The Best and Worst Awards

The best and worst awards for our motorcycle expedition across Africa, Europe and Asia.

Whilst the two of us are in agreement, we realize that many may disagree and so we welcome any comments.

MOST ENJOYABLE COUNTRY AWARD

AFRICA – TANZANIA

Tanzania just eclipses Kenya, Namibia and South Africa as our favourite country in Africa. Good infrastructure, decent roads, amazing scenery, friendly people, and abundant wildlife.  

The highlights:

  • the snow capped peaks of Kilimanjaro;
  • the glorious plains and wildlife of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater;
  • spicy and exotic Zanzibar;
  • our second favourite African city, Dar Es Salaam (Cape Town being our first);
  • a thoroughly enjoyable stay in Tanga on the east coast;
  • and our all time favourite camping spot on our whole trip, Lake Charla.

Riding towards Ngorogoro Crater

Snow peaked mountains in Tanzania

Lake Charla … elephants at the water hole

Lake Charla

Taking a ride on a Dhow in Zanzibar

Lake Charla with foothills of Kilimajaro in the background…

 

EUROPE – SCOTLAND (to be more precise West Scotland on a sunny day)

Many people are already aware of the amazing places to see in Turkey, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Greece etc…and we were privileged to do the European grand tour and take in many of the sights.

Italy was absolutely fascinating, superb architecture, rich history, good food and wine,  but not the easiest place to motorcycle in due to local driving conditions. . Good, but not great.

France was our biggest surprise. It is Britain’s next door neighbour and often maligned by Americans for being, well French, and by the English for old rivalries and wars over the centuries. However, we found it to be a stunning country and a motorcycling heaven. The Alps, Provence, the Southern coast, Loire valley, the wine-lands of Burgundy, pretty Brittany, the battle fields of Normandy and the many charming villages and towns we rode through. So much to see and we were treated very well by everyone we met… even by the Gendarmes.

However, taking the best motorcycling country in Europe award is Scotland…. especially western Scotland (see UK revisited chapter).

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

 

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn't always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

 

Its gets even more like Tibet ... mountains and big hairy things in the road.

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains and big hairy things in the road.

 

WORST COUNTRY AWARD 

There were no countries we did not enjoy to one degree or another.

Ethiopia,  undoubtedly rich in history and resplendent in natural beauty is a bit of a tragedy on the human side.

The country, especially the cities seems to have been left to rot and stagnate.  Ethiopians, a handsome lot as people go, appeared to be incredibly needy and nearly always had their hand out stretched begging for money. They often leaped out at us or grabbed our arms whilst shouting… ‘You, You, You…Money, Money, Money’.

It was tiresome, annoying and ever so slightly sad.

Meeting fellow bikers heading south at Ethiopian/ Sudan border

The former and now derelict train station in Addis Ababa

Cute little things .. but they always had their hand outstretched begging for money

Fanny surrounded by little friends in north west Ethiopia

Having been robbed blind by FTI Consulting,  I need to earn a crust somehow… so when in Ethiopia do as the Ethiopians do…

 

 

CHINA is a country on a continental scale and by far the most varied and diverse country we went to.

There were impressive and well planned super cities like Chengdu, Nanchang, Beijing and Shanghai, and prettier tourist towns like Lijiang, Yangshuo and Dali. We also rode through some of the most charming and idyllic countryside I have ever seen. Some rural areas have remained as they have been for centuries, despite the rapid pace of development going on around them.

But in China there are also some of the worst and most polluted places I have ever seen. Environmental plunder, architectural vandalism, motoring misery and pitiful squalour on an unprecedented scale. Quite a shock.

Some of the second and third tier Chinese cities were absolute shockers. Polluted and crowded beyond belief, bad roads and atrocious traffic jams, ridiculously bad urban planning and blighted by hideous buildings as far as the eye could see. Hong Kong and China seem to have a fatal attraction with adorning the outsides of their ugly concrete boxes with cheap toilet tiles.

Whether fascinating or depressing; ugly or stunningly beautiful; our experience riding over 13,000 kilometers through China was hugely rewarding and something we will never forget.

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE AWARD – SUDAN.

Sudan was our biggest surprise and we thoroughly recommend visiting.

It was a complete re-write of everything I had previously thought about its people and their culture. The kindness, politeness and gentleness of many of the people we met was incredible and we are very grateful to the hospitality extended to Fanny and I by many of the people we encountered.

That said, a cold beer in the scorching heat would be nice, as would a bacon sarnie with HP sauce, but I guess you can’t have everything. Treat it as a liver detox!

Kindness and hospitality given to Fanny and I in the middle of the Nubian desert in Sudan. Its strange that those with so little always offered us so much … and the converse!

Long sand roads .. and scorching heat in Sudan

Very friendly people

Replacing the starter relay in the middle of the Nubian desert in 50+ degrees heat.

Our kind host Mohammed and his children on banks of the River Nile in Sudan

Fanny with the guys who helped us repair her bike

Yes… there are pyramids in Sudan too

 

 

 

 

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Pyramids in Sudan

 

 

WORST EXPERIENCES 

We never really had any very bad experiences.

We managed to cross Africa without being eaten by wild animals, without having to pay a bribe, without being infected by deadly diseases, nor kidnapped by pirates or Jihadi nutters.

Our KTM 990 Adventure motorcycles have been superb, a joy to ride and very reliable.

The vast majority of people we encountered on the expedition have been wonderful and treated us very well…  the only exception being a few excitable types in Ethiopia who threw stones at us or lashed out as we were riding by with whips and sticks. Most of the border crossings and tourist locations attracted annoying touts, “shiftas” and fraudsters who were keen to relieve us of the few possessions we had. They were all unsuccessful.

A particular low was early on in the expedition when Fanny lost control of her motorcycle in the Namib Desert and came off at speed.

Fortunately, Fanny and her KTM motorcycle are a tough team and in no time were back together charging through the desert, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises.

In Europe our experience in Switzerland was not great, Fanny got arrested for involvement in an accident that wasn’t her fault, everything always seemed to be closed, everything was expensive, and we could hardly describe the Swiss as the friendliest people we met on our 53,800 kilometer ride around the world.

That said Switzerland is a very pretty country and we enjoyed riding through the Alps and up and down the many meandering passes.

In China/Asia I think the worst experience was just outside Chongqing City when a traffic official threw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was riding on the highway and knocked her off her bike. Anywhere else in the world this would be considered a serious criminal offence and front page news, but in China abuse of power by the authorities is common place and the “people” can’t do much about it. Fanny was injured slightly and very upset by the incident, but she managed to get back on her motorcycle and carry on.

Not being allowed to ride in certain Chinese cities and on most of the Chinese highway network is also pretty annoying and downright unnecessary in modern China on a modern motorcycle.

Apart from these incidents, and of course me getting stopped by the police at every single road block in Tibet, we had a really great adventure in China and had the chance to see places that very few people even know about, let alone visit.

USA?  Its a continent sized and a very well developed country that most non-Americans will know well enough through the ubiquitous TV shows and movies. Big, amazing wilderness, beautiful scenery,  wealthy,  but with a dark and sinister underbelly, especially in the inner cities.

To to be honest we still have a lot of riding to be done and places to see in the USA.

So far we have explored Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado in the west, and New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Ohio in the east. The south and the center remains to be explored.

From what I’ve seen of the rest of world, America sits in the middle ground. Its easy to get around, everything is super convenient, there is not a great deal of culture or history, the roads are far too straight and dull, and its not as “great” as Americans think it is. Nothing really interesting, and nothing really bad, except the food which is on the whole….a mixture of sugar and lard with a sprig of rocket.

I am afraid to so that Fanny doesn’t like America, but then she is a pinko commie!

South America?   That remains an adventure for the future.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials who threw a traffic cone at Fanny and knocked her off her motorcycle. My hands were shaking with rage but I resisted the urge to administer some summary justice and so we got back on our motorcycles and carried on.

 

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind... in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind… in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

 

 

BEST CITY AWARD

AFRICA – DAR ES SALAAM 

When riding a motorcycle through Africa the last places you really want to see are the cities. The joy of riding through Africa is the beautiful countryside, meeting its people, and enjoying the amazing African flora and fauna. However, if pressed to pick an African city I would say Dar Es Salaam because it is a very interesting and lively city, friendly people, good food,  and one of the few cities in Africa I could live in outside South Africa. Traffic is quite bad though, but nothing two bikers from Shanghai can’t handle.

A dhow in Zanzibar

Having a coffee in a street in Zanzibar

Dar es Salem from the ferry

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EUROPE – Istanbul

It is a difficult call to decide on the best city award for Europe. We enjoyed many. Lucca, Rome, Florence and Pompei in Italy;  Saint Lo in France; St. Sebastian in the Basque Country; Barcelona in Spain; Saltzburg and Vienna in Austria; and Old Town Rhodes in Greece. We thoroughly enjoyed them all.

However, if we are pushed to choose one then Istanbul takes the award. Its got it all… great food, wonderful art, kind friendly people, fascinating history, amazing architecture, the east meets west straits between Black Sea and Marmara Sea, and yet its very much a first world city, things work and it feels very welcoming and exciting to be there.

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Fanny wandering along the streets of Taksin in Istanbul… a super city.

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Enjoying the cafes of Istanbul

 

 

 

ASIA/China – LHASA (followed by CHENGDU) 

I am not even going to consult Fanny because she will say Shanghai. It’s like asking a panda what its favourite food is.  I thought our ride through China was absolutely fascinating. There are hundreds of cities in China with populations over a million people… many are over 20 million and therefore bigger than many countries in the world.

Each city is diverse with the richest and poorest, ugliest and prettiest and tastiest and revolting all in one place. Cities to mention are Beijing where I went to university and have a special fondness for, colourful and spicy Chengdu in Sichuan (and prettiest women!), exotic Dali in Yunnan, the amazing “Red City” of  Nanchang in Jiangxi, so called because its the home of the “red” revolution.

However, our ride through Tibet is probably one of the highlights and so therefore Lhasa, its provincial capital stands out as the best city to see in respect to scenery, architecture, history and “never seen before” general interest.

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots... which got looks of admiring looks and comments from the Tibetans.

Me outside the most sacred temple in Lhasa

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Fanny and I high up on the Tibet/Qinghai Plateau… the world’s highest.

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Just outside Lhasa in Tibet

 

An interesting picture on many levels

Fanny and Si Ba (a Lama friend we made on the road) walking down the high street in Lhasa

WORST CITY

Africa – Addis Ababa  … 

We were looking forward to Addis Ababa, a name that conjured up exotic images formed from school days for me. However, when we got there we found it to be a complete karsi. The decrepit and forlorn looking train station from a bygone era pretty much sums up Addis Ababa ‘s decline into squalour and poverty.

Bus station in Addis Ababa

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Again corruption and inability to use a condom are to blame. Aggressive touts, annoying kids, unfriendly and hostile looking soldiers and policeman, and crumbling and decaying infrastructure. Its a big disappointment.

Fortunately we found refuge in a little oasis in the middle of this complete dog nest called “Wim’s Holland House”. Not the greatest backpackers in Africa, but the Dutch owner, Wim runs a decent hostel that serves more than the Ethiopian staple dish of  Tibis and sour pancakes and has a well stocked English pub-like bar that serves draft St.George’s beer.

ASIA – CHINA 

China is basically a large continent and currently going through the biggest phase of development any country has been through…ever,  and so some of its second and third tier cities (or lower) can easily qualify for worst, ugliest, most polluted, most corrupt, most congested, unhealthiest city anywhere on the planet.

Take your pick.

However the human inhabitants have no consideration or care for the environment, and like much of China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, outside their homes and anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing.

Many people in China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, or just outside their homes ….anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing. Hidden industrial pollution is off the scale.

Urban off roading

As with other parts of China, the average worker busts his hump and toils away seven days a week for hours on end for very little compensation. Throughout all of China we saw the poverty and the day to day struggle by many people just to survive and make a living. Putting up with conditions no one in the west would ever put up with.

A lot of China looks like this… a dusty, muddy, grey construction site on the cheap.

Really.... just unlucky ... could happen to anyone

An articulated lorry on its side in a dusty China street… quite normal

 

EUROPE – LUTON Picking a worst city in Europe is a difficult one.

Athens promised so much and delivered so little. We did wander around to see the sights of Ancient Greece, but the modern day city was depressing and the economic gloom palpable.

The city of my birth, London, is a mixed bag. A disappointment on many levels, can no longer be considered “English”,  but still an iconic and interesting city if you focus on the positives such as history, art and culture.

However, if I have to pick a candidate for worst city in Europe then I am going to say Luton or Slough in the United Kingdom.

Sorry Luton and Slough…… someone has to come last …..and you made no effort not to. 

 

WORST FLEAS, TICKS & LICEETHIOPIA

The mangey cats and dogs throughout Ethiopia are covered in them, as are most of the carpets, furniture and bedding. The lush grassland, especially after the rainy season is also home to ticks. As we were camping we had to remove quite a few of these little blood suckers that somehow found their way into various nooks and “fannys”.

“No” Best Flea Award….unsurprisingly!

 

BEST DRIVING STANDARD AWARDS –

Africa …South Africa (Western Cape)

Europe … Germany

China … umm?  Let’s say Hong Kong  … the standard is so incredibly poor.

Asia …  Japan

 

WORST DRIVING AWARDS –

Africa ….Egypt

Europe …. Italy

The World …. everywhere in China, followed very closely by Egypt and Bangkok in Thailand which is dangerous on a bike.

 

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Sri Lanka … driving standard is also pretty ropey … but at least its slow.

Tanzanian bus and truck drivers could take some kind of bad driving award judging by how many we saw overtaking dangerously or wrecked by the side of the road, but Egypt takes the “worst driving” award in Africa by a mile.

They are absolute shockers. Maybe  its because everyone is too busy shouting into their mobile phones all the time, or perhaps because everyone employs millimetre collision avoidance techniques, sometimes with success and sometimes without.  I saw a taxi mount a curb as the driver attempted to tackle a roundabout with one arm twisted around the wheel and the other holding a phone to his ear.

Rather than put his mobile phone down and use both arms to turn the wheel he preferred to carry on talking, veer off the road and mow down some pedestrians.

Me and my KTM at the Great Pyramids

 

Tahrir Square with the building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side

Tahrir Square, in cairo with the government building we had to go to in order to extend our visas at the top left hand side. The Spring revolution was in full swing when we arrived in Cairo and so it was an interesting time.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION –

Africa …..Namibia/Tanzania

We have a difference of opinion due to our different levels of riding experience. Fanny goes for Tanzania for the same reasons (above) as for best country and I go for Namibia, to my mind the most awesome motorcycling country… anywhere.

