Chapter 35 – Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka –a tropical island off the south coast of Indian and famous for Ceylon tea, Tamil Tigers and Arthur C Clarke. A lot of people who have visited have been singing its praises, but what’s it like to explore on a motorcycle?

Picking the slightly out of season period of early July, Fanny and I flew on the surprisingly good value Sri Lankan Airlines from Hong Kong to Colombo, and then took a taxi from the airport to a colonial style house that Fanny had booked on the outskirts of the Capital.

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Srilanka

Our motorcycle route… mostly the south west, south and central highlands ….still a few places to visit in the future.

 

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Yasmine’s house on the outskirts of Colombo

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Yep… all to ourselves.

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My new friend … guarding the pool

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Sri Lankan breakfast

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Fanny and our lovely host, Yasmine

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Lush tropical gardens

 

OK…. so enough holiday snaps of Rupert and Fanny idling about and stuffing their faces … for now!

What about the motorcycles?

We searched online and found a place renting out scooters not too far from the airport and we arranged to hire two Honda XR 250 Bajas… an iconic bike and one I have seen being ridden very successfully in remote parts of Africa.

Austin Vince would no doubt approve because its a small 250cc Honda and I can see the logic for having such a bike for a long expedition. I think they look like classic adventure bikes, and I really like the two big headlights and gold wheel rims.

Honda XLR 250R Baja

The Honda XLR 250 Baja … our choice for the Sri Lanka trip

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The actual bikes we hired… the pictures not doing justice to what dogs they really were.

 

I hired a modern Honda XR 250 for a tour of Thailand a few years back and it was in good condition, well looked after, and everything worked. I really liked it.

These bikes were not in good condition, but they were reasonably cheap at US$21 per day. I was assured they were road worthy, although it was obvious that if you actually owned either of them you would have to spend hours in the garage with a full list of repairs and maintenance to do.

Fanny’s bike was slightly lower in the seat than mine, in slightly better condition, but the handlebars had slipped in the triple clamps and were a few degrees out which is something I find incredibly irritating.

Fanny on the other hand didn’t seem to mind…. after all she had ridden across the whole of Africa on a KTM 990 Adventure that had “out of true” handle bars after she crashed her motorcycle spectacularly in the remote deserts of Namibia.

To start the the Baja required a contortionist effort to pull up a broken toggle above the carburetor and engage the “choke”. The bike simply would not start without doing so. With practice I got used to this, but it meant I started the day rolling around on the floor and getting my hands covered in oil and grime. Not a big deal, but annoying nonetheless.

After a good nights rest we took a tut tut scooter taxi from Yasmine’s house all the way up to Negombo in the north where the bike shop was located. It was further than we thought and took a couple of hours, but it did give us a chance to look around and alerted us to the atrocious traffic conditions in and around Colombo, and indeed across Sri Lanka.

 

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I smashed the opaque yellow plastic obscuring the digital display… so I could see the speedo and odometer. It didn’t seem to distract from the overall run down look of the bike. The black bungee held my iPhone in place so I could follow the GPS. It worked “OK”

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Fanny collecting her bike from the shop.

 

We were told by the owner of the shop that we must both get Sri Lankan driving permits and that could take a few days.

Oh?

Or….. we could risk it and deal with the police as and when?

OK, we’ll do that.

We wanted to get on and I was confident I could handle the local rozzers, who seemed to be nice British Colonial types, like I used to be. How hard could it be?

I handed over a deposit and Fanny paid for for 13 days bike hire and we got going along a back lane route I set around the outskirts of Colombo back to Yasmine’s house on the east of the city, in a vain attempt to avoid the heavy traffic.

I was a bit nervous that Fanny had not been riding much over the last year or so, but she quickly got back into it and we both navigated and weaved through the appallingly bad traffic with no problems at all. In fact, the Honda Baja seemed perfect for Fanny.  I had to remind myself that this is a woman who has ridden around the world on every surface and in every condition Planet Earth has to offer.  Fanny is perfectly fine.

I had downloaded an iPhone App called “Sygic” and also the maps for Sri Lanka. This meant that unlike Google or Baidu Maps we could navigate without having to be online. Much like digital cameras put Kodak out of business, these new GPS apps are a free alternative to a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS.

I also bought a Sri Lankan 4G Sim card with internet access for 2 weeks at next to nothing and despite my reservations that there must be a catch, it worked perfectly for the whole trip and the signal coverage was pretty good. I was able to use the online maps as well and tether my phone to Fanny’s iPhone so she had internet access the whole time as well. Isn’t technology great?

The only issue was that the bracket I bought in China to hold the iPhone onto the handlebars?  It was still on the kitchen table in Hong Kong!

Like many occasions on our motorcycle adventures we came up with a work around and I used some bungees and strapped the iPhone onto the dash over the instrument panel that I couldn’t see anyway because the plastic was now opaque yellow.

Fortunately there was a USB power socket that I could power up the iPhone battery … otherwise it would only last a few hours with the bluetooth or GPS activated.  I did have to turn off the headlights as the electrics and battery were a bit dodgy.

Normally you cannot turn off motorcycle headlights, as its a safety feature, but we were in Asia and safety comes second to practicality and so the owners had fitted an on/off switch to save power.

Anyway, bikes and navigation sorted, ready to go.

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Fanny is a really good bike rider and the Honda 250 was perfect for her.

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Blue helmet, blue tinted glasses and headlights on full beam to “try” and scare the locals … all good.

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My Honda Baja had a particularly uncomfortable seat so I bought a seat cover!  A toilet seat cover to be accurate.  Nice.

 

During the trip I carried all the luggage and used my Givi water proof panniers that I had bought in the UK,  and our waterproof North Face day sacks. We were traveling light… just how we like it.  I think we could have gone even lighter, although not much. We wore our light weight motorcycle jackets for protection from sun and because they have a bit of armour inside. Perfect.

After about 50 kilometers in the saddle I came to the indisputable conclusion that my bike had the most uncomfortable seat I have ever sat on. Where was my black sheep skin cover when I needed it? Ah yes….on the kitchen table in Hong Kong with the iPhone bracket. Ta Ma De !

So, I made an emergency purchase (30 UK pence) of a rather lovely toilet seat cover, that whilst not being anywhere near as comfortable as a sheep skin, was Ho Gwoh Mo (better than nothing).

It did mean we had to stop quite often so I could get off the bike and walk about, or stand on the foot pegs for the blood to start flowing into my aging numb bum. Also, it was very hot and quite humid so we needed to stop and take a drink. I have learned from past experience that dehydration creeps up on you quickly on biking expeditions and so water discipline is vital, even if you are not thirsty.

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Bikes parked outside our room at Yasmine’s place in Colombo

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All ready to go …..but first more tea …. my passport says I’m British and it is Ceylon after all!

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Off we go…. a nice anti clockwise trip around southern Sri Lanka

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Not something you see everyday

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And coming to a grinding stop …. less than 50 kilometers into the trip to get carburetor jets cleaned by side of road. And a piece of wood wedged in to stop the plastic panniers melting on the exhaust. See we have done this before!!

 

 

The route out of Colombo and onto the coastal road to Galle, about 170 kilometers away, was like many we had done in third world cities where the locals drive badly and the police don’t care.

Slow and steady wins the race, keep away from nutters, animals and moving lumps of metal, and shout a lot. The shouting is actually pointless, but makes me feel better. Even fanny does it now in various languages.

Our host Yasmine had warned us that the driving could be interesting, and that the arch deacons of terrible driving were the buses.  My goodness, how right she was.

There were two types of bus… a blue one with a man hanging out the door waving his arms and shouting a lot, and a silver one with lots of chrome and lights … but without a man hanging out the door.

They are both awful, but the blue bus particularly so.

I don’t know what the Sinhalese or Tamil is for, ‘get out the friggin’ way… we’re coming through’, but I guess that was what the “hanging out man” was employed to scream at everyone as the bus continually cut everyone up.

It was difficult to get really road raged at Sri Lankan drivers whatever road genocide they seemed to be up to because they were so damned friendly and smiled all the time.

There was quite a lot of Indian style wobbly head, arms waving, and shouting things like ‘What for you kicking my dog calling him fuck off‘ … but in a very friendly and smiley way that immediately dampened any annoyance and made me laugh…even as they attempted to impale us on their front bumpers.

For Fanny?  Nothing unusual… just like a normal day riding in Shanghai. I think she was enjoying it!

