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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Grinding in Guiyang
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!


It was a cold, hard, sleepless night. I wore half of all my clothes; I should have put them all on. I was awake most of the night because I was too cold. We awoke to frost on the ground, so it was at least freezing. The news report showed Guiyang having a low of 6 degrees Celsius and Kunming 7 degrees. It doesn't look like we are headed to the "Land of Eternal Spring" as the Swedish guy called Yunnan.

Getting started was very cold. We camped near the summit and had a very brisk 5-km coast down the mountain. What a way to wake up! The day was clear, the sky a brilliant blue and the mountains beautiful. It was a truly gorgeous day for an invigorating ride. Our journey to Guiyang was relatively uneventful. We climbed fewer hills than yesterday and we seem to be leaving that mountain range behind. The climb lengths have decreased from 5 km to 2 or 3 km, though it is often hard to enjoy the descents because the road is so rough.

Our arrival in Guiyang was another big-city nightmare with the hotel. They succeeded in putting us in a 55-yuan room. We were hoping to find money changers here, as we have very low on Reminbi, but neither one of us was approached, and we haven't seen any other Westerns here either. It looks like we could be running into a money shortage as it doesn't seem like there are any places between here and Kunming to change money.

"If you have a white face and a big nose, you pay the most."
Lonely Planet's China

As I was walking around a young woman, about 20, approached me and wanted to practice her English. She said she worked at the brewery and sold beer. She had to take the job for 2 years in exchange for her schooling on grains. She was quite forward about walking with me and after being burned in Guangzhou, I was reluctant to have her company. We parted ways when I insisted on having a bowl of noodles at a sidewalk vendor. She said it was dirty. Frankly, I think it was that she didn't want to be seen there with me.


Saw a small boy with an army uniform playing with a top using a string attached to the end of a stick whipping the spinning top to keep it going. Great fun!

Cycling was easy for a change. We rode the first 30 km on a new unopened 4 lane divided highway. Sheer pleasure! There were no horns blasting in my ear, fairly easy grades and smooth pavement. Rainer said, "I feel like I am back in America". It was also our third bright sunny day in a row. I think I am getting spoiled. The landscape also underwent significant changes; similar to the classical hill shapes we found in Yangshou, limestone hills popping up out of a fairly level terrain.

We passed through two more different minority groups. The women of the first one wore hooded caps a bit like the Ku Klux Klan though without the face covered and were blue instead on white. The other group had a distinctive robe with an embroidered edge. The basic color varied; some brilliant blue, some mauve, while others were green.

The women have been wearing tights lately, making their already shapely bodies look really great. It seems impossible to get to know any of them, however.

I saw a middle-aged woman working as a human dump truck today building the new highway. It was really fascinating to see. She wore a cone-shaped basket on her back and bent over while another person shoveled gravel in it. When the basket was full, she walked over to the edge of the road and bent over sideways to empty it. What a way to build a road! What a way to earn a living!

The bike seems to be reaching the point of needing a major overhaul. The bottom bracket started acting up again today, and the headset bearings have a major indentation in it. I hope I can make it to Kunming and around Yunnan.

Huangguoshu Waterfalls

Huangguoshu WaterfallsIt was an easy uneventful ride with the exception of an over-the-rice-field detour. We got on the highway, still under construction, and went down a long hill to find the road ended. The parallel road was about 500 meters away down through some rice terraces. Rather than backtracking up the hill I decided to try and go through the fields. It looked much easier than it was. A steep slope varying in height from an average of about 1- to 2-meters separates each terrace. Once I started I realized it wasn't going to be as easy as it looked. I got halfway down the slope from the new road when one of the road construction workers called to me to come back up. At that point it would have been very difficult to return to the new road, so I refused to go back. I fell a few times and got a few laughs from the construction workers enjoying my predicament. Once I got down, it was clear sailing into the next village.

Tonight will be our last hotel for about three nights as we enter another closed area. We are staying at the Chinese equivalent to Niagara Falls. So now I am here relaxing a bit. My walk to the falls and back really wore me out. I'm physically tired and I can't seem to get rested up.

Kunming seems to be about a week away. I have been thinking of various travel-plan options once I get to Kunming. I think I'd like to ride around Yunnan a bit, at least to Dali, and hang out for several days or a week. Time to relax, write letters and meet other travelers. If it is anything like Yangshou, I'm sure I'll like it. From there, who knows? Maybe try to get into Nepal from Lhasa. The guidebook says the road from Katmandu to Lhasa is open. Or if that fails, take a train or bus to Wuzhuo and then a boat to Hong Kong and fly to Bangkok to pick up my mail.

