12th-13th June – The Journey to Kunming

We depart from London at 2235hrs to Guangzhou (formally Canton) and fly with China Southern, and expect to land at 1705hrs local time (+7hrs) on the Monday 13th. We then have a wait of five hours until we board the plane to Kunming at 22.25hrs arriving 0055hrs on Wednesday 14th. Hopefully we will arrive at our hotel around 0100hrs for a few hours sleep before the start of the cycle ride.

Arrived at Guangzhou at 1705hrs! Bang on time… after a very long 10hrs seated just in front of the loos and with the minimum amount of leg room on any flight ever made – excruciating! Anyway, John and I have found a comfortable placebo lay our heads for five hours and hopefully get some kip. Watched Logan on the seven inch screen – good film! Its 33c here but expect it to get a bit cooler when we get to Kunming.

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Day Two: Shilin to Puzhehei

Booked in at the Huguan Resort… We agreed last night to meet in the foyer at 7am for breakfast. But we struggled to raise John who the night before insisted on having a massage so was booked in for one at 10.30pm for 1.5hrs. Apparently he struggled to get back to his room having been demolished by a Chinese lady who dealt mean version of chinese massage on him. So, we finally awoke him at 7.30 and found the restaurant at 8. Lovely breakfast and we eventually left the resort at about 9am and went looking for a replacement iphone7 lead for the one StJ left in the hotel in Kunming together with the lead for his Garmin head camera. Got this sorted and off we went for the hills and the days cycle ride. Having made a couple of wrong turnings out of the town thecae decided to pace the cyclists and stay together, which kind of worked even though there were a few double backs. We were heading for Mile to get there before lunch. However distractions got in the way – we came across a stone masons factory at the side of the road so decided to wonder in and watch the craftsmen at work (amazing) and then as we passed through vineyards after vineyards we realised we were in the Burgundy area of China with Grape stalls at the side of the road to tempt us, which they did. We had never tasted such delicious grapes and sampled some of the locality’s red wine which was so good we bought three bottles. the boys continued to cycle up the mountain passes and eventually we found a shed at the side of the road which looked as it might pass as a cafe and wandered in to be greeted by the owner who seemed delighted to see us – we were the only people there… Sang persuaded the owner if he could raid the larder and use the wok in the kitchen and made for us all a vegetable omelette and amazing stir fry served up with fresh green tea. Bizarre and already strangely summing up this mad road movie of a cycle ride. We were now so behind time we put the bikes on the car racks and drove up the mountain passes with the plan to let the boys free at the top to cycle down to Puzhehei. The weather had other ideas and we landed ourselves in an almighty thunder storm with torrential rain at the top of the pass which made cycling down dangerous, so we stayed together and finally arrived at our destination at 7pm and booked into a family run hotel where we stayed to eat freshly caught bass which was boiled served with rice, fried kidneys, soup and crayfish, helped down with beer and red wine! If we continue to have days like today we will have had a wonderful tour through the backroads of real beautiful rural China. Lets hope so.

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Detail about the area:

The Puzhehei Scenic Area is 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) northwest of Qiubei County Town, Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Minorities Autonomous Prefecture. As a typical karst landscape, the scenic area abounds in beautiful waters and green mountains which are very similar to and even prettier than those in Guilin. Therefore, Puzhehei is praised as being ‘a unique pastoral scene in China’.

‘Puzhehei’ in the Yi language, means ‘a pond teeming with fish and shrimp. With an area of 165 square kilometers (40,772 acres), the scenic area mostly consists of clusters of limestone peaks, karst caves and natural lakes.

Puzhehei Lake, an upland freshwater lake, stands in the center of this area. It is 1,310 acres of clear, sparkling water, and is called ‘Pearl Lake’ by the local people. About 70 lakes of different sizes link together to form a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) long tourist watercourse. 300 distinct peaks tower over crystal waters; some seem like elegant pagodas while others resemble penholders. Among the peaks there are more than 200 karst caves, of which about 80 large ones can be visited. In the deep, quiet caves, milky stalagmites grow thickly and steles stand in great numbers. Outside, the vast waters are dotted in summer with shining lotus flowers and boundless lotus leaves, enhancing the picturesque scenery.