Challenging, technical in parts, mind blowing scenery and importantly very few people and other vehicles. Its got sand, gravel, rocks, hills, deserts, salt pans, seascape, bush, wild animals, birds and fresh air…. AND no road blocks, no speed bumps, no police and no speed cameras.  I also really liked the Nubian deserts of Sudan. Clean, beautiful and spectacular.

Fanny cruising along the gravel roads in the Namib desert

 

left or right?

Left or right?  Freedom to do whatever.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION _ EUROPE …. Western Scotland (in the sun) followed by France

Scotland was a big surprise. In Jubilee year, 2012 when Fanny and I arrived in the UK we planned to ride to Scotland, but the weather was absolutely atrocious. A year later during what everyone was calling “The Summer of 2013”  the weather was absolutely glorious and western Scotland gave me some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Not to take anything away from Scotland, my KTM 990 Supermoto T I was riding was one of best motorcycles I have ever ridden. I have to say it was an awesome ride and Great Britain was truly “great”.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

West Scotland

 

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden... the

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the

 

ASIA …. Tibet and Cardomom mountains in Cambodia

Who, being given the chance, is not going to vote Tibet as one of the best motorcycling destinations on the planet?  Not me.

Also, Cardomom mountains in Cambodia are very interesting and enjoyable on a bike.

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Namib desert

"Yeah! - Go On... slap me on the arse and see what happens"

Yak 1000 Adventure

 USA – Valley of Gods, Utah

The best adventure motorcycling I have come across so far in the USA is probably the unearthly Valley of Gods in southern Utah. I have ridden all over the USA on various machines over the year, but there is still a lot for me to see and explore and so there may be better places, but the Valley of Gods, although quite small is a superb ride.

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Valley of Gods on Honda Africa Twin (BDR Utah)

 

WORST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION AWARDS

All African and Chinese inner cities (except Cape Town and Windhoek)

Riding through any of the African Capital cities was  tiresome, annoying, stressful and decidedly dangerous… in particular Cairo, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. It was no problem technically for either of us, we come from Shanghai after all where the traffic is atrocious and ride our bicycles everyday, but the appalling driving standards, poor urban planning and ever increasing traffic volume made riding less fun than it should be.

Whilst we rode on appalling roads and surfaces, such as the road from Marsabit to Moyale in north Kenya, they presented the  sort of challenges bikers relish and we confronted and overcame them with a huge sense of 成就感  and enjoyment.

Worst Motorcycling Experience in Europe … again the inner cities of Italy and England spring to mind…. but no where near as bad as China or Egypt.

In England the speed cameras ruin motorcycling and in Italy the narrow medieval roads through the towns, and aggressive and poor driving standard by Italians make riding a bit stressful, but not too bad.

In London, there are feral “non indigenous” teenagers who ride scooters, terrorize people, and steal with impunity because the police do nothing. These thugs also spray acid into people’s faces from squeezy bottles or attack people with hammers and angle grinders ….and get away with it because the ethnic majority have voted for treacherous politicians like Khan and Abbott who support these hooligans because they think the indigenous English deserve it.

The police, courts and authorities are stuck between a rock and a hard place and so they are largely impotent. They stick to arresting soft targets like 1970s DJs, non contentious traffic offences and local middle class people for Orwellian “thoughtcrimes”.

When I was a police officer in London in the 1980s it was urban chaos then, lots of race riots, inner city anomie, and quite dangerous. However, you did your job, your colleagues and bosses supported you, and you got promoted or advanced to more interesting jobs based on merit and ability. Now in politically correct and easily offended Britain its the opposite and so basically the police have given up and much of London is a “no go” ghetto.

By comparison, when we were riding in north Kenya, borders with Somalia, east Ethiopia, central and north Sinai and the western Sahara ISIS were just starting to take hold and there was a real possibility of running into a pickup truck of crazy Islamists. However, there were lots of armed police and army, local Bedouins were friendly and helpful, we were on fast powerful motorcycles, able and allowed to defend and look after ourselves, and so the odds were even.

Our advice is don’t ride into London. Ride around it, or park outside and take public transport into the tourist areas, see the changing of the guard, the museums, art galleries, theaters, cafes and shops and then get out as quick as possible.

In fact, best to avoid all English cities and head to the beautiful Cotswolds, Peak District, Devon and Cornwall, the Jurassic coast, the Fens, the Lake District, Scotland or Wales and a nice rural pub.

 

BEST CAMPSITES:

1. Lake Charla – Tanzania –  What a gem. perfect climate, stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro, hundreds of elephants, Colobus monkeys, unspoiled bush, a spectacular volcanic crater lake, great bar, friendly hosts, and of course the famous roasted goat dinner.

 

2. Makuzi – Malawi. Peaceful paradise on the shores of Lake Malawi.

 

3. Mountain Rock – Kenya.  A lush enjoyable grassy campsite next to a trout filled river on the equator in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

 

Europe ….Scotland   no camp sites in the whole of Europe were on the same scale of the three above in Africa. Camping in Europe, regardless of whether its next to stunning scenery like Mont Blanc or near a historical town like Lucca in Italy has a whiff of concentration camp about it.  France has simple and clean municipal campsites that were great value. Italy had some decent places but they were expensive. Wales was quite good. England just doesn’t have any and the few there are are awful, with a few exceptions. Our worst experience on the whole expedition was at Crystal Palace in London where we were interrogated and abused by gestapo like camp wardens. Hobson’s choice because London is so expensive, in fact the most expensive anywhere, and so camping was the only alternative to paying over 100 pounds for a small room for a night.

Scotland however has no trespass laws and so provided you show respect for the owners property and leave the site in the condition you found it in you can free camp where you like. Its also a gloriously pretty and interesting country and so the best European camping award easily goes to Scotland, followed by France and Wales. 

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North west point of Scotland at 11pm in the evening.

 

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

 

China – Nan Tso (Tibet). 

China is a great country to back pack across (I have done it) and as such has great youth hostels and cheap accommodation in all cities and towns.  As for camping, China is, on the whole, a safe country (apart from driving standards). However, despite its enormous size there is not a great deal of spare land that is not farmed on or developed… until you get into the remote western provinces of Xizang (Tibet), Xinjiang and Qinghai. We were very fortunate to camp in two stunning locations.

One with Lamas on the banks of a river in the Himalayas and another in the middle of Tibet at over 5000 meters next to the shores of Tibet’s most sacred lake, Nam Tso with 7,000 meter + peaks surrounding us.

USA – Needles, Utah

Campsites in the USA are basic by African and European standards. They are clean, tidy, averagely cheap, have friendly elderly attendants, but usually lack ablutions and the facilities you get in continental European campsites and most African lodges.

Apart from free camping, which I did a lot and prefer, the best organised campsite I found was at Needles in Utah, just south of Moab. In other States the campsites are pretty gruesome, far too expensive and generally geared towards caravans and RVs, and so free camping with a tent is the best option, and easy to do.

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Camping with lamas in east Tibet

 

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping on the shores of Nam Tso, Tibet

 

WORST CAMPSITES .

We never stayed at any really bad campsites. To our mind the simpler the better and there should be more like the good ones we saw in Africa.  Whilst Sudan allows free camping,  Egypt is heavily controlled by the military and police and our attempts to free camp were fruitless. We were chased off seemingly remote places in the desert and along the Red Sea by police, army and security people.

Being unable to camp in certain places, we did stay in some rather ropey (because they were cheap) hotels in Sudan and Ethiopia but you get what you pay for and we didn’t pay very much. The Kilpatra hotel in Wadi Halfa had the worst lavatory and shower outside China… a true shocker.

Of course, Europe is the land of the caravan. Rarely seen in Africa or Asia, these boxes on wheels are seen everywhere in western Europe, blocking the country lanes and oblivious or uncaring to the traffic mayhem they cause around them. To a biker they are annoying enough, but we can whizz pass them more often than not. To another car driver stuck behind one on a road in Cornwall I hate to think.

No wonder they are targets of Top Gear persecution and derision. Once they eventually get to their “beauty spot” they position themselves cheek by jowl and then the occupants immediately position themselves outside on deckchairs, guarding their plot with disapproving territorial expressions on their faces.

Actually, these caravan clubers are not a bad bunch when you get to know them and are often passionate about their caravaning lifestyles and can wax lyrical about chemical toilets and lace curtains.

I have to say caravaners, with their impressive tea making facilities and well stocked biscuit tins, who brew up on the hour every hour are always welcome next to our tent.

BEST FOOD AWARD

Africa ….  Egypt

Apart from the Chinese food we had in various places, Egypt probably just surpasses South Africa as the country with the best food in Africa. Fresh seafood, spicy curries, kebabs and falafel, roti, dates, fruit, salads, tasty bread… and good beer.

Lots of great street food in Egypt and Sudan

Back streets of Cairo

Lunch in Hurgharda

The food in Sudan is also pretty good and the Nile fish breakfast in Wadi Halfa is a special treat, especially with Bedouin coffee or tea. Again icy fruit juices are a specialty and very welcome when the temperature is scorching hot.

 

Europe … Turkey 

The best food we ate in Europe was in Turkey.  This was a big surprise as we don’t think either of us have been to a Turkish restaurant in our lives. Whilst in Istanbul and Mersin we were treated to some excellent local feasts by our new Turkish friends. The street food was also cheap and delicious, a bit like in Egypt.

Further along through Europe we had delicious cakes and pastries, especially in Austria, Italy and France, but the classic Italian and French fine cuisine famous throughout the World was not available to us because of the cost. I am sure its delicious, its just we couldn’t afford any.

We were fortunate to be in Italy during Easter and were treated to a delicious traditional Italian lunch with our friends Nick and Paola and her family near Rome. We also had some great home cooking with family and friends while we were in England and Wales.

I know there is good food about in Britain, but can you find it when you are hungry, or afford to eat decently in, say, London? No. Ubiquitous sandwich shops, junk food, petrol station food, and processed food is the tourists’ lot. Best you can get is a good cardiac arrest “fry up” breakfast at a roadside lay-by or fish and chips for dinner.

Even the so called ethnic food we had in the UK, like Indian or Thai was awful. So, unless you are lucky to be invited to eat at a “Master Chef” finalists’ house, have relatives and friends who are good cooks or win the lottery and have the chance to try out a Michelin starred restaurant you are going to be disappointed on the food front in the UK.

We met many tourists, especially Chinese who were on the verge of tour group mutiny in the UK because they disliked the food so much.

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) amongst the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTMshop 。 

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) among the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTM garage。

 

China – overall winner by a long way…..

Nothing beats the food in China for variety, freshness, health, flavour, texture, low cost, accessibility, colour, exoticness, pure joy and of course taste. Spicy Hunan and Sichuan, sweet and sour Shanghainese, salty and savoury Dong Bei, roasted meat from Xinjiang and seafood from Guangdong …..and it goes on with each province and each region within a province having their own specialties and traditions .

We all need food and everywhere we went in the world the people took pride in their local cuisine, but to our mind nothing beats Chinese food.

We and 1.4 billion others think so anyway..

Best Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaXiao Long (Laughing Dragon) – Livingstone, Zambia. On par with the Sichuan and Hunan food we have in China,  but I suspect only if you insist on the genuine stuff… in Mandarin ….and have a Chinese companion who does a thorough inspection of the kitchen, the ingredients and interrogates all the staff.

Worst Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaThe Panda – Mosi, Tanzania (The lovely girl, Cheng Yuan Yuan, who was left in charge of the restaurant while the owner went back to China admitted she couldn’t cook and neither could the chef). In the end one of the Chinese guests went in the kitchen and cooked a few dishes which we shared.

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats) Snacks if you will.

Sichuan street food

I am like a dog in China. I get fed once a day, complete strangers come up and stroke the blonde hairs on my arms, in my presence I get spoken about in the third person, certain hotels wont let me in, and I have no idea what people are saying to me all the time. Woof Woof.

Yunnan food

Chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

Its exotic and specialties appeared on street corners and by the side of fields as we rode across the country . Here chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

WORST FOOD AWARDS

Worst food in Africa – Malawi

The lakeside resorts run by foreignors had pretty good food, but unless you like eating a diet consisting of 99% cassava (which has the nutritional value and taste of a flip flop) you will starve in the rest of the country as indeed a lot of the people are doing.  There is no excuse for this as Malawi has fresh water,  untapped natural resources and shares nearly the same geology and agricultural potential as Tanzania which grows coffee, tea, fruit and vegetables in abundance.

The problem, as with too many places in Africa, lies with the government who are greedy, corrupt and incompetent …and the people who put up with such tyrants who keep them in the stone age.

The other crop that grows pretty freely in Malawi is marijuana , so if you like you can spend your days in Malawi stoned out of your skull in a blue haze, however when you get the munchies don’t expect to see much in the fridge.

Worst food in Europe – the UK. If you have the money, or live with an excellent cook you will eat as well as anywhere in the world.

However for any visitor to the UK the food on the street is pretty dire. The healthy option, if so inclined, is a salad with a bit of meat or fish in a plastic box. Still hungry? .. of course you are … so a tub of lard for pudding. You can tell by the unhealty disposition and obesity of most English people that there is little nutrition in many peoples diet.

In England the day starts off well with a variety of decent breakfasts and then goes downhill thereon.

Worst food in China Tibet. If we are to be picky, a diet that consists of a thousand ways to eat yak and yak’s milk might be pushing the limits… so local Tibetan food, whilst pretty OK, is at bottom of of the list as there is some amazing food to be eaten in every province across China.

All this being said the upside of increasing migration of more Han Chinese into Tibet is that good food from other provinces can be found in the main cities in Tibet. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Its a good thing when you’re hungry.

Also, I have to mention the province of Guangxi and Chinese provinces bordering Laos and Vietnam for their fondness for dog, rat, pangolin, civet cat, and other furry, feathered and scaly creatures and their insides… nope…. not my cup of nai cha, nor Fanny’s.

BEST BEER AWARDS

Africa – Namibia – Windhoek beer.

Windhoek

 

 

Europe – English bitter (in particular Marston’s Pedigree from Burton Upon Trent)

Nice

Marston’s Pedigree – from Burton on Trent

China – Tsingdao beer  青岛啤酒)

tsingdao

Tsing Dao from Qingdao, China

 

WORST BEER AWARDS  – of course there is no worst beer award, but perhaps Sudan should get a mention for not allowing beer at all.  In fact the punishment for any alcohol possession in Sudan is 40 lashes.

