In need of mending

Trip Start Jul 01, 2010
Trip End Aug 08, 2011

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Where I stayed
YHA Hostel

Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Sunday, July 3, 2011

The bad tempered wind that greeted me, coursing from the mouth of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, complemented somehow the jagged mountains that were everywhere around me. On this otherwise perfect afternoon, there was no way to proceed but onwards via this passage the Yangtze river, now visible flowing silently far below me, had riven between the Jade Snow mountain and Haba Snow mountain, both more than 5,000 m in altitude. The way came to a small settlement, where a young policeman stepped into the road before me, requesting I pay the price of admission, which to my relief was a mere 50 yuan (~US$8) and not the 160 yuan I had been told.
In light of the injuries from my fall the previous day, I had opted not to hike the gorge as most foreign visitors do when in the area, yet even from this almost deserted road, the views of the gorge were stunning. There were only a few hours of sunlight remaining but I was compelled to stop repeatedly to photograph everything. From the blogs of other cyclists I knew that finding a camping spot in the gorge was challenging, so I set my sights on Jane’s guest house, a common setting off point for hikers, just beyond the far end of the gorge. For just 20 yuan, I had a dormitory all to myself for the night.
Then it was time to follow the Jin Sha river back down and climb arduously back out of the river valley, then over a range to reach Li Jiang. My injured ribs were giving me a lot of pain by now, and I had to make many stops by the roadside to rest/nap. As I neared the city, the narrow highway became very busy and again the passing trucks and buses were rather intimidating.
It’s said that Li Jiang is how foreigners imagine a Chinese city should look, and I would say this rang true for me. The massive 1996 earthquake and resulting reconstruction emphasised low-rise single-family dwellings of traditional style, eventually culminating in the old town receiving UNESCO World Heritage status, and the resulting tourism boom which now threatens to turn the place into something of a caricature of Chinese culture. The pretty, cobbled streets of the old town, forbidden to cars and even bicycles, thronged with Chinese tourists. The maze formed by the meandering lanes through which so many other sightseers flocked made navigation very difficult, but eventually I found the YHA youth hostel, located just a little way outside the busiest quarter.
With my ribs still very tender, I elected to give myself several days here to recuperate and heal. The staff in the hostel were super-friendly, and the first night I shared my dorm with several friendly Chinese girls. I was surprised by the candour with which one of them spoke to me of the shortcomings of the single-party system.
I passed four days resting, stuffing myself and exploring a little, but the commercial vibe of the town detracted from the experience. Its streets mostly a repeating pattern of a few varieties of tourist-themed shops and restaurants, albeit with a few more distinctive offerings to be found by the determined visitor. I wondered who would pay the (relatively) exorbitant prices of the touristic restaurants, yet most seemed to be well enough patronised.
On a night during which the hostel was fully booked I slept in a bunk outside the kitchen as overflow accommodation, leaving my bags in my former dorm on the assurances of a staff member. And for the second time in my voyage, my bicycle pump disappeared under mysterious circumstances, but I was relieved that the pump was the only thing missing.
I stopped to buy a new pump as I left town. The small highway led into the hills east of the town where I was soon alone with my thoughts. A steady climb lasting several hours brought me to the apex and there followed a long, steep and zig-zaggy descent, which unfortunately had to come to an end at the valley floor. After a gentle climb back out, the landscape opened right up. I bought a meal at a small hotel and then camped on a hillside. I awoke with a lot of pain in my ribs, which made packing up rather laborious. A couple of bemused shepherds herded their flock past my camp in the morning as I left.
The day’s ride was long and slow, beset with mechanical problems. A missed turning made matters worse as I back-tracked 15 km, most of it uphill. At day’s end I stopped at a hotel for a meal, and was invited to stay the night by the family. The next morning the pain made even getting out of bed excruciating, and I asked the family if I could stay another night. I passed the day reading ebooks and sleeping. The next day was no better, and after three nights without any noticeable improvement I decided not to wear out my welcome, and asked for help to find transport to a city.
The woman yelled to a passing minivan and soon my bike was hoisted aboard and I was on my way. I was dropped off in a small town outside a small office that served for a bus station, and managed to buy a bus ticket on to Pan Zhi Hua. The bus driver was kind enough to put my bike aboard - I was in too much pain.
The highway was busy with the usual dump trucks and buses, and was in an appalling state. When possible, the bus driver avoided the enormous potholes, often crossing into the opposing lane, yet despite the evasive action, we were thrown about like dummies, me wincing and clutching at my ribs.
As we drew closer to Pan Zhi Hua, the sky came down, smog shrouding the long valleys we traversed which were home to a long chain of coal-fired power stations. With this deviation from the touristed areas, was I finally seeing the controversial side of China’s economic miracle that is so often denounced in the Western media?
Pan Zhi Hua’s bus station seemed far out of the city, and I feared I’d missed my stop at first. The bus station was like a small town in itself, with thousands of travellers arriving and departing each moment. I lay my bike down outside and entered, doing my best to read the timetables until I was ready to buy a ticket whereupon the woman in the ticket booth could not confirm my bike would be permitted to come along. I walked away to ponder and was soon approached my a man who told me my bike would be no problem. I climbed onto my bunk and stretched out for the long but comfortable journey to Kunming.
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Viv on

Hope you're going to see someone about your ribs. Take care. x

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