About half way down the coastal road my bike stopped and I could see petrol pouring out of the carburetor and dripping straight onto the red hot engine. Holy shit?

After standing well back, scratching my chin and thinking aloud, ‘that’s not good’ over and over again a crowd gathered. After a general consultation with most of Sri Lanka in several languages I didn’t understand, it was opined that the jets were blocked.

We were told that for about 500 Sri Lankan Rupees (a quid or so) any street side mechanic, of which there seemed to be many, could fix it …and that’s what happened. Bike sorted…off we go again.

My bike was not a good specimen of motorcycle. It was 1990s purply blue in colour with those daft graphics they used in those days, and everything was in poor condition. The clutch, the brakes, the engine, the suspension, the bearings, the tyres, every cable, the bodywork, the pegs, the levers, controls, hand grips, ….. everything. I had to keep saying to myself, ‘its still going and its not mine’,  ‘its still going and in 10, 9, 8, etc… days I will never see it again’.

Fanny on the other hand seemed to really like her bike with its non perpendicular handlebars and bent levers.  ‘How’s your bike?’, I would ask her all the time.

‘Fine’, came back the answer every time.

As far as Fanny is concerned, she rarely gets upset by anything… all part of life’s rich tapestry is her mantra. If it goes… all is fine.

I did, however, have to rescue her a few times at traffic intersections when her bike stalled and she couldn’t get it started again.  These Hondas will only start in neutral, not as KTMs and most other bikes will do with the clutch engaged in any gear. The gears were so clunky and stiff to click up and down, and with no green neutral indicator working, it required some serious manual labour and bikers tradecraft to locate neutral and get going again.

The Baja engine is a single piston 250cc, has a simple carburetor,  the frame is quite big in size, and to be honest more than fast enough for everywhere we went to in Sri Lanka. Its just they were both in such a shabby state that I thought mine was going to break down all the time. It also sounded awful…just like a motorcycle about to break down… but it didn’t.

One of the reasons for the noise was that the drive chains were bone dry and hadn’t been oiled, ever.

We were explicitly told not to oil the chains, the reason given that they had ‘O’ rings that would get damaged by oil.  Of course, this was nonsense.

I was unable to tune out the dreadful noise my bike was making as its crunched, screeched  and scraped along and so as soon as I could I put both the bikes and ourselves out of our misery and doused both chains in oil.  Lots of it.

Better.

 

 

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I don’t think elephants or human females should have to wear body covers and masks.  A very bling burka nonetheless.

 

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Sri Lanka … a colourful surprise around every corner

 

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Demonstration ….  “Elephant lives matter”.

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A bit of gravel

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A quid to fix the carburetor and clean the jets

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The Baja is a great bike. Good engine. Some strange quirks, though. For instance the engine oil is poured into a filler in the bike frame near the handle bars… never seen that before.

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Arriving in the Old Fort at Galle on southern coast.

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Street dancing procession… very lively, colourful and loud!

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One of many temples we saw here and there.

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Fanny and her silver XR Baja

 

 

We arrived in Galle by late afternoon and rode around looking at the ancient walled fort, built by the Dutch many centuries ago.

When we got there it was packed with tourists, many from China who were doing the things Chinese seem to do everywhere. Posing for photographs in borrowed traditional clothing, doing ‘V’ signs (??) and repeatedly jumping in the air to get that “joyous jumping in the air” picture to put on Weibo (Chinese Facebook). One person does it… they all do it.

We thought of booking a place in Galle, but the few rooms we saw were a bit grim and expensive and so Fanny found a really nice hotel about 10 kilometers out of town that had a seafood restaurant serving the Sri Lankan specialty of chili mangrove crabs.

A very very happy Fanny indeed.

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Lots of churches

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Galle lighthouse

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Pretty streets and historic buildings in old Galle

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Exploring the walled fort

 

After Galle we headed along the south coast road to Dickwella. Not the greatest name I have ever heard for a place, but as it turned out it was a small coastal town with a beautiful beach in a secluded horseshoe bay. Fanny again did her research magic and booked us into a boutique hotel called “Salt”.

Here we idled about, swam in the sea, read books, Fanny had some body massages, we ambled about on the beach and along trails, ate every hour, and drank continuously.

The rooms at Salt were very tastefully designed with open to the elements bathrooms and semi open bedrooms, in the sense they only had three walls. Quite a few mosquitoes so the fan and mosquito net was really needed.  Sort of luxury camping.

On the top floor was an open plan lounge/bar that served very tasty meals and drinks by very attentive and friendly staff. Simple and stylish. Web link below.

http://www.salthousesrilanka.net/

I am not much of a beach person, nor is Fanny, but we can say this is one of the best beach locations we have ever been to and we will definitely go back for a short break in the future, provided that the commercial developers don’t ruin it.

We discovered the Indian 傻逼 who got me fired from my job in Hong Kong a decade or so ago was building a resort in Dickwella to add to his collection of Monopoly board hotels around the World. Would I like to send him a message, Fanny asked me?  No I friggin’ wouldn’t.

 

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Dickwella…. Horseshoe Bay

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Fanny starts her transition from a light skinned person to a very dark person within 48 hours. I on the other hand went from light pink with red spots to dark pink with red patches.

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For some bizarre reason … the dogs found me and followed me around for the whole stay. To Fanny’s amazement this always happens where ever we go…from China to Asia to Africa.  I had a pack of pugs follow me for 3 days across Sichuan and Yunnan once. Pugs!

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Warm sea, blue skies, the sound of breeze in palm trees, a book, a hammock, shade and beer….  Idling 101.

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Tea, fresh local fruit and buffalo curd… nice

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Breakfast looking at us

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A particularly gormless expression … That’s me .. not the dog.

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Ms Fang enjoying herself

 

 

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Yes… I have barely moved

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Like Thailand 30 years ago

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Tea anyone?

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We ran into a 3 meter snake on the road. I was jumping around  and screaming like a 3 year old girl as it slithered over my flipflops. The snake didn’t seem to care.

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Time to get going again after a relaxing beachy thing and head to Yala…. a large National Park in the south of Sri Lanka

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More elephants…

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South Coast

 

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‘That will be two bananas for guarding the bikes’

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Hello

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Wild coastline near Yala… reminds me of Overberg in South Africa where we have a house

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The pool at our place in Yala

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Going for a drive in Yala Nature Reserve… lots of elephants and a few leopards

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Even on the beach

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Packed his truck for the seaside

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Huts we lived in on beach near Yala

 

 

 

On the way to Yala National Park we ran into a police road block. As we approached a police officer noticed us and he raised his arm, and so thinking on my feet, or my numb bum more accurately, I employed Rupert’s police avoidance technique and waved enthusiastically back at him and smiled inanely.

As we passed the rather astounded and clearly flustered officer I allowed Fanny to pull up along side me and instructed her, ‘Don’t stop’ and we sped up somewhat as I plotted an escape along less obvious roads to Yala.  I never pay bribes.

We found a pretty swanky apartment right on the beach next to the main gate of the national park, again found by Fanny using online accommodation apps like Expedia and Air BnB. Always much cheaper to book online and you can check the reviews.

I did some investigation near the entrance of the game park and found some local boys who would give us a safari tour in a game viewer at a fraction of the cost being offered by the hotel.

Having been to Kafue, South Luangwa,  Chobe, Okavango Delta, Masai Mara, Etoshe, Kruger, Serengeti, Lake Charla, Ngorogoro Crater, Kilimajaro, etc… we were prepared to be a bit underwhelmed, but to our delight the park was really good.

Yala is mainly famous for leopards and Asian elephants. Alas,  we didn’t get close enough to see any leopards, but there were lots of elephants that for some reason in my mind I thought would be more even tempered than their African cousins.

Much to my absolute delight, and I have to say one of the funniest things I have ever seen, we spotted an elephant ambling along on a beautiful beach. This was too much of a photo opportunity to miss and a bus load of Fujian and Zhejiang peasants (Fanny assured me they were from their appearance and accents) rushed up to the elephant and started snapping away and making a lot of noise.

The elephant clearly took exception to these ivory and rhino horn smuggling 傻逼 and let out a roar that would put its African cousins to shame. It then started chasing after the Chinese whose little legs couldn’t move quick enough in the sand.

Cameras and selfie sticks went flying as they ran away in panic to their bus. The local tour guides rushed into action to shoo the elephant away as I was wiping tears from my eyes. This is too good. I couldn’t help myself as I told one group of thuggish looking Fujian “xiang ba lao” dog eaters that it was karma for all the environmental plunder and ivory smuggling they inflicted on the planet.