Ouch!

BEST GAME PARK  AWARDS

1. Masai Mara (Kenya) (in late August)

We had an awesome time in Masai Mara. Great guides, reasonable entry fees (compared to Tanzania), and when we were there the great wildebeest migration was in residence and stretched across the grassy plains as far as the eye could see. It was true Lion King country and we had a terrific motorcycle ride to get there along cattle tracks and through Masai villages.

2. South Luangwa (Zambia).

South Luangwa National Park is possibly one of the prettiest and diverse game reserves in Africa. Certainly one of my favourite. Unfortunately, while I was there the last rhino had been poached in collusion with corrupt security guards who for their evil part were paid a fraction of what the horns were eventually sold for in Asia.

Whilst the 150 kilometer road from Chipata to the national park was too technical for Fanny at that particular stage of our expedition (not now of course), I had been there on a previous motorcycle trip across Africa and on the way bumped into the Long Way Down TV show motorcycles on their way to Lusaka. They had also decided against going to Luangwa because the road was too tough for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, although easy for Charlie Boorman and the cameraman, Claudio I expect, who turned out to be decent guys and true motorcycle enthusiasts.

With the help of my Zambian cousin I managed to ride right into the game park along a locally used two track sand road and ride right up to many of the African animals and through the stunning bush of the Valley, but trying to keep a decent distance from creatures that might like a KTM sandwich. However, I inadvertently rode into a herd elephants and was mock charged by a young male which was quite exciting. They do not like the sound or sight of motorcycles at all, especially with loud Akropovik exhausts.

 

BEST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Ras Mohammed, Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.

I do not care for diving particularly having been put off  when I did a CT selection course when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police,  but due to putting down roots in Dahab by the beautiful Red Sea I had little to do while Fanny was windsurfing and so I have now completed the PADI open water and advanced scuba course with H2O Divers.

http://www.facebook.com/H2ODiversDahab

Dahab is 90 Kms away from Sharm El Sheikh in the Gulf of  Aqaba (Red Sea) and enjoys amazing marine life and is a very popular destination for kite surfing, wind surfing and diving. As well as scuba diving with an aqua lung, I also learnt to free dive and practised nearly everyday at the famous Blue Hole, or just off the coral reefs at Eel Garden, The Caves or Lighthouse. Amazing places. Fanny on the other hand learnt to windsurf in the lagoon with Planet Windsurf and is now a very competent sailor.

http://www.planetwindsurfholidays.com/resorts/egypt/dahab/

The Red Sea in Egypt, especially along the Sinai peninsular is absolutely spectacular. I have been fortunate to have traveled around most of South East Asia, but the Red Sea is to my mind better. Crystal clear warm waters, amazing tropical fish and coral reefs and pretty decent infrastructure to support it all. The Sinai desert mountains create an awesome backdrop to the coastal towns of Nuweiba, Taba and especially Dahab, and the desert itself is quite possibly the prettiest in the world, especially at sunset and sunrise.  That said, the whole tourism thing could be done so so much better, but then the Egyptian tourist industry is reeling from the Arab Spring revolution, the world economic downturn and the negative effects of blowing up tourists with fire-bombs.

WORST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Any open water in East or South China. Polluted and disgusting.

BEST MOUNTAINS & VALLEYS

Africa – Ethiopia and Lesotho

Whilst we thought Ethiopia was spoiled a bit by some of its annoying stone throwing feral inhabitants and decaying cities, it does have spectacular natural beauty with mountains, rivers, pastures, lakes and valleys that looks a bit like those in Switzerland, Scotland or Austria.  The roads are also for the large part extremely good, although as I have said often crowded with people and animals.

Lesotho, which is bordered completely by South Africa, is also a very mountainous country and is an excellent place to visit, albeit a bit chilly to ride through in winter.

Ethiopia’s proximity to some very dodgy African countries, short visa restrictions and some very wet weather while we were there prevented us from exploring the amazing Danakil depression and Afar region in the east of the country which are said to be spectacular.

Not many regrets on the expedition, but not venturing to this amazing part of the world that features in the January 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine.

We did go to Lalibela to see the rock hewn churches, and they were fairly interesting. But unless you are an archaeologist or Christian pilgrim you’d be better off visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and indeed any Norman church in England as they are older, far more impressive and have less fleas. The ride there was fun though and took us  “off road” for a few hundred kilometers through valleys and across rivers and streams.

Europe – you are probably going the expect me to say The Alps, Pyrenees or the Dolomites, maybe the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia in Wales and indeed they are spectacular, but I am going to have to pick the mountains and valleys I enjoyed riding through the most and so I will say The Highlands of Scotland.

West coast of Scotland

West coast of Scotland

 

China –  is a very mountainous part of the world and along our 13,000 kilometer ride through the middle kingdom we navigated over, around and often through many mountain ranges. Chinese history is steeped in legend about mountains and have been the subject of pilgrimages by emperors and philosophers throughout the ages.  We were lucky to see some of the wuyue 五岳 – sacred five and the Buddhist and Taoist fours. But for me and Fanny seeing (and riding through) the greatest mountain range on the planet with the highest peaks, the Himalayas was one of the highlights of the expedition.

After all the awful roads we get to cruise on the awesome S201 through Guangxi 广西。

Guangxi 广西。

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River ... yellow

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

The Himalayas... what can you say?

The Himalayas… what can you say?

 

BEST BORDER CROSSING –

Africa – South Africa. Quite simply modern, efficient, quick and fair.

Europeall easy

Chinano border crossings.. although riding through the road blocks in Tibet was “interesting”.

WORST BORDER CROSSING 

1st Egypt and 2nd Sudan.

The opposite of modern, efficient, quick, or fair. The further north in Africa we went the worse the border crossings became.

LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Botswana

Europe – Austria

Asia – Singapore (its not going to be China is it?)

MOST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Egypt

Europe – Italy

Asia – China

Most countries we went through in Africa could very fairly be described as corrupt. Some more than others. Unfortunately, there are countries we simply couldn’t risk traveling through because they are so corrupt and dangerous, such as the DRC, Chad, Nigeria etc.. Even the famous Dakar Rally no longer races through the Sahara to Dakar and has moved to Argentina and Chile in South America.

An anecdote from our first day in Egypt:

Having spent considerable time and parted with a huge amount of cash at customs and immigration at the Egyptian border in Aswan, we were stopped 50 meters away at a road block, the first of hundreds, by a policeman with an AK47 variant of assault rifle who looked us up and down and asked, ‘Where you come from?’

Me (clearly thinking this is stupid question at the Egypt/Sudan border) ‘ Sudan’

Policeman ‘What in bag?’

Me ‘ Our things’

Policeman ‘ Open up’

Me ‘OK’…. ‘It’ll take a bit of time… hang on a bit’

As I was getting off my bike to open the panniers the policeman said ‘ Ah.. no need, haha…  anything nice for me?’

Me ‘ I don’t pay bribes’ (eye to eye), and continued,  ‘Actually I used to be a policeman and think policemen like you are an insult to the cloth, you make the job of honest, conscientious policemen more difficult and more dangerous’ rant rant…

Policeman (grinning like an imbecile and waving me on) ‘ haha .. you can go’

Policeman to Fanny ‘Where you come from?’

Fanny ‘China’

Policeman to Fanny ‘ You got present for me?’

I turned around and shouted ‘ HEY! – I TOLD YOU’

Policeman ‘Haha.. OK you go’   and so we went.

On each occasion the authorities even suggested a bribe I stood my ground or played my “I used to be a policeman” trump card and they all gave up.

Some of Fanny’s friends, a Chinese expedition starting from South Africa and riding Jin Chiang motorcycle and side-cars, gave up in Tanzania after running out of money, spirit and heart after paying bribe after bribe and being messed about at every single border crossing.

I guess the Africans thought that Chinese are accustomed to paying bribes. Maybe they are, and maybe they are also as fed up as everyone else.

 

NOISIEST COUNTRY AWARDS  – Sudan followed by China and Egypt.

Sudan is a strictly Islamic country and so requires its Muslim population to pray five times a day among other noisy rituals. The density of mosques and minarets in Sudan is very high and the call to prayers starts at 4-5 am which is rather early and without doubt a very loud wake -up alarm call where ever you are.

I vaguely remember bell ringing on Sunday mornings from the church in the village, Abbots Bromley, I grew up in England, and even that annoyed me after a few peels.

As a Roaming Catholic of the lapsed kind I am a firm believer that anyone can believe in what they like provided it causes no harm to others, but object to people inflicting their superstitions, religion and beliefs on other people.

My helpful suggestion that calls to prayer be made using mobile phones on vibrate mode was not met enthusiastically by anyone I met, nor was the suggestion that  “All Things Bright and Beautiful” might be more cheerful.

China?

There are 1.4 billion Chinese, the streets are crowded, and they absolutely love noise and any excuse to make some is welcomed and encouraged.

Megaphones, public announcements, promotions, advertisements, car horns, traffic, construction noise, warning signals, conversations, music, talking in restaurants etc etc… DO IT LOUDLY!. T

There are four tones in Mandarin and to make sure the other person understands clearly its best to SHOUT. In Cantonese there are nine tones and so the Hong Kongers SHOUT EVEN LOUDER ……..AAAH MAAAA. 噪音太大。!!!!

 

MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY AWARD – Namibia

To the motorcyclists who like a bit of technical off road riding, stunning scenery, quiet roads, good camping sites, African animals and birds, decent petrol and getting close to unspoiled nature then Namibia is the country to go and disturb the peace with your Akropovik or Leo Vince exhausts!

dscn0792

A long way from anywhere…. The Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Pictures at http://www.facebook.com/bigbiketrip

Chapter 25 – 中国 Part 7 – Chongqing

Having been unceremoniously thrown off the Chengdu-Chongqing highway by the local rozzers we were faced with at least a days ride to Chongqing along indirect and badly maintained triple digit “G” and “S” roads (i.e. the really really bad ones). Unfortunately, my  GPS had completely given up trying to calculate where we were, let alone set a route to where we wanted to go. It was confused, no doubt by the rapid pace of road construction and deconstruction in this part of the world, and so like all electronic devices when you really need them, had decided to go into “freeze” mode. No amount of shouting and cursing was going to change its mind.

There were many road signs showing the characters 重庆 (Chongqing), but apparently there was no consensus of opinion and they indicated going left, right, back, forward and even up. I couldn’t even tell which was east or west as the sun was hidden behind the smoggy haze that often envelops much of China.  So we stopped to ask for directions.

My carefully constructed questions were met with shrugs, blank stares, embarrassed grins, pointing in all directions, and occasionally dashes for freedom.  Annoyed that my years of Chinese study had come to nothing I asked Fanny to take over the local interrogation, but I soon realized when I heard her doing a Chris Rock like “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT MY MOUTH” that she was getting nowhere either. So we did what all couple’s do when they are completely lost on a road trip. Blame each other.

Strolling along Chongqing Bund at night

The Bund in Chongqing with the mighty Yangtze River, colourful skyline, barges and impressive bridges.

Our brief, but noisy exchange in the middle of a concrete purgatory drew a bit of a crowd, but did little to help our situation other than blow off a bit of steam. I remembered I had my Casio watch, that up until now I had only used as an altimeter, and so I used the compass function to set a vaguely south east course.

I had studied and become quite good at navigation when I did my Royal Yacht Association Ocean Skippers sailing course some years back in South Africa, but navigation requires a compass AND an accurate map or chart.  We only had a map of the whole of China and a freebie tourist map, neither of which were good enough and so I pointed in a south east direction and declared in Maggie Thatcher style,

‘We go that way and we are not for turning’.

Chongqing

Chongqing province, with its capitol city being one of the largest and most crowded cities in the world.  It is a center for China’s “Go West” policy and famous for heavy manufacturing, especially the growing motor industry. The mighty Yangtze River cuts through the hilly capital city which is navigable all the way to Shanghai. Like Sichuan province, which Chongqing used to be part of until 1997, both of these south western provinces are extremely motorcycle unfriendly and their officials and local government are unruly, unaccountable and institutionally corrupt.  It is the wild west of China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We followed a route that can best be described as “urban off roading”.  Ignoring signs, ignoring traffic signals and heading along whatever surfaces aimed in a generally south east direction. The route took us through scruffy towns and construction sites and occasionally along roads that were still being built. There were often concrete bollards or barriers placed at the entrances and exits to these stretches of virgin concrete and tarmac, but these were no obstacle to two wheels and clearly the local bicycles and scooters had already found some convenient short cuts and so we followed them too.

Surprisingly, nobody attempted to stop us and I was actually beginning to quite enjoying this little bit of adventure riding. Our CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles are technically touring bikes that are in their element cruising along smooth roads, but they seemed perfectly able to tackle the ramps, holes, mud and gravel that we encountered and so we weaved over and through whatever obstacles lay ahead of us.

A bit dangerous in places as the flyovers under construction would occasionally come to an abrupt stop, leaving a high precipice which would definitely be a bad idea to fly off.

Urban off roading

Urban off roading

Motorcycle clubs meet in Chongqing

Meeting the Motorcycle clubs and forum groups Chongqing

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

As they first said in China, and still do in other parts of the world  “All roads lead to Rome” and in this case all the roads went through Chongqing first. Somehow or another by riding along unfinished roads we had managed to get onto a national highway without passing through any of the tolls.  Also, my GPS came back to life, showing that we had only 35 kilometers to ride into the center of the city. Phew! However, my euphoria was short lived as I saw a tunnel ahead of us and at the entrance were about twenty police and highways officials directing the heavy traffic into various lanes.

I knew they would attempt to stop us, but the traffic had come to a halt and that gave me a chance to covertly weave through the stationary cars and trucks and avoid most of them. One official in a hi-viz jacket caught sight of me and bravely lunged in front of me and so I slowed down, punched my arm in the air and shouted ‘Chelsea’. I couldn’t think of anything better to do, but it worked and as he reared backwards in surprise, I rode around him and entered the tunnel and escaped.

Ha ha! Oh! …..Fanny?. I was hoping she would follow my lead, but as I checked my mirrors there was no sign of her. Maybe she had shouted “Arsenal”. Nobody likes the “Gooners” in China and I had to agree that would be cause enough to lock her up.  There was no sign of her as I rode through the entire five kilometers of the busy highway tunnel and as I exited in the outskirts of Chongqing I was immediately faced with a dilemma.

