2009/02/03: Mengla 56 km
From Boten, we crossed the border to China’s Yunnan Province. We were so tired of mountain roads in poor condition, that we rode on the engineered new road, rather than the winding old road. It was so unaccustomedly smooth that we felt as if we were riding on rails. We enjoyed watching the landscape pass by, the road effectively allowing us to step back a little. Rather than riding “though people’s living rooms”, we got a broader view. The hillsides were extensively covered in rubber plantations; we guess rubber is a major agro-industry around here.
We met Chantal and Nicolas from France, on a one year bike odyssey, and chatted by the roadside for some time. It’s a shame that these meetings are naturally with those going the opposite way and therefore always brief.
We arrived in Mengla, and met Dutch Joseph as we hunted unsuccessfully for an ATM that would accept our bank cards. Having looked at and vetoed an expensive and dirty hotel, we gladly took Joseph’s recommendation for one that was clean and well priced.
The hotel seemed to have put all its waiguoren (foreigners) on the same floor, so that evening we went out for hot pot with Joseph and two Toms. Both Toms had political science backgrounds, which made for a lively and late evening. English Tom was a Marxist who had been in China six years. He was in charge of ordering hot pot ingredients. American Tom was some sort of Anarchist who had once hiked the Appalachian Trail, and who was planning to cross into Laos the next day with his un-registered motorcycle and no driver’s license.
2009/02/04: A day off for Chris’s Innards
It was clear the next morning that Chris was in no shape to propel himself anywhere except the loo. I went out briefly to exchange enough $US to survive till Jinhong, and to buy a few jiaozi – dumplings – then back to bed. We slept for hours and hours, and then went out to a nearby cafe with internet.
When the previous night’s political discussion had left me and Joseph behind, and we had talked instead of family ties and the tug between wanting to travel and wanting to stay available and connected. In the cafe, we learned by email of a car accident at home that was about as serious as it could be without having involved major injury or death.
2009/02/05: Xishaungbanna 96 km
We mainly followed the old road that led us through mountain villages. It was hard work but very pretty. We did a section of new road in the middle, though, that involved two km long tunnels; we rode with hearts in mouths. On the mountain roads we could hear monkeys, but couldn’t see them. Xishuangbanna is a large area of tropical rain forest preserved for conservation and study. We understand a remnant population of wild elephants roam here.
We are getting into our China on-road routine, with me trotting out my few awkward words as we buy food and ask how far the next guest house is. Near the botanical garden, we found a sensible guest house for two nights.
2009/02/06: Rest and Botanizing Day
We went to the botanical garden today for a leisurely four or five hour visit, and will do internet tasks and sleep. The odometer sits at about 1,750 km, and it is telling on our bodies. We plan to move on to Jinhong tomorrow, with high hopes for a real ATM, an optician to fix or replace my bifocal frames, and maybe even wifi.
We allowed ourselves to be a bit cheeky at the garden, taking mock cutesy photos in front of waterfalls. This is the main reason Chinese go to a botanical garden, we observe. The young women pose coyly in front of iconic scenes, sitting or standing just so with head tilted alluringly to one side.
The problem is I am not wearing a long narrow skirt and stiletto heels. I can walk on the paving stones a bit more easily than they can, however, and don’t need to ride the electric train with my entire tour group for the dauntingmetres from one area of interest to the next.