Tea Villages West of Xihu.. by bicycle...

Trip Start Aug 05, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Some unknown dump..

Flag of China  , Zhejiang Sheng,
Saturday, April 21, 2012

So "Little Al" has been planning a trip to Hangzhou--then to Xihu lake--then the mountains west of the lake and their Tea villages.    Folks,  this is a long long bike ride for a fat old guy to attempt.  After 22 miles into the trip,  we get to ride up mountains and see the tea villages! a prospect I was not enjoying the idea of.   But since I had nothing else to do I decided to try it.

We started at our favorite bike shop where my trusty mechanic tuned my bike up in order to ensure peak performance..  I have at least 2000 miles on this $130 bike,  so I try to take care of her.    Met a couple other Chinese cyclists, one was nearly as big as me,  the other spoke great English which was nice since I fail to speak Chinese as well as I need to.    

Once the mechanic was finished I waited at the dumpling place next door for Huan Chen and Lil' Al to arrive.   We all had a quick lunch (in China gobbling down lunch in 10 minutes is the norm here),  then started the race down Xiasha road to downtown Hangzhou and beyond.   Huan Chen was only going to the train station which is a mere 25 KIlometers,  he was heading to his hometown of Wenzhou where they speak a "German" sounding dialect according to Lil Al.   I make the joke that the people from Wenzhou are born with tails but the doctors cut them off at birth!  Huan loves the on going Wenzhou jokes.   Actually Wenzhou people are known for their prowess in business and the Hangzhou people are jealous of Wenzhou's prosperity.   The joke about "being born with a tail" harkens back to what a Mexican lady's grandmother pointedly asked about me!   I love it!

After 13 Km's we hit the famous "Metro" store where I can buy the ingredients for a proper ham sandwich and other expat niceties but I never go there anymore, since I am fully happy with Chinese food and my ability to cook other food from local ingredients if needed.   But I digress.

Then we hit the underpass road which whisks bike riders around the car-only part of Gensan *Xiasha" rd.   which we skillfully threaded although one can get quite lost here if inexperienced.  Then Gensan changes to "Tianmushan",  and one or two other names in between,  then we take a hard turn toward the south and finally to "Nanshan" which is a crowded touristy road where all the Chinese who own beautiful new cars tend to clog.   Too many feet and not enough turf is a fair commentary about the fountains area of West Lake (Xihu),   I have never known so many people and their modes of transport all in direct mind blowing competition,  but I made it without getting hit or hitting someone.   This amazes me every time I go through this.   I should at least had my foot ran over by now.    Just lucky I guess.  (knocks on plastic)

Somewhere along the way we lost Chen.   I stopped at a roadside shop to buy some water and then Chen had vanished.   We were close to his destination so no one was too worried.   He calls me 15 minutes later to explain but he really did'nt need to.   Little Al and I made it to my old home "Mingtown Youth Hostel"  after a mere 90 minute 27 Kilometer ride.   We were flying!

Said hello to my good friend "Vincent" who works there and was happy to see me,  had an expensive salad for lunch, then we headed off the the distant tea villages which are located between the lovely mountains on the opposite (Western) side of the lake.   My cheap compass on my bike has guided me well on this trip.    We went through a very crowded 5 miles across the lake's causeway and rode past the famous Buddhist temple and Pagoda.  I've already been to those places and the sheer number of tourons keep me from ever returning.   I prefer the small out of the way temples and there are many to choose from in China.   

We started to enter the mountains (Ozark or Wales Level mountains) around 2 oclock and I was already road weary mainly from the throngs of tour buses and car driving ass holes..  Once ascending a couple of these mountains  I was feeling a bit tired.    I think the cars and buses tired me more than the upward climb.   Horn honking assholes who lay on the horn for no reason except to announce to the world "I have an expensive Mercedes and you are on the side of the road riding a bike".   The buses are like 140 decibles or more but only honk to warm you.  The noise was deafening to me.  Yes,  Honk if you are about to hit me but why do it when you are 10 feet away when you pass me.   My nerves got raw and my urge to lift the dreaded finger became at meltdown level!    In the US many of these horn fanatics would be dragged from their cars and receive the beat down that they would deserve.   If you are a rich Chinese person with a nice car and use your horn too much:   Stay out of my country.   I mean... yes.. go to America and see what happens...hehehehe.   Jerks.

Sorry to rant but this nearly ruined an otherwise beautiful trip into the tea country mountain areas on the other side of Hangzhou.   This and the West Lake ancient things are what makes this the top Chinese tourist destination.   Hangzhou was the city that Marco Polo raved about when he was here in the 1300's.  I see glimpses of what he saw but then the buses and horns and cars and masses ruin it to a GREAT extent.    I think my next ride will be along the Peaceful Qaintang River towards the sea.   Stay tuned for next week my friends because a multi day river trip to the sea is next on the agenda.

Once above most of the touristy shit the tea growing areas are still a reflection of what they were in the old days.  Longine tea is the most highly prized in China and this is where they grow the good stuff.   The first village greedy locals wanted like 30 kwai for a cup of the stuff but since 5 dollars is a lot of money to me and I have no girlfriend to impress,  I merely paid 50 percent more than usual for a bottle of water and drove past the fancy "First Temple" while riding up the mountain.   I told Al that I refuse to enter a tourist, wealthy, temple ever again so we passed it by.  It was huge and beautiful from the outside.   A few miles up,  the bike path separated from the road and we were driving along a stream with a bamboo forest on one side.  Bamboo poles as wide as my fore arm and tall as trees!   Amazing scenery but I was too tired and nerve racked to enjoy it as much as I should have.   We did stop and rest and took some picks near the second rich nice looking tourist temple but with fewer tourists.   We didn't go in this one but we did sit by the bamboo forest on the far side of one of it's castle like walls and chill for a couple minutes.   Al points out to me the largest millipede I've ever seen.    

