A tour of Japan and Southern China, August 2014
Chapter 1- Japan
Although I have only recently returned from a conference in Xian, China and a bicycle tour there, I have found a nice conference (AOGS) to attend in Japan, in Sapporo in Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese island. People come here to go skiing, but not me. It is summer, so it is time to go cycling instead. After transit stops in Singapore and Shanghai I arrived at the airport on an overcast afternoon and assembled the bike in the airport as usual. The airport is 50 km from Sapporo city, perfect for a pleasant afternoon ride. But within minutes of starting my ride it started to rain. Only light at first, but it became a persistent annoying rain all afternoon. At least it was not cold, so I resigned myself to a wet ride to the city. I tried to avoid using a busy major road, but became lost. In the nearby town I noticed many 7 eleven convenience stores, so I stopped there and someone gave me directions back to the main highway. It was appropriate to use it to avoid getting lost in the rain. The first thing you notice in japan is the traffic lights. They are an overwhelming plague! And they are even more annoying when you have to stop in the rain. The traffic was mostly polite, perhaps because the cars were often slower than me because of queues at all the traffic lights. But I did have to thump one car which cut me off making a turn across my path.
After a couple of rain-soaked hours I reached the city centre and had to find my hotel beside the university. I had memorised a complicated route to the hotel, as stopping to read a paper map does not work in the rain. Eventually I decided I must be near my destination, but could not find the hotel, so I stopped at another 7-eleven store to ask for help. The guy pointed to the building opposite - I was in the right place but simply had not noticed the hotel name 8 floors up. Before drying out, I went to the conference hotel, about 4 km away to register. But I arrived at 5 pm just as registration closed, although my wet cycling clothes surprised the delegates still there. After returning to my hotel and drying out, it was time to see if I could survive on Japanese food. I found the closest restaurant to the hotel where they had to teach me the rules. You sit at a long table facing the open kitchen, but first you purchase a food ticket for your selected item from a vending machine. The kitchen staff don't handle money, which makes sense actually.
Next morning the conference registration line was so long it circled the large conference area twice, a complete nightmare. But I had asked for a special copy of the program by email and had already chosen which talks to attend while traveling. So I attended the talks which many others missed as they did not receive a program until after they had waited in the registration line. There were some 3000 attendees at the conference and about 10 to 15 simultaneous talks to choose from at 15 minute intervals. This Asian geological conference is big and technically diverse.
Day 3 of the conference was of little interest to me, so I planned a bicycle ride instead. There is a small mountain, Mt Morewi overlooking Sapporo, so I decided to ride up to the top, my typical uphill masochistic behaviour. But the road is a toll road for cars only and bicycles were not allowed at all. So I continued up into and across the hills alongside nice reservoirs and through national parks, a really pleasant ride to Otaru. On the return trip along the coast, my gears stopped working. A pin had come loose, but I could not fix it on the roadside. I stopped at 2 bike shops which both refused to fix it and wanted to install a new gear changer instead, although neither shop actually had the necessary part. Idiots. So with some fiddling and a borrowed screwdriver I fixed it myself. The throw-away society is alive and thriving here in Japan also.
After 2 more busy days at the conference, it was time to discover the mountains in central Hokkaido, and I departed early on a sunny saturday morning. After a long boring stretch across the industrial outskirts of the city I found a pleasant and quiet road northwards through the hills and a national park. After crossing a vast flat valley filled with rice farms and scattered unexciting townships, I climbed up into some gentle hills to the town of Asahikawa. After a pleasant 160 km ride I hoped to find a cosy hotel here for the night. But there was a major festival in town and all of the 10 hotels I tried were full. This was a big problem as I did not really have time or enough energy to proceed to the next significant town to find accommodation. I rode out towards the airport, hoping to find a suburban hotel, but found nothing. As I passed a convenience store I noticed a Caucasian guy eating an ice cream and asked him if he spoke English. He did, and Mark explained I had no chance of finding a hotel nearby. But he took me back to his house where he and his wife, Miwako very kindly accommodated and fed me. They saved me from a very difficult situation and I was extremely grateful.
