Archive | October, 2011

22nd October – Road to Sanjiang – Longsheng

28 Oct

We left the long house after saying goodbye to the families and left them moving bricks for the building of their new kitchens at the back of the wooden structure. The women were doing the labouring but still wore traditional clothes, but obviously their old ones! Three of the children came to see us off too.

 

 

As we drove along the valley there were lots of little wooden villages. It made us wonder how many more were tucked away in the mountains that have no road access, there must be hundreds of them. To visit them you would need a guide, your walking boots and a long visa.

 

 

 

Around every corner there is another picture that you want to stop to take, however we need to move on at a reasonable rate or we will never get to Malaysia. We followed the Xun river for a while.

 

 

 

Even here there are new bridges being built and new roads going in. It is hard to imagine what impact this will have on the way of life of the Miao and the other ethnic minority groups in China.

 

 

Further up the road people were picking rice. Others carrying it back for drying.

 

 

 

We continued on to the rice terraces of Longsheng (Ping’an). After a long and windy road we arrived at a carpark where you leave your car to walk into the village on the hill. No cars are allowed past here. Spring walked on up to the village to stay in a guest house and we slept in the camper looking out over the valley.

Temperatures are suddenly so much higher … no need for the second duvet … barely need one!

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21st October – Road from Kaili to Rongjiang

25 Oct

In the morning we headed on towards Xijiang which was supposed to be the biggest Miao village. On the way we saw a local cattle / buffalo market.

 

 
Outside the main area a man was showing off his prize buffalo ….. judging by the crowd around him it must have been a good one. His face was beaming as the crowd admired the animal.

 

After that we continued the 17 km to the village, which may have been nice, but once Graham saw the theme park looking entrance and ticket booth, we decided to turn around and visit one of the many working villages. However if you want to see nice buildings with craft shops, restaurants and lots of tourists, this may be just what you are looking for!

 

After retracing our steps to the road that runs from Kaili to Rongjiang we found a steep track that went up to a village square. It was much more of a working village and we did not see any other tourists. Better still it was market day.

 

The first part of the market was live stock.

 

The lady selling the pigs thought it was funny that I wanted to take pictures of the pigs. They were sweet and a bargain at 160p.

 

The lady selling clothes on the stall was also wearing traditional headgear. Not sure why but nearly all the Miao ladies all have really nice strong white teeth!

 

We walked behind the village and up the hill a little to see the traditional Miao houses.

 

A lady invited us in to one of the houses and introduced us to her father in law. He was Han Chinese and had a great face!

 

We left the village and drove on down the road, which is twisty, bumpy and dusty. It was probably the roughest road that we had been on in China. The sights along the road were similar to most roads here, with people going about their lives very much in the open. The businesses all have roller doors at the front and people wander around and chat to each other. Very sociable.

 

As we drove we saw a girl who had dressed up (maybe for a wedding party?).

 

After a long day day driving we pulled into a Miao longhouse that had been built to house 22 families who were all related. It sounds like a recipe for disaster but seems to work well for them! When we first arrived they were all out at a wedding down in the next village, but after about an hour they all started to come back. It was lovely to see them in their traditional clothes, not for a tourist show, but because that is what they wear for formal occasions.

 

 

I stood with the old lady as Spring was taking a picture. The lady thought it was so funny that I was so tall compared with her. She was tiny!

 

It was a nice quiet spot for a sleep. After two bad nights, just what grumpy Graham needed!

20th October – Chongqing to Guiyang‏

25 Oct

Today was another long day of driving, covering over 500km on the freeway. The weather was mist and rain all day ….. Unusually no photo stops!

We dropped off the freeway to stop in a small town that had grown up around a railway station and found a friendly family that were happy for us to stay on their drive and for Spring to sleep in their guest room. What we had not realised until after we negotiated with the family, is that there is a railway line just behind the house. During the night trains moved coal to the power stations …. another train every 10 mins!

 

 

We went down the road to a local restaurant and met an interesting Italian man who lives in China and is cycling on a tricycle from Shanghai to Dalli. He has had it converted to sleep on/in by making a tent platform that folds out at night. He is really nice and very creative. His website is http://www.soundinner.com. Have a look.

 

 

We needed a good nights sleep but  ……… the trains!!!!!!!

19th October – Wuxi to Chongqing

24 Oct

We woke up to a misty morning and set off through a small village on an increasingly steep and winding road. One young local was being trained on the wheelbarrow.

 

 

 

The mist gradually turned to heavy rain and we made a stop for lunch outside a firework factory. The road was covered in mud and was very slippery. Two km up the road we saw a lorry hanging on the crash railings with only a few bits of grass and shrubs between it and a straight 800m drop to the valley below. They were very lucky indeed!

 

 

The road was high and we were glad of the barriers!

 

 

We saw a total of six accidents including another lorry which had hit a power line post, which had again saved it from a massive drop down the mountain. Finally we arrived at a bad crash and had to follow a local car down tiny roads to join the road after the blockage
The rain started to ease to drizzle and the views improved. People were emerging and carrying on with their harvesting.

 

 

The whole area was terraced here and in between the crops were more tombs.

 

 

 

We continued on and crossed a huge bridge over the Yangzi river. It was very hazy and difficult to see over the high guard rails on the bridge. We didn’t stop.

Finally we got to the freeway and it felt good to be able to relax a little. Nowhere near as much fun, but it is tiring and much more dangerous on the small roads. Mainly because of the better off car drivers, who often have fast cars but little experience.

First stop on the freeway was a lady selling walnuts. Funny the ones she showed us opened easily, the ones we bought were hard as granite.