They looked absolutely crest-fallen…. not least for being laughed at by a Chinese speaking European.

Brilliant…

The safari got even better as the sun started to fade and we saw other animals emerge from the bush and many beautiful indigenous birds. What could be better…. Chinese being chased by elephants and seeing a beautiful green Sri Lankan Bee-eater swooping the skies catching,  bees, I guess.

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Yala beach house

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Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) , perched on twig in forest, Yala West National Park, Sri Lanka

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Visit by a monitor lizard while we were having lunch

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oink oink

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Bit of lunch and time to move on to the mountains

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One of many waterfalls we see as we climb up to over 2000 meters into the central mountains

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Stopping off for coffee in a place called Ella in the hills. It was full of the hippy traveling types that you always encounter in certain parts of Asia. Lots of banana pancakes, lardy pretend effnic food, body piercings, tattoos, Bob Marley on the stereo and more baggy bright hippy uniforms than you can shake a stick at. Not my cup of tea.  Nor fanny’s … so we move on!

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Funny Fanny

 

 

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Not a bad view …Ramboda

 

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View from our hotel room window in Ramboda

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Looks like the Lake District in England.. or Wales perhaps. It is raining after all.

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Long hike up the hill in the rain to the Mackwood tea plantations

 

 

The ride from the hot sunny south coast of Sri Lanka to the cool misty mountainous interior couldn’t have been more dramatic. Within a few hours we rode up nearly 3000 meters, and the temperature dropped from 35 degrees to about 14 degrees….and it started raining. All in 200 kilometers. Some of the time in thick cloud as we rode up and down the twisty roads surrounded by lush green tea plantations.

We stayed at a hotel in Ramboda perched on the hillside with spectacular views of waterfalls and valleys.

The food in the hotel was the usual tourist buffet fodder and so we explored the local villages and ate authentic local dhal, roti, pol sambol, rice noodles, veggies and curries. As usual we had to persuade the waiters and shop owners that we wanted the real deal, not the tourist slop. ‘Are you sure?’, they would always ask. ‘Absolutely… don’t spare the chili and spice and leave the heads on’.

One of our greatest joys traveling around the world is eating local authentic food and its one of the reasons I would struggle living back in Blighty again. I know I always make a fuss about western food being so bad, but with rare exceptions it usually is. The vast majority of my countrymen treat mealtimes like some unpleasant chore and feel guilty for being hungry. They make one concession to healthy eating… the salad.

By contrast, eating in Asia is a joyous occasion and Asians treat food very seriously. With the exception of the Philippines (yes, you know its true), food across the whole of the Asia Pacific is exciting and delicious. I have tried to educate my western friends and relatives about the merits of authentic Asian cuisine but they usually respond with exaggerated theatrics, glaring accusingly at their huang hua yu and yelling, ‘Its looking at me’, or  ‘I ate a chili –I can’t breathe’.

This all said, I would like to point out to my sister Amanda, and her daughter Sally, that my disdain for western food does not apply to cake…. or pudding.  Heaven forbid.

We explored the local tea plantations and at one place called Mackwood we saw how the tea was made and sampled a few cups of rosie leaf, with chocolate cake. There was a flow diagram on the wall of the factory that explained the eight stages of tea production and I am almost sure its the same chart Ms Hingorani, my school teacher at the Holy Rosary Primary School, used in a lesson about tea manufacture some 45 years ago. Maybe there are somethings that never need to change.

We had taken a tut tut scooter taxi up the mountain as it was a fair hike and raining hard, but on the way back we decided to spend the whole afternoon hiking 15 kms back to the hotel through the tea plantations and alongside the waterfalls. Very interesting.

The following day we decided to ride to Kandy in the center of Sri Lanka and have a look  at the temples and Buddhist relics and then ride along the country lanes back to Colombo. Our advise to anyone wanting to do a motorcycle ride in Sri Lanka, or anywhere else for that matter, is to set the route to all the “B” roads or less. This can be done on some GPS navigation programs in the route menu, but its better to plan the route ahead by setting way-points to avoid congested and hectic main roads. You see more and its much more enjoyable.

The bikes were still ticking along OK, although no more comfortable, but they had done the job and so far nothing had crashed into us, despite a few close shaves.  As we took a break I asked Fanny what she wanted to do for the next few days. She said she wanted to return the bikes and go back to Yasmine’s house and relax.

Wow… just what I wanted to do too.

We telephoned Yasmine and she had a couple from Canada in the guest house we had stayed in previously, but she said we could stay in a spare room in the main house…a beautiful room like the rest of her house. Very stylish and tasteful.

The bike shop we hired the Hondas from were less than accommodating and said, ‘a contract is a contract’,  and they would not return the balance of the rental. Really?  Yes, really.  After so many years I should have realized what these types are like. Always friendly when taking your money… not so much if you ask for it back.  Suan le ba?

So, the rest of the few days we had in Sri Lanka we relaxed in the peaceful gardens of Yasmine’s home and explored around Colombo, eating chili crabs and mooching around the shops and back streets.

Sri Lanka is a great place. Very friendly people, some absolute gems of places to see, tropical sunny weather, lots of elephants, cheap and excellent food.

Would we do it on a motorbike again? Perhaps not. But thanks to the British Empire and its talented Victorian engineers if we ever came back to Sri Lanka we will get around like the locals…..  by train.

 

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Nice view from the bog.

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Goodbye Bajas… you made it…just

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My riding partner

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Back at Yasmines with Kumari, our excellent chef. Thanks Kumari.

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Oh go on… another meal!

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Bit of warm rain from the monsoon that was affecting the west of Sri Lanka and India

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I have no idea what Fanny is doing. Sitting on a throne?

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Exploring Colombo

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Buying tea

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Colombo … will not look the same in 5 years for sure.

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Wandering around Colombo

 

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Sundowner in the sky lounge of a hotel in Colombo

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Our last sunset in Sri Lanka … for now

 

 

 

Next Chapter ….. Colorado and Utah BDR on a Honda Africa Twin

 

 

 

 

Chapter 26 – 中国 Part 8 – Hubei, Anhui and onwards to Shanghai

The point at which we actually crossed from Chongqing into Hubei province was high up in the beautiful misty mountains of Huangshui (Yellow Water) National Park. We had thought of staying there for the night, but it was late autumn, getting quite cold and the locals told us that all the bingguan and hotel owners had locked up and gone back to the city until the season starts again in the Spring. It was a shame because it was a very picturesque and peaceful place, probably because all the tourists had left. We therefore planned to push on towards Yichang where the Three Gorges Dam project is located on the Yangtze River.

But in order to make any form of progress we needed to get onto the G50 highway and head east. Whilst we were banned from using national highways in Sichuan and Chongqing provinces, motorcycles were allegedly tolerated on highways in Hubei and Anhui provinces. Why the difference? Who knows?

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

 

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

We were both quite tired after a long day of riding in the mountains and thought that when we reached the toll booth of the highway we could ride straight through, but no… the officials stopped us. I was not entirely sure what was going on, but after a good fifteen minutes of Fanny arguing the toss the entire shift of officials just walked away towards their administration building and I looked towards Fanny and she shouted, ‘GO’ and so we rode passed the barriers and onto the highway just as the sun was setting. I later asked Fanny what it was all about and she explained that the toll booth officials had not encountered bikes like ours before, and so to save themselves from making any decision or lose of face, they just turned a blind eye, knowing we would either ride onto the highway or turn around and go away.  .

All was going well, but we soon came alongside a highway patrol car and I faced the dilemma all vehicles have. Do we hang back or over take them and risk being stoppped for speeding or whatever. They did not seem to be taking any notice of us, but after five or ten minutes the officers in the car directed us to pull over. Here we go again I thought. For reasons I can only put down to fatigue, Fanny decided that she was going to pretend she could not speak any Chinese and so I was left to chat with the officers. ‘Is there any problem, Officer?’ I asked, ‘I thought it was OK for us to ride on the highway in Hubei’.

‘Oh, it is OK’, replied the officer,’ but we are closing the highway because of a big traffic accident up ahead and you must leave the highway at this exit’.

As I unnecessarily translated what was going on to Fanny she put her head in her hands and I thought she was going to weep. ‘We are not leaving this highway’, she insisted.