Next day I continued south to the ski resort of Furano. Only a relatively short ride, but I was surprised by the intense traffic as everyone seemed to be out enjoying a sunny Sunday drive, with a good number of motorcyclists also. Then as I proceeded south next morning on a quiet back road through the vast farmed fields of onions and rice, my bike became unstable. The frame had broken. Oh dear, this was a very serious problem. I dragged and carried the bike and baggage, with great difficulty, for about a kilometer and then 2 guys in a truck helped me. They took me to a repair shop nearby, although I was trying to ask to go to the nearby train station as a repair was not possible. Eventually they took me to the station where I bagged up the bike and spent most of the day on trains going back to Sapporo.
My brief visit to Hokkaido has become even shorter, and I am waiting out a wet last day before I fly south to Okayama. I think a quick detour to Taiwan is appropriate to resolve the problem, as the bike was manufactured in Taiwan, near Taipei and i could easily return to the factory. At least Taipei is just a short detour away, and I hope to be back cycling again soon.
Plan changes are part of the plan!
My routes in Hokkaido, Northern Japan
Chapter 2 - Southern Japan
After the bicycle failure in Hokkaido, the best solution was to make a quick diversion to Taipei. Hey, Taiwan is only next door to Japan, and just a 3 hour flight from Osaka. That is less than flying from Darwin to "Australia"! I already had a flight to Okayama in southern Japan, i just had to get to Osaka. This I could do using the Shinkansen high speed train, which is very effective, though not cheap. The only problems were dragging my bagged-up bike around the extensive interchanges with very long platforms and trying to understand the complex ticketing and automated exit gates. It does work, but it helps if you can read japanese! In Taiwan, I went straight to the Pacific cycles factory and spent 2 days with much help from the factory, sorting out the bike. I could not repair the bike and took a new bike instead. But there are many small details involved in configuring a new bike, which took the entire 2 days. Then it was time to ride 40km to the airport and return to Osaka, followed by another 3 hour train journey to Onomichi. Here i reassembled the bike late in the evening in the railway station, eager to reach my hostel for the night. But in the dim light and rush, i somehow failed to adjust the brakes properly and as i rode off into the rain in the darkness my tyre exploded. I had to walk until i found a convenience store where there was light to allow me to fix the tyre. I was stressed out and really did not need this. I arrived at the hostel quite late, but it was a bicycle friendly hostel which had a bike parking rack immediately inside the front door and the host was kind and helpful. Another cyclist was already there for the same reason as me, to ride the well known 80km bikepath across 9 bridges to the island of Shikoku. These included, until recently, some of the longest and most innovative bridges built. And all (except one small older bridge) include a well designed bicycle/pedestrian pathway.
A typhoon had passed over this part of japan in the recent few days, but next morning it was mostly dry, although very windy as i set off south into the brisk headwind. It was an interesting ride through quaint japanese island seaside townships, with a well marked bike route for the entire distance, although i did miss at least one turn and took the "scenic" route for a while. Later in the ride i met Hidehito who was also cycling the pathway. He commented that this was probably the world's most expensive bike pathway. I had seen comments on the internet that cycling the pathway was not free. There were a few payment points, but these seem to apply to motor cycles of <125cc engine size, which can also ride the pathways and none of the signs were in english. There were very few cyclists on the route this day, probably because of the wind caused by the nearby typhoon. Even if you are not impressed by the bridge engineering, this ride is so scenic and enjoyable that it is one of the best cycle rides i have experienced, and worth all the trouble, and headwinds i had experienced.
The triple span
suspension bridge at the southern end.
I continued southwards to the nondescript town of Nyugawa for the night, as i was hoping to cross the mountains southwards next day and go to the southern coast. But the weather was still a bit wild, so i changed plans (again) to stay in the northern mountains, as i only had 4 days to cycle and had to reach Osaka some 250km to the east. I rode off next morning up into the peaceful and densely forested mountains. There are numerous buddhist shrines throughout Shikoku and it is common for pilgrims to visit these. I saw a few such pilgrims walking up the mountain roads as i cycled slowly upwards, inspired by the steep and high mountains. I deliberately rode up to the famous copper mine at Besshi, the type example of sediment hosted sulphide deposits. But little remains of the mine now, which closed long ago. As i continued upwards, there were many road signs, which i guessed were to warn of the many roadworks i saw en route. After a long 2.5 hour climb i crossed the ridge crest into a long valley and was enjoying the descent when i encountered a road closure. Those signs in Japanese had been warning that the through road was actually closed! I spoke to the excavator driver, who realised my ignorance of Japanese and moved his excavator aside enough for me to walk through. For most of this route there was no traffic because the road was actually closed and I enjoyed a serene ride down from the mountain top, past several reservoirs back to the plains and the reality of traffic and traffic lights.