On Top of China (again)

It was a wet chilly day; drizzle, mist, slick roads and high altitudes. We are back in the mountains again. we passed several groups of shepherds leading flocks of goats down the road. Then later we met a group tending their flocks on the mountainside. They seem to be nomadic; carrying their beds on their backs. What a sight they made against the cold damp foggy backdrop of these huge rocky mountains.

"Heating. If there is one thing I wish to see the Chinese get as a part of the modernization, it is home heating"

Andrea, who spent a year teaching in China.

From the map it appears we have to wind through these mountains all the way to Qiping. Surprisingly, we have found an abandoned house in which looks like a good place to stay the night. However, moments ago a farmer walked by and peered in the window at Rainer's tent. I wonder what is going to happen now. It is so hard to find solitude in this country. There are so many curious, observant people.

We have met the farmer and his three sons. They were very nice and gave us some sugar cane to eat. They mentioned "guan she", but I don't know what that means.

More toys: I saw a skateboard that used steel ring bearings for wheels. I also saw another variation of the ring and stick with the ring being only 3" in diameter versus the 18" I had seen previously.

God Only Knows Where

It was another interesting day in China. Never a dull moment! After a brisk decent we met a 20-km climb that took most of the morning. It was spectacular from a scenic standpoint, but also extremely tiring. We passed some more different minority groups, all with their distinctive clothes and headdress; quite colorful and very lovely women. The young women are particularly charming and very shy.

We passed another group of coal miners; they look just like the pictures I've seen of the ones in the States from the 1930's: covered from head to toe with black soot. The whites of their eyes were the only clean part of them. What a life! I feel so fortunate to be cycling instead of working like them.

It is really fascinating the way the Chinese have cultivated entire mountains for growing food. No space is wasted. The small strips of land between the terraces are used for grazing livestock, usually water buffalo. Shepherds of sheep and goats use what land can’t be cultivated. Pigs, chickens, dogs and cats are kept around the living quarters to clean up leftover food. This must be one reason why the Chinese don't mind making a mess while eating; they know that anything dropped will be eaten by something else. Nothing seems to be wasted, even cigarette wrappers are used as toilet paper when something better isn't available. And human waste is carefully recycled as fertilizer in the field. China is truly an amazing country!

As the afternoon wore on, we faced the usual dilemma of finding a suitable place to stay. Several options cropped up, but we couldn't act on any of them as there were so many people about and we were naturally of great interest. Toward the end of the day, we were very tired and faced with another steep climb we didn't want to do. Half way up we passed a police officer and two other men cleaning their mopeds. Further up they passed us and asked where we were going (Kunming) and what we were doing (bicycle touring in China). They left and we debated what to do; should we continue through the upcoming town or wait until dark and find a good camping spot? We decided to go into town because we would be undoubtedly be expected, even though we know we could get in trouble because it is not open to foreign tourists.

On the way into the town we met our "friends" on the mopeds. They asked us to stop and talk, so we did. There was an English teacher and another man there who could speak fairly good English. They wanted to know where we were going to "live tonight". We said we didn't know. They then asked us if we could speak Chinese (only a few words) and then welcomed us to their town. They said we could stay in their hotel (at the police station). They then lead us through town. All the while we kept wondering if they were going to arrest us, put us on a bus, or fine us. Fortunately, their friendly attitude was genuine and they then asked to have dinner with them. At the hotel we were faced with a Chinese registration book with no English translations which they helped us fill out. Later we met the Chief of Police for the county who also welcomed us to their town.

After a great big meal, we had a scalding hot shower in the common shower room, where I made the mistake of leaving my toiletry bag there, never to be seen again. It was a painful loss since I had my repair kit, knife, compass and the like in there.

My future travel plans are still up in the air, but it appears that returning to Hong Kong is the best option. Lhasa to Katmandu is likely to be a very cold ride, if it can be done at all. By going back to Hong Kong, I could get some much needed spare parts for my bike and still pick up my mail in Bangkok. Then fly to Katmandu and cycle in India, though I would probably end up missing Calcutta.

Oh how I love to get mail. It recharges my emotional and psychological batteries for another jaunt into the unknown.

On to   Out in the Boonies

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

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