Tourists can take a traditional canoe made by the Yi people to admire the stunning spectacle. Simple cottages in good condition, surrounded with cut bamboo, are situated by the lakes. Five ethnic minorities, the Yi, Zhuang, Miao, Yao and Sani, live nearby and preserve their old folk-customs and cultures. Away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, the Puzhehei Scenic Area offers people a fairyland with a tranquil environment and beautiful scenery.

There are neither banks nor ATMs in the scenic spot, so bring some small denomination cash.

Once reaching Puzhehei, the fantastic water fighting game cannot be missed. If you want to participate, you’ll need a plastic barrel, a one-off rain coat and a water gun. Also, cell phones, cameras and other electronic devices should be protected during the game.

To see the highlights video of Day Two click here:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/223641289

Day Five: Baise to Bama

This day’s cycling was supposed to be 112kms. Should be over before tea time. Tell us another.

We left the hotel in Baise after a mediocre breakfast. John was decidedly unhappy as there was no fresh milk and he had to raid his stash of Tetleys. He didn’t have dinner last night and his breakfast consisted two boiled eggs and a slice of water melon. Not the best diet for a chap about to cycle 80 miles. This will haunt him.

It takes us more than an hour to get out of Baise and find a decent road for the boys to cycle. We elected to find country roads which although hilly would give better cycling conditions and we could stop every 20kms to give drink and bits. This worked well for the first half of the morning’s ride, it was decided to find somewhere for lunch around 12 to help John replenish his carbs. By 11am he was having issues with his legs, they had lost all power and strength so a short break of mangos and bananas with plenty of water was consumed.

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We were in prime baby mango and peach country and as we travelled through this area we saw whole hillsides of mango trees with ripening fruit to be picked. Having tasted some from road side stalls they compete in taste with the grapes we a few days earlier. After three hours of arduous uphill cycling in high humidity the bikes were loaded onto their car racks and we went in search for lunch.

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We had veered off any sign of busy roads and were ambling through beautiful Guangxi countryside when we came across a small market town of Kunping, completely off the main maps and living in its own world. We parked up and went for a wander.

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The market stalls were still busy after their morning’s work and the place was bustling. Sang thought it a good idea to buy some fresh produce and he would persuade a canteen to give him use of their wok and burner. So he was filmed buying some liver, vegetables and beans for the fair and of course the big chap in the funny hat with his equally big video camera started to cause a following and before long the market place was full of children and their parents following us as we caught on camera the essence of the place. They of course had their mobile phones and were recording us recording them and this turned into a kind of joke. they were wanting us to film every stall and its vendor although the lady butchering the live ducks and chickens was too busy directing the blood into vessels to become a movie star… John bought some drinks from a vendor who then wanted a selfie with him. He then tried to buy six bananas from another stall which cause a bustle of ladies wanted to copy his words 1,2,3,4.5.6! Meanwhile Sang was creating in the kitchen and of course had to be filmed which again caused interest and laughter. We sat down to a great meal of duck, sauteed kidneys and beans, vegetables and noodles in stock washed down with Red Bull! We really think the community hadn’t seen people from Outside of China before, or probably outside of the county, it was so isolated and when we turned up looking like a film company doing location cooking they got very excited. Eventually we had to bid them goodbye and allow the boys to to some more up hill and down dale cycling which led us into deeper Guangxi country until we stumbled upon a major construction project extending the trans-China highway, and in this part of the world on stilts. Our road out of the area and towards Bama had been decimated by construction traffic and it took four hours to cover 30kms including 30mins digging the car out of mud and creating a surface for it to climb back onto something solid.