In steep terrain, just build the roads in circles! (Near Besshi minesite)
I found another devious road up into the mountains next day and during a long and steep 2.5 hour climb into the lush forests i saw only 3 vehicles. And another descent took me to a major east-west valley where i planned to use a quiet secondary road. But this road was busy and had no shoulder so in desperation i turned back north into the mountains again, where the road was wide and quiet and much more pleasant. By 4pm i reached the coastal plains where i hoped to find a hotel. But i was in a traditional old fishing village which had quaint wooden houses crammed together with only narrow alleys between them. There were no tourist hotels here. I headed west to find a larger town, but despite urban sprawl and the frequent poker machine (pachinko) parlours, i could not find a hotel. Then i saw a prominently signed hotel in an isolated area, slightly strange, but i was ready to rest. There was no reception desk, but a cleaner was there and helped as best she could. In the foyer you pressed the number of a room, then went to that floor where that room had a flashing light. I entered to find a credit card machine as the door locked behind me. But my credit card was rejected, with a voice message in japanese, which i could not understand of course. And all the printed instructions were in japanese and equally unintelligible. And without payment, you could not open the door to leave! I had heard about these "love hotels" and now i was trapped inside one! This was not a solution to my need for rest and shelter for he night. I used the phone to call some sort of reception but they could not speak english other than to say "wait moment". After 3/4 hour and several calls my complaints about "door closed" must have been understood as i heard a faint click from the door and I dropped the phone, opened the door and escaped. It was now dusk and i still needed a hotel, but after another 15km there was still none. I found a police station and asked for help. There was very little english comprehension, but 5 police tried to help. The only hotel nearby was 15 km back where i had come from. So i rode back in the dark, trying to follow the directions given by the police. Eventually i located the beachside resort hotel, after many stressful hours. The resort hotel was overpriced, but at least i was not locked in my room by a crazed credit card machine here!
It was the last day of my Japanese tour and i rode along the mundane coast road to Tokushima where i caught a ferry to Wakayama, a 2 hour sea crossing, followed by a 40 km final ride to the Osaka (Kansai) airport entrance. I deliberately left the main road for the last 20 km and wandered through ancient villages with traditional old wooden houses intermingled with modern suburban houses, separated by narrow alleys only wide enough for 2 bicycles.
The Osaka (Kansai) airport is on an artificial island some 5 km offshore, connected by a long freeway bridge and you cannot ride a bicycle on the bridge, so that night i stayed at a smart hotel beside the bridge entrance and used their free shuttle bus to the airport next morning.
Japan was an interesting destination and cycling was quite safe
there as motorists were accustomed to awareness of bicycles. And
you can find food at the numerous convenience stores and many fast
food stores where you can point at picture menus. English is not
always understood, but it is not too hard to survive alone in
Japan. It was the end of my japanese adventure, but now a new
chinese adventure was about to begin.
