We tried leaving Kunming. We tried really hard. But, after a 70km round trip, Ash and I found ourselves back in the city centre, checking in to the same hostel that, only a few hours earlier, we'd checked out of! Our plan to head out of the city on the east side was foiled time and time again! Roads either turned into impassable quagmires or simply disappeared (often ending in a building site where new apartment blocks were being built!). It was incredibly frustrating and equally amusing as we simply could not find a way to leave! As it was a Saturday night, the hostel was busy and we had to make do with a couple of beds in a dorm. I'm not a massive fan of hostels. I think they offer great value for money for single travellers, but for two people travelling together, a hotel is often a cheaper (and far more comfortable) option. The opportunity to meet and chat with other travellers isn't always the advantage that it once was: Common rooms are just as likely to be full of people isolated in their own technology-driven worlds as they are those chatting and exchanging travel stories and tips. With photos to edit and blogs to write, I'm no exception.
Leaving Kunming from the west (towards the town of Anning) was a success! We were very relieved to see the cityscape disappear and be replaced by terraced rice fields and banana plantations!
Cycling has been simply awesome. China just seems to get better and better. Our excitement levels are sky high at the moment as, having crossed the Tropic of Cancer, we now find ourselves in proper jungle country! The sounds of exotic birds cicadas and other impressively noisy insects fills the hot, sticky and sweetly scented air. Snakes and lizards dart across the road (well, we've only seen one 'live' snake...I may have screamed a little; in a very manly way of course...but several squashed ones!) and scarily large spider webs that shroud the trees and shrubs. It's such unfamiliar territory for us. Up until now, I think we were perhaps able to relate to certain aspects of most of the regions that we've cycled through so far, but this just feels so totally...well, exotic! We even saw elephant poo on the road, as we headed for the city of Jinghong, through the Wild Elephant Vale where there are supposedly around 50 of the gentle giants roaming free!
Accommodation has continued to be very affordable and food has kept us pedalling through some long (150+km) days. Food in China is perfect for touring cyclists. Delicious, filling noodle-based dishes make for the perfect lunch, snacks of cookies (decorated with sesame and sunflower seeds), rice cakes and wonderful moon cakes keep our energy levels up in between meals. Fresh fruit is plentiful and dinner is usually a feast of three meat and/or veg dishes supplemented by unlimited rice! Ash is in charge of ordering food and it is a relief for him that most restaurants have a display chiller where you can simply point-and-choose the raw ingredients and discuss how you want them cooked...usually just a case of miming 'chop it up and mix it all together'. We've learnt to simply trust the judgement of the chefs as they know what they're doing and we're rarely disappointed!
I'm not too shabby with the old chopsticks now either!!
I'm writing this from the city of Jinghong which sits beside the mighty Mekong river (we were so excited to see the river that will guide us through most of Laos). We have rested here for an extra day and enjoyed a visit to the botanical gardens where little shuttle buses ferried visitors from one location to the next (it was funny that even in the relaxed environment of an ornamental garden, we were unable to escape the sound of vehicle horns as they sped by!). Ash and I couldn't understand why everyone was being so lazy and not enjoying a leisurely walk?! By the time we left...dripping in sweat...we realised that sensible people just avoid any kind of physical exertion in this heat and humidity.....hmmm....
The next time I write a blog we'll be in Laos. Whilst I'm very excited to be visiting another country, I'll be genuinely gutted to leave China. It's a country that has stirred my emotions more than any other (admittedly not always positive). But I think that when something, someone or somewhere gets under your skin and really draws out emotional responses that others haven't had the power to do, it's a pretty special thing. For me, China has it in abundance.
Love and hugs. X