China was never very high on my list of places I wanted to go. Why I couldn’t even say. What I can say though, is that I was blown away by what we found: the roads, the mountains, the people and oh, once again, the food!!
But let me start from the beginning: After one last meal in Vietnam, we cycled to the Chinese border. It was all quiet enough and so the border guards found time to ask us about our trip and if Torsten was my special someone *winkwink*. We all had a laugh and they helped us fill out the forms. One of our easier border crossings!
Afterwards we found a place to stay and stay we did. In spite of the friendly welcome I was still tired of it all and preferred staying in places to moving forward. So we spent a few days in Hekou, the border town. We learned a few words of Mandarin, tried different kinds of foods, walked around town and took it slow. And after four nights we finally set off towards Kunming.
Cycling along the Red River was beautiful. As you can see in the picture above, China very often has built a new highway close to an old road. And these old roads are perfect for cycling. Sure, a bit more up and down than the perfectly graded highways but for that you get little traffic and awesome views.
Food places were easy to find and so we dove right into our Chinese food heaven. Contrary to my beliefs it was absolutely easy to find vegetarian food and just about every meal we had was soo delicious! In this region most eateries sported big fridges with two thirds vegetables and mushrooms and one third meat / fish. As we didn’t know the Mandarin names for any vegetables we would just point at whatever we fancied and they would prepare a dish out of that. A bit confusing the first time as we thought we chose the ingredients for a fry up but were instead presented with three single dishes and heaps and heaps of rice. Oh well, so we had dinner sorted already :).
As it got dark we were torn between camping and looking for accommodation. We weren’t really prepared for camping though and ended up staying here:
Dinner was fantastic again. I loved the concept of ordering dishes for the whole table and then sharing the food.
Breakfast was generally not so easy to find, at least if you want more than some fried bread. In Xinjie we were in luck though, this woman made fantastic fried veggies!
And again we ended up staying another day. I am incredibly thankful to Torsten for trying to understand and accept my burn out and taking it slow together.
We continued along the Red River to Yuanyang. A tiny city on the map which turned out to be huge in reality.
While it was still warm enough we did encounter some light rain and it got a bit colder overall. A development that couldn’t have been more welcome after a year in the tropics.
As you might have figured we again stayed for two days in Yuangyang. Walking around, drinking instant coffee and enjoying all the trees in the city.
It was good that our bodies were well rested because the next day was a bit of a challenge. A beautiful one at that.
From Yuanyang we rode up into the mountains looking back on the Red River.
The climb couldn’t have been more perfect. A nice 5% gradient, a relatively quiet road and nice views all along.
We had noticed the clouds all along, so the rain wasn’t exactly a surprise. What we hadn’t really factored in was the cold though. About a 1000m higher than before the rain suddenly wasn’t so refreshing anymore but downright cold. So we frantically searched for the rain gear which we couldn’t remember using once over the past year.
At our next food stop the owner gave us some hot herbal tea and again: we had a hard time figuring out when we last really appreciated a hot drink.
After some more ups and downs and about 2500m climbing in total we reached Jianshui. We had messaged a warmshowers contact but in spite our three maps had a hard time finding the address. Finally, in the dark, with the help of several locals we made it to Kun’s place. He welcomed us with the biggest smile in his face and I immediately forgot all the climbing and cold.
Jianshui is a lovely town and after joking around with Kun that his last warmshowers guest Peter stayed for 10 (!) days we kind of ended up staying exactly 10 days as well. What can I say, we had fun walking in town…
… eating spicy Chinese fast food…
…listening to people playing music together on the big public square…
… going to the market and buying lots of spices…
… but the real reason was this guy and his bunch of friends: Kun, our host was running a hostel with his friend. And they always reserved some beds for touring cyclists. One day he proposed us a deal: He would prepare Chinese pasta from scratch if we would make the sauce. Easy as!
Over the course of the 10 days we were always invited to join the group for evening dinners. And we also cooked a bigger meal for everyone. We tried to make it extra spicy to accommodate the tastes and most of it was finished afterwards :).
A fellow coffee enthusiast shared her stash with me *inlove*!
Some hostel impressions:
Staying in Jianshui was once again just what I needed. Long talks with Kun and friends about life and work in China and his refreshing ideas about choosing to work less and actually being able to enjoy life – awesome! And so the days passed and we didn’t cycle further but I will always think back of that time when we stayed in that small town in China and I just felt so very comfortable.
We did cycle a bit more in the end. We had arranged a place for our bicycles to stay in Kunming while we would go home for my sister’s wedding. Three more days to go…
My highlight was definitely Fu Xian Lake. Being one of the last clean lakes in China it is a major tourist attraction and I can see why.
We even got to camp on it’s shores and oh my, it was finally cool enough to enjoy camping.
One last breakfast outside…
… one more rainy mountain pass…
… and we got to Kunming.
In the following day we occupied just about every inch of space in our wonderful host Ifan’s house. We cleaned, reorganized…
… and finally brought the bikes and gear to their new home for the next months. Thank you Anne and Olaf for keeping them safe!
After leaving the bikes we were a bit lost at first. Not we had to figure out public transport all of a sudden and the backpack weighed heavy on our shoulders. But oh, it was good to finally get that break I was longing for.
We enjoyed our stay with Ifan a lot. He showed us to a fantastic vegetarian restaurant, we had lots of interesting conversations and maybe, just maybe, we will see him in Poland some day?
But for now, we have to go, trains and busses are waiting!