My Routes in Shikoku, Southern Japan
Chapter 3- Southern China
My routes in Southern China
After my cycling in Japan it was time to return to China and attend a conference (IAGOD) in Kunming in southern china. I had decided to fly to Guiyang, which is some 600km from Kunming and cycle from there. This required 3 flights, but for some unknown reason they could only check me and my luggage on the first 2 flights. I would have to claim my luggage and recheck it quickly at a large transit airport, very inconvenient and quite stressful. In Guiyang i took a taxi to the busy downtown hotel where i started to re-assemble the bike in my room. But it was late and i quit before completing the assembly. Next morning it took a while to sort out the bike issues and get on the road. It was not easy to find my way through the extensive urban area, with the main roads closed for roadworks, forcing me to detour and become lost. Eventually i found my way to the freeway entrance, although i needed to use the old road as bikes are banned on the freeway. I could see a stream of trucks using a dirt track under the freeway, and this turned out to be the road i was trying to find. It was a very bad road with heavy traffic and remained bad for some 60 km, making cycling and navigating the many roadworks and detours difficult and slow. At one point a group of women in traditional dress had formed a blockade across the road, stopping all traffic. I approached carefully, using gestures to ask if i could pass, but the nearest woman waved a big stick at me. A nearby policeman intervened and obtained permission for me to pass through, perhaps because i was foreign, or merely a bicycle and not related to the protest problem. After only 130 km it was already 5 pm so i found a hotel for the night in Zhenning, a town which was a tourist destination for visits to nearby impressive waterfalls.
I had only allowed 3 days to travel the 600 km to Kunming so i started early next morning. The scenery was spectacular with karst topography and although the road condition was now better, there were many deep valleys and long climbs to negotiate and by 5 pm i had only covered 145 km and was nowhere near a town with a hotel. A roadsign indicated that the next significant town was 25 km further, but most of this was very uphill and it was dark and after 8 pm when i finally reached Puan where i found a hotel for the night after 170 km.
In my planning i had realized that i was unlikely to ride the
full 600 k in just 3 days, so next morning i found the bus station
to complete the journey by bus. I was surprised that half way the
police boarded the bus to collect everyone's identity card. My
passport was in the luggage bay, so they bypassed me, to my relief
and surprise. Police control in China includes everyone traveling
it seems, not merely foreigners. In Kunming it took me some time
to locate my hotel, where noone spoke english and checkin also
took quite a while. Now i had to find a route to the convention
location, which was strangely located out in an industrial area,
about 5 km from my hotel and even further from the city centre.
Almost all delegates were forced to stay at the overpriced
convention centre hotel, but i could stay in the city and commute
in just 15 mins to the convention by bicycle.
My route from Guiyang to Kunming
It was hard to find the convention centre as it was hidden behind an industrial complex. The guard at the entrance tried to stop me entering, but i rode around him and up to the main doorway. After registering, a conference photographer noticed me and took many photos of the crazy delegate who arrived by bicycle, and we became friends over the next few days. There was a welcoming reception that night where i met many acquaintances from past conferences, but it was dark and raining by the time i had to find my way back to my hotel. This was an interesting challenge using a new route in the wet darkness and hoping i could remember the hotel location without using a map, as maps don't work in the rainy darkness! Upon arriving at the convention next morning, the gate guards again tried to stop me entering and chased me up the road, by which time i was locking my bike to a stairway. They were quite upset with me but when i put on my delegate badge they were surprised and realised i was part of the convention group and they stopped annoying me for the rest of the week.
It was a busy conference for almost 4 days with many interesting papers and some 10 simultaneous sessions, but many chairpersons did not keep to schedule and changing sessions was often problematical. And the coffee breaks did not serve any drinkable coffee, a common problem in China where all coffee is instant with powdered milk and too much sugar. Rather than attend the closing ceremonies on the last afternoon, i went downtown to the Starbucks coffee shop and finally enjoyed a decent coffee.
After the conference i joined a geological bus tour for 4 days to Gejiu, a major tin mine in a rugged mountainous area some 250 km south of Kunming. The mine employed some 150,000 people, essentially the entire town population. The operating company was a state owned enterprise, although the state contributed no funding and the mine had to be self supporting. We were very well catered for by the Yunnan tin mining group with enormous banquets every mealtime, but we westerners searched in vain for coffee, there was no Starbucks here!
Now it was time to cycle west to explore the "shangri-la" region
and its mountains. I was able to leave some unrequired items at
the hotel for 2 weeks and i rode westwards. After just an hour or
2 i saw 3 Chinese touring cyclists riding the same direction, but
they could not speak english. However they corrected me when i
took a wrong turn and we rode together all morning. At lunchtime
they indicated i should join them at a roast duck restaurant and
we became cycling companions using smartphone translation for
simple communication. They were riding to Lhasa, like so many
chinese touring cyclists, but hoping to continue to Nepal also. We
rode together all day and they found accommodation for us all in
an unexciting village that i would have avoided if riding alone.