The highway divided.  Four lanes going left and four going right and so I stopped, a bit precariously, right up against the central concrete divider with traffic hurtling both sides of me and waited, and waited and waited. Unlike throughout most of the expedition I actually had a charged up mobile phone, with a local SIM card inside, and there was a strong signal and so I called her, but there was no reply. Tamade! I had made a stupid mistake because I did not know where we were going to stay that evening as Fanny dealt with all those sort of thing in China.  I guessed it was probably near the Chongqing International Exhibition Center, but I didn’t really know where I was going and I couldn’t leave Fanny lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. What if she really had been detained or had had an accident?

I was starting to get anxious when I saw the headlights of Fanny’s bike emerge from the heavily congested tunnel and she pulled up behind me as traffic whizzed by either side of us.  I asked what happened and she said the police stopped her, but she explained that she was with the “lao wai” on the bike ahead and must follow otherwise we would get really lost.  ‘In the end they just let me go’, she explained, but continued, ‘What did you shout? They thought you were mad’.

East

Eastwards…..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

After programming the GPS with the location of the hotel that the Chunfeng Moto delegation had booked us into near the exhibition center we cruised along Chongqing’s  city highways down to the formidable Yangtze River and crossed one of the many outrageously enormous bridges than spans it into the commercial heart of the city where we eventually found our hotel. After settling in, there was only one thing to do. Have some hotpot (火锅), the quintessentially Chongqing dish.

Chongqing ... an classic image of modern China

Chongqing

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Nanping District, Chongqing

Nanping District, Chongqing

Chongqing City centre looks pretty much like most other large city centres in the world. Absolutely heaving with people, very noisy,  busy public squares, bright advertising lights, sky scrapers, heavy traffic congestion and poor air quality.  However, everything is on a scale unprecedented anywhere else in the world and, stating the obvious, “Very Chinese”.

There are restaurants everywhere from small “da pai dang“, palatial “fan dian”  to fast food stall, including not only local Chinese snacks, but western fast food chains like the ubiquitous “mai dan lao” (McDonalds) and “ken de ji” (KFC).  Also, in the early mornings and evenings thousands of middle aged and elderly women fill the public spaces and practice synchronized  “line dancing” or “tai ji quan” to a cacophony of music ranging from traditional Chinese folk, Canto pop, Western classical, trance anthems, bass and drum and hip hop.  It is extremely popular throughout China. Sometimes hundreds of couples practice ball room dancing in the streets as well. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I think I can very safely say Chinese people love food and love noise.

I too love Chinese food, but increasingly as I get older I hate noise and if I can will avoid crowds like the plague. I had to admit I was hoping to get the next few days in Chongqing over and done with, but the reason we were in Chongqing was to meet our kind sponsors and participate in the China International Motorcycle Exhibition. I knew it was a showcase for the Chinese motorcycle industry and would be a far cry from the bike shows in London or Italy.

There would be no KTMs, nor the latest European or Japanese speed machines on display, but I like motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, even if they are all 125cc.   Fanny was very excited though, not least because she would meet her friends from CF Moto and many of her growing fan club.  Quite rightly many Chinese are proud of her motorcycling achievements and she was looking forward to the attention. She is a woman after all. So, I put on my happy face and got stuck in.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will ride in Hong Kong.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will probably use to ride in Hong Kong when she moves there in 2013.  The white fox hat might not be needed though.

Fanny and friends

Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum

At motorcycle show in Chongqing

At the motorcycle show in Chongqing

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

"And there we were heroically riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti" blah blah blah ......

“And there we were riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti” blah blah blah ……

The last time we faced our lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

The last time we faced our “alive and kicking” lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

Fanny facing the press

Fanny facing the press. There were big crowds and we had many press briefings to go to.

Heaven forbid I am becoming politically correct... but what is this bimbo doing on a motorcycle. Pointy end forward, pet

Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR

And free of charge our demonstration rider "Mad Max"  putting the 650 NK through its paces. A wheelie, perhaps?

Me riding around the show ground. A wheelie, perhaps?

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from Rupert, but from Hu Hai who really knows what he's doing.

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from me, but from Hu Hai (CF Moto’s stunt rider) who really knows what he’s doing.

Hu Hai on the ATV doing ... what do you call it? ... a sidey?

Hu Hai on the ATV doing … what do you call it? … a sidey?

IMG_0071

Would you like a bowl of noodle? Looks like you need something to eat.

And what's this idiot doing?

Messing about on the CF Moto monkey bike… good fun.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK. This is bike Fanny will ride in Hong Kong next year to get to and from work.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK in its new signature livery of black and blue … will match Fanny’s bruisies.

Fanny on a bike like ours... the touring CF Moto 650 TR. It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon.

Fanny on a touring CF Moto 650 TR like the ones we rode 12,000 kilometers across China It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon in this diary.

Fanny on CF Moto 650 TR

Fanny on the CF Moto 650 TR

CF Moto is famous for these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

CF Moto is famous for manufacturing these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

I used to have one of these ... if I ever get job again I will get another.

I used to have one of these … if I ever get job or money again I will get another.

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese magazines and also publishes a very good blogg at www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese and Italian magazines and also publishes a very popular blog at http://www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Having dinner with imotor.com

Having dinner with http://www.imotor.com.cn

getting into the mood ..can't stay  grumpy with all these bikes to play with

Getting into the mood ….can’t stay grumpy with all these bikes to play with

I would really like one of these for Hong Kong

I would really like one of these too… or a new KTM 1290 Super Duke  … or a ????

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev'It kit. www.527motor.com.cn

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev’It motorcycling kit. http://www.527motor.com.cn

IMG_0224

Beijing Motoway Motorcycle
http://www.527motor.com.cn

Gary from Yingang motorcycles.  If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers on a tank and take one spanner with you then the Yingang 125 is the way to go.

The charismatic and entrepreneurial Gary from Yingang motorcycles. If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers out of a single tank of petrol and just take one spanner with you, then the Yingang 125 may be the way to go.

The Yingang 125 adventure bike... its go around the world and keep going on vapours. But will you?

The Yingang 125 adventure bike… it’ll go around the world, cost very little to buy, is cheap as chips to run and very easy to maintain.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the press.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the Chinese motorcycle press.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford them and drink in their club, but not for the light of pocket. The bikes and a drink in their club (above). Unfortunately, far too expensive for Fanny and I.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford their motorcycles, accessories, and shiny bits and bobs, and to drink and eat in their club (above) in Chongqing. Far too expensive for Fanny and I …which I guess is a good thing as I look really daft in leather and tassels.

Custom Harleys... very bling.

Custom Harleys… very bling.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

CF Moto's stunt rider -- Hu Hai  ( or as I call him Hu Li  Gan) ... I have seen many stunt riders and none as passionate, fun and skillful as Hu. Great guy.

CF Moto’s stunt rider — Hu Hai ( or as I call him Hu Li Gan) … Riding his 650 NK. I have seen many stunt riders and none are as passionate, fun or skillful as Hu. Great guy.

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We had three days at the Chongqing China International Motorcycle Show and we both enjoyed ourselves in the end. But, clearly starting to show the signs of becoming a rather fat and prosperous looking, it was time for me to stop wining and dining and for us to get going again.  As motorcycles are banned, not only in Chongqing, but on all the highways in Chongqing and Sichuan, Fanny had been in discussions with many experienced bikers about the best possible route out of Chongqing towards Yichang in Hubei province. It was decided we would leave very early in the morning to escape the traffic and get onto the G50 highway, as many large bike riders from the east of China were planning to do, and had done in the past with success. If we could get out of Chongqing and into Hubei we would be OK as motorcycles are allowed on highways in Hubei province, and indeed later in Anhui.

We got out of Chongqing City quite quickly as it was early and rode through the toll of the G 50 highway without too much hassle from the officials, but after 20 minutes of riding along the highway I saw some officials in hi-viz jackets run into the carriageway and wave their arms about. I slowed down, but easily rode passed them. I then looked at my mirror expecting Fanny to do the same and was absolutely astonished and shocked to see one of the officials pick up a two foot high traffic cone and throw it with force at Fanny’s bike,  causing her to come off and skid on her side with bike on top of her for several meters.

I screeched to a halt in the middle of the three lane highway,  U-turned and rode back to her. I couldn’t really hear what the officials were saying as I ran up to Fanny, but I saw she was crying and had clearly hurt herself. Her bike looked damaged, but not too seriously. I picked Fanny up and checked her out and she seemed more shocked than injured ( a few bad bruises as it turned out) and then I saw the official who threw the cone.  He immediately put on a show of bravado, but he was clearly nervous as he suddenly realized I was a foreigner and extremely angry. I charged up to him like a raging bull, and really considered thumping him, but controlled myself. I was desperately thinking of what to say in Chinese and all that came out of my mouth was a rather lame and pathetic admonishment. In the heat of the moment my Mandarin let me down and all I could think of calling him was a “bad egg“.

One of officials who throw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph... causing her to come off.

One of officials who was involved in throwing a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph… causing her to come off.  It says “Traffic” on his hi-viz jacket. Irresponsible beyond words.

Huai dan ... the bad egg who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he deserved... I took this picture.

The 坏蛋 … the actual “bad egg” who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he thoroughly deserved… I took this picture.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

When I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in the mid eighties all the expatriate Inspectors had to learn Cantonese, and of course the first thing we learnt were all the swear words (of which there are many good ones that are frequently used). This was followed by chat up phrases so we could attempt (and always fail) to impress the local talent. My Mandarin, however, was learnt at Tsinghua University  in Beijing, one of China’s top academic institutions, and although I can chat almost fluently about magical phoenix(s) in mysterious forests and use impressive “cheng yu” (idioms) that nobody really needs, my “ma ren de hua” (cursing ability) is extremely poor.  My “How do you say?” requests to become more acquainted with China’s more colourful and fruity expressions have always been met with embarrassed chuckles from my teachers and Chinese friends. Fanny is no help either as  I rarely hear her say anything impolite. In fact, mainland Chinese are much more polite and cultured than the southerners or Hongkongers and so there is a big void in my Putonghua street credibility. Perhaps its a good thing. Of course it is.

So, having used up all the “egg” terms I could think of I reverted to tried, trusted and universally understood Anglo Saxon, took some pictures of the offending officials and got Fanny back on her bike as quickly as possible before anyone else turned up. I know all too well in China that things can escalate quickly as indignation rises and face is lost. Fanny’s bike was damaged on one side, as bikes with plastic fairing tend to be after a crash, but it seemed 100% roadworthy and so we made our escape as the officials got onto their mobile phones to plan their alibis and excuses.

I remember years ago in Hong Kong getting stopped on my motorcycle at a police  roadblock. I had done nothing wrong but I guess they needed to make up their numbers and in Hong Kong a police officer in uniform needs no justification to stop anyone. Strangely, and very unfairly they had waved on a Mercedes Benz luxury car that had dangerously cut me up and stopped me instead. I remember it vividly because it was on the very same day my son had been officially diagnosed with autism and so I had “gone off” on my bike to collect my thoughts and reflect on the lack of prospects that lay ahead for us all. Of course I was not in a particularly happy mood and unwisely remonstrated against the police officers’ surly behaviour and unfair actions towards me. This was a very bad idea as at the time I was also a police officer, more senior in rank, and a 鬼佬 (‘foreign devil’) to boot.  So, in order to protect themselves from a potential complaint from me they embellished a damaging story against me instead, and to cut a sad and long story short I ended up getting disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer and was thrown to the dogs. Life is unfair sometimes, but the lesson learnt was that the police, not just in China or Hong Kong, are not shy in making something up to protect their necks, and as a foreigner or outsider one is always in a much weaker and vulnerable position.  As hard as it is, the best course of action is to avoid confrontation, swallow your pride and turn on your tail, regardless of the provocation.

As we rode away along the rather deserted highway I suspected that this was not going to be the end of matters and I was right. At the next toll we rode through the gap in the barrier, as all motorbikes do, and a group of about twenty uniformed traffic police ran frantically up to me and surrounded my bike, much like pit crews do when a Formula One racing car pulls into the pits. Clearly they were waiting for us, but Fanny was not in a good mood and she explained in no uncertain terms what happened earlier, but the traffic police seemed uninterested and completely unconcerned. To them, riding a motorcycle on a highway was a much more heinous offence than deliberately causing a road traffic accident and injury. Initially I though Fanny would be able to explain the seriousness of the incident and we would be allowed to carry on, but that was not to be. We both got a first hand lesson about the lawlessness of officials in Chongqing.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged... but could have been worse.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged… but could have been worse.

Despite being on the road for nearly 18 months, we had both heard the recent stories about organised crime in Chongqing and about the scandal of Bo Xilai and his wife who had murdered a British businessman. Clearly this unethical tone at the top had permeated throughout all of the public sector in Chongqing and government officials and the police alike were unaccountable for whatever their actions might be.  I was resigned to just getting off the highway and escaping these fools, but Fanny was very very angry and quite rightly so. Someone had tried to seriously injure her and it could have been very serious indeed. After an hour of arguing the toss, our fate was clear. No action would be taken against the officials whose reckless behaviour could have killed Fanny, and we were being kicked off yet another Chinese highway in the middle of no where.

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

I had regained my composure and while Fanny was alternating between crying and arguing I had structured a little speech that I gave to the most senior officer in as calm and articulate manner as I could. I told him about the accomplishments of Fanny–a fellow Chinese citizen, a woman and a proud ambassador for China throughout the world, and that a Chinese law enforcement officer had deliberately tried to injure her. Not only had she been injured, but her motorcycle had been damaged, she had lost serious face and the actions of the officer were reprehensible. It was quite a speech, grammar a bit dodgy in places, but it hit the spot and the officer literally rocked and recoiled on his feet. He made an attempt by telephone to persuade more senior officers to allow us to continue, but alas it was not to be and so we were escorted off the highway literally onto a sand track in the middle of very rural Chongqing.

Where are we?

Where are we?

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

I think at this stage both Fanny and I were hoping we could get the trip over and done with. I assumed the most interesting riding in China was behind us and all we had ahead was a slog of 2000 kilometers plus eastwards to Shanghai. Riding on the highways, unlike motorcycling in other parts of the world, is actually quite enjoyable as the route passes smoothly through valleys and mountains and you have time to take in the view as you cruise along. Riding off the highways was a battle of survival against appalling traffic and road conditions. In my mind Chongqing province was just another sprawling conurbation of concrete and chaos. How wrong I was.