I asked the officer if we could either wait or ride carefully past the accident.  After a lot of discussions over their police radios they said we could wait, but told me it would be about 2-3 hours before the road would open again.

I did not think it was a good idea and tried to reason with Fanny, ‘I think we should get off the highway now, its late, let’s find a place to stay or even camp by side of road and get going in morning’, I suggested, ‘Riding on motorways in the dark AND in the rain is not a good idea… we’re tired and its been a long day’.

‘I WANT TO CARRY ON’, Fanny demanded.

So we waited.

Fanny sat by the side of the road, chain smoking and keeping out of the way of the officers, and I was left to chat with the police in Mandarin for several hours. A very daft situation and it got even more ridiculous when more and more police officers arrived in an assortment of police vehicles and insisted on taking pictures with us. I knew Fanny had been posting our motorcycle adventure on the very popular Chinese online forum called http://www.weibo.com and had recently posted the account of the traffic cone throwing incident (described in previous chapter) and it had gone viral resulting in hundreds of thousands of comments and responses. I knew Fanny was becoming somewhat of a celebrity in China, but did these police really know who she was? If they did, they were not letting on. None of it made sense to me.

We were asked for our documents and as usual when stopped by the police I showed them my UK passport, the motorcycle registration documents, our insurance policies and my Chinese driving licence.  Of course Fanny also had all the legal documents for China, but she just pulled out her Hong Kong driving licence and gave them a “that’s all you’re getting” look.  I was surprised that they seemed quite satisfied with the Hong Kong driving licence as it is not valid for China, being technically a foreign one. I was even more surprised that the police never asked for her passport or Chinese ID card which would have confirmed she is actually Shanghanese.

I continued chatting with various officers, and they continued taking pictures of us posing with their cars as we all waited in the dark and rain on an empty highway in western Hubei. Something was definitely going on, but to this day I have no idea.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

Literally one of hundreds of pictures that were taken of us.

The police moved their cars and vans around so they could use the headlights to take more pictures. We were slightly bemused by it all, but it was all done with good humour  and in a friendly manner and so like much of the last 20 months we just went with the flow.

What is going on?

All a bit odd… standing in the middle of a closed highway. At least we were not being thrown off the highway for once.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny? How does he know she is called Fanny. All her documents say 方怡。Did he hear my call her  name? Odd.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny?  How does he know she is called Fanny. Her documents say 方怡。Did he hear me call her name?

The character "e" used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  'You guys are a lot nicer than your colleagues in Chongqing'  I told the officers.

The character “e” used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  We liked Hubei as the police were a lot nicer and more friendly than their colleagues in Chongqing.

After waiting on the highway for a few hours a very small and slightly built senior ranking police officer arrived in a command car, and after more posing for photographs gave me a serious briefing…… ‘Maximum speed 100 kph, keep right, keep lights on, and drive carefully.’

You can’t argue with that, and so I thanked and shook the hands of at least ten police officers and then we rode off in the pitch dark with cameras flashing behind us, seemingly the only vehicles on the highway.  At 8.30pm we passed under a sign indicating that we had 380 kilometers to ride to Yichang and that meant a good four hours of riding in the dark and rain. We had already ridden over 500 kilometers that day and I braced myself for some iron butt riding.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting petrol pumped straight into the tank from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting fuel pumped straight into our petrol tanks for once from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

We rode through about fifty tunnels and probably across an equal number of bridges. Some I knew were spectacular and civil engineering wonders, but because of the rain and darkness I could see nothing. It was slightly stressful because I was worried about Fanny, but she was doing perfectly well and when we stopped off for petrol she said she was actually enjoying herself. I really couldn’t think why.

I did, and still do to this day, regret not waiting until the morning to ride to Yichang. Apart from giving Fanny the experience of riding in the dark on a motorway, there was little to recommend taking the risk of riding in the dark and missing out on some of China’s most spectacular gorges and river systems. In this particular area hundreds of towns and villages have been submerged by rising waters due to the dam, and millions of people have been relocated. This is almost unimaginable in any country other than China where, rightly or wrongly, things get done and done quickly.

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

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We were not really in a rush and without being able to see much had ridden through the mountains and over the spectacular valleys of the Three Gorges.  I am lucky enough to have hiked in this area four years previously when I was studying Mandarin in Beijing and it was before the waters had started to significantly rise.  It is a very beautiful part of China.  At that time the Three Gorges Dam project had not been completed and so this time we made a plan to go on a day tour to visit one of the engineering wonders of the world and at least see what all the fuss is about.

The region from the air.

The Three Gorges … with the huge dam to the right.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and engulfing whole towns.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing millions of people and engulfing whole towns and communities.  China needs the energy and having lived in Beijing I can definitely say this is a better way of generating power than the ubiquitous coal power stations that create pungent smog and choking pollution.

Not my picture, but a typical Chinese tourist industry one framed Chinese style with flowers in foreground ... just like a classical Chinese painting. However, on a good day it will look like this.

The three gorges …. looks just like a classical Chinese painting.

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We arrived in the heart of Yichang at about midnight. It had been one hell of a ride and we had ridden close to 900 kilometers since we set off fifteen hours earlier.  I can safely say I did not enjoy riding on the highway in the dark, but I was happy we had made progress and that Fanny had cheered up.  On arrival in yet another huge Chinese city we were gratefully met by a member of Yichang’s BMW motorcycle club who had been patiently waiting for us and he escorted us on his GS1200 Adventure to a tourist hotel. Given the choice I would prefer to camp and save money, but camping is not easy in large cities, it was late… and it was raining.

We made it... its a motel.... not that exciting .. but warm and dry

Our motel in Yichang near the Three Gorges Dam project

For those of you who have never been on a Chinese guided tour it is a definite “must do” on life’s bucket list. It is an experience if nothing else and gives one an idea of what the average Chinese person has to put up with if they want to do anything vaguely touristy or do any travelling.  Independent travel is growing very quickly in China, especially among the new generation of upwardly mobile, but for the average person the organised guided tour is the only affordable and practicable way to visit their own country or travel abroad.

So what’s it like?  Well the day starts by getting picked up at a designated location by one of the thousands of tourist buses and after finding a seat (or not) don’t be surprised if the person sitting next to you immediately settles down to sleep and closes the curtains obscuring the view you paid to see, nor if they repeatedly empty the contents of their lungs to the sound track of a demented cappuccino machine and deposit the green blob on the floor between your feet. It is imperative that you bring your MP3 to drown out the cacophony of deafening white noise and a high decibel monologue of memorized propaganda given by a small woman hiding behind a microphone. This is your tour guide and do not under any circumstances ask her any questions unless its involves asking where to buy extortionately priced plastic replicas of whatever you thought you were going to see, or some gelatinous food substance made out of animal hooves or innards on a stick.

On the bus ... Off the bus

On the bus … Off the bus

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You will all be given a brightly coloured hat with Chinese characters on the front, an assortment of passes, tickets, receipts and coupons that you must place in a plastic envelope attached to a brightly coloured ribbon around your neck and must have prominently displayed at all times whilst queuing, which you’ll spend most of your time doing.  You only need to understand three Chinese phrases —-“On the bus”, “Off the bus”, and “quickly”.

Completely ignore any reference to the word “laowai” (old foreigner) as they are talking about you and not to you. Whilst off the bus the tour guide will tool herself up with a portable white noise machine and a radio aerial with a coloured flag on the top which she will wave above her head whilst shouting “On the bus, Off the bus” etc.  Another golden rule is never ever under any circumstances talk the driver… you will recognise the driver because he is attached to an old coffee jar with tea leaves and flower petals floating inside and honks the horn all the time.

And so Fanny and I voluntarily, and with full knowledge of what we were letting ourselves into, set off on our “glorious revolutionary number one tour”  to the Three Gorges Dam. We found our seats in the cheap section and had hardly been on the bus five minutes before a huge fight broke out between a middle aged women and our tour guide. I couldn’t catch what it was all about, but apparently the tour guide had seriously insulted the lady by suggesting she was a “tourist” when in fact she was a “local” from Hubei. Such a terrible and unforgivable mistake was cause enough for the lady from Hubei to shout and scream throughout the entire journey. The tour guide, however, was unfazed by all this commotion and simply turned up the volume on the white noise machine to maximum and carried on regurgitating her rote learned tourist guide babble without drawing breath.

Fanny's passes

Fanny’s passes

Its that our flag? Forgotten.

