably the earth had moved some days ago and now people started to clean up and move to friends’ houses.

We hoped that the poles would stay strong and hold the ruins of the houses

We hoped that the poles would stay strong and hold the ruins of the houses

We felt guilty for leaving the place, but some policemen were there to help, there was enough food and water and I do not think that there was anything we could have done.

More than a week later I found out, that “our” earth slide was not the big one that had been all over the media. That one had happened some 20 kilometers further east higher in the mountains.

With our strong helpers

With our strong helpers

We continued our way when the sun came out. The further road conditions were fine, as usual we had some hard ascents but also some descents to enjoy. There was bamboo all around and countless waterfalls right on the side of the street. The road was muddy and dirty and our bikes and pants looked all brown-grey after a few hours. In the afternoon we arrived in the “carwash” street. This cobbled street far from any village was full of waterfalls. While most waterfalls end next to the street these ones splashed directly on the pavement. Cars stopped under them to enjoy a free car wash and if it had been just a little warmer I would have loved to enjoy a cool shower in the waterfalls.

Many waterfalls splashed down on the pavement

Many waterfalls splashed down on the pavement

We cycled through quite a few of them and successfully tested our waterproof equipment.

In the afternoon we asked a policeman for the way to Kunming. He guided us on the toll road. For three days we had been cycling parallel to it and I though the road would continue but apparently we had to change. The lady in the toll gate smiled at us, the car behind us blew the horn and we moved onto the highway. The small road on our side was hardly paved anymore and went continuously up and down while we cycled through tunnels and over bridges slowly winning altitude.

We felt like celebrities in China every time that somebody took a picture of us

This family was curious on us. “Who are those foreigners with the bicycles sitting on the side and stretching their legs?”

Right at sunset my bike felt very instable and wobbled from left to right and back. I felt strong vibrations in pedals, saddle and handlebar and had to pedal very hard to move forward. The problem was clear soon: even puncture-proof bicycle tires can have a puncture once in a while. We walked half a kilometer back to a small hut where trucks could fill air into their wheels and get water. The owning family curiously observed us while we unpacked the bike, turned it around, released the wheel, the inner and outer tube and put a new inner tube (the old was had had enough patches) and changed the second hand back tire against a my old one.

Tree tunnel

My favorite kind of tunnel

There was not a bit of sunlight left when we were done and we wanted to avoid cycling on the toll road at night, so we asked the owner whether we could camp nearby. He declined at first, so we packed our bikes again. When we were finally ready to start he understood our needs and offered us a piece of land next to his house. We tried to pitch the tent and broke a tube in the hard wind when the owner came running telling us that we could also stay in his house for a night. We happily accepted, carried our things over and sat down with the family for a quick instant-noodle-soup-dinner.

Happy people on the way

Happy people on the way

The next morning came and we were on the road by nine. Back in Yibin I had copied a graph of the altitudes into my note book. That was why I knew that after about 200 kilometers on the road we were about to face the moment when the graph indicated a jump from about 800 to about 2300 meters of altitude. The climbing started softly but constantly. After only three kilometers I was sweaty, after ten I was tired and after fifteen my speed was only between 5 and 7.5 kilometers per hour. We wanted to take a break, but after only five minutes we urgently needed to get back on the bikes. It was just too cold in the wet clothes without constant movement. We spotted a couple of snowy fields and ice falls before the thick fog took all nature around us.

Ice fall

Ice fall

The sight was less than 50 meters. It was a hard way up but it would have been even harder on the small road that we had planned to cycle on. The ascent appeared as if it would never end. I had to turn my head around in order to exhale because otherwise I did not see anything but my own evaporation fog.

Yes we really cycled that slowly.

We had another break with a family that run a small shop. Another noodle-instant soup heated our bellies while the oven-table brought the warm blood back into our legs and feet.

Pausing with a family

Pausing with a family

After 60 kilometers (50 of them uphill) it was late afternoon when I spotted the tunnel. “We made it!” I celebrated and suddenly all strengths came back into my legs. The descent was short but that was good because we would have probably been pretty cold without movement on the cold wind.

Chinese children

They did not mind the cold

When sunset came closer Roberto suggested that we could just keep cycling until we made it to the city of Zhaotong. It was 17 kilometers to go. If those were all uphill it could take us up to three hours to get there. If it was flat we could arrive in less than an hour. At first I did not want to take the risk of being caught on the high way in the dark, but I could not find any camping spot that suited me, our lights were well charged and the thought of a warm bed and a hot shower made me pedal hard. We cycled under the stars, the moonlight was bright and the cars drove slowly. The uphill did not feel as hard as it did during the day and after an hour and a half we saw the lights of the city in front of us. When we found a cheap place to stay we had been on the bikes for more than 7 and a half hours to cover only 80 km.

2 in 1 heater and table - I love them!

2 in 1 heater and table – I love them!

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