22nd November 2017
Our last post marked the end of Sichuan, a province that we felt would take a lot to beat, but so far Yunnan has put up a good fight. We left Sichuan in style with a delicious fish stew, a local speciality, then explored the tranquil Lugu Hu Lake which marked the entrance to Yunnan. There was a sudden increase in tourist busses making the roads less appealing so we searched the maps and found a cross country route to Tiger Leaping Gorge, where we felt a couple days trekking would be necessary.
This route took us through various remote valleys that were all inhabited by minority ethnic groups, much to our satisfaction as all the women dressed in spectacular outfits regardless of the occasion.
We arrived just as the evening light lit up the opposite side of the gorge, a vast face of rock which rises 3790m from river to mountain top! With little pre planning (as usual) we followed a sign for a hostel which took us to the furthest house up the hill, taking Fred's dodgy clutch to its limit. However this meant we would have a height advantage at the start of our walk so we settled in for the night, ready for our trek the next day.
Despite our late arrival into China providing colder than desired conditions in the north, we could not have timed Yunnan and tiger leaping gorge better. The rains have now moved on leaving blue skies, resulting in us being able to see the full scale of the gorge and the sun quickly melting any morning frost and warming us up. Without any backpacks and one water bottle we set off for a supposed 2 day trek, accepting our lack of equipment would result in an night in a guesthouse along the route without a change of clothes despite the glaring sunshine that lay ahead.
With the company of a Belgian traveller who had a better idea of where to go we set off. We still managed to get lost ending up at random waterfalls and crossing rickety wooden bridges only to find dead ends, realising we'd followed goat paths not human paths. This did little to damage our confidence as we quickly made amends and the track became more well trodden as we continued.
As we had no extra weight, we made quick progress and found ourselves at the end before the end of the day. Deciding this gave us enough time to hitchhike back along the road at the bottom of the gorge and we hoped someone would be willing to drive us back up to the top where clean clothes and a shower awaited us in our hostel from the previous night. We soon found someone to give us a lift but they could only take us to the bottom of the hill from our hostel. With a surge of confidence we set off in the now pitch black and hiked up the hill with already weary legs. An hour after that we finally arrived, a tough decision well made but more exhausted than I've been in a long long time.
The next destination was on the Burma (or Myanmar) border where China's only volcanos were situated and what we'd read to be a good hike (feeling confident we could tackle any trek at this stage). A few days later we arrived to what was up there with one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. On closer inspection I should have noticed the climb was up a volcano called 'big empty hill', and that it was. A staircase lead us up a small hill which in fairness did have a small crater in the middle, but that was all overgrown. However despite the two day detour it was nice to see an area of China that resembled Burma.
We have since been skirting around small roads through the never ending hills and mountains of south west Yunnan. Realising we are in no rush to get anywhere we have been able to take our time and stop where we please and admire the views and sample the amazing foods (though we're still searching to find dog on the menu). I write his post as we've just crossed the Tropic of Cancer which has provided a pleasant and much welcome increase in temperature from that of the north. Planning to reach the Yuanyuang rice terraces in a few days we will then head east along the Vietnam border until we are forced to sell the bikes and head up to Beijing, via Yangshuo.
2nd December 2017
Mission accomplished! We’ve arrived at the rice terraces of Yuangyang, completing the goal of our trip. However, with a week still left before we have to sell the bikes, the adventure isn’t over yet.
Its been a pretty awesome week cutting across the very south of Yunnan and China, running parallel to the borders with Laos and Vietnam.
After we wrote the last post, we were pretty pleased with ourselves as we had managed to wash in a stream which meant that we could put off getting a hotel for a while. The weather had different ideas though, and that night we were subjected to a deluge of rain. It didn’t let up in the morning and we got soaked through. Not only is riding in the rain pretty miserable, but its quite dangerous too so we decided to take shelter in a hotel to wait it out.
However, it seemed like the weather was conspiring against us so we had to carry on but by then it was just a drizzle. We were worried that, having entered the tropic of cancer, this sort of unpredictable weather was going to be more commonplace - not the sunny end to the trip we had been dreaming of.
We soldiered on though like the brave wee lads we are - it’ll take a bit more than rain to upset two lads born and raised in Scotland. This weather did have a pretty awesome side effect though. The small roads our route followed had been turned into quagmires of mud. We were trying our hardest to get off the beaten track, and we had managed to find some roads which didn’t appear on our maps, but we assumed must exist as villages were shown.
We came down a few dead ends and got lost a couple of times, but our search paid off. We found a way through, along these tracks with mud sometimes ankle deep. We got absolutely caked, Dave especially, who decided to ditch himself into the muddiest puddle available. We must have looked a sight, and to be honest we felt pretty badass at times. These feelings were always short lived as locals wearing sandals and carrying twice our weight skipped by without making a splash and made us look a bit pathetic. Its a constant reminder we’ve had throughout this trip, that all these incredible places we travel fleetingly through are genuine people’s homes and more than just our playground.
The scenery we got to see on this route was incredible. Southern Yunnan is very hilly and we ‘sped’ from one lush, green valley to another. At one point we took a wrong turn and ended up 1km away from the Vietnamese border post, perhaps under slightly different circumstances we might have kept on going, but alas we have other plans.
Highlights from this route include making it across a landslide that blocked the road, meeting the happiest restaurant owner/beekeeper/pig-farmer in China (despite being in most destitute town we have come across), getting lost in the jungle, breakfasting on freshly picked Papaya whilst camping, and getting Dave covered in mud (twice).
Eventually, we arrived here at Yuangyang. We spent the day out shopping where we got our hands on some pork, beer, chinese whisky, and some very suspect fireworks. We had cause to celebrate. We found a camp spot as far away from anyone as we’ve had in China, which was lucky, as for what the fireworks lacked visually, they certainly made up for in noise. We’ve been living on a mainly veg diet whilst camping, so to cook up some pork was a huge treat. I don’t like to boast but our wilderness cooking is reaching a gourmet level and if there was a michelin star for such a thing we would like to get it.
We’ve been quite lazy (hungover, surely not?) today, but we went to enjoy the sunset at the famous rice terraces which is a site so incredibly unique and sums up a lot about what makes China so special.
We are planning to get to Beijing a few days before our flight home on the 15th. In the meantime, we still have another week on the bikes. With no real objective than just to have the best time possible, we are going to head back towards the Vietnamese border and then East and see what we can get up to until we end the trip properly by selling our (not so) trusty steeds.