 

 

One thing that is surprising in China is that the police seem intimidated by wealth or status and road rules seem optional for some. Expensive cars drive with either no number plates or they are covered with camouflage cloth. They may have more money but they treat other motorists as though they should move aside for them, often using hazard warning lights to say “hey I’m important, you are peasants, …. move aside”! The slightly more modest cars are more discreet about their attempts to fool the speed cameras.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, the normal Chinese people are really friendly, generous and smiley, but the so called ‘new rich’ can be pushy and arrogant to the extreme! They seem to have forgotten where they came from.

We stopped for the night about 100km from Chongqing in a town. We parked outside Springs guest house and had the noisiest night of our trip so far…… no sleep. Graham was grumpy in the morning …. and Marjool worse!

 

18th October – Still on the road to Wuxi

24 Oct

In the morning we walked up the steep paths to the terraces above the house where all sorts of vegetables were grown. It was a good place to view the village and river below.

 

 

The farmer in the house above was dryng out his maize in preparation for grinding into flour.

 

 

We said goodbye to the family and left them a few odds and ends and 20 yuan ( 2 pounds) as a thank you. Like everyone one else they refused several times before they finally accepted. Even when we asked to buy vegetables from the farmers, we had to force them to accept payment. Amazing when they have so little.

The buildings were slightly different as we continued along the valley. The houses had random slate roofs, held on by their own weight.

 

 

There was still lots of maize grown here but more and more rice fields were appearing. Here there are few farm animals to feed through the winter and the rice stems are dried and burnt and the ash raked over the soil.

 

 

We passed through the odd little town and although it is tempting to look around, there are people moving everywhere. Nobody looks before they cross the road, motorbikes swerve out without looking. Mothers and children, or children on their own, step out in front of you …. it is chaotic and so you need to concentrate!

 

 

It was a lovely day and flat spots to stop for lunch are hard to find. People thought we were mad when we stopped here to cook omelette and rice. We soon had twenty or so people sitting watching us from the road. They stayed until we had finished lunch and washed the car!

 

 

There were lovely country scenes along the road.

 

 

Corners need to be taken slowly as around each bend you can find missing road, rocks in the road, broken down trucks and people walking or cycling in the middle of the road.

 

 

We were so lucky that the sky was clear! The view looking back from the windy road was fantastic.

 

 

We found a nice camping spot at the side of the river. Spring cooked dinner and we sat around the campfire until late.

 

 

 

That night it started to rain ….. if it was heavy we’d have to move!

17th October – Xian to Wuxi

24 Oct

We set off in the morning and took the freeway to Ankang. Soon after leaving Xian we went into the mountains and the freeway just carved a route straight through! There was just one tunnel after another, and if was not a tunnel it was a raised section of road, often up to 1 km in length. The tunnels got longer and longer and one was over 18 km! Only the Chinese would build a road here. The most amazing thing is that the whole of the country is criss crossed with freeways, and many must be the same in terms of the difficulty in building them, as it seems that most of the country is mountains. It is civil engineering on a massive scale.

We had decided to leave the freeway at Ankang and try the provincial roads that just wind their way through the  mountains, often clinging to the sides, with vertical rock above. The scenery was lovely and it was much easier to stop and take pictures.

 

 

Most of the rivers have dams to provide water for the local villages. The bigger ones have hydro schemes.

 

 

Because the roads are cut into the rockface they require constant repair and clearing from rock slides. Every so often you have to wait to get past a blockage.

 

 

As we travelled I could understand why the guide had recommended taking the big roads. Delays could last days if there was bad weather and as most self driving groups shoot through China due to the guiding costs, there is probably little opportunity to use these roads. A journey that takes a few hrs on the freeway would take us more than two days! It is worth it though …

One advantage is that you get to see people close up, and they are happy to have their picture taken as long as you show them. Baskets are used for everything.

 

 

Only slight problem is finding places to stop for the night as land is either very steep or, if flat, is used for crops, even the tiniest piece. Even the verges are often used to grow food. There are a lot of mouths to feed here! We started looking for houses with a flat drive and asked them if we could park on it. Spring the guide often slept in the house.

 

 

Lots of people keep a pig to fatten up. In another market later on we found good size, young pigs for 16 yuan (160 p). This was our host’s pig.

 

 

Older Chinese people are prepared well in advance. Another thing stored at the back was granny and grandads coffin. I asked what the nice boxes were thinking that they were some kind of storage boxes …. in a way they are! The old lady explained that they like to know where there are going next. She had also picked a spot on the hill for the tomb.

 

 

 

16th October – Xian city – 2nd Day

19 Oct

Xian is a very large and very busy modern city, the numbers of people moving around on the 10m wide pavements is just amazing. Everything is tidy, clean and people are immaculately dressed. The vast majority of people moving around are under 3o yrs old. Cities are not really our thing though and we are ready to go back to the countryside once we have done all we need to do here.

When we left the hotel, we again went through the back streets. It is much more lively and is where normal Chinese people do their shopping. Prices are lower and the sights and sounds are much more interesting. One of the things that we had not seen before was the naan bread ovens, the bread is stuck to the sides of the oven to cook and flipped over half way through.

 

 

 

We loved just looking at the different ways that things are done. Even the butchers shops are interesting as you can see all the action.

 

 

Some of the meat looks more tempting than others.

 

 

We preferred the look of the bread dumplings and the dried kiwi fruit.

 

 

 

We continued our walk past the bell tower and on to the Canon service centre to pick up the lens. As promised it was all ready and with a new auto focus unit and complete clean, the cost was 48 pounds. Great to have it back as the small camera is great for quick shots but does not take as nice pictures as the Canon.

Tonight we are going to have Peking Duck in one of the special restaurants at the south of the walled city …. yum!