This was in a small boarding house where only Chinese people stay
and foreigners probably are not even allowed. But i was part of a
Chinese group now. The accommodation was very low-end, but only
cost A$2.50 each as we all shared a single room. The shower was an
open pipe above the squat toilet, so don't lose your footing or
drop the soap. And the dripping shower made sure you did not squat
on the toilet too long. These places do not supply a towel, and i
quickly found a nearby housewares shop and bought a standard size
(very small) towel for A$2. But i had not noticed the lack of
toilet paper and failed to buy any; you know how it's done in
India. Late that night the police arrived and wanted to check my
passport. My friends were surprised, but i was too obvious in such
a small village and was bound to attract police attention here.
My 3 chinese cycling companions and myself, conquering the mountains.
We stopped for lunch at Chuxiong where the shop weighed a squawking chicken as i carried out some minor bike maintenance. By the time i had oiled my bike chain, the protesting chicken had become a fried chilli chicken stew, with bones as usual, and i felt a little uneasy about the chicken's sudden demise as we ate it. The entire chicken ended up on our table with the head and legs etc. in a ghastly thin broth which i avoided but everyone else regarded as a delicacy.
That night we stayed at the medium sized town of Nanhua where the accommodation was relatively luxurious, but still inexpensive. I woke early and walked to a nearby market to find breakfast. There was a small bakery selling flat savoury bread which i like, and as i waited a man beside me stared inquisitively at me. So i gave him a big smile and said "hello". He suddenly smiled back and returned my greeting and as he paid for his purchase he left his change on the counter indicating that it was to pay for my purchase; enough chilli bread for my breakfast and lunch also! As we rode through impressive mountains that day we met a young guy who was walking from Kunming to Lhasa, about 2500km. He had been walking for 8 days to this point, and we had been cycling for 3 days. Up to this point the roads had been poor, but tolerable. However they now became atrocious with nothing but coarse rock and mud with innumerable potholes and ruts. My road-bike style tyres were at risk of being torn apart by the rocks and i had to ride very slowly. By late afternoon we were still 30 km from our destination and our average speed today had only been 10 k/h because of the bad roads and many rest stops. At this rate we would not arrive before dark, but my friends wanted to continue to the next town, saying the road was now better. I agreed but decided to ride fast and went ahead of them, reaching the destination town in barely one hour, out-racing trucks and busses all the way. I found a supermarket and bought a Pepsi and sat at an obvious spot at a major road intersection waiting for my friends, who arrived 45 minutes later. Once again they found a low priced boarding house for us to stay in, and in this town there did not seem to be any other alternative. Xiangyun is a rather grubby, uninspiring town, but it was a necessary overnight stop for us.
Next day we crossed 2 more significant ranges with great views over wide valleys as we climbed. I found some interesting rocks and stopped to collect a rock sample. This surprised my friends, who had not known i was a geologist. We had to avoid a few localised rain showers, but reached the major tourist town of Dali by mid afternoon and enjoyed a rest and some roast chicken on the very scenic lakefront before proceeding another 15 km to the ancient walled city of Dali. This is now a maze of tourist trinket shops and restaurants and accommodation hostels, and we found a very comfortable and inexpensive hostel to stay for 2 nights. My fiends needed a rest day, and i was content to spend the day exploring the extensive town and looking for a coffee shop, a difficult task, but i eventually found several.
A welcome rest at lake Erhai, Dali.
