written/non-written things by me (from 2005-2008)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Resort/ Resorted to...

A week ago, I left Dali with the ambition to continue cycling for the next month down to the Burmese border to a town called Ruili. The geography and cultural landscape down there is reportedly more Burmese than Chinese, with Indian Buddhist stuppas and vast moonscape of volcanic cinder cones. I wanted something other than Chinese. Badly wanting.

I headed on the road west through the mountains. The road went for the most part alongside a river, though at varying elevations. I left at the unproductive hour of 3pm and by 4pm was out of the city and making way on a perilous slice around several bends. Its windy season here, and this coupled with the twisty geography of the canyon made the winds impenetrable. So I kept going and debated turning back, but then came across a nice looking cluster of condos, not usually seen in this part of the country. On the backside of the condos was the standard old village with restaurant and seeming hotel. They informed that if I were to stay the night I was to stay in the condos. As it turned out it was the "Phoenix Hotspring Resort," a "nutrious for body oasis" for "corporations and families" alike. I walked passed the "Dress Appropriate" sign wearing shorts, sneakers with hair in a gritty-wind-blown shamble of a pony-tail, and into the muzak-drowned glimmery-gold reception area. After some pleading, the cost of the room, pool, gym, breakfast included was 450 kuai, a ridiculous luxury considering my usual price range of 30-50 kuai. So, I did it and I spent an out-of-the-ordinary/pleasurable night swimming in warm (though not hot) pools and bathing in my huge in-room sauna, and lavishing (turned languishing?) as much as I could in the huge size of my room, sitting room, and two porches. It was of course too much, and after a week resting in Dali, I wasn't really in need of the pampering, and I debated whether at most moments I was appreciating as much as I was supposed to. After a while of flipping through the tv channels and laying my recently purchases books out on the clean white bed linens, I found myself sitting at the desk staring at nothing in particular, bored and a bit lonely. I wished to be back in Dali or some kind of civilization with internet access to bypass the lonelies with an internet movie. I really wasn't appreciating.

The next day, I felt pretty great and my clean surroundings put me in a good mood and I headed off down the road, in the good mood. And in cheery spirits I went mostly down hill on a smooth, beautiful (though truck-trafficked) road and I thought This is so good that it worries me And sure enough, a few miles down the road, the road turned to pointy (actually stupidly pointy) cobblestones. Not letting this disaster get to me (cobblestones are the worst of all road conditions in my opinion, as they impair a nice downhill (when on a loaded touring bike they make it unstable, so you have to ride the breaks a little and you end up with tingly nubs for hands)) I kept a clear-head. It only lasted about 5km and then went smooth again at a little spot with a truck stop. I asked about the road continuing onto Yongping and was informed that it was absolute crap, which it, as it turned out, really really was. I caught a rickety bus and instead of putting my bike on the top rack they, because it was easier, thrust it down the aisle onto the arms and legs of the other passengers. So I sat in the bucketing bus, clutching my bike and bracing the frame with my legs trying to keep it from slamming into the people around me, having it slam into me instead. I contorted so while sitting with someones rooster between my feet. And at one point its neck became wedged underneath my front tire, like a guillotine, which I was just barely in control of. Like baubbled in tin rattle, I watched in horror as the rooster tried to wriggle its body from underneath it, clucking wretchedly and drawing the stares of presumably its unconcerned owner. I despite all this was still in a good mood and I smiled at some lady and she smiled back, compelled so surely at my immodest posture wrapped around my bicycle.

The road smoothed and I asked the driver if the rest of the way was good and he said yes . So he dropped me off, I ate some chips and headed up...

Hour later I was still heading up and I thought when is the damn thing gonna go down. At this point the river turned to a trickle and I was going upstream of it, which was an indication of how long I still had to the top. For as long as it trickled down I still had a ways to go. Eventually, I saw a rusty barely-legible sign in Chinese telling me the town was still 50 km away. Yeah, but up or down? was the crucial question. It was 3 or 4pm, leaving about 4 hours of sunlight.