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

The stress of the previous few hours was starting to fade, and although technically we were still lost I think both of us could not care less. We rode along a sand track for a while until it stopped and became farmer’s field and went no further. Like many roads in rural China it was no longer used as the highways now took the bulk of the traffic. I looked at the only maps we had of the area, one a freebie tourist one that Fanny used, but was pretty useless for navigation, and the other showed the whole of China that only reminded us we were right in the middle. I looked at the GPS and it showed a red line of the highway we had been turfed off and nothing else at all except the mighty Yangtze River and its tributaries meandering all over the place.  I surveyed the land around us we were surrounded by green fields, small thatched farm houses, small streams, rice terraces, and quite steep mountain slopes which were covered in mist. It looked like one of those Chinese paintings of idyllic rural landscapes and I think we both accepted that our China adventure was far from over.

Lots of different types of bamboo...  and other grasses

Lots of different types of bamboo… and other grasses

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

I am a true country boy and  life here moved at the pace I like

I am a true country boy and life here moved at the pace I like.

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

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Our meandering around the villages of rural Chongqing was very pleasant, but we seemed to be making no progress at all and so I made a concerted effort to try and work out where we were by asking the locals. For some bizarre reason I was having more success asking directions than Fanny. I think foreigners who speak Chinese as a second language can guess the meaning of people who speak with strong regional dialects better than say a native speaker from elsewhere in China. I knew Fanny was having trouble with the Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, as opposed to me who was having trouble with all of them.  Anyway, we decided to adopt a “get from village to village approach” and get to the border with Hubei even if it meant traveling in the opposite direction to get around the mountains ranges. It might take three days rather than three hours but we were OK with that.  We had accepted that against our original plan we were now exploring a part of China very few people will ever go to. It doesn’t really feature as a tourist attraction, despite being infinitely more interesting, beautiful and tranquil than the so called official tourist destinations.

Cruising

Cruising …

Still cruising ... where the streets have no name sort of thing

Still cruising … where the streets have no name sort of thing

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Farms

Farms

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Lets go round and detour?

Lets go round and detour?

That's better

That’s better

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

Typical scenery

Typical scenery

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Valley after valley

Valley after valley

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

Onwards.... Fanny and her bike cruising along

Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along

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We rode through many beautiful villages and some how or another were gradually making tracks in an easterly direction. We took each village as it came and asked for directions to the next passing over mountain and through valleys and paddy fields. We were aiming for Fengdu where we planned to spend the night. It is located on the banks of the Yangtze River and in China is known for its “Ghost Culture“, hence its called China’s Ghost City.  Fanny found a pretty good hotel and after a good spicy catfish hotpot we went for a walk along the banks of the river and saw many of the locals dancing the evening away in the public squares.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost Town of China.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost City of China.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square i the evening.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square during the evening.

More ghosts dancing in Fengdu.... they really like dancing

More ghosts in Fengdu…. its true.. they all come out at night and it seems they really like dancing.

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River. When its grey , its really grey in China.

We could see the highway high up above us... passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges for many miles.

We could see the highway high up above us… passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges that spanned the many gorges for many miles.

800px-Fengdu

Fengu – Ghost City

Back into rural Chongqing heading to border with Hubei

Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei

Don't look down

Don’t look down

IMG_0536

Locals selling mushrooms and fungi such as ‘black wood ear’ (黑木耳)

Climbing back up into the mountains towards border with Hubei.

Climbing back up into the mountains.

This part of China near ShiZhuTuJia mountain ( 石柱土家)

Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家)

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

Above the mountain mist

Above the mountain mist

Lunch

Lunch in a small town

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

IMG_0592

Bit muddy again

Waaahaaayyy ... mud.

Like chocolate pudding

Goes on a bit

Goes on a bit

Fanny trying to avoid another mudbath

Fanny trying to avoid another mud bath.

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud. On the right is the G50 highway which we are banned from riding on..       Of course, who wouldn’t want to go this way?  Its the spirit of free adventure motorcycling, so we’re told.

Passing under the G50... its for wimps

Passing under the G50… its for wimps

If we had gone on the highway we would have missed this little chap's happy smiling face.

Look .. its a ... (but you'll never know because you were on the highway.)

Look .. its a … (but you’ll never know because you were on the highway)

get off my land....

“ge roff roff my land….”

or I'll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti

“….or I’ll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.

I hope you like corn on the cob.

corn on the cob.

or chili ..

or chili ..

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Rising up into HuangShui (Yellow water) national park at border with Hubei

Rising up into Huang Shui (Yellow Water) National Park at border with Hubei

So China

So China

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

Agricultural Artwork

Agricultural Artwork

Deserves a second picture

Crossing beautiful valleys and rivers… very remote … very few people.

China... a place of stark contrasts

China… a place of stark contrasts.

IMG_0688

Crossing another valley and up into mountains .. surrounded by autumn colours.

Look back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

Looking back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I found it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I later researched it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

Forget at Fengdu, this is the real ghost town in Chongqing. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Forget about Fengdu , this is a real ghost town. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Remote farm houses

Local farm houses

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

One of the first humans we had seen for a while. Not often you can say that in China.

One of the few humans we had seen. Not often you can say that in China.

Our last mountain pass before we ride into Hubei. Misty up at about 2000 meters and we encountered very few people.

Our last mountain pass before we rode into Hubei.

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The ride through eastern Chongqing was awesome. Fate had forced us off the highway and into a part of China that it seems few people venture into…because of the efficient highway system I suppose. We thoroughly recommend anyone wanting to experience an unspoiled trip back into the rural China of old to visit.

Next…….

…. a bizarre and enjoyable encountered with the Hubei traffic police, a long long night of riding in the dark and rain, the Three Gorges Dam project, idyllic rural Anhui, my first puncture, and arriving back in Fanny’s hometown of Shanghai and the end of our big bike trip (for now).

Chapter 24 – 中国 Part 6 – Sichuan

As hard as one tries, it would be impossible to ride around the world on a motorcycle and completely avoid any bad weather. We had heavy rain in the Basque Country and its border with France, and later in England and Wales where it pretty much rained throughout the whole of the summer.  In China we had been lucky so far and enjoyed the best of the autumn weather, but now winter was well truly and on the way, at least high up on the Tibetan Plateau, and so we had to endure a few miserable days of grey skies, snow in the mountains, and blinding rain in the valleys.  Like Wales, the scenery in Sichuan (四川)does make up for the rain somewhat, and between Langmusi(郎木寺)and Chengdu (成都)near the town of Songpan(松潘)we rode through some very impressive high altitude grasslands that stretched as far as the eye could see.  This area is home to very hardy Tibetan herdsmen who tend to their livestock high up on the plateau on sturdy ponies, which also double up to take tourists on pony treks.

Tibetan herdsmen on the high grasslands near Songpan, Sichuan.

Further south towards Chengdu is Wenchuan County (汶川), the epicenter of the 2008 earthquake. Like everyone else, I suppose, we had a morbid fascination to look at the carnage that mother nature can unleash and explore the surrounding mountains and lakes. However, as the weather and the traffic conditions had become increasingly bad we both just wanted to get out of our damp and soggy clothes and get to Chengdu as soon as possible.

The CF Moto bikes were going very well, nothing seemed to faze them and they just purred along eating up the miles on whatever roads and surfaces they were presented them with. The sheepie that I had bought in Yunnan to cushion my bottom, however, was no longer fluffy white, but rather a bedraggled shade of increasingly darker grey. At the beginning it smelt like sheepskins generally do, but a little later on in the trip had the delicate whiff of wet Labrador lying in front of the fireplace. More recently, I have to admit,  the smell was more like wet Labrador that had died… quite some time ago. But it was still comfortable and a considerable improvement over the standard pile inducing seat fitted as standard and when traveling at speed did not attract too many flies. It was, however, pushing Fanny’s tolerance and general good humour a little too far and I noticed she was no longer referring to my beloved furry seat pad as “sheepie”, but as “IT”, as in, ‘You’re not bringing “IT” inside, are you?’. Women can be cruel.

Anyway, we were expected to show an appearance at the China International Motorcycle Exhibition in Chongqing in about a weeks time and so if we made good progress to Chengdu we would have plenty of time to relax and explore one of China’s more prosperous and attractive cities and try out the famous hot and spicy Sichuan food.

Lots of pandas and tigers adorning the walls and building in Sichuan, but  as much chance of seeing a real one in their natural environment as a dragon or phoenix

Takin …. a rare ox/goat muskox creature that is found in the Sichuan mountains… never saw any of these either.

Goodbye to Lang Mu Si .. we’ll be back when you’ve tidied it up. Looks nice from a distance though.

The river demarks the Gansu/Sichuan border

Still looking for that otter… disappeared with the pandas I guess

Riding through the northern Sichuan grassland. A bit bleak under the grey skies and decidedly chilly on the bikes

A Tibetan lady hurrying along against the winds

High altitude grassland and snow peaks in northern Sichuan

Heading toward Songpan, famous for pony trekking rides on the grassland

Our digs in Songpam… a sort of green house thing that was rather drafty  and cold

At least we could get the CF Motos out of the rain and keep an eye on them next to our room

Soggy Songpam

Road to Chengdu

Traffic and weather really foul.. as usual our 4 wheeled cousins were constantly trying to bully us off the road. Generally, I find Chinese people extremely friendly and hospitable, but as soon as they get behind the wheel of a car many turn into Hyde 先生 or Hyde 太太。

I was not particularly enjoying this bit of the journey, should have done, but the weather was not that great, it was a bit slippy on the roads and the traffic was atrocious.  Cars, buses, coaches and trucks  often squeezed into us forcing us to brake, skid or swerve. When these vehicles had to stop in traffic we overtook them easily enough, only to have them aggressively re-overtake us as soon as they had a chance as if we had made them lose face. Later our 4 wheeled cousins would all get stuck in a 15 kilometer monster traffic jam and together with all our other 2 wheeled brothers we left them for dust,  despite many of the cars deliberately trying to block us. It would be a massive overstretch of the imagination to describe Chinese road users as “courteous”.

Sichuan…a rare stretch of clear road after taking a road diversion. It is quite a coincidence that both Egyptian and Chinese drivers do not like to turn their lights on, would rather queue in traffic than take a longer more peaceful diversion and are generally inconsiderate and aggressive to other road users. Psychologists have a theory why this is.

Rebuilt town in Wenchuan that was destroyed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

Reminders of the devastation that the earthquake caused are seen everywhere

A few buildings seem to have been deliberately left in ruins to remind everyone of the disaster

The actual epicenter of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if another earthquake struck as we passed by the many steep mountain sides or crossed the many bridges and through the tunnels … not good I guess. India is pushing into China causing the trust fault line at this exact location and so its just a matter of time before there is another earthquake.

We rode along the trust fault where the Indian plate is pushing into the China one. I was actually at the border of Yunnan and Sichuan in 2008 and experienced a strong aftershock of over 6 on Richter scale. The original quake was about 7.9-8.0 and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

We met the largest traffic jam of the entire expedition in Wenchuan, and managed to overtake about 15 kilometers of traffic into the city centre. We then got to a T junction where to the left was even more gridlocked traffic and to the right a much quieter but longer detour over the mountains and along the shores of various lakes to Chengdu. We asked the police what they thought, and they thumbed … go right …and we did. A good choice as we could take in some scenery that looked a bit like the Lochs of Scotland

Again the thought of the ground rumbling beneath us and rocks crashing down the steep mountain sides and destroying the bridges was rather sobering.  We rode through some tunnels as long as 5 kilometers and I kept wondering how the civil engineers protect them against seismic activity

It had been a long day riding in bad conditions and heavy traffic. Despite the interesting scenery Fanny and I were both looking forward to finding a dry place to stay in Chengdu for a few days

Superb scenery .. even on a rainy day.

Cockpit of my CF Moto TR 650

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………The cockpit of my bike had a Garmin Zumo 220 GPS, a Casio multi fuction watch strapped to the handle bars and the excellent CF Moto instrument panel that had everything a rider really needs to know, logically and clearly displayed.  However, navigating in China can be really confusing and I had to make sense of signs that not only used Chinese characters, but were ambiguous and confusing to even mother tongue Chinese speakers.  Our GPS maps were not that good either as Fanny had acquired all the maps in the world for “a few kuai” on one of her bargain basement Chinese websites, and so the world map programs for my Garmin were not very good … being neither up to date, accurate or complete.

Also, the road construction and development of the towns and cities in China was on a scale unprecedented anywhere else on the planet.  It was constantly changing and being re-built, upgraded or knocked down.  We found twelve lane super highways seemingly in the middle of nowhere that did not appear on any of our maps, and occasionally we would follow GPS directions to non-existent roads, non-existent places, and onto the “高速公路” (high speed highways) which we (bikers) were banned from riding on with no obvious alternative route to our target destination. We often arrived at seemingly simple T junctions, as indicated on my GPS,  to find enormous spaghetti junction type structures with numerous entrances, exists and slipways.  Because of the heavy traffic and appalling driving standards at some of these major intersections there was never enough time to make an accurate assessment of all the available options and we would occasionally get lost.  However, more often than not, we would actually end up going the right way. I think over the months we had developed a very acute sense of direction and fined tuned our navigational skills.

My 15 year old Casio watch that I used for paragliding in the day was brought out of retirement to let us (me really) know our exact altitude as the GPS could not be calibrated to altitude intervals of less than a kilometer. 3,090 meters is very different to 3,990 meters and I am nerdy enough to want to know exactly how high we actually were so I could bore Fanny with another, ‘Do you know we have been riding five times higher than the height of Mount Snowdon?’  To which Fanny would charitably reply something like, ‘wow!’

We arrived in Chengdu and settled very comfortably into Sim’s Cozy YHA where we saw our first large collection of foreigners for quite a while. A very well run and a nice place to stay.  Later I make up for lost drinking time by getting absolutely slaughtered watching footie in an Irish Pub with some of Chengdu’s Aussie, Kiwi, Brit and Irish expatriates

I think there is a Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong… not sure … I am usually rushing through the HK bar areas on my way to Mass

Wandering around Chengdu city centre at night

Christmas presents … who wouldn’t want one?

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats)

Chengdu parks

Decorated trees in the park

Very pleasant gardens

A Xinjiang hawker selling preserved fruits. Profits were going well until Fanny arrived and tried them all before buying two plums..

