China Challenge 2007.

Trip Start Sep 14, 2007
Trip End Sep 24, 2007

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Thirteen of us arrived in Guangzhou in the southeast on 16th September at about 6pm local time, each with their own personal reasons for rising to this challenge. Our smiling guide introduced himself as Vince in perfect English. Our bus driver was Mr. Lee and our truck driver known as Pancake.

We cycled approximately 40-50 miles each day under the watchful eyes of our expert guides. Conditions were quite tough, high temperatures, high humidity and strong sunshine, conditions rarely encountered in Ireland. The hills on the second day were not to everyone's liking, but everyone completed them heroically.

The scenery was stunning, huge pinnacle mountains, hundreds of them. Their heavily wooded slopes rising sheer from the flat plain of paddy fields and fishponds.  We passed water buffalo lazing in rivers to avoid the heat, and overloaded trucks thundered past us.  Drivers blared their horns to warn of their approach and sometimes just as a hello. I noticed some drivers waving and smiling at me as I tried to keep a straight line and avoid the potholes.

Cycling is a very non-threatening way to see any country and you quickly become an object of curiosity. I have always found people are generally friendly and welcoming to cyclists and China was no exception. Locals waved at us from the porches of their houses, children shouted, "Hello, hello."  One day a farmer walking along the side of the road waved at me and put his hand out with some nuts in it. I stopped and he gave me two. I think they were chestnuts, and as I obviously didn't know what to do with them, he patiently showed me how to peel them properly. I've found this typical of how people react to cyclists in several countries.

Food is very import to cyclists and I suppose literally speaking food is the flavour of any country. Meal times were a bit of a sport in themselves. Every table was dominated by a huge lazy susie and we ate with chopsticks. By the end of the week we were adept at spinning the wheel and could get by with the chopsticks. Noodles and rice porridge were two of the items on the menu most mornings. Rice porridge is not as bad as it sounds!!

At the end of our trip we were treated to two little excursions. The first was a visit to Moon Mountain, a huge limestone rock pinnacle in the centre of which there is a huge moon shaped hole. The second and my favourite was a sunset trip on the Lee River in a little boat. I could only sit back and enjoy the constantly changing views of the spectacular limestone peaks and the bamboo-lined riverbanks.

The final excitement of the trip came on the long flight home. Just as we were being served dinner I looked out the window and saw massive snow covered mountain peaks just below us. We were flying at 35,000 feet. I was delighted to be enjoying lunch and looking down on the Himalayas.

I knew little about China before I left and don't claim to know much more now. However now when China is mentioned in the media, it will seem a little more real to me.
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