The road climbed higher and ever higher into the tree line. I looked down at the the crease in the mountains where the creek would be. A truck passed every so often, but infrequently enough to suggest this wasn't a road preferred by the locals. I grew hungry, having stupidly eaten only chips and a Popsicle for lunch. The road was so steep that I had to push my bike up, so I was just crawling along and very wearily so. I asked some locals living in remote clusters of shacks here and there when and where exactly does the mountain turn down hill. 20 km more they kept saying, every 5km or so, telling me again 20km more. I didn't know what to believe. Very hungry and with little water I resisted eating my only food (which if eaten would probably just choke me), my bag of fiber cereal. A bit whimpery and frustrated I came across some young girls in their yard and asked if they had some food or water and they said yes, but then cruelly started laughing (at me) and I walked away pissed off, glaring at them. Could they not see that here in the dwindling twilight far from the mountain top, in the wind, pushing a big bike, that I, a foreign single gal looking like pretty nervous, could use some hospitality. Bitches.

The next bend which was indistinguishable from the last. That is, apart from the shack with three snapping, barking dogs scampering around in a plume of dust of their own making. They saw me creeping along and decided to, all three of them, follow me at about 3 feet, while barking, growling and foaming like the crazy, idiot beasts they were bred to be. In my state of weary exhaustion I mustered up enough strength to yell obscenities at them while still trudging along.

Oh gosh, it just gets scarier, unpleasant and worse as the sky went dark and semi-trucks barreled from behind. A tried to wave down the odd car, but no one was willing to help me out, or maybe they just couldn't see me. I got to the top to find that my sharp descent (20km or so) was on unsealed gravel, in the dark, with my little flashlight fashioned around my handlebars with a hairband. I wasn't set-up for comfortable, safe night-riding, which I admit was just dumb.

A came across a semi having some trouble with his hydraulics or something and he pulled out in front of me going at a pace that I could trail him by, using his break lights as a guide to the path ahead of me. But sure, as he puttered along the back of his truck was spewing burned rubber and toxic fumes. I had to wrap a scarf around my nose and mouth and squint my eyes from the bits and pieces. Got down into something of a wide valley where I could see illuminated, on a far away hill, what looked like a erect cucumber wearing a bandanna. A beacon of the town? A beacon of hope. Descending more through a ill-lit row of shacks I stopped at the first shop I saw and bought some food and water. And soon the concerned ladies running the shop put me and my bike in the back of some guy's tuktuk carriage and he drove me the 5 km along a very flat, well-lit, smooth and wide boulevard to a cheap hotel. I was happy for the unnecessary lift.

I stayed 2 nights in the hotel, the next day just recovering my strength. I had "bonked" on the mountain, meansing (I think) that all of my energy stores had depleted and it set me up for some hard-core exhaustion. The next day, my chest hurt, but I felt pretty good, like super strong, despite actually being quite weak with soreness.

So...I wrote some friends about my harrowing adventure, and felt better, and thought not of writing about it until now.
I tried to leave the nothing-special town of Yongping by bus still continuing on my way south. I went to the local back to find that the ATM was sealed up with crinkled tin foil. The lady inside said it was the only one town. And it being not my bank a non-ATM, human-to-human transaction was impossible. I had 15 kuai, enough for half a bus ticket or half a hotel-room, either way staying in town wasn't going to get me money. Whereas, going on the next bus to any other town was a slight hope. I went into the bus station and walked my bike around to whatever bus plus bus driver was sitting there and asked where they were going. As it happened none of the buses were going south (my preferred direction) and all of the buses (one bus) was going back to Dali! So I showed the bus driver my empty wallet and literally said something like "Please, I have big problem. My ATM card is not okay here. Yongping has one bank. But in Dali it is okay. I have the most money in Dali. I give you money in Dali, okay not okay? Sorry. Thank you." Then he waved me away, in a way that said "Yes, whatever, shut up." And I got in the full bus, and we eventually headed off on the free-way, going a steady, unshaky, 70 mph skirting those mountains that scared me good one day previous. And it was the best bus ride on a cheap old bus, ever; and, I took the fact that it was the best and that "I had to anyways" go back to Dali, as fortuitous reason to say to self, Yeah I can stop cycling now. Its really enough.

My name is Hannah Pierce-Carlson