Washing day in a Chengdu housing block

Strange goings on in People’s Park.  I haven’t laughed so much for years and still do whenever I watch the video we made. Old people dancing to rave music, accompanied by a trumpeter, and slightly odd people repeatedly walking up and down a catwalk carpet, and I must say, thoroughly enjoying themselves.  A must see in Chengdu

I still laugh… shouldn’t but can’t help it

Chengdu panda sanctuary

Very cuddly creatures .. but slow, fussy eaters, a bit lazy, black and white and live in China …. the perfect extinction candidate

We stayed in Chengdu for a few days, did some touristy sightseeing and  then continued on our way to Chongqing, the largest city in the world with an urban population of over 33 million and where we were to attend the China International Motorcycle Show and meet our sponsors, the media and Fanny’s followers of her magazine articles and blogs. Chongqing is not only a huge polluted concrete jungle, but also home to some of the most notorious and corrupt public and government officials on the planet. If they are not lining their pockets with backhanders they can be found entertaining their mistresses in the ubiquitous KTVs and VIP rooms around the city. If it wasn’t for the fact that these government triads seem to get away with murdering locals and foreigners with impunity, it would be a land of untold opportunity for a forensic investigator like me.

En route to Chongqing… filling petrol direct from the pump.  Joy.

Oops!

We were riding along highway from Chengdu to Chongqing and saw this “unlucky” truck on its side. Must have been motoring as it flew over the central reservation from the westbound carriageway and landed on its side spilling melons all over the eastbound carriageway. I know what Fanny is thinking. Not what a terrible accident, but could she snaffle away a melon.

We rode on the Chengdu-Chongqing highway for a while but the police stopped us and threw us off in the middle of nowhere. We did not want to spend a day riding the same distance covered on the highway in 2 hours… but that is what happened. Chongqing and Sichuan are very biker unfriendly places. A few other provinces (we were to find out later) were slightly more tolerant. Motorbikes are considered dangerous machines ridden by peasants, and cars are safe and sensible machines driven by civilized people, allegedly.

The police escorted us off the next “exit” and gave Fanny a dressing down. I pretended not to speak or understand Chinese so they left me alone.  The police in China are very motorcycle unfriendly. I know they are just doing their job, but its a daft and illogical policy.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..I studied the PRC traffic law and regulations to get my Chinese driving licence and it stipulates very clearly that any vehicle is allowed to drive on a highway and in a particular lane subject to minimum and maximum speed requirements.  That is it.  Therefore a fully taxed and licensed CF Moto 650 TR touring motorcycle capable of cruising comfortably and safely at 120-140kph should be allowed to ride on any road in China. The reality is that in Sichuan, Chongqing and many other provinces of China they are not.

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to get anywhere nowadays in China without going on a highway and so motorcycle touring in China is limited and fraught with risk, danger, restriction and uncertainty. It is a stupid and illogical policy because the rules that apply to the rest of the world could so easily be applied to China. A policy could be made overnight allowing motorcycles above a stipulated cubic capacity (say 250cc) to ride in cities and on highways, follow the Highway Code as all vehicles should, and be required to pay an appropriate toll to use the highway. Such a policy would promote the Chinese motorcycle industry and also alleviate the growing traffic congestion in China. Let’s not forget a large Harley Davidson, Ducati or BMW costs upwards of fifty thousand US dollars in China due to high import taxes and vehicles licences and many Chinese firms are now manufacturing good quality motorcycles like our CF Moto 650s and so there is an opportunity for the Chinese to promote an increasingly popular mode of transport and successfully compete against the Japanese and Europeans in this market.

As it was the Sichuan traffic police caught up with us, pulled us over and then escorted us to the nearest exit. Apart from wasting time checking Fanny’s documents (not mine), they were particularly unhelpful and gave us no alternative routes or suggestions on how to get to Chongqing City. In the end it took us a long day to make the 200 kilometers because many roads in this part of China, other than the highways are left to rot, are badly maintained, are badly sign posted, dangerous and extremely indirect.  This is OK if you want to look around, but I for one had had enough of riding through one dusty ugly polluted concrete shithole after another. I was also tired of being on high alert, riding defensively and worrying about Fanny being wiped out by the atrocious and selfish drivers. China needs to sorts this nonsense out. It is double standards as there were overloaded trucks, appalling driving standards and badly maintained vehicles on the highway,  but alas the police did absolutely nothing about them.

Suffice to say we had a truly awful and stressful ride into Chongqing, and I can’t think of anything vaguely pleasant or memorable to write about on this section of our journey. I definitely didn’t see any pandas.

Next….. Chongqing Mega-city, The China International Motorcycle Exhibition, the motorcycle and adventure travel media, posing for photos, three dinners a night, muddy roads, an unexpectedly enjoyable and beautiful ride through the countryside Chongqing province, The mighty Yangtze River, a real ghost town, and high drama and tension after the Chongqing police throw a traffic cone at Fanny causing her to come off her bike and get injured.

Fanny motoring along in the mountain roads of east Chongqing province

Chapter 23 – China Part 5 – Gansu Province

Fanny had done an excellent job setting an interesting route along the quiet “S” roads of south east Qinghai into Gansu, and so we had a chance to relax, enjoy the scenery and take a break from worrying about being wiped out by black Audi A4s and tourist coaches.  However, we were in China and 1,340,000,000 people must be lurking about somewhere and inevitably we would find them –all of them I think–on the G213 around the epicenter of the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan County, Sichuan.

But until then we had some relatively enjoyable and peaceful riding to enjoy in Gansu, a province with a largely Muslim population that buffers Xinjiang and Qinghai from the rest of China and extends from Mongolia in the north to Sichuan in the South.

As long as you keep away from human habitation, the geography and scenery in China is en par with the best that Planet Earth has to offer. Sadly though, apart from God’s given natural environment there is very little left of any cultural or historical interest in the Middle Kingdom as Mr. Mao was considerably more successful than all the natural disasters in wiping out 5,000 years of remarkable human accomplishment and endeavour.

With the exception of some of the first tier cities (like Hong Kong, Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai), and the remote and small rural villages, any human habitation in China looks like an ugly grey concrete construction site, covered in dust and decay, surrounded by rubbish and pollution and accompanied by a cacophony of jack hammers and vehicle horns. Will it change? Perhaps, but not anytime soon as more than three quarters of a billion construction and factory workers need to be kept employed somehow otherwise the economy of China will collapse.

There are two big holidays in China, one is National Day in early October that celebrates the forming of the People’s Republic of China, and the other is Chinese Lunar New Year in January or February. Both are week long periods of public holiday that produce traffic jams that make roads in England on a Bank Holiday Monday look relatively tranquil and peaceful.  In fact, Chinese New Year results in the largest migration of human beings anywhere on the planet and the National Day holidays are not much quieter.

Crossing the Yellow River

 

Gansu

Gansu

 

Gansu Province

 

Still on the relatively peaceful “S202” in Gansu … lots of “乡巴佬”  farmer trucks everywhere moving their farm produce about, or acting as taxis or the family car .. more often than not, all three activities at the same time.

 

Many homes in the south east of Qinghai and Gansu have gates and courtyards… beautiful scenery, fresh air and clear skies

Crossing from Qinghai to Gansu

Loess mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Beautiful contrast in colours and textures. I sound like an artist or a poet, but joking apart many people over the years have been inspired to paint, write and verse by this sensational scenery

The cradle of Chinese civilization.  Eroded Loess mountain slopes that surround the Yellow River valley give the river its name. Due to the topography and geology the valley has a long history of flooding, thus bringing both life and death to the region (I really am being poetically inspired)

A painting of the Yellow River by Ma Yuan (1160–1225),  Song Dynasty

Lots of mosques and minuets in Gansu

A picture taken on the move … not very well framed….but showing the amazing colours and topography of  southern Gansu

Local towns and local bikers. We liked Gansu… friendly people,  relatively pretty towns, better architecture and Lanzhou La Mian … one of our favourites. Try asking for this noodle dish in your local Ho Lee Fuk Chinese Restaurant in the US or Europe.

In this part of China, at the Gansu and Sichuan border, Islam meets Buddhism and they seem to get on all right without the need to blow each other up

Linxia with its minuets and mosques. Picture taken from the Yellow River which is lined by an assortment of magnificent trees, birds and autumn colours

Fanny and bikes on the Yellow River bridge at Linxia

Riding through downtown Linxia

Chili being sold at the side of the road. Many people outside China do not realize how important the Chili is to authentic Chinese cuisine and how many of them are actually used in the average dish, especially in provinces such as Hunan, Sichuan, Xizang, Xinjiang, Gansu, Chongqing etc… Fanny and I are huge fans.

Bit of traffic … nothing to worry about though

Back in the mountains again… ahead is another 4,000 meter pass and we will ride up and down it along the sort of hairpin roads and twisties that are a joy to all bikers throughout the world

Occasionally the road just disappears and we do a bit of “off roading”… OK for our bikes which despite not being true adventurers like our KTMs had no problem whatsoever climbing over rocks and potholes.  Alas, a bit of a challenge to the cars without much ground clearance

Sometimes the road erosion or damage was so bad regular cars either had to turn back or got well and truly stuck.  For bikes, trucks and 4×4 yue ye che (越野车) … no problem and I suspect, like us,  the 4×4 drivers quite relish such obstacles. Not sure whether floods, frost expansion, earthquakes, or overloaded trucks caused such damage… probably a bit of all these factors I guess.

I bet many bikers would like to ride this? As we got nearer to northern Sichuan the snow capped mountains, twisty roads and of course yaks of the Tibetan Plateau re-appeared

The S202 road –now turning into classic  “twisties” rising up towards a 4,000 meter pass in southern Gansu. Autumn colours, snow capped mountains, pleasant fresh temperature and ….aaahhh … quiet and peaceful.

One of the best roads we rode in the whole of China… if not the whole expedition. The photo doesn’t do justice, but we had several continuous hours of riding on this kind of road.

The metal netting did little to stop the rocks and boulders falling from the steep mountain sides onto the road. Its an earthquake zone of note which all adds to the sense of excitement and adventure

Up and over the 4,000 meter pass and down the other side through the mist…

A very remote bit of Gansu… high up in the mountains. Reminded me of Wales for some reason… probably because of the rain

Seemingly endless twist and turns…

I once went to GE’s headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut in the USA during the Fall/Autumn and this reminded me of the colours I saw there.

Happy times… our Chinese made touring CF Moto TR 650s in their element. I was not sure what to expect of these bikes as its a big leap forward for the Chinese motorcycle industry, but they were great. Now all we need is for the Chinese government to open up the highway network to big bikes (say over 250 cc) and this bike will be a phenomenal success.

Out of the mountains and down into the valleys and little towns.  The buildings are an interesting blend of classic Chinese and Muslim architecture.

This looks like a Chinese Pagoda, but it is actually a minaret for calling the faithful to prayer above a small mosque

And we enter yet another construction site town… one of hundreds we passed through. The sky is full of cranes, 15-20 story concrete shells, cement trucks, dust, noise, debris…. depressing and soul destroying in so many ways

Little villages like this are absorbed into the new concrete towns, and the rivers are turned into managed canals into which rubbish, pollutants and waste are freely strewn. The scale of all this is almost unimaginable outside China.

We turned off the idyllic S202 and onto the busy G309 to Hezuo. We were joined by heavy trucks on the route from Lanzhou to Chengdu, the holiday traffic, and in this case hundreds and hundreds of xiangbalao trucks ferrying the local Tibetan people from a Temple fare in the county town back to their homes. We rode for 200 kilometers overtaking them to Hezuo, mostly on the wrong side of the road and later in the rain and snow

We arrived in Hezuo just as it was getting dark and the skies opened up turning everything into a mud wrestling pool. Fanny did a great job finding a fantastic hotel given so many people were looking for a place to stay and then we hiked into the town center looking for food

Fanny choosing our dinner at the night market in Hezuo。

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The next day we decided to take a rest day in Hezuo, explore the temples and monasteries and do some hiking in the mountains

Hezuo Buddhist monasteries

This is a replacement for a similar Buddhist building ( I think “Pavillion” rather than “Parilon” as the sign says ) that Mr. Mao had knocked down during the cultural revolution. Re-built in the late 80s to appease the large Tibetan population in Gansu

“And besides for satisfied worshipers’  request” …. good old Chinglish…. you can’t buy it.

Bling bling ding dong

Hezuo monasteries.

Wandering around the newly constructed temples in Hezuo

Always ornately adorned – I guess you can never use too much gold and red

The magical world of Buddhaland…. bring the whole family and throw your rubbish in the nearby stream

Don’t stress little “Tutu” out by teaching him put rubbish in a bin.. just lob the plastic and wrappers out the car window, or better still lob it in a stream or river so that it can float down stream and wash up in someone else’s village.

Don’t worry, someone will eventually pick it up and throw it in the river.

Its very difficult to describe how revolting and disturbing the general Chinese tourism industry actually is… you have to see and experience it to believe. Perhaps its my western background, but I suspect not as Fanny from Shanghai also finds it intolerable and embarrassing.  I venture that I will never come to terms with the selfish and slovenly behaviour of the bus and coach drivers and tour guides, nor the tourists who freely spit phlegm out of the windows of their vehicles, throw rubbish everywhere, argue, squabble, queue jump, park, drive and overtake appallingly, honk their horn incessantly, and generally behave without consideration or respect for the local /indigenous people and their way of life.

The average Chinese worker really does work hard .. and often in harsh conditions for hours and hours and for weeks and months on end and with very little pay or compensation. We were constantly reminded of the poverty and day to day struggle of so many Chinese people just to survive and make a living.  When we were in Africa and Europe the local people told us how hard they worked,  and I guess some do, but everything is relative and its true… nobody works as hard as the Germans or Chinese … and there might just be a logical reason why the economies of  Italy, Spain and Greece are in such dire straits

A look down at Hezuo from the hill above showing a major traffic route, Buddhist temples, the remains of the old town and perpetual construction of new high rise buildings… all existing in chaos and disharmony together… which makes the name of this town rather ironic…..  Hezuo = Harmony

Nice horns

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Unlike the good old commie days when everyone piled onto public transport or rode a bicycle,  China’s new middle class (now more populous than that of the entire United States) gets the SUV out, stuffs granny, grandpa and little “tu tu” in the back, covers them in duvets, fills the remaining spaces with instant noodles and chickens feet in cellophane wrappers and heads for one of China’s “most glorious happy revolution number one tourist sites in world”,   which could be anything from a rock that looks like a cock, a three foot dribble of water pouring into a decaying pool of human detritus and rubbish, or even an earthquake disaster zone.

When I was a kid my father occasionally tried to employ some parenting skills on his sons and teach us some manners, and would often say things like, ‘Stop eating like a peasant’, or ‘You and your brother are behaving like peasants’. This was meant as a reprimand, rather than a compliment.

