Lugu Lake, Xinchang, Leshan and Chengdu.
Half a rest day is never enough. After such an epic ride, all we wanted to do was lie by the bank of the lake, dip our feet in the cool water and enjoy some time in the sun. But Lugu had been a planned detour from the direct route to Leshan and as such we were already a few of days behind our planned schedule. In Leshan a visa extension had to be obtained, and more importantly dad was coming to visit us again. Yet stunning scenery and perfect weather has a way of capturing the heart and legs, so the continuation of our ride became a slow meander along the lake with a dip in the water to cool off.
By late afternoon we had reached our road (the S307) and we were very happy to discover that we had somehow passed the tollgate without paying the exorbitant fee. Lugu Lake is at 2500m, so the next 42km was a gradual descent alongside a river, through a narrow valley with steep red rock walls. Small matriarchal villages dotted the road, where the women held themselves with pride and grace wearing elaborate traditional dress and headwear the likes of which I have never seen. Camp was pitched between these villages and we spent the evening relaxing in the warmth of the desert climate, a nice change from the frigid weather we had experienced for the last couple of weeks.
The narrow valley we were cycling eventually opened into a basin where nectarine trees were fruiting and corn crops swayed in the wind. We feasted on stone fruit and exchanged pleasantries with families enjoying the warm morning sunshine. The downhill could not last forever and before long we were climbing again wondering how we were going to cover the remaining 500 kilometres in two days. Part of the answer came late in the afternoon, two and a half hours into a long steady climb. At some road works I had held up a truck and despite constantly honking at me they did stop around the next bend and offer us a ride to Xinchang. How could we say no? So the Green Fairy and the Dirty Salmon were lifted into the back of the truck and we spent the next five hours being taught random Chinese words and experiencing what it was like to navigate the narrow, steep, winding, poorly maintained roads in a large lorry.
Coming down the mountain towards Xinchang we were greeted by shining lights distilled by the orange glow of smog. The industrial landscape and endless suburbs flashed by and just before midnight we stopped in the outskirts of Xinchang East. The local English teacher was called upon to help us find a hotel, while our drivers ordered us a feast of food and beer to share together. At 1am we fell into our beds thinking of nothing but sleep, the planning would have to wait until the morning.
The distance to Leshan was still too far to cover in a day, so we decided that we should try train travel in China. The only train heading in our direction was a night train departing at 11:30pm, and there were only hard seats available. It was going to be an experience. We spent the rest of the day providing amusement to waiting passengers by doing bike maintenance and trying to figure out how we were to get our bikes on the train. Being the giant babies that we are, the station master led us through to a special waiting area and then we were assisted by four guards to the platform early so that we could get on the train before the throngs of Chinese piled themselves into the carriages. The journey was like being on a long haul flight, without seat dividers, the ability to recline or the inflight entertainment. There was a man selling fried chicken at 4am and when we left the train before 7am we realised that Leshan station is actually 30kms from Leshan town.
Hot dumpling soup made everything better and after that the pedal into Leshan was enjoyably quick and easy. We located our hotel (Home Inn) and almost fell off the bikes when we were quoted the price. It had to be paid as we needed to be properly registered to receive our visa extension and we had organised to meet dad at this hotel. Fortunately we were able to check in on the spot and enjoyed a nana nap before our trip to the PBS office to put in our visa extension paperwork. Despite knowing that getting an extension is possible, going through the process was nerve wracking as Chinese rules change at a drop of a hat. Getting the extension proved easier than anticipated, and it would be available for pick up in two days time. We celebrated with cups of tea and biscuits, and spent the afternoon relaxing in our hotel room in our underwear.
After an epic 24 hours of travelling dad finally arrived. As usual it was brilliant to see him again and I couldn’t stop hugging him. We indulged in some late night snacks and beer before heading to bed for some much needed recovery sleep. In the morning it was present time and as you guessed it – CHEESE!!!! You will all remember the epic cycling adventure that we took dad on last time he visited us in Thailand. Not knowing the Chinese terrain he opted out of the cycling this time and instead we organised a week of fun filled adventures. We visited the Big Buddha sitting at 71 metres tall, carved into the cliff face in Leshan; we hiked 21km up Mt. Emmei Shan, spent the night in a monastery and then hiked back down again (I think dad may think we are trying to kill him every time he visits us); we explored Chengdu; visited the pandas; spent afternoons drinking tea at different tea houses; saw the Sichuan Opera and experienced every culinary delight that was available to us. It was a wonderful week and it passed way too quickly. Thanks dad for another amazing time together and we can’t wait until you meet us in Uzbekistan.
And that my friends is all from me for now. Needless to say there was a day of moping in our underwear after dad left. But the Tibetan Grasslands were calling and Jude will cover that leg of the journey in our next blog.
All my love as always,