Day 85 – Thursday, July 18th 2013
We awoke to the joyful news that a bridge 30km ahead was down, and that there was a ferry in its place – which would go roughly every 4 hours, if there was enough traffic to fill it. Lun learned this while searching out some food in a nearby village the night before. That sounded a little too uncertain for us, so we retraced our tracks and jumped back on the highway for a short section to avoid the troubled area. We then took to the back roads once more to finish off our route to Kunming – the capital city of the province. Here we were due to meet with David’s bike, and send it on its way to meet us at the border. We checked into another cheap hotel and had an early night after dining on random Chinese snacks bought from the little shop next door.
Day 86 – Friday, July 19th 2013
“Have you looked outside today?” Came the text from Jon in the morning – the view from our window shows a foot or so of water in a nearby car park.
“Nothing a sachet or two of Silica Gel can’t fix” was our reply. How wrong we were.
Jon’s window looked down onto the high street, whereas we were at the rear. His view showed a street far more seriously submerged than we had imagined. What’s more, our trucks were parked at different hotel across the street – where the water was deeper still.
We went down to see how bad the flooding really was, only to find lobby of our hotel under a good few inches of water – and that was still above street level. Oh dear, we could be in a bit of a pickle here.
We waded through the street, at times up to our waists – things were looking pretty grim, with vehicles stuck all over the place. Only the big buses and trucks of the emergency services were getting through at the time.
We got to the parking relieved to find that it was slightly raised from street level, and that (Jon’s truck) Boris was only just up to the door sills, and Ivor’s lofty ground clearance had spared him any problems with the rising damp also. The big problem for us was that it was still raining, and there was no way to know if things were due to get any worse before they improved – we had to move them just in case. Boris would be able to take a shallower exit from the car park, but that was still a good 2 foot under. Jon went first and drove out fine, but we had to venture back out onto the street.
We made another test of the water depth, and measured it up to Vaughan’s hip bone – when we lined it up with the truck that gave about a foot below the engine’s air intake – barring us hitting a reflection of our own bow wave, or inhaling from someone else’s, we should be okay.
Knowing that it takes very little water to mash the insides of a diesel engine unrecognisably we proceeded into the water gingerly. But once we had dropped off the kerb stone into the road a bow wave propagated that it was in Ivor’s favour to keep it going – so that he could breath dry air above the shallower water that followed along behind the crest. We accelerated steadily, and to the astonishment of onlookers the lumbering camper van dragged itself through the worst of the water, and safely to some slightly higher ground. Phew, that was a bit too close for comfort. Hmm, maybe we’ll be fitting a snorkel before too long! Our only loss due to the flood water had been Vaughan’s flip-flops – which had gotten caught on something under the water and fallen apart, they were his second set of the trip already, and were replaced with a set of equal quality form a nearby corner store. He is not quite ready to admit that paying less than 2 dollars for footwear may be the cause of their premature demise.
We changed hotels, in favour of one with electricity, running water, and a lobby that was above the water table. After all that excitement we had missed the chance to rendezvous with David’s bike, so we would have to set about that the next day on the way out of town, so some more internetting was done, trying to arrange the Myanmar journey, before diner in the restaurant next to the hotel – traditional food of the Yunnan province – and the friendly server would refill Vaughan’s glass regularly out of a suspicious unmarked bamboo laced bottle – it was horrifically strong, and tasted disgusting, but not wanting to cause offence Vaughan duly drank it down each time the glass was filled.
Day 87 – Saturday, July 20th 2013
A dry start to the day, thankfully. Mission #1: Find David’s bike, send it on its way. Mission #2, get out of this town, and leave this trail of natural disasters behind us.
Typically poor directions from the Lun-atic, when combined with a city that was still half-submerged, meant that we tracked down the bike at midday. We met the man-with-a-van, took some photos, and made our escape of the city – stopping in briefly at Guangdu, which is a beautiful ancient section of the city today, but today’s history lesson would confirm that yet again the past had not been as pretty – the site was the location horrific battle many years ago at the time that China was gradually being formed out of separate warring provinces.
The GPS played its part in the next drama of the day, leading us (more or less literally) up a garden path. As we traversed the farmers fields and the ditch crossing where two concrete pillars had been laid down to form a bridge we did have our suspicions that the longer route along larger roads may have in fact been quicker than the short cut proposed by our little box of trouble – but experience has taught us that the small roads are normally the most interesting.
Shortly after we rejoined the main road, it too degraded into a track peppered with mud filled craters that sent waves of sludge up well into our line of sight from the windscreen. The heavy rains had been taking their toll here as well – but after the next town things improved, and we were winding our way through the Sichuan back roads once more.
By now the camping / hotel issue was being ignored all together – since this province was more relaxed we were allowed to split the group as it suited. Lun was still not happy to have the group divided, but did what he could to give the different parties within the group what they wanted.
We managed to track down a great little camp site. By following a couple of small tracks that eventually opened out into a clearing in the woodland towards the top of a hill. The weather would not allow us to make the most of this place, but at least we were on high ground this time!