In China its different. Being, and indeed behaving like a “xiang ba lao” or country bumpkin has been glorified by the cultural revolution and subsequently through propaganda in the media as some kind of virtue. Something for the great unwashed to aspire to and revere. Behaviour such as eating endangered flora and fauna,  giant salamanders and pangolins for instance, or the parts of animals like rhino horn is considered having “face”, pushing and shoving is considered an expedient method of getting something before someone else and thus ensuring one’s survival among the masses, spitting is considered no more than getting rid of phlegm at the back of your throat and what better time to do it than immediately, and cheating, bribery and corruption is considered just an effective way of doing business and getting your own way. If nothing else, a pragmatic way of survival among a billion and a half other mouths in the human jungle.

There are of course millions of cultured and thoroughly charming Chinese people, and based upon my observations, they are mostly to be found in the northern parts of this huge country. Like many northerners, I share their view that their southern comrades generally fit into two categories. Poor peasants or rich peasants, the latter being far more annoying and obnoxious.  I reckon I could now do a thesis on the relationship between driving standards, eating dogs, peeing in metro carriages and my ethnological stereotyping. 反正。

There was also no escaping from the fact that most Chinese think cars are for rich people and motorcycles are for the poor. The fact that a new BMW GS1200 Adventure will cost upwards of 50,000 US dollars in China is besides the point. Large motorcycles like Harley Davidson, BMW, Ducati and now KTMs do exist in China, but are rarer than pandas and clearly owned by eccentrics.  Also, motorcycles are banned in most cities, are not allowed on the extensive network of highways and so are fair game to be bullied at every opportunity and nudged off the road into the nearest ditch.

That said, motorcycles and bicycles are considered so low and unworthy that their riders are not expected to comply with any traffic laws or regulations whatsoever. I guess being a former motorcycle policeman I had a natural instinct to at least try and comply with the local laws, after all a motorbike and rider will always come off worse when T-boned by an overloaded truck, or indeed by anything on four wheels.

However, after a few weeks in China I was riding like a true local, jumping red lights, riding on pavements, surfing the internet on my smart phone and weaving the wrong way down streets. The crazy thing is nobody cares, least of all traffic enforcement officers. All they care about is that you don’t ride on the highway and your don’t waste electricity by having your headlights on. We are definitely going to need re-educating before we start riding again in law abiding lands, or else we will both become adornments on the front of some Mack trucks or locked up.

We continued riding southwards through Hezuo and across the high altitude grasslands towards a rather popular tourist town called Lang Mu Si at the border of Sichuan. Here there are temples and monasteries, rivers, mountains and amazing hiking routes where we actually saw some otters by a stream. However, what really makes Lang Mu Si famous is that it is one of the few places in China you can go and watch a “Sky Burial”.

I vaguely remember reading about Sky Burials in a National Geographic magazine, but it was not until my friend Andrea Corbett recently told me that when she pops her clogs she wants to be disposed off by “Sky Burial” that I gave it much thought. I am not sure the Derbyshire authorities allow bodies to be left on Kinder Scout and eaten by magpies and other birds that live in the Peak District, but on the Tibetan Plateau this is actually a common way for Buddhists to move on to where ever or what ever awaits them in the after life…. the atoms of the former human being rearranged into bird farts and bird poo I suspect.

One of hundreds of new highway being constructed through rural China. The civil engineers construct a huge number of impressive bridges and tunnels across the valleys and rivers and through the mountains

A small Buddhist shrine on the mountains above Hezuo

The skies turning grey as we continued into high grasslands and towards the Sichuan border at Lang Mu Si. Villages and farmers arstarting to bunker down for the hard winter ahead. We also started to encounter snow and sleet that made riding a bit miserable and uncomfortable

 

 

 

Into the high altitude grasslands

My CF Moto TR 650 at 8888.8 kilometers… all good.. all going well

The snow capped mountains of Sichuan ahead of us

Grasslands and peaks

Long roads through the massive high altitude grasslands

Now riding at the snow line and it had become quite cold on the bikes, especially through the snow showers.  Our visors would get completely misted up and we would have to lift them up and get frozen noses and watering eyes.  Fifteen minutes prior to this picture I lost my sunglasses trying to take them off with frozen hands.

Riding down into the Lang Mu Si (pronounced lang moo ser ) valley where Gansu borders with Sichuan. There had been a lot of rain, snow, sleet and traffic and we were both looking forward to getting off the bikes. Our Rev’it motorcycle jackets and trousers had been superb though, perfectly dry and toasty inside. Ours hands, noses and feet? No so toasty and not so dry. Later we would use the tried and trusted method of putting our feet inside plastic bags and then inside our boots–instant water proofing.

Entering a very muddy and crowded Lang Mu Si right on the border of Sichuan and Gansu. Its the middle of the Chinese National Holidays and its mayhem. All the hotels were booked out, but Fanny managed to find us a room in a Muslim family’s home. We were lucky otherwise it was camping on the mountain in the rain with the Tibetan vultures from the Sky Burial, which would have been risky given that sheepie and I together smelt considerably worse that most of the corpses.

Crazy roads in Lang Mu Si.. but no problem on bikes … although both Fanny and I got completely covered in mud. The tourist cars were very impatient and often got stuck and the drivers got in arguments and started quarreling with each other

Have these guys ever read Animal Farm?… two wheels good, four wheels bad.

Beautiful mountain ridges above Lang Mu Si

The human inhabitants have no consideration or care for the environment, and like much of China and Taiwan just throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, outside their homes and anywhere except in a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing. It will require a major campaign by the government, authorities, universities and schools to change this appalling attitude to conservation and the protection of our planet.

I try to look at the mountains and spot birds and wildlife, but my eyes are always drawn back to the environmental vandalism in this part of the world. Its wrong.

Jeeps, scooters and ponies to take tourists up the mountain to the temples and Sky Burial site

 

 

The Sky Burial site at Lang Mu Si

Yuck is all I can say..

“Fanny, come and look at this…a jaw bone bigger than mine”

It looks like Fred West’s tool box.

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After looking around the muddy and rather disappointing town, Fanny and I  decided to climb to the top of the mountain and investigate a bit more. I wish I hadn’t. I assumed that the recently deceased “grandpa” would be left on the mountain and the Tibetan vultures would fly down and in a mass of feathers and frenetic activity eat him up. The reality it turns out is much more gory.

I suppose I have had more exposure to grizzly sights than most people having been a policeman for many years, but I have never got used to it and I am actually more squeamish about blood and guts than most. Reluctantly, over the years I have pretty much witnessed everything that can be done to a human body. Hanging, burning, decapitation, being blown up, eaten by maggots, fallen from skyscrapers and on hitting the ground literally “gone pop”, being shot, drowned and all bloated up…. and I have attended  more postmortems than I care to remember. It all comes with the job. When I was a young police constable in London, doing the school crossing patrol and babysitting the remains of human beings seemed to feature highly in my policeman’s lot.

Little did I know that the bodies of Sky Burials need to be prepared first, butchered if you like, so that the “eating” process is quick and efficient. The vultures, just like other animals, go for the best bits first, and once they are full leave body parts lying on the mountain side and so the bodies are filleted first so that the bones and marrow is fed to the vultures for the main course and then they can have the flesh and organs for pudding.

When we got to the peak the first disturbing thing we noticed, or heard, were Chinese tourist howling, screaming, shouting and generally messing about and I was a little surprised, but pleased when Fanny admonished them in no uncertain terms about not showing appropriate respect and desecrating a sacred site;  the second was that a container full of various sharp instruments and axes caught my eye at the butchering point. It looked like they belonged to the Sun Yee On triad and 14 K triad who were getting tooled up to have a major turf battle; and lastly and more disturbingly there were body parts like jaws and rib cages lying about that smelt quite revolting.

Realizing that there was a strong likelihood of a reenactment of a serial killer disposing of his victims with Chinese made carpentry tools I looked at Fanny, and she looked back at me and we both scurried off down the mountain side as quick as we could. When we got back to Lang Mu Si we were immediately descended upon by a tourist tout who asked us if we’d like to see a Sky Burial.  “NO WAY” was the resolute answer.

Lang Mu Si is located in an amazingly beautiful location and I was absolutely delighted to have spotted an otter by a river which I pursued like a mad naturalist. However, unlike my hero David Attenborough, the critter got the better of me and I never saw it again.  The town of Lang Mu Si itself is a real mess though. There was rubbish strewn about everywhere, sewage pouring into the canals and streams and the tourist touts were overwhelmingly annoying and rude.

The road was a muddy mess and the local restaurants and shops were not up to much and looked rather sorry for themselves.  I really hope the Chinese authorities recognized that it is a place of special cultural interest and natural beauty and give it the management and protection it needs. I would certainly like to go back and do some hiking in the mountains and find that otter and his friends, but only after the area has been protected and given the respect it deserves.

We did manage to get into one of the temples and have a wander about and make some offerings. There are two temple complexes, one on the Gansu side and another across the river in Sichuan. I had bought some beads in a village on the Tibetan Plateau to give to my daughter and a special forces friend and wanted to get them blessed by a Lama before I gave them to them, and that is what I did. The Lama was very friendly, took the beads, and took some time concentrating on chanting some prayers.

I later found out that the prayers do not actually add “something” to the beads, but take away everything from the beads, including negativity, in a 佛家 “nothingness” sort of way. A bit complex to explain but I’m told “wuwei”  equates to the sort of blessing a Christian priest may give. The temples were amazing to see, both inside and out, and we spent a long time looking around at the ornate decorations and Buddhist statues.

Fanny taking in the scene from a safe distance- but we didn’t hang about. We both thought it was rather grotesque and I was keen to look for more otters by the river and so we scurried down the mountain as quickly as we could

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I understand it takes considerable skill to prepare a Sky Burial, but we did not hang about to find out… and this picture is courtesy of someone with a much stronger stomach than us

And the vultures do the rest. They are alerted that there is a body to be eaten by the burning of some incensed smoke from the temple

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Lang Mu Si (Si means monastery in Chinese)

I have yet to write a “best and worst award” chapter for China, as I did for Africa, but this takes the best “bling bling ding a ling roof ” award by a mile

 

Getting the beads blessed by the Chief Lama in Lang Mu Si in order to give to my daughter, Becky and also to a 23 Regiment friend, Gary to keep them safe and well

Lang Mu Si Temple… I would like to go back when the Chinese start taking environmental protection and conservation of our shared planet a little more seriously

Sichuan in the distance

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The next day we rode back through the mud of the main street and the few kilometer to the border into Sichuan, but not before Fanny was knocked off her bike by the impatient and rude driver of a Jeep 4×4 who failed to stop to see if she was OK. I rode after it, getting muddy myself, but the driver had absolutely no intention of stopping. He made a reckless escape, blaring his horn and dangerously trying to imitate a rally car hurtling through the muddy roads of the busy town center. Maddening, but what can you do? Fanny was unhurt, but of course completely covered in mud again. Absolutely no point getting madder than we were already, and I suppose the best thing to do was to put it down to experience and soldier on.  Attempting to look on the bright side, it was raining again and we would soon be clean.

Next…..

Southwards towards Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province and famous for spicy food, street snacks, mad goings on in People’s Park and of course giant pandas.  Apart from the breeding centers we were extremely unlikely to see a panda, but we might see a takin, a rare goat/ox creature that lives in the Sichuan mountains. From Chengdu we would start heading eastwards towards the largest city in the world, Chongqing where we would participate in the China International Motorcycle Show and Fanny would meet many of her fans and the motorcycling media. From there we would ride through the surprisingly beautiful countryside of rural Chongqing and into Hubei, a section of our journey that I had not expected to be particularly interesting, but which actually turned out to be an adventure and a half.

Recent scientific research has revealed that all non- African people in the world have about 3% Neanderthal in their make up … Clearly some have more… 神农架的 大脚野人。

The wild man of Shen Nong Jia in remote north west Hubei.

Chapter 21 – 西藏 Tibet

When we rode through Tibet (西藏) in September 2012, the People’s Republic of China was restricting access to Chinese citizens only. The only exception being that a “Tibet Travel Permit” might be granted to a foreign tour group, provided they all come from the same country, that their itinerary is organized and strictly supervised by an approved Chinese travel agency and they are accompanied by a guide at all times.

All very bureaucratic, restrictive and undoubtedly expensive.

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

So, how could we ride into Tibet on motorcycles? For Fanny? No problem. Unlike the rest of the world she can move freely about China with her Chinese travel document, bian fang zheng ( 边防证)。 As for me?  I could exploit a very slim loop hole in the current policy as I am a permanent Hong Kong resident and hold a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Identity card. The reality is of course that the Chinese consider anyone, not ethnically Chinese, a “foreigner” and so using my Hong Kong ID holder status was at very best, “tenuous” and would mean I would have to be a bit lucky and apply whatever charm and wit I could muster to pass through the multitude of road blocks and security check points to get from one side of Tibet to the other.

We had already ridden about 6,000 kilometers from eastern China through the central and southern provinces on our Chinese made CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles and now we were entering the truly spectacular province of Tibet from the equally impressive province of Yunnan. It is a vast region on the far west of the PRC that averages 4,900 meters in altitude and shares the highest point on Earth,  Mount Everest  ( 珠穆朗玛峰), with the Kingdom of Nepal.

Video at https://youtu.be/jZK3Jv1g9ng

Tibet

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The reason why very strict travel restrictions were in place is that this so called “autonomous region” of China is in dispute and many of the indigenous Tibetan people want independence and greater freedoms. However, China keeps a vice like grip on the territory. China increasingly calls the shots in the new world order and pretty much does what it likes.

It is fiercely patriotic and defensive about what it calls domestic issues and sovereignty issues concerning Xinjiang, Xizang (Tibet), Taiwan, Diao Yu Dao and Xi Sha Qun Dao are not for discussion… especially by foreigners. The current situation and history of Tibet is extremely complex and its well worth actually visiting and studying its long and complicated history before forming any opinions ( http://www.tibet.org,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet  or http://www.dismalworld.com/disputes/tibet.php).

Despite the geographical splendour, fascinating culture, friendly people and some of the best adventure motorcycling I have ever experienced, our ride through Tibet was one of mixed feelings. Relatively speaking, I would probably have felt more at ease had I ridden through Vichy France in 1943. It was without doubt one of the most thought provoking places I have ever been to.

Like many parts of China access by foreigners to many of the historical sites or places of natural beauty is highly restrictive or unreasonably expensive. I wonder what Chinese visitors to the UK would say if the British authorities banned them from visiting Scotland or Wales, or charged them twenty to thirty times more than local people to visit tourist sites and attractions. I think they would protest loudly that its 不公平 (unfair).

 

Leaving Yunnan and climbing up thousands of meters into Tibet

A bit muddy and rocky in places … no real problem though. Our bikes are not true adventure enduros like our KTMs, but these CF Moto 650s are very decent long distant tourers and seemed fine with everything that we came across.