Waiting around for someone to do something.  Get off the bus, follow the flag, queue for something, get back on the bus, wait a few minutes, and then get off the bus again and join another queue.

Beyond! the magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

BEHOLD! The magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

No worries ... here's a plastic one. Behold! the plastic three gorges project

Can’t see it? No worries … BEHOLD! the plastic Three Gorges Dam project

C'mon Fanny ... I take you to all the best places.

Fanny having a great time … I take her to all the best places.

I have even got my anorak on... blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres a second

I have even got my anorak on… blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres of water a second, blah blah blah we designed it all ourselves and the lao wai did nothing

I am loving this...

I am loving this…

I am

I am, really

So is Fanny

So is Fanny

Look at her happy face

Look at her happy face

I know, I know.... its a dam

“???!!!”

Yes its a dam

I have to go on the internet to see what we were supposed to see. Ahh yes, its a big dam

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I actually quite enjoyed the dam visit. Joking aside its an amazing engineering feat and although our actual tour guide was a bit lacking in technical knowledge and didn’t really have anything interesting to say, I managed to sidle up to an English speaking guide with another tour group who had probably paid a lot more for their tour than us, and the guide really knew his electric turbines from his kilowatt hours. Not only have I become an avid bird spotter in my later life, but a civil engineering nerd of note.

After visiting the dam, the construction museum and of course several tourist shops belonging to the driver’s uncle, we headed back to Yichang where we went for a stroll along the Yangtze River and watched the locals swimming next to the “No Swimming” sign. Some of them had attached themselves to buoys and were floating off down the immense river. Not sure why as we never saw them again.

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating across river

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating down the river

 

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure ... with tubeless tyres.  An ugly exhaust because of the  EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik can't sort out.

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure R … with tubeless tyres. An ugly exhaust because of the EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik or Leo Vince can’t sort out.

The next day we were escorted out of the city by the BMW riders’ club members, and just as we were leaving the city I got a puncture in my back tyre. The first and only on the trip in China. Unlike the KTM 990 Adventure, repairing a tubeless tyre on the CF Moto is extremely easy and just requires pulling out the nail, or whatever, and pushing through and plugging the hole with a strip of gooey rubber. It took me less than 5 minutes and off we went again. The new KTM 1190 Adventure is being launched in 2013 and among many new updates on our 990 Adventures, including being 50% more powerful, is fitted with tubeless tyres. Its definitely the way to go as anyone who has had to repair a puncture on a tubed motorcycle tyre will agree (see Austria, Egypt and Tanzania chapters).

We rode all through the day, covered more than 700 kilometers and just as the sun was setting decided to pull off the highway at a lake in Anhui province called Huating. A really beautiful place where we managed to find a very cheap and pleasant room above a restaurant with a view over the lake.  Again, we were not in a big rush and so we decided to stay there for a couple of days and explore the area, before carrying on towards Shanghai.

Repairing the puncture and the guys who helped us.

Repairing the puncture and the BMW guys who helped us.

saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

Saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW motorcycle club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

Crossing one of many bridges. Roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress passed Wuhan to Anhui

Crossing one of many new bridges in China that now link the biggest road infrastructure in the world.  On this occasion the roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress through cities like Wuhan into Anhui province.

Fanny cruising along the highway in Hubei. Bikes going well and no worries about being thrown off highway until we get closer to Shanghai

Fanny cruising along a highway bridge in Hubei province. Our Chinese made motorcycles were going well and in Hubei we had no worries about being thrown off  highway until we got much closer to the mega-city of Shanghai. Chinese cities don’t just have one or two bridges spanning their rivers, they have dozens. The scale in China is immense.

Where ever we stop, large crowds come up to see the bikes. A rare sight  I guess to many people in China.

Where ever we stopped large crowds came up to see the bikes and ask questions. The big Chinese made motorbikes were a rare sight to many people.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off highway and stay at Huating lake in Anhui Province.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off and stay at Huating Lake in Anhui Province.

Enjoying the last few days of autumn in Anhui

Enjoying the last few warm days of autumn in Anhui

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun sets

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun set.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious. This is what touring in China is all about. My view that Chinese food is best in the world was vindicated where ever we went.

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days near the end of our big bike trip

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days as we come to the  end of our big bike trip.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this little paradise.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this charming little place on the shores of the Huating.  Clean, simple and cheap… just how we like it.

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking. The ingredients used in Chinese cooking always reflect the local area and tastes and flavours changed as we moved from one province (or even county) to another, but one thing always remained the same where ever we went… a passion for freshness and quality.

And lake fish

We ate some delicious fish, prepared Anhui style.  These are dried lake fish which are often used in soups and stews.

Fanny eating "mantou" (a kind a bread bun) from a hawker in the main town

Fanny eating “mantou” (a kind a plain bread bun, normally from northern China)

Local fruit stall... selling You Zi (Pomelo) which we eat often

Local fruit stall… including the large grapefruit looking You Zi (Pomelo) which we ate often at this time of year. Chinese people do not really eat puddings and sweets, but fresh fruit is always an important staple. No wonder the average Chinese person looks lean and healthy.

Having our dinner next to the lake and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

Sitting by the shores on Huating lake having our dinner and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

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Peaceful

A local girl picking cotton

A local girl picking cotton in the autumn sun

Cotton fields by the lake

Cotton fields by the lake in Huating, Anhui.

View from dinner

View from the small restaurant where we had our dinner

Last night at Huating before we set off towards Shanghai

Last night at Huating in Anhui Province before we set off towards Shanghai.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn't ask for a nicer place.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn’t ask for a nicer place.

Back on the road and the last stretch before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Back on the road and taking a petrol stop before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Our last petrol stop ... as always in China draws a crowd.

Our last petrol stop … as always in China the bikes draw a crowd and Fanny entertains them with stories from our trip. For many of the people we met they are witnessing the new generation of  modern China. The pace of change in China is phenomenal.

Arriving at CF Moto in Shanghai. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers from South Africa and taking 18  months... with a few stops here and there.

A very proud Fanny arriving in her home town of  Shanghai and being met by the owner of the local CF Moto shop. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers altogether from South Africa. It took  18 months… with a few stops here and there.  More adventure?  Of course.  Alaska to Chile? …. yes…. one day

We did it.

We did it.  53,800 Kilometers from Cape Town to Shanghai

The bikes did well.

Our CF Moto TR 650 bikes did well too.

We got into Shanghai after dark and left our bikes with the local CF Moto dealership as riding motorcycles without “沪” licence plates in Shanghai is illegal and could incur a big fine or even confiscation of our bikes.  We had ridden 12,300 kilometers in China on the CF Motos and 53,800 kilometers altogether since leaving Cape Town in June 2011.

Quite an adventure I would say.

Big Bike Trip Presentationin Shanghai

We were invited by Harley Davidson, Shanghai to use their facilities where Fanny and I gave a presentation about our Big Bike Trip to our guests and the local press.

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Presenting in Shanghai

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Fanny had a banner made up for the presentation in Shanghai

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Getting back into Shanghai life …. I had to have my “Chobe Safari Lodge” beanie and red fleece surgically removed.

a contrast to what we have been wearing for last 18 months

A contrast to what we have been wearing for the last 18 months

Fanny at charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny at a charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny looking lovely at Shanghai boxing charity event

Fanny…….my tough and beautiful round the world motorcycling partner

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale. A lady of many achievements

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale

Fanny looking very different to how she looked in Shanghai

Fanny in the deserts of north Kenya looking very different to how she looked at the charity boxing event in Shanghai

The end...

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal…

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Fanny and I stayed in Shanghai for two months where both of us were very busy catching up with the lives we had left behind. Fanny’s family live in Shanghai and they were very proud of her achievements and extremely pleased to see her back safe and well. Whilst Fanny had many things to attend to, including preparing for her bar exams and negotiating the new job she will start in the new year, I went back to language school to brush up my business Mandarin and get fit again in the gym and shed some of the kilograms I put on in Europe. In actual fact, I lost 7 kilograms, was back to my middle distant running form, fighting fit and looking forward to getting back to work myself, surprisingly.

We continued writing for our magazines, started on “the book” and  wrote some technical reviews of the motorcycles we had ridden. We attended presentations about our trip, gave interviews, and swapped our biking kit for dinner jackets and party dresses to attend some of Shanghai’s social events.

