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.
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 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
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’.
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 huoguo (hotpot)
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 probably use to ride in Hong Kong when she moves there in 2013. The white fox hat might not be needed though.
Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum
At the motorcycle show in Chongqing
Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.
“And there we were riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti” blah blah blah ……
The last time we faced our “alive and kicking” lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.
Fanny facing the press. There were big crowds and we had many press briefings to go to.
Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR
Me riding around the show ground. A wheelie, perhaps?
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?
Would you like a bowl of noodle? Looks like you need something to eat.
Messing about on the CF Moto monkey bike… good fun.
Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK in its new signature livery of black and blue … will match Fanny’s bruisies.
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 the CF Moto 650 TR
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
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 and Italian magazines and also publishes a very popular blog at http://www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip
Getting into the mood ….can’t stay grumpy with all these bikes to play with
I would really like one of these too… or a new KTM 1290 Super Duke … or a ????
Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?
Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev’It motorcycling kit. http://www.527motor.com.cn
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… 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 Chinese motorcycle press.
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.
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) … Riding his 650 NK. I have seen many stunt riders and none are as passionate, fun or skillful as Hu. Great guy.
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 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.
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 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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
Still cruising … where the streets have no name sort of thing
Lots of lily ponds and ducks
Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy
Sometimes very muddy
Lets go round and detour?
A reminder of modern China creeping in.
Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province
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
Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along
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 City of China.
Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square during the evening.
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. When its grey , its really grey in China.
We could see the highway high up above us… passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges that spanned the many gorges for many miles.
Fengu – Ghost City
Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei
Don’t look down
Locals selling mushrooms and fungi such as ‘black wood ear’ (黑木耳)
Climbing back up into the mountains.
Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家）
We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day
Above the mountain mist
Lunch in a small town
Reminders of the pace of development in China.
Bit muddy again
Like chocolate pudding
Goes on a bit
Fanny trying to avoid another mud bath.
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
Look .. its a … (but you’ll never know because you were on the highway)
“ge roff roff my land….”
“….or I’ll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.
corn on the cob.
or chili ..
Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house
Rising up into Huang Shui (Yellow Water) National Park at border with Hubei
A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.
Crossing beautiful valleys and rivers… very remote … very few people.
China… a place of stark contrasts.
Crossing another valley and up into mountains .. surrounded by autumn colours.
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 later researched it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.
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
Local farm houses
Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.
One of the few humans we had seen. Not often you can say that in China.
Our last mountain pass before we rode into Hubei.
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.
…. 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).