Steep drops and spectacular views.

3,000 – 4,000 meters towards Mang Kang. We have started taking Chinese medicine called ” hong jing tian” for altitude sickness.

A bit like Ethiopia … we shared the road with many creatures… but none as dangerous as “Fujian peasant”  in his Toyota 4×4 with Shanghai racing circuit diagram on the back window, a years supply of instant noodles on the back seat and Mrs Fujian constantly throwing rubbish out the windows into the Tibetan lakes and streams. They did it all the time.

There were many cyclists on the Kunming to Lhasa road. An amazing feat and respect to them. When (and if) they complete the arduous ride and get to Lhasa they usually ship the bikes back by the very efficient Chinese postal services or Kuai Di. We saw very few bikes going the other way, and virtually no bicycles beyond Lhasa. I think we saw a couple of local small cc motorcycles and absolutely no other foreigners beyond the famous tourist attractions in Lhasa where they were being shepherded from site to site like sheep.

The CF Moto 650 TR bikes have been awesome… a big surprise. I would use them again if I did the same ride, or perhaps the Royal Enfield …. after all it is the Himalayas. 

In eastern Tibet the road goes up and down between 3,000 meters to 4,000 meters  – many times.  The roads are often carved into the side of very steep slopes and sometimes the road has completely or partially collapsed or has debris strewn over from landslides. It was a bit nerve wrecking on our bikes and I cannot imagine driving one of the trucks with the wheels hanging over the side. We did see some unlucky ones that had gone over the side.

Fanny cautiously looking over the edge of the road. Much more precarious than the impression given by the photograph.

The roads wind up and down for hundreds of kilometers. Some have dozens and dozens of hairpin bends and make European switchbacks look positively tame. I’d like to see the Top Gear guys try this…

We rode through massive pine forests around the 3,000 meter mark for hundreds of kilometers. So much for the deforestation debate. Seems  Chinese forestry is as advanced as that in Bavaria or Canada.

A typical Tibetan farmhouse in the eastern side of the province.

Our first 5,000 meter pass… many to come. The last time I was at 5,000 meters was on the summit of Mount Kenya and I was out of breathe then too.

Taking refuge in a local shop during a flash storm. The storm charged through the valley with lightening and thunder crashing around us and then disappeared as quickly as it came. We became all too aware how quickly the weather could change in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.

I thought we had it bad going to school by Stevenson Rocket… these kids got dropped off to school soaking wet in an open tractor trailer

Yaks milk tea …. takes a little getting used to. Not sure what smelt more lively.. my wet sheep skin seat cover or the tea.

I told Fanny it would make her eyes water. 

Our kind host… but no more yaks milk tea for now … thanks

Storm rapidly approaching down the valley. Like something out of the film “The Mummy”. Within minutes we were in the middle of a storm with lightening and thunder crashing around us. I have developed a particular fear of lightening having narrowly escaped being zapped in the Nubian desert whilst riding my motorcycle across Namibia. Here high up in the mountains I felt particularly exposed again.

Being probably one of few foreigners in Tibet at the time and stretching the rules somewhat, Fanny told me to cover up as I walked about the first sizable town we rode into, called Mang Kang. As I walked about in my masterful disguise people would greet me and say, “Hello foreigner”  and I would say “Ni hao” in reply. I’ve seen the film, “The Great Escape” and know how Donald Pleasence got caught out…

Gazing out of our hotel room at yaks wandering through the town center. As we got deeper into Tibet Fanny became more anxious that I should conceal myself. I was the only foreigner in this town, and indeed only saw other foreigners when we got to the capital, Lhasa. Even then they were in a tour group and being herded about under strict supervision. Luckily most of the time I was in riding gear with a crash helmet and riding a Chinese registered motorcycle … with a Chinese woman.

Back on the road having managed to get through the first real challenge at a security check point on the exit from Mang Kang. I think it was the “Hong Kong Pacific Place Cinema Movie Magic discount card” that got me though or my ”警察兄弟“ patter… probably the latter.

Entering town called 左贡。。。Tamade…. this time there were 特警, 警察, 军人 at the security post. Until this point we had ridden around them, under the barriers and confidently BS’d and smiled through the previous security check points.  This time they were not impressed with my selection of Hong Kong discount cards and so we were detained. Two hours later after boring the pants off them they let us go… with a proviso that I shut up.

Like much of our expedition, the bikes always got lots of attention, as did Fanny。

Whilst pondering whether we will run into another road block we saw some Lamas sitting by the side of a river in a very peaceful and idyllic location. We asked if we could camp with them and they said kindly said yes… and so started a lovely two day chapter of our adventure where we forged some wonderful friendships.

We were putting up our little expedition tent, but the Lamas gave us this much more impressive one to use.

Fanny wrapped up in her North Face expedition sleeping bag together with our bikes inside Lamas’ tent. We were at 4,400 meters and it was bitterly cold during the night and I discovered that drinking beer at altitude gives you the mother of all headaches. Lesson learned, and clearly forgotten as later on in central Tibet at 4,900 meters we drank a bottle of champagne next to Sky Lake (Nam Tso) to celebrate.  So!!!!   Word to the wise… don’t drink alcohol at altitude. In fact, just drink the local tea. The salty sweet earthy tasting yaks milk brew found everywhere does help with altitude sickness, as did the Chinese medicine we were taking.

Our idyllic camp site with the Lamas

Giving one of the Lamas (Si Ba) a ride up to the temple higher up the mountain so he could charge his mobile phone… somethings are the same where ever you live.

A visit to the Lamas’ temple with our friend Si Ba.

Fanny and I … still laughing after 18 months on the road together

Fanny interfering with the cooking plans….

We moved to our own tent so the Lamas could prepare for the special visit of 小活佛 (little living Buddha) from Lhasa. During the night we could hear the Lamas chanting and playing drums, cymbals, trumpets and the eerie repetitive low bass of the Lama long horn… As they say, you have to actually be there to truly experience the ambiance and spirituality. We were very privileged and this bit of our trip will always bring back fond memories.

The next day we were invited to join the festivities. Unlike the monks I lived with in wu wei si in Dali, Yunnan, these Tibetan lamas are not vegetarian. They do eat meat and yaks meat, yaks butter, yaks fermented cheese, and yaks yogurt seemed to be staple foods, along with fresh vegetables from the local area. I am eating for the first time yaks yogurt and rice…. a sort of variation on the famous British rice pudding. The taste is somewhat challenging, as is eating it with chop sticks.

Little Living Buddha … 小活佛。 A very shy boy who bears a striking resemblance to another shy boy I know when he was the same age. Our friend Si Ba is one of the Lamas who looked after him and ensures he receives the correct education and upbringing.

We were constantly reminded of the Chinese influence in Tibet by the new middle class Chinese exploring the mountainous province in their Hi-Tech 4x4s, the young cyclists performing the Kunming to Lhasa right of passage, and more acutely by the extremely long military supply convoys that sometimes consisted of a hundred army trucks heading back and forth to Lhasa. These convoys are often used in propaganda films as they evoke images and impressions of “Long March” heroics.

A picture paints a thousand words

I politely declined to participate in the Lama tug of war games for obvious reasons.  Right next to the temple (sen above) the Chinese authorities are building a new four story concrete police station with all the architectural splendour and creativity used in every second and third tier cities we saw across China… i.e. zero.  A slightly disturbing sight to my mind, but the explanation given by the omnipresent plain clothes “protector” person was that for the first time in centuries the temple was being burgled and so a police presence was needed. Really? I doubt it.

 Happy peaceful people.

The bikes always popular with everyone.

Little Living Buddha (小活佛) has a look at our bikes with the other Lamas. 

Lounging about after lunch by the river. This young fellow was a real character. His only English was “Let’s Goooo!” which he used often and between the many chores he was given he would spend time with us.  Little living Buddha is seated in the background. The contrast between the lives of both “Lama” boys who were about the same age was immense.

Eventually we had to go and all the Lamas came out to bid us farewell. It was a bit tearful as I think Fanny had made a real impression and they seemed extremely fond of her. Fanny, is extremely smart, gregarious and easy to get on with whether you are from the east or West. She is a true ambassador for all that is good about China and should be in their diplomatic service.

As we rode along the beautiful river path towards the main road that will take us to Lhasa, two hoopoe birds flew alongside us with their crests extended as the Lama’s waved goodbye…. if that isn’t spiritual I don’t know what is…..

Riding along generally good tar roads, with occasional potholes, and stretches of gravel, mud or water flowing from streams across gullies. Biggest hazard is other drivers. This guy in front is on pilgrimage to Da Zhao Temple, Lhasa and every few steps lies prostrate towards direction of Lhasa. Some of these pilgrimages can take years and occasionally people die.

Ran Wu …. Tibetan side of town

The Chinese side of Ran Wu …. nearly every small village and town in Tibet has a Chinese garrison regardless of how pristine or historically relevant the place may be. There are thousands of uniformed and plain clothed security police, army and often huge barracks for the military supplies conveys. Invariably ugly, intrusive and looking like an unfinished construction site. No National Trust in Tibet, nor any architects apparently. Rubbish and sewage strewn everywhere. Nearly every Chinese person we saw just throws rubbish straight into the lakes and streams or throws them out the windows of their vehicles onto the hillside. Everything is slovenly…..and with no respect for the environment, nor with any real respect for the indigenous people. The Chinese government needs to start acting responsibly.  

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Ran Wu.. with beautiful lake, although waters have receded for many reasons, including climate change and hydroelectric projects upstream.

There is definitely a live goat at the bottom of this Tibetan building, but I am not sure about the other one up in the rafters!

The geography of Tibet is always spectacular, fresh and BIG. Its pleasing that it will be there long after man has gone.

I am reliably informed by a Hong Kong friend, Franki  that these are Char Char stones. If anyone knows anymore about what they are and for please leave comment.

Under ever nook and Fanny are tiles carved with Tibetan prayers.

Its as heavy as a BMW or Triumph, but handles better off road

One of the photos that was sent to us by the travelers we met en route. Their cameras often better than ours.

Riding towards Lhasa high up on Tibetan Plateau… Beautiful lakes and forests.

We did the back of the RMB 20 note in Guilin, now the back of the RMB 50 note in Lhasa.

Riding about in Lhasa

Be a good citizen and make sure you are flying a crispy new red flag.

The most sacred “Da Zhao” Temple in Lhasa

Our Lama friend Si Ba outside the holiest temple in Tibet, “Da Zhao” in Lhasa.

Lhasa back streets

The Tibetan’s have a very different language, customs, appearance and way of life to that of the occupying Han Chinese.

Some beautiful alleyways and courtyards in Lhasa.

In addition to road blocks and security posts, garrisons and army barracks in every town and village in Tibet, there are police checkpoints on every street corner in Lhasa and Tibetans, particularly Buddhist lamas, are constantly stopped and searched. Whilst spending an afternoon with our friend Si Ba, I noticed he was constantly stopped and frisked by Chinese authorities.

Keeping a close eye on the “lao wai” who didn’t appear to be in a supervised tour group.  Some of them friendly enough young lads doing their job, but….

This yak seems to be missing some major body parts

Local ladies walking through the markets and praying.

Lots of people walking clockwise around the “Da Zhao” Temple with prayer beads and prayer wheels.

Tibetan streets, Chinese flags and skyline dominated by the beautiful mountains that surround Lhasa.

The “Bu Da La Gong” can be seen where ever you are in Lhasa.

Fanny at “Da Zhao” Temple.

Lhasa

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots… which got lots of admiring looks and comments from the local Tibetans.

Tibetans are very devoted Buddhists and can be seen praying at most times of the day. Many spend years on pilgrimage to Lhasa.

Exploring Lhasa with Fanny

Just to remind everyone whose in charge.

Goose-stepping down the main road. Always a crowd pleaser.

Who are you looking at?

Having yaks milk tea and walnuts in a local tea-house with our friend Si Ba.

Many of the Tibetans look very much the Cow Boys and Girls that they are.

Handsome people.

Si Ba and Fanny in the market buying incense for the temple.

An interesting picture on many levels.

These guys offered me their prayer beads to hold… so I did.

Si Ba getting stopped and searched again, and again, and again. I asked him how he puts up with it and he replied ” mei ban fa”.. (no worries)

The tank of Fanny’s bike sprung a leak because a rubber supporting mount was missing and after 6,000 kilometers “on road” and “off road” it vibrated a crack in the attachment. A bit dangerous,  especially as self immolation is illegal in Tibet. Therefore we had to ride with no more than 30% of fuel in the tank at all times which meant siphoning fuel from my tank for several hundred kilometers until we got a new tank in Lhasa sent from Hangzhou. All part of the testing program, I guess.

And so we set off from our hostel in Lhasa…

We continued with the totally ridiculous practice of having to fill the bikes with petrol in open watering cans, kettles and tea pots. Unsafe, annoying and a hassle that invariably resulted in our petrol tanks being not full enough, or with petrol left over in the tea pots that we would donate to a fellow biker. Invariably we got petrol over everyone and everything as we trudged back and forth from the pumps.  The logic was that nearly all motorcycles in China are peasant owned small engined machines that are neither safe nor well maintained and so prone to leak or even explode. The local authorities, therefore, stipulate that motorcycles and their cigarette smoking owners be kept a safe distance from the petrol pumps.  In most of China, and particularly the wild west, modern large engine motorcycles found elsewhere in the world are unheard of … and so given that they have two wheels are subjected to the same logic…. just like their ban on Chinese highways. I am surprised there isn’t a Chinese Chengyu (idiom) “Four wheels good… two wheels bad”.

Back riding with the big peaks again.

Beautiful roads weaving between peaks and rivers high up on the Tibet-Qinghai  Plateau.

Mount Everest (珠穆朗玛峰)… which I never saw because the authorities would not let me ride the 80 kilometers or so from Tingri to Base Camp. Despite having Hong Kong papers and documentation I was deemed by my fellow human beings to be the wrong race to look at the tallest mountain on our shared planet.   Fanny did all she could to help and support me but it was no good …. I guess we’ll see it from Nepal one day.

The sacred Sky Lake (Nam Tso) with 7,000 meter peaks in background.

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping next to sacred Nam Tso Lake at 4,900 meters. The mountain in background is Yan Qing Tang Gu La  at 7,800 meters. There is a local saying that when you are here you never think of home.

Our remote campsite at Nam Tso

There were lots of semi wild, huge and woolly Tibetan dogs. During the night the temperature plummeted to minus 15 degrees and so the dogs slept right outside our tents pressed up against us… keeping us both a bit warmer.