We rode a few more upward klicks (slang for kilometer),  and then went through the longest tunnel that I've ever driven a bike through.  I'm guessing about 2 klicks from one end to the other.  Since China is all about energy conservation, of course the fans require for ventilating the tunnel are either turned off or run at low speed.  The result is general absence of oxygen but with plenty of vile pollution to be locked inside.   I think that if I stopped in the middle for 30 minutes It might have been fatal.   God the air was narsty up in there.  I had my cloth face mask out in a jiffy and enjoyed the noisy downhill trip through the tunnel and actually got going fast for a change.   On the other side the air was much more clean than the previous valley.   We were past the far Western edge of Hangzhou and in the wilderness.    To go from far eastern to western Dallas by bike would take half a day and you probably would die doing it.   Hangzhou is a city with over 6 million and the trip was only about 4 hours with a lot of stopping in between. There are bike lanes beside all the major streets but cars, trucks, pedestrians,  make the lanes quite an obstacle course.

    One great thing about Hangzhou are the thousands of public bikes "Red Bikes" and Red Bike exchange stations.  I think only one other major city in the world does the public bike thing.  I love the concept.   Pay fifty dollars for a bike card and can get off a bus and jump on a bike.  There are enough stations to trade the bike in to make it convenient transportation for most destinations.   No charge unless you keep the bike for more than an hour,  then it's like 50 cents which is taken from your card's account.  I mainly use the red bikes when riding with someone who has no bicycle,  but I have had to use them a few times to get to my school or ride around downtown.   Now to prohibit cars in the downtown area since they really aren''t needed.  

We finally exit the mountains to an area farther upriver than I've ever gone.  The river was only a half mile wide here.   Al used to attend school in this area and took me through several of the unique back alleys in this part of Hangzhou.   I was hope to stay in a nice tea village hotel but now we are in a tiny China town looking ghetto with narrow streets,  many sellers of various stuff and food vendors.   There was also one of the most ghetto looking hotels I've been to in a while.   But the price for a double room with two beds was much less tahn the Mingtown Hostel where I always stay when at West Lake.   Two beds and a western toilet in the room for a mere twelve bucks.   Nice people ran it.   Pretty clean by Chinese standards.  I'm a slob so no worries there.    I warned Al about my snoring and listening to music while sleeping habits but he didn't see any sense in paying for another room.  

We locked the bikes in the room then headed for one of Al's favorite restaurants and had a ton of food washed down with some 2.5 percent Chinese beer.  Weak but cold and cold beer is a rare thing in China.    Afterward we walked around these back streets and enjoyed the completion of a long tough day of bike riding. We returned to the hotel to rest and watch Chinese TV for a couple hours, but I wanted to get outside again around 7 pm to watch the pool players do their stuff at the outdoor pool table with a make shift awning which the rain threatened to cave in unless the owner used his bamboo pole to push off the excess water at a regular interval.   After an hour of watching this we returned to the hotel which was at least fairly clean and the owners nice.   We both fell asleep but I awoke at 10:30 pm.   I was quiet and snuck back over to the pool hall action and bought a bottle of wine.  Then I borrowed a stool and sat outside and watched the games for the next two hours while the rain gently fell.   This late only thugs and couples in love were walking down the streets.   Many people stopped to attempt to talk with me,  one person spoke a little English but thats fine with me for my Chinese skills are non-existant.   Just smoking the cigs that people kept giving me (I dont inhale.. merely puff like a pipe) and swiggin' some Chinese grape wine (not bad) while feeling the groove of a strange but increasingly familier world..   I like this.   Now it's familiar and I do feel at home here.  Maybe it's the Buddhist mindset that even Chinese atheists seem to have.   Live and let live.  I feel more at home here than any other place that I have lived.  Things are natural.   Nice to be in a Chinese ghetto on a rainy night. 

So the morning hit me at 8 am and we dine on some sort of onion/eggs fried thing which tasted like heaven and burned the mouth and throat like capsicum heaven.   This part of China has some spicy food.. The Hangzhouvite's are no strangers to hot food.   We watched a bit of Chinese Telly than jumped on the bikes and headed back to Xiasha.   I specifically asked lil Al not to take us through the mountains but to follow the flat river that I love so much.    Al really wanted to do the mountain thing so we agreed to split up and both do our own things.   My old legs were already tired from the previous day and I didn;t want to push it anymore.   I made it back to Mingtown after an hour then stopped and had a sandwich.   Said my goodbyes to Vincent  and took off for Xiasha without a map but didn't really need one.   I just went north than east than north than east mile after mile alone places I have never been.  For I new from experience that eventually I should hit "Genshan/Tianmushan/Xiasha" road.   But I rode and rode through the numbulous masses for an eternity.  I was starting to feel a bit lost which is a bad feeling in a Chinese city of 6 million.  Just as I was about to give up and fold up the bike and take a taxi,  there it was... a street sign in English "Gensan Rd." which sparkled as I gazed upon it.    I am good at getting to Xihu,  but not so good at getting back.   More miles of gritty city riding and finally I made it to Xiasha and my home.  Damn good trip and one I will remember for sure.

Total distance: 50 Miles or 80 Kilometers. 

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Benjamin T Johnston on

Nice man looks like a blast! The red bike system seems great.

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