I had 6 more days left but only needed 3 to return to Kunming, so i decided i had time to venture north to Lijiang, another fabled tourist destination. I would have to ride there in one day and back the next, a distance of some 170 km each day. Was this even possible on roads of unknown quality and over some serious mountains? My friends thought i was mad to attempt this as they had decided to take another rest day in Dali. Nevertheless i set off alone early next day and had soon climbed over the major pass to an altitude of 3500m, 1500m higher than my start altitude, followed by undulating hills and uneven roads for some 120 km. I had to guess the distance as my bike computer battery had failed and it is near impossible to buy lithium batteries in China, particularly in these mountain villages. But then i came across a roadworks zone. Here they do not try to make a smooth detour around the roadworks and the traffic just drives through the torn-up roads where the bumps are so serious that all the traffic is forced to slow below 10 kph. It makes cycling almost intolerable, but i had to continue, and the roadworks turned out to be nearly 15 km long. At last i reached a paved road and for the last 40 km i could use the airport freeway, an excellent road. But now i noticed the nearby thunderstorms approaching, and there was no shelter as the freeway crossed vast rice fields. I hoped, in vain, to take shelter in the airport some 12 km ahead, but the rain caught me first. As i was now wet, i kept riding and after 20 km the rain was behind me and i gradually dried out before arriving in Lijiang by 5 pm after an interesting and successful but sometimes difficult ride of 9.5 hours. The town was quite pleasant with tree lined streets which were cleaner than usual, and there were plenty of hotels to choose from. Lijiang was also an ancient city with close packed wooden houses, now filled with tourist shops, but i had already seen enough of ancient cities in Dali. I also eventually managed to buy a battery for my bike computer, a great relief as now i could track my distances to help me navigate on my return journey. Although Lijiang was a tourist destination, i was here for the bikeride, so i saw very little of the town and instead rested for the return ride next day.
For my return, i checked my computer map (based on google roadmaps) and found a devious back road through the rice paddies which i hoped would avoid much of the nasty roadworks, so long as i could find these un-signed roads and not get lost in the maze of small villages. After several attempts i did find this backroad route, which was too narrow for cars to use but quite fine for bicycles and it avoided 8 km of the nasty roadworks. Later that day i met another group of 6 Chinese cyclists heading to Lhasa and I was able to provide them with details on how to use the backroads to avoid much of the roadworks. They were very surprised that a foreigner had been able to discover such a devious route. At 2.30 that afternoon i met my 3 cycling friends who had stayed an extra day in Dali. They were amazed that i had been to Lijiang and was already so close to Dali on my return. In fact, they were only at the point i had reached at 10.30am on my ride north on the previous day and they would need 2 days to reach Lijiang. I arrived back in Dali at about 5 pm where i soon found a comfortable hotel, but no coffee today.
Because of the exceptionally bad road east of Dali i decided to take a bus for the next section and went to the bus station next morning. There was much confusion and i was told there was no bus, and also that the bus left from a different bus station. They gave me directions to what i already knew was the train station. It is not possible to take a bicycle on the train as your luggage must fit in the overhead rack, but i was told there was another bus station, the one i needed, several km away. I was confused as I was sure this was incorrect, but I rode slowly and searched for this alternative bus station, which simply did not exist. I stopped at a very classy hotel where the desk staff spoke better english, and they claimed there was a bus station opposite the train station (which i knew there was not) and gave me incorrect directions to the train station. So i returned again to the bus station for help and was now told there was no bus service to this destination. Perhaps this was because it was on the train line and a bus service to there would be unused. (The trains are cheaper than buses.) I was getting concerned and wondered if i would have to ride part way and try to hire a taxi for 40km. The only other option was to try and take the train and as a last resort i returned to the train station where one girl spoke good english. There was a train leaving in 2 minutes and she hurriedly sold me a ticket, ignoring the problem of taking the bike. I raced up the stairs and through security and found my carriage just before departure but i was blocking the aisle with the bike. The conductor indicated i could try and put the bike in one of the 2 small bays containing a wash basin, where i stood the bike on end, blocking the wash basin access, using a bungee cord i always carry with me to hold the bike vertical. I think this was permitted only because i was traveling just to the first stop, although this was 250km away. I was very lucky to have been able to transport the bike on the train.
The train traveled quite slowly up the many mountains en route because the mountain climbs really were steep and long as we had discovered while cycling through the same mountains, and took 3.5 hours to reach Chuxiong. After the stress and confusion this morning i was glad to find a decent coffee shop and hotel for the night. Next morning as i left the hotel to find some breakfast there was a loud crash across the road as a bus ran into a motorcycle and car and then mounted the footpath and demolished a police control station. This reminded me again to take particular care while i was cycling; you cannot assume that the bus behind you has working brakes!
