Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kunming to the Laos border

Leaving Kunming was tough. For the first time in months I had the chance to talk, make friends, go out etc and leaving to face 3 weeks of solitude was hell. For the most part I prefer cycling alone, I can go where I want, when I want and do whatever I want, but sometimes it gets to me and this was one of those times. It was a real rollercoster of emotions. Part of me wanted to finish the trip as soon as possible, part of me was looking for a way to extend the ride and part of me didn't want to do anything at all. You know a place has made an impression on you when it's that hard to leave. (Hello everyone from Cloudland!)

I was in the pit of depression, I wanted rid of my bike and I nearly quit. It didn't help that I was hungover and covered in mud and dirt. I actually went to a bus station and asked about overnight buses south but I was so filthy from cycling muddy roads in the rain that they wouldn't take me seriously. I kept on going and kept on feeling worse and worse. I even started to beg passing trucks for a lift but I looked such a freak they wouldn't take me. Eventually I began to feel better, the physical challenge became my fuel. I wanted to find out just what my body is capable of and it turns out it's capable of a fair bit. This part of the world is seriously mountainous, large sections with no flat at all just big ups and big downs. I used to fear facing the pass but after this leg I think I could face Tibet on a one speed clunker. Descending into Simao I felt like Lord of the Mountains. Probably the most physically challenging and rewarding part of this bike ride.

Kilometers to the cause.

The road south leads into Xishuangbanna prefecture, a special place where the full on hustle and bustle of Chinese culture collides head on with the more chilled out South East Asian way of doing things. Gliding through the jungle in total silence with nothing but monkeys swinging through the trees for company. Again, what more could a man ask for?

Soon I will be in Laos. I speak passable Laos (I speak muck better Thai) so it should be a be a very different experience. In China it is pot luck whether people understand me and I almost never understand them. It takes its toll on a man's patience but all that will change soon.

Other: I spent New year in my preferred habitat, a 1 dollar truckstop and got my hair cut by a very camp, very drunk barber.

Typical Chinese truckstop.

Your 1 dollar gets you stylish decour and all the mod cons.

Route info, Kunming to the Laos border:
I followed the G roads all the way. The expressway is now finished for almost all the whole route and it takes nearly all the traffic. It's flat around lake Dianchi all the way to Ershan. After Ershan there is a small muddy climb then you descend off the high plateau around Kunming in a series of 4 or 5 big downhills (with some small uphills as well) to Yangjiang. After Yangjiang you better have your climbing legs ready. It is a big, big climb to Mojiang, maybe 40 or 50 km of steep uphill. After Mojiang there are a series of 30km climbs and 30km descents through stunning green mountains before you finally descend to a river and get some flat. It is hard to overstate just how mountainous and how beautiful this section is, there are no flat sections at all. The road is good so there is plenty of chance to savour the nature as you grimace your way up the climbs. It is worth the effort.
I think the expressway runs out 20km before Pu'er, the G road started to take all the traffic. There are loads of truckstops around here to overnight in. There a some small ups and downs and then one big climb before descending to Simao. After Simao the expressway resumes normal service. Its a relatively flat as you cross the river into Xishuangbanna then a long descent into Jinghong. I loved this part, very chilled out, loads of camping opportunity and the climbs are nothing compared to what came before.
After Jinghong follow the Mekong and then on to Mengla. The expressway is nearly done for this part so soon you will have the road all to yourself. About 1000km all in all.


Rob Thomson said...

Hamada, you're a legend. I'm absolutely loving your adventure. Keep it up!

Blanche said...

You write very well.