Day 88 – Sunday, July 21st 2013
Since our days in China were coming to an end, it was now mainly just a case of eating up the miles to the border. We continued to weave our way through the back roads for a while but to make up more distance swapped back to the toll roads before long.
We arrived in the town of Pu’er , and stopped for dinner and some camping supplies. Lun ordered us a whole roast duck – which we wolfed down.
We left town, and failed to find any good camp sites – instead wasting our time scrambling up some muddy dead ends. The rains started to pour again as the light was fading, and although we would be fine in Ivor’s hutch, poor Lun would have had to put up a tent. To spare him the annoyance of a muddy wet night we managed to find a hotel in the next small town.
Day 89 – Monday, July 22nd 2013
We drove on to Mengla, the final big town before the Laos border – stopping for lunch on route at a really friendly little truck stop. The routine for ordering meals in this area was that we would go into the kitchen, where we would point at various ingredients. Shortly afterwards a concoction of the food we had chosen would arrive at our table, with either rice or noodles to accompany it.
That night we dined at a dumpling restaurant with Lun, which he treated us to since we were nearly at the end of the trip. We tried some other dishes too – one even made up of pigs’ ears. We tried it, and unsurprisingly found it a little chewy. Lun said that the pigs ears weren’t very good ones, so that was thankfully the excuse we needed to put the dish to one side. The other hideous accompaniment to our dinner was a small bottle of liquor that is distilled from rice. At 60% proof, Bai Jiu really is a substance best left in the bottle – but we managed to get through it winching and grimacing down to the last drop. Jon, the big man with small potatoes (Lun’s words, not ours), had something of a score to settle after a previous dumpling eating challenge and managed to put away 60 of them – trampling his personal best of 34. The suffering in his face was plain to see, but we have a feeling that he will not be learning from this lesson any time soon.
We made a small tour of the town on the way back to our trucks, stopping in to embarrass ourselves at a shed-come-pool-hall, and befriend some locals at a small bar – the only real communication that either side understood was the chinking of glasses, but it was fun nonetheless.
Day 90 – Tuesday, July 23th 2013
More time on the internet trying to iron out the details of a possible Myanmar crossing, before making the short hop to the border town of Mohan. We arrived early in the afternoon and met once more with a truck containing David’s bike. After delicately freeing the bike from its container (using a club hammer), we heaved it down to street level and set about making it roadworthy – changing the tyres that many believed to have caused the accident in the first place, and giving it the once over since someone was going to meet us the Laos side of the border to ride it to Chang Mai in Thailand, where one of the bikers had family, and onward shipment to Australia could be arranged. Vaughan took it for a quick test ride, and all seemed to be in order.
Artur, the Brazilian biker, insisted on paying for a hotel room for us by way of thanks for carrying Lun. We very much appreciated the generosity since the sun had been baking us all day, and it was a pleasure to be able to relax in air conditioned comfort. We went for dinner that evening with Artur, Clive, and Jon, at a busting little eatery where they specialised in roast pork. It was delicious, and to make matters even better Clive grabbed the bill before we could say anything – another well received thank you for our part in the journey. After an exchange of some photos with Clive and Jon, we headed off to bed.
Day 91 – Wednesday, July 24th 2013
Our last day, and mixed feelings to be leaving China after 35 days – it had after all made up for a third of our trip so far in time, and even more than that in distance. We had enjoyed our time greatly– it is a fascinating country, and seeing the marked variation between the different areas, peoples, and cultures had been as exciting as it had been interesting. It’s fair to say that it had not been without its troubles – notably David’s tumble, and rifts within the group – but the most rewarding paths are seldom the easiest – so we are still very happy about having the chance to transit through the country. As we readied ourselves to depart though, the overwhelming feeling was excitement at the prospect of the next stage of our adventure and having an element of freedom returned to us – no longer needing to be chaperoned by a guide, and leaving the constraints of group travel behind us.
Vaughan had very kindly accepted the responsibility of riding David’s 1200cc BMW motorbike the 6 km or so between the border post, where it would be met by a Thai rider to take it the rest of the way to Chang Mai. Obviously Vaughan took a lot of persuasion before he hopped on the bike, but fought on through the whole experience like a trooper – and displayed upmost restraint, in barely revving it very far at all above the 7k mark, so as to treat the bike with respect.
We had one brief attack-of-the-Lun at the border post, whereby our faithful guide lived up to his reputation once more by messing up the documentation regarding who owned the ‘extra’ bike – Vaughan being escorted by through to the Laos side of the border, and being unable to return to collect the vehicle. We were forced to sit and wait until someone from a nationality other than Chinese or Laos to show up, so that that the bike could be re-written against their passport number in the immigration log book. After an hour or so of messing about someone did show up, thankfully, so we were allowed on our way.
After so much time and effort to get to this point, we were now in South East Asia proper – and one very significant, and yet blithely overlooked question loomed in front of us – What the heck are we going to do now?!