As the beautiful autumn sunshine in Shanghai turned to a decidedly chilly winter, we headed back to our starting point of Cape Town where we were reunited with our trusty KTMs. Bikers, and especially adventure bikers like us, become very attached to our seemingly inanimate two wheeled friends. We were both very excited and delighted to see them again. Fanny, me and our bikes had been through a lot together and seen the world as few will ever see it.  Adjusting back to so called normal life is quite difficult and for me a bit depressing, especially in winter, so we cheated the cold and gloom by simply changing hemispheres.

 

Arriving back where we started.... Cape Town

Arriving back in Cape Town with our biking kit

开普敦。

开普敦。

Back in South Africa with our KTMs

Back in South Africa with our KTMs… we have got this riding and camping lark down to perfection

KTMs arriving back in Cape Town --- where we started 18 months previously

My KTM 990 Adventure R being unpacked at the shippers in Cape Town and looking as good as the day we started off… which is more than I can say for myself.  We have cheated the northern hemisphere winter and back to the sun and beautiful of South Africa

Fanny's bike being unpacked

Fanny’s bike being unpacked and also looking like it could ride round the world again.

Both bikes back home at KTM Cape Town

A visit back to see Louis, Charl and the team at KTM Cape Town. Also, to have a quick look at their wonderful KTM 690 Adventure Onyx… very nice.

Back in Arniston ---southern tip of Africa

Having breakfast at “Willen’s” in Arniston …. the southern tip of Africa … and my home

Hout Bay

A ride out to Hout Bay for fish and chips … we love the northern hemisphere winter

Whilst relaxing in South Africa and watching television one day we made the mistake of switching over to the UK’s Sky News channel (which is to journalism what King Herod is to babysitting) and managed to catch up with what was going on in the rest of the world.  World economy? …still 乱七八糟.

Syria and middle east? …still fighting.

Terrorists? … still blowing people up.

Britain? ….still raining.

And America? …. nutters running amok and shooting up small children with “second amendment” assault rifles.

Same old same old.  Enough of that. Click. 

‘Let’s go out for a ride’

Cruising about Cape Town

Cruising about Cape Town

Borrowing a glider to fly off Signal Hill. Thanks www.paraglidesa.co.za

We rode up to Signal Hill in Cape Town and a tandem paragliding company lent me one of their gliders so I could have a fly.  I hadn’t flown for 18 months, but it’s like falling off a bike … just higher. Many thanks to http://www.paraglidesa.co.za

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

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At my home in Arniston

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Enjoying the amazing riding routes in the Cederberg and Karoo. Its going to be difficult for both of us to hang up the riding boots.

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

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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…..

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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 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 17 – The UK – its alright for ducks

 

stonehenge

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Utleystan in Yorkshire

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Fanny and her KTM 990 Adventure “Stella”

Constant rain, grey skies, mealy mouthed job worthies, stifling political correctness, unhealthy tasteless food, boring non stop reality TV, Kay Burley, speed cameras, stealth taxation, VAT, high crime rates, fat women in leggings, fat women in leggings and shorts, fat women in yoga pants, under performing sports teams, corrupt greedy bankers, a haven for violent radicals, inept and dishonest politicians, and fluorescent green reflective jackets….

HURRAY we finally made it to the mufti effnic kingdom of Blighty. The country I am indigenous to and have a love/hate relationship with … I love to hate it.

But hey! Enough of all that pom bashing stuff.

The reality is of course there are some real gems in good ol’ Blighty, but like diamond mining you have to sift through a lot of shit to find it.

The UK produces the best soldiers in the world; is a leader in innovation, creativity, art and design; has a unique sense of self effacing humour; and most importantly it produces Marstons Pedigree bitter and Marmite (both from Burton Upon Trent near where I grew up ….I might add).

We have some lovely friends and family who for some reason or another still live on “mud island” and they have all made Fanny and I extremely welcome in their homes and tolerated my smelly boots, wet soggy clothes, and my incessant whinging and whining about the food, the weather, Britain’s preoccupation with health and safety, snowflakes being offended at everything and anything, and inflicting diversity on me against my will.

I can’t help it… I like it the way it was… in 1839, probably.

We intended to take the Euro-tunnel from France to England, but the price for a single trip was a minimum of £99 each, and so we took the cheaper ferry option where on board we met some very interesting fellow bikers and shared our stories of daring do and adventures in far flung exotic places.

I have to say I was a bit emotional when I saw the white cliffs of Dover and realized we had actually ridden our bikes more than 35,000 kms from the southern tip of Africa, across the Middle east and Europe and all the way to England, and done so with no back up or support, no Long Way Down style Nissan Pathfinders full of spare parts, medics, security etc., and completely self financed. We had also managed to raise a few bucks for our charities, Autism Research Trust and Half the Sky along the way.

As we drove down the ferry ramp I looked back in my rear view mirror and saw the orange headlight of Fanny’s KTM bringing up the rear, as it had done every day for more than a year, and I felt immensely proud of her. Against all the odds she had done it. A remarkable achievement given that she only had a driving licence for a month before we set off.

And even more remarkable, that she had managed to put up with me the whole time!

I also felt very lucky and privileged as only a very few people ever get the chance to ride a motorcycle around the world, and of those who do, only a few get to do it on the best adventure motorcycle,  and together with their “other half”.

It was late when we cleared (i.e. just drove through) customs at Dover port, we were both very tired, the weather wasn’t very warm, and we had to make a concerted effort to remember to ride on the left hand side of the road for the first time since Kenya.

We were aiming for Bexhill on Sea in East Sussex where my good friend Nick Dobson and his parents live and where we would be staying to celebrate Nick’s 50th birthday and indeed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

As we were riding the twisty roads along the south coast of England I kept wondering whether this would be the end of our big bike trip. Neither of us were ready to stop and so I was constantly mulling over various options to keep going.  We were aiming for Shanghai and between us and east China were a lot of challenges.

It was strange riding in England after so long. We had no problem keeping to the UK speed limits as we had got into the habit of driving quite steadily and slowly for fuel and tyre consumption, but occasionally I would forget we were in the land of speed cameras, the terminally offended, and where the locals might get a tad upset if we did a bit of off roading across their gardens. Just as well we had South African licence plates!

Whilst we had become used to terrible driving conditions in places like Cairo and Addis Ababa, we still had to make a concerted effort to keep well clear of the notoriously “biker unfriendly” car drivers that hog the roads in the UK.

There are actually some very considerate car drivers about, but there are also some extremely inconsiderate and very grumpy ones. What is really disturbing is that there are some car drivers who think its perfectly OK to nudge a bicycle or motorcycle off the road, or deliberately prevent them filtering through spaces that are wide enough for two wheels but not for four. A definite slack jawed character flaw among some of the UK population.

The most dangerous times on UK roads are when the mummies (both male and female) are collecting their little darlings from school in their “Surrey tractors” and a motorcyclist has to be very alert to their erratic manoeuvres, dangerous obstruction and appalling parking techniques.

I can proudly say I was never taken to, or collected from school in a car during my entire school days. As very small children we would of course walk to school with our mothers, and from the age of six or seven onwards we would walk, cycle or take the school bus by ourselves as any kid seen being taken to school by their mummy would be quite justifiably beaten at playtime, even if they didn’t have ginger hair.

In fact, in those days most kids played outside all day, drank from hose pipes, regularly worked on farms, and only lollypop ladies and “The Sweet” wore hi-viz clothing.

Back in the 60s and 70s when I grew up in England the concept of the poor hurt “victim”, being offended at everything, personal injury lawyers and namby pamby health and safety hadn’t invented themselves yet and so there was more joie de vivre and leg room for a kid to kick about and learn about life.

When I look back at my childhood I had a lot of freedom growing up in the countryside in Staffordshire. I was a very independent young child and according to my mother would disappear for hours on end and only reappear at mealtimes.

I would regularly get caned, mostly justifiably, and occasionally unfairly, but more often than not I would get away with my various infractions and deviations from adult social constraints.

I remember an occasion when my brother and I both got thrown off the school bus  (“The Stevenson Rocket”) in the middle of no where for an alleged “fighting incident” and immediately got picked up by a passing truck that subsequently overtook the school bus blaring its air-horn and with us hanging out the window and waving with immense delight at our friends sitting on the bus.

Nowadays I am told its too dangerous for kids to walk or cycle to school. And indeed it well may be… not because there are more pedophiles and pervs trawling the streets for little boys, but because all the mummies are causing driving havoc in their Surrey tractors outside the schools whilst collecting Henry for ballet lessons, or Chesney for his Ritalin prescription ….and of course at the same time texting, tweeting, updating their Facebook status and panicking they are late for Pilates class.