This is third world meeting 21st century head on with drama. An incredible sight which will be in evidence when we produce the video. The greatest evidence of China’s might, focus and affluence to build such colossal projects. it was breathtaking and at the same time gut wrenching to see it scar outstandingly beautiful countryside and settlements.

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We arrived at our hotel in Bama at 9pm. Today has been like no other. But that isn’t surprising as no other on this trip has been replicated. The wonderous journey continues.

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To view the high and low lights of the day caught on video go here:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/224608863

 

Day Six: Bama to Hechi

A quiet day. No dramas. Just the boys having a good cycle ride.

Breakfast in the hotel was a non event, there was nothing John could stomach so it was agreed to pack the car and go into town and find some grub that would give him energy. At the same time the car needed a good clean after its forestry trip of the previous day and petrol. So we spent a happy 30 mins strolling the shops and buying up cakes, fruit and hi energy (at least we think they are) drinks to consume along the way, and then we set off at about 0940.

The area is surrounded by the Phoenix mountains on the north west and the Fenging Mountains to the east, the road to Hechi cutting through the ranges giving us dramatic back drops and super cycling along excellent surfaces. The tallest mountain is 5,554ft so you can get an idea of the geology we were travelling through. The boys loved the cycling and devoured the kms arriving in Donglan for some much needed lunch.

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A very attractive town with a river running through its centre. The afternoon was a repeat of the morning, cycling mostly down through the valleys and soaking up the wonderful landscapes.

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As the driver and videographer wait during the cycling part of each day for the cycling duo to turn up at the end of each section we are normally close to a food outlet or shop, and is the case insects of all sizes gather to feed. Here is an example, this one is about 8cms in length seen this morning.

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The photo of the duck bus at the top of the page was taken in the petrol garage forecourt in Bama at the start of the day. I think the ducks had a one way ticket…

We drive into beautiful Hechi and have dinner in a goat restaurant. Excellent food and a fascinating evening. The owners of this posh restaurant wanted their photo taken with John and Mark and then the customers asked for the same! We were celebraties! We had beer and cigarettes offered, it is rude to say no, and there were many toasts. Really moving.

John and I have been travelling south west China now for 7 days.We have not seen another European or American. Wherever we go we cause warm interest. The Chinese are such generous lovely people.

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Day Six video can be watched via the following link. It purposely contains a 5 mins section caught on John’s head cam that captures the arduous and monotonous nature of a long ascent cyclists sometimes have to endure on their journeys, so bare with John! There is also exciting coverage of a long descent!

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/225202324

Day Nine: Yangshuo to Wuzhou

Tourism is coming to south west China, but only in small doses for the moment. Here is a prime example of someone offering a service to westerners. Coffee! Pizza! But it was closed when the above image was taken at 7.30 this morning. Don’t they know that travellers are early risers!

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The views over the rooftops is magical with the early morning mist and clouds hanging in the air waiting to be burnt away as the sun puts its hat on.

We had close on 300kms to cover today and John was keen to get cycling as much of it was realistically possible taking into account time and his aching knees which had become an issue over the past few days from sitting in the back of the car sometimes for hours during transit periods. So we agreed an early start and left Yangshuo at 8.15 and were able to set the boys free on their bikes by 0900hrs starting at a popular location for leisure cyclists to ride along the road on their own or in groups and on tandems. This is the only occasion we have seen cyclists out on the roads other than a couple of long distance cyclists seen along the way who were probably heading for Tibet and beyond.

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So a good three hours and about 40 miles were covered before lunch in a cafe on the national 321 road to Wuzhou and what a fab lunch of bass, pork, rice, green beans and vegetable soup. John said he fancied some ice cream and as there was none in the cafe, the owner got on his scooter and went down the road returning about five minutes later with two large tubs of vanilla! Amazing service! Back on the bikes at 2.30 and the plan was to cycle for the next three hours and then consider time and distance to our destination. Unfortunately John’s knees were becoming increasingly tight and very painful in particular his left knee which because of his Parkinsons down his right side of his body, the left leg will sometimes carry the majority of workload to compensate for the right legs inability to perform. So in order not to aggravate further the injury the cycling was stopped for the day and we continued with the four of us in the car arriving at our hotel in Wuzhuo at 7pm.