I rode off up into the mountains and while crossing a high pass i saw a fellow collecting stones for his slingshot. He had a small heap of pears laid on a mat for sale and i stopped to buy one and admire the mountains. He insisted i taste test his pears and gave me his only mat to sit on and sat on the ground beside me. We sat peacefully together on the mountaintop admiring the view as i ate 2 pears, for which he refused to accept payment. I suspect this fellow was quite poor. Sometimes it is those with the least who are the most generous. Further on, the road passed down a narrow river gorge with many cliffs and i stopped to collect a rock sample of limestone. I was surprised to find that the limestone contained many plant fossils and rip-up breccia textures and glaucophane. This was in fact a shallow, coastal, siliceous marine limestone. That explained the occurrence of many dinosaur fossils in nearby theme parks.
That afternoon i found a hotel in Lufeng and then relaxed at a coffee shop where i had to teach them not to put sugar in the coffee. I returned to my hotel and a more senior lady had arrived and started babbling on in chinese to me. Despite my shrugs she kept repeating the chinese ever louder and writing in chinese expecting me to read it. I suspect they were worried about a police registration for me, but i was not prepared to just hand her my passport. After a 15 minute standoff, they offered me back the money i had paid, clearly trying to evict me. I have never before been evicted from a hotel for which i have prepaid, but i proceeded to pack and to dry my wet cycling clothes with the bath towels, which really upset them. Too bad, they had caused the problem. I easily found another hotel as there were many and i could read that word in chinese now, and i picked a flash hotel nearby. They had done me a favour as the flash hotel was actually cheaper! And i had a great view of the city from my 9th floor room. I think the first hotel was probably a city-operated hotel which did not understand tourism. Later, i returned to the coffee shop where they remembered how i liked my coffee and the girl there must have told her cyclist friends about me as 3 cyclists soon arrived and bought me another coffee and sat with me. But none of them could speak english, so our communication was very limited. I had noticed a large industrial plant on the edge of town and next morning I went to see what it processed. It looked like an iron smelter which was no longer operational and was being used for some other purpose or dismantled. This explained why this large town existed, and why it was now trying to become a dinosaur themed tourist centre.
It was not far to Kunming, but i had 2 days remaining so i planned a short day. As i neared my destination of Anning, my rear tyre exploded. Not good on this busy section of road, so i walked for 2 km to find a quiet spot and installed the spare tyre i always carry for emergencies such as this. Anning is an industrial town where they make phosphate chemicals for detergents and there are phosphorite quarries nearby. It was an unexciting town to stay in, but very busy as this was the beginning of the chinese moon festival weekend. Moon cakes were selling faster than "hot cakes"!
After only a short 50 km next day i arrived back in Kunming
where i of course visited Starbucks for coffee. I also found a
carwash where the operator was surprised to be asked to
pressure-wash a bicycle. They only charged me 2 yuan (<40
cents) which hardly seemed enough, but now i could fold my clean
bike ready for the flight home next day after approximately 1500km
of cycling in China and 1200km in Japan. My return flight had been
rescheduled twice due to changes at Malaysian Airlines, so now i
had to return via Sydney instead of direct to Darwin. Quite
annoying to have to fly another 9 hours and transit Sydney for 4
It is easy to navigate around china as there are many useful roadsigns. As you see here, they are completely understandable and self-explanatory - aren't they?
My route from Kunming to Lijiang and return. There are few alternative roads so the outward and return journeys were on the same road, G320.
My return visit to china worked out Ok and the culture shock did not concern me so much as on my last visit, but i still had trouble finding food i understood as i could not read the menus. The roads in this southern, more mountainous part of China were far worse than those further north, and mountain bikes with tough tyres are required here. I again met many chinese cyclists riding to Lhasa and although there are numerous chinese branded bicycles, all of the touring cyclists were riding Taiwanese branded bicycles, Giant, Merida or Trek. But the prices of these bikes in shops suggested to me that they may be manufactured in China. So long as you don't expect a smooth bikeride, cycling in southern china is scenically pleasant, but bring extra muscles as the mountains are serious.