Anyway, I digress as usual.

We continued with our tour of the UK and started by visiting my younger sister, Amanda at her home in Wiltshire, very near to Stonehenge, and then to see my eldest daughter, Becky at her home in Bristol.  My brother, Simon, is a good chap, but suffers from acute online Tourette’s Syndrome and insults everyone.  He interferes in sensitive matters inappropriately, and appropriate matter insensitively, and so for the sake of Fanny I keep her and myself well away. A great shame, but actions have consequences.

Later, we escaped into Wales, which Fanny describes as the nicest part in England!!

We crossed the Severn Bridge into a very wet and rainy South Wales and then across glorious countryside and picturesque valleys all the way to the north to see Alan Jones, an old buddy who lives in Conwy,  and with whom I joined the Metropolitan police in 1981. He has now retired and his many idling activities includes testing eight thousand quid law mowers and motorised wheel barrows, and shouting at the dogs.

After a superb time in Wales, where Alan guided us as we climbed Mount Snowdon and did some impressive hikes in the mountains, we went to see our friend Tony whom we first met in the Sinai when we were staying in Dahab for several months, having been directly caught up in the Egyptian Spring Revolution and all the chaos in Syria. We made the most of it, Fanny learning to windsurf and me getting my diving qualifications in the Red Sea. Tony was my dive master.

He was back in England for a while from sunny Egypt and staying in his home town of Wallasey, near Birkenhead, undergoing yet more medical treatment. As a former UK special forces soldier he had been through a lot and he was now suffering from the punishment he had put his body through in his earlier life serving our Nation in hostile climes.

He lived in a small, but immaculately kept apartment, yet because he lived on his own the local authorities wanted to put him in even smaller accommodation, no doubt so they could use his apartment to provide free housing to some immigrants with dozens of children and extended families.

The injustice of it all is unbearable, but he doesn’t complain, as is the way of these former fighters for our freedoms. He just soldiers on. I think Britain’s former soldiers are treated abysmally and its a disgrace.

Well Liverpool? What an experience!

I hadn’t yet seen the UK TV show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” nor had I any inkling that it was now fashionable for British women of all shapes and sizes to spray paint themselves orange and make a lot of effort to display as much of this orange flesh as possible. Very odd eye brows too!

Why?

I never found out as I never had the nerve to ask one of these fiercesome looking Oompa Lumpa creatures why they do it.  Patches of flesh that weren’t orange were tattooed, something else that never looks good on a woman. Each to their own, I suppose. So long as they don’t make it compulsory, and I don’t have to look at them!

Maori patterns were once popular tattoos (as many forty somethings are reminded each time they take a shower… for ever and ever), but now many men and women have Chinese characters indelibly inked onto their flesh and since I can speak, read and write Chinese quite well I am privy to some real clangers.

 

The Chinese is either badly translated or just poor calligraphy. I guess this is the reverse of the nonsensical English expressions written on T-shirts worn by Asian teenagers (“What’nt Gone Be Nobody’s Cool” and all that).

Or perhaps having the Chinese character for “wardrobe” on your bum has some special meaning bigoted old farts like me don’t appreciate.

Or perhaps its the Emperor’s New Clothes, ‘Hey! Everyone….that woman is orange and has “Lard Arse” tattooed in Chinese’.

And ankle tattoos? Just don’t do it.. its asymmetrical and upsets people with Aspergers like me.

I think I took yet another wrong turn along rant street. 

The high streets of all British towns all look pretty much the same to me. Same shops, same design, same sort of people selling the Big Issue with the same dog, same miserable people milling around.

Generally I don’t like these town centers and shopping malls very much and I make a real effort to avoid them. However, Fanny and I do occasionally have to buy important things from UK shops, like Motorcycle News and lottery tickets and so, if we can, we prefer to go to the out of town retail centers where we can park our bikes safely (Britain is full of bike thieves) and get the miserable experience over and done with as soon as possible.

It is true enough that the UK supermarkets are the best in the world and seem to sell everything, although its quite hard to take in a kilometer long aisle of 1000 different types of breakfast cereal or cat food when you have traveled through countries like Malawi and Ethiopia.

Despite the UK spending 13 billion quid every year on Aid to places like Africa you still can’t buy Vindaloo flavoured shampoo or green Kitkats in Blantyre or Addis Ababa!

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Fanny in Kingston on Thames

 

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Rupert packing up the bikes in sunny Wiltshire

 

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yeah!

Abbots Bromley (home) to Uttoxeter (School) in the 1970s on the Yellow Peril Stevenson Rocket school bus. I think the number of times I got thrown off by the conductor was 42 times!

 

The grey skies of England… and Arundel Castle …also grey…. and family car …  grey.  Nice green fields, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fanny, Paola and Nick in Bexhill

 

 

Who dares mess around with Mr Dobson Senior.

 

A biker chap I met on the Channel ferry who had lived life to the full in some amazing places…

Waiting to board the ferry with the other bikers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuppa tea and cake … must be England. (Actually this is Wales, Fanny’s favourite bit of England).

 

 

Our good friend, Nick celebrating his 50th birthday with his family in Bexhill

 

 

Felpham in Sussex … where I spent childhood holidays

“The Front” in Felpham… fond memories of carefree days.

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Fanny meets Touratech

 

 

 

 

 

 

A high street in the UK.. can’t remember which one as they all look the same

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain, and indeed Europe have beautiful cathedrals and churches… this one in Hitchen has an art gallery inside.   In Hereford I saw a church that had been partly converted into a coffee shop, and had reduced the size of the “praying” area due, I assume, to a greater demand for caffeine and cakes than redemption and salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone rides along the wonderful roads of Derbyshire to Mattlock Bath, has fish and chips and then wanders around looking at other people’s bikes…. a very civilised way to spend the day

“They do better chips in the Cairngorms” – but then according to Gary Corbett “everything is better in the Cairngorms”

Fanny and Andrea with her red Ducati Monster

Horizon’s Unlimited gathering in Ripley…. more BMW GS 1200s than you can shake a stick at.

Camped up… but this time with hundreds of other adventure bikers

It rained hard …as indeed it did nearly every day while we were in the UK in June and July 2012.

The Horizon Unlimited gathering attracted all sorts of people. Some aspiring adventurers and other the “real deal” nomads who have been everywhere on the planet on anything from mopeds, Australian postie bikes, racing bikes and of course the Adventure bikes such as KTM 990 Adventure, BMW GS 800 and 1200, Yamaha XT 500, 600 and 660 and the classic Honda Africa Twin.

The slow ride race which Paul Chapman and I entered and we narrowly missed the finals. Great fun and a great few days with like minded motorcycling enthusiasts.

Paul Chapman (of Adventure Parts and Camel Toe) and Ruprecht the Monkeyboy at the Horizons Unlimited slow riding competition. We KTM riders were well beaten by slower guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If my sister had seen my feet she would never have allowed them in her bubbly bath thing.

 

Fanny and my niece, Sophia relaxing in the kitchen at my sisters house

 

The last time I rode a motorcycle into Thomas Alleynes High School I was punished. I believe it was my Batavus Mk 4S which I got on my 16th birthday when I was in the sixth form.

 

Waiting outside the Headmistress’ office at Oldfield’s School in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Somethings never change.   I got caned and slippered so many times I started to like it… raaaah!

 

Fanny hooliganing around in the KTM shop and disturbing the reserved British types who were clearly unused to so much noise and mayhem coming out of one single human. One of the assistants (of a shop that sells machines that go BRRAAAAP!) asked her to shut up… very funny…only in Britain.

 

Yum Yum … thanks you Pae and Fanny

 

 

Due to the fact that it never stopped raining we gave up the idea of going to the Lake District and Scotland and rode eastwards to the beautiful English county of Derbyshire to see our friends, Andrea and Gary who lived in the Peak District inside a dry house with a larder and two refrigerators full of food.

I can assure Gary and Andrea the great food wasn’t the only reason we visited. Honestly.

Gary and Andrea are also bikers and while we were staying with them we went on a ride together to Mattlock Bath where hundreds of bikers gather on Sundays and drink tea and eat fish and chips.

We then went to Stoke on Trent and spent time with my sister and her family  and were thoroughly spoilt with great food, a very comfy bed and even served “Manhattan Cocktails” by my brother in law, Mark as we wallowed like hippos in their Jacuzzi.