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The view from our rooms on the 14th floor of the Wuzhou Hotel over the river.

You can see more of the day’s journey by visiting the video here;

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/229287784

Day 10: Wuzhou to Guangzhou

We were meant to have journeyed to Guangning on Day Nine but that would have been 50kms further down the road and John’s knees sitting in the car wouldn’t bear this, so we stopped at Wuzhou. Which turned out to be a real bonus. Our hotel was only a few metres from the River Xijiang so John and Mark after breakfasting at Macdonalds

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strolled along the promenade watching the playground dancing and the fishing house boats at the waters edge bring in their catch.

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We said goodbye to the town at 8.30 and headed east following the Xijiang River. John’s bike had had front brake issues over the past couple of days so Alex had sourced through his bike club a stockist in town to replace the complete front brake assembly and he fitted it to be ready for John to use. What amazing service! Alex runs a cycle and motor bike retail business and has an online cycle blog of over 200 members around Yunnan province sharing their experiences of living with bikes and touring to Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Leisure cycling is becoming very popular in China. Mostly mountain bikes but road will follow as a couple of Chinese riders have joined the pro road racing teams doing the European circuit such as Tour de France and therefore the publicity provokes interest.

The boys cycled much of the morning along peaceful and well laid roads with views over the river and covered good ground at a fast pace. John’s left knee had given concern overnight as it was throbbing and aching probably from a ligament injury and he had bandaged it for support. The cycling didn’t make it worse but it was an issue, the bandage support was removed as this was a hinderance. The temperature rose to about 38c as we approached mid-day so an early lunch was called for in a market town and we arrived as the chickens were being weighed at two stalls all of which was caught on video much to the interest of onlookers.

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Yet again we were the focus of attention with the market stall holders wanting to be caught on camera as they waved and shouted hellos. The friendliness found throughout this trip has been wonderful! Lunch was typical; fresh fish from the river, fresh boiled chicken from around the corner, vegetable soup greens and rice. As we left the restaurant the owner and his extended family wanted photos taken of John and Mark with the owner. They, as always obliged. They are celebrities!

Back on the bikes for further kms to be chewed and consumed in the afternoon heat and good progress was made and after a couple of hours it was back in the car as we approached Guangzhou. The idea was to drive into the city and dispatch the riders 10kms before the hotel so could film them arriving. Er, no. Not to be.

Guangzhou is the third largest Chinese city behind Beijing and Shanghai. It has an estimated population of 13.5 million. The road networks into the city areas are a nightmare. The boys cycled for about 10kms on the outskirts with directions being given to them from the car by walkie-talkies, but this turned out to be unsafe due to three and four lane highways, major traffic issues and appalling road manners by the majority of local drivers so the final two hours of the day were spent navigating to the centre of the city on a Friday afternoon rush-hour in 35c. We finally made it to the destination prescribed to the satnav only to find that it had been given the wrong postcode, so back in the car and 35 mins later we arrived at the Vanburgh Hotel. A fitting finale 5 star pad with bedrooms the size of a living room with views over part of the city.

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Dinner was at a local “western restaurant” and pizza, spaghetti bolognaise, green and fruit (!) salads were consumed with perhaps a little too much local beer…

John and Mark said goodbye to Sang and Alex who were driving back to Kunming with the two bikes early on Saturday morning. They had all become close friends through the many adventures over the past 10 days, which seems like a month, we have become so engrossed in it all.

There will be a conclusion page to follow but for now we are pausing for breath and reflection on a truly amazing journey.

Video will be added to the blogs and images to Instagram when we return to the UK.

Thank you for following the blog so far! Au revoir.

To view the last day on video please go here!

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/229566963