Ups and Downs in Yunnan

2009/02/09: Rural Guest House 58 km
Crossing the bridge over the Mekong, we stopped for a sunrise photo.


A keen photographer was doing the same, and offered to take a photo of us. So here we have a rare both-of-us shot. You can see the mornings are cooler, and we start with jackets on.


We were still riding through the extensive Xishuangbanna Tropical Forest Reserve, which is touted as the home of the last freely roaming Asian elephants. We saw a load of locals going to an “attraction”, and stopped to inquire what it was. It was something to do with animals, so Chris said why didn’t we pay our admission and go. He thought it might be something that would satisfy my urge to see elephants roaming and/or learn about elephants or local wildlife. What fools we were! Once we realized our mistake, Chris calmly said that it would be an interesting cultural experience, which it was indeed.

Two sad and moth-eaten Siberian tigers and some sort of puma did tricks in a cage, and a rare local black bear stood on its hind legs rather than have its nose ring yanked. It was like circus training or zoo-keeping in the west in the 1940s. Moving along to learn about a pre-literate local minority was not much different, only the creatures on display were human. Dressed in bright polyester, the performers moved to an amplified soundtrack, as three bored-looking women beat time with bamboo sticks. We left realizing we’d wasted most of the cool morning there, the best part of the day for riding.

Further along a sign announced “Wild Elephant Vale.” We looked but were not reassured by the sight of elephants carrying tourists along, so gave it miss. A little further along, we could see into another part of the same establishment. A baby elephant walked in circles; one forefoot was chained to an iron ring in the concrete floor.

I know it’s up to us to understand the differences in culture involved. We are the visitors here. I had known there would be differences in attitudes to nature, but this day brought home just how immense those differences are.

At about five, we saw clean looking guest house at a junction, and decided to call it a day. As we pointed to food for supper, we asked the cook what she recommended. This is how we discovered local shuijiecai, which is something like cross between fiddleheads and watercress.

2009/02/10: Simao 104 km
We tackled several long climbs, and each time descended less than we’d ascended. We are crossing at right angles to the river valleys, and getting higher with each valley. In Jinhong we were at 500 m, at the guest house 900 m, and at Simao 1,300 m. In the morning we climbed and rode though miles of high tea plantation, with the rows of tea bushes clipped to a square profile and following the contour lines. It was only 8 degrees as we started out, and we wore gloves.

We stopped for dumplings in a tea processing village, where you could buy huge bundles of tea. I asked our dumpling lady for boiled water in my water bottle, as I’d seen others do. I thought it would help deal with the green stuff starting to grow in our bottles, and save buying bottled water. She ladled water from her cauldron into my bottle, and the bottle promptly melted like the Wicked Witch of the West, to the amusement of onlookers. We bought some bottled water.

We rode through villages where coffee beans were being dried and sorted. We’ve learned to distinguish coffee bushes from tea bushes, and see that it’s tea that is sometimes inter-planted with the rubber trees.

Neat rows in tea plantation

2009/02/11: Pu-er 55 km 
At the hotel in Simao we ate well. I think our communication over food is improving a little. No blog posting as two internet cafes were full to the gills with chain-smoking gamers.

Watches beeped at 7:00, but we allowed ourselves a late start to avoid creeping burnout.

Leaving Simao; Pagodas beside misty lake

The day began with a hard climb to a 5,000 ft pass. The highway has not yet been built here, so we shared the road with far too many trucks. Into the descent, we came upon a line of stopped traffic. We wove our way down the line of stopped trucks when upward traffic permitted. Arriving at the front of the 3 km queue we found two overturned trucks and a lot of policemen. Apparently a few bodies had been removed. The policemen radioed specially to allow two zichingche (bicycles) through. Another 3 km of trucks were queued the other way.

Once some way past this bottleneck, we stopped for a good lunch. We met a young man, who is a studying medical translation at Beijing University and who spoke perfect English. He helped answer several practical questions, one of which was why were unable to make a call to home on our cell phone. We need an international card, available only in major centres, in order to be able to make international calls. He wrote several useful vocabulary words in characters and pinyin for us, including wu xian shang wang – wireless network. He suggested taking the very old road, which we had failed to find in the morning, and directed us to it.

We moved to the small road, much of it torn up, and trundled slowly along through villages, stopping for icecream. We rode upwards through a valley terraced for rice paddies, vegetables, wheat, and fish ponds. We rode into this junction town and did some searching for a hotel, our main criteria being not too many flights of stairs to ascend with panniers, and secure bike parking.


4 responses to “Ups and Downs in Yunnan

  1. Wow. What a huge cultural gulf. No wonder we are so ineffectual at setting aside land for saving the tiger, panda, elephant… or Tibetan.-p

  2. Dear Christopher and MargoYou and Margo look very very well. Fantastic reys. Fantastic photos.Please! Take care of yourself. Have a good journey! Valery cern

  3. You guys are pushing very hard! The pictures of Jinghong seemed pretty modern. I’m curious about how big the gulf between city and village life seems to be in this remote region. And was Jinghong really modern or could you see the signs of rapid transition in lifestyle?

  4. Dear Art…The gulf between rural and city is huge. Some cities “work” in that they are pleasant but others have developed poorly. I was reading your question when a peasant lady came through the internet cafe selling her wares in a wicker basket. She might as well have coem from another planet. There are probably 1000+ terminals in this building, apart from the smoke and bathrooms it could be in Canada.What the countryside is using is cell phones, satelite TV, and mopeds. But the ground is tilled using a buffalo pulled plough, and wheat is cut and gathered by hand.

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