Adventure biking is exciting and there is nothing to stimulate the mind quite like world travel, but after so long living in our tent or occasionally in grotty budget hotels a home cooked meal, a bathroom with clean towels and a comfy dry bed are extremely welcome and so we are very grateful to our friends and family in the UK who looked after us

(Photos in “Our Friends” Page above):  ……..a special mention to The Dobsons in East Sussex; Mandy, Sally and Martin in Wiltshire; Alan & Sue in North Wales; Gary and Andrea in Derbyshire; Rachel and Mark in Staffordshire; David and Pae Lee in Hertfordshire; Andrew and Abigail in Kent; Becky in Bristol; and Rik in Wales. Thank you all very much.

Whilst in Staffordshire I took Fanny to see the schools I went to as a boy.  Oldfield’s Middle School and Thomas Alleynes (Grammar/High) School. We rocked up on our loud KTMs in the evening and I thought the caretaker was going to chase us away, but I explained what we were doing and that it was many years since I was last there as a schoolboy and so he very kindly gave us the grand tour, which brought back many memories for me and gave Fanny an insight into what an English school looks like.

Oldfield Hall is a very nice looking school set in beautiful grounds with playing fields and woods. I had heard on this trip that many school playing fields in the UK are being sold off by the education authorities which to my mind is a crying shame. Sport, physical training and competition is extremely important to a child’s development. Winning and losing is a reality of life and eventually all of us have to come to terms with not getting what we want sooner or later. Its how we deal with defeat and failure that matters.

Later, we also went to the Horizon’s Unlimited Adventure Bike gathering in Ripley. We had a terrific time, met some interesting people and would especially like to thank Sam Manicom, one of the world’s greatest motorcycle adventurers and an all round decent chap who made us very welcome at the HU meeting.

After our tour of the Midlands we had to head back “daan sarf” so our bikes could get yet another service.

We rode to the KTM UK Centre in Hemel Hemstead where Jason and his team did their thing to the bikes, hopefully changed oils and filters, checked all the bearings, and tightened the nuts and bolts and then relieved me of more money than I can really afford + VAT.  No choice though. KTMs like their filters changed and are fussy about the quality of their oil.

While our bikes were being serviced I was kindly loaned a blue KTM 990 and my friend, David Lee looked after us at his home in Hitchen. His wife, Pae is originally from Thailand and so that evening we had a delicious authentic Thai dinner with all the hot chillis and spices, and also polished off some of David’s impressive booze cabinet.

A great evening with good friends.

It so happened that while we were in Hitchen the Queen was visiting as part of her Diamond Jubilee Tour and so we all trooped off to line the route with our plastic Union Flags to see Her Majesty inspect her subjects, including a visiting Pinko Commie RTW motorcyclist, Fanny.

The “Establishment” was well represented and looked as alarmed and uncomfortable among the proletariat as if Millwall football supporters had invaded the Royal enclosure at Ascot.

Lady Farsenby -Smythe and Lord Twistleton-Flange looked particularly uncomfortable as they had to endure mingling with the great unwashed who were being rather common and vulgar with their regional accents and uncouth ways, don’t you know.

Anyway, well done Ma’am (as in Ham) on 60 years of reign and occasional sunshine.

After saying goodbye to David, Pae and their very charming children we went to collect our bikes from KTM in Hemel Hemstead.  The new 990 Adventure which they loaned me was handed back in the condition it was given and then we headed to London on our newly serviced KTMs to sort out visas, passports, air-tickets for Fanny back to China and shipping arrangements for our bikes to where-ever they were going. We were still not sure.

We not only went into London to do all our admin chores, but also did some touring of Kent which is a rather well to do county of England. We particularly enjoyed visiting Chartwell where Winston Churchill lived. A super home, even nicer gardens and in a particularly green and pleasant bit of the country.

One of the few things I do like about London is that it has some of the greatest museums and art galleries in the World and so while we were running around applying for visas we went to the superb British Museum which houses a collection of the finest and most interesting treasures collected during a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.

Of course the museum is now run and operated in the best possible taste so as not to offend any of the tourists from the countries the loot was “half inched” from in the first place.

We stayed at my friend Andrew’s house in Seven-oaks and were very well looked after by him and his wife, Abigail.

Andrew is another motorcycle enthusiast and Abigail probably has me to thank for their garage being full of motorcycles as fifteen years ago or so I rocked up for work in the Stand in London, where we both worked (in the Fraud Services Unit of the now defunct Arthur Andersen Accounting firm) on my Suzuki 1300 GSXR Hayabusa and the seed was sown.

He is a die hard biker now and when we were living in Egypt he came out and we rode to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the KTMs.

I was born in London, but I am sad, and a bit embarrassed to say I do not care for it very much, and according to Fanny, neither does she, a born and bred Shanghanese woman from another continent and totally different culture.

She told me in Chinese that it appeared to be a mess, felt hostile and not very English. I had to agree. People ask me if I would ever go back to live in England. Maybe, but definitely not to London or any of the other English cities.

Nowadays, London is like Karachi on bin day. If I am being totally honest I am rather scared and wary of the menacing young Muslim men who prowl about looking hostile and confrontational in many parts of London, and indeed in British cities such Luton, Birmingham and Bradford.  I am also suspicious of humans who cover their face and engage in superstitious odd rituals, and that includes Moonies, Freemasons, Doggers, and Catholics.

Fortunately, the Holy See in Rome has given up torturing, burning, hanging, mutilating, beheading and generally being nasty to people for apostasy, otherwise I would be in a lot trouble. Islam has not.

I can assure you this is not racism or Islamophobia. For a start Islam isn’t a race, its a superstition, one based on ancient texts penned by frail humans with a poor understanding of science and a fear of the unknown.

Also, its not a phobia as my fear is not irrational. On the contrary, my fear and loathing of all organised religion is extremely rational and based on common sense, a very good understanding of “Strain Theory”, and a decent knowledge of the works of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Powell, Hitchens, Dawkins, Newton, Darwin, and Johnny Rotten.

In actual fact, I enjoy and relish different cultures, that’s why I travel. I couldn’t care less what shade of pink, yellow or brown a human being is, but I am increasingly saddened that I am indigenous to a land that has little culture of its own, and feels compelled to adopt some nasty and unsavoury alien ones.

Strangely, I found Muslims and Christians I encountered in the Middle East and north Africa to be quite friendly, if not a little aloof and conservative. But then, whilst visiting these Islamic countries I went out of my way to be respectful, compliant and courteous to my indigenous hosts.

Anyway, what can you do?  A “belief” to my mind is something private, and not to be inflicted on others. The best one can be is well mannered.

Again I digress. Back to the big bike trip.

Our visit to London wasn’t a particularly successful one because the London passport office had basically closed down and the applicants now had to go online and make an appointment to submit their documents at another office behind Victoria Train Station.

I already had a well used passport, full of visas and entry stamps, but I needed a second passport and used the excuse that the Israelis had stamped my passport and now I couldn’t travel to my favourite country, Yemen anymore.

I could have told them the truth– that its a safety precaution for when I travel to dodgy countries–but then the mealie mouthed jobs worthies at the passport authority wouldn’t have given me a second passport. The UK is getting more like China– everything is banned and so you have to use lateral thinking to get around the ridiculous red tape.

Also, Fanny and I were still undecided about where we were going next and so we didn’t know which visas to apply for, when, and in what sequence.

If we wanted to ride across central and eastern Europe and through the “‘Stans” to China on our KTMs it was entirely possible, but administratively it was a major headache and was far far too expensive.

In the end we decided that Fanny should fly back to China and see if she could secure some support and sponsorship from some Chinese companies and sort out all the administration and permits for places like Tibet, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan and Mongolia on the ground in China.

For instance, as a foreigner, I was not allowed in Tibet without a special permit, I had to have a paid escort whilst riding a motorcycle in China, and visa restrictions would be prohibitive.  (Note: we sorted all this out — as described in subsequent chapters of this blog) 

Fanny had to leave anyway as her UK visa was about the expire. Somalian warlords, Italian mafioso, Saudi arms dealers, Romanian pickpockets and Islamic hate preachers can all stay in the UK and get a council house if they want one. Chinese lawyers cannot. Roll on Brexit.

Anyway, it would not be a good idea for her to overstay as she might want to visit the UK in the future. In the meantime I would stay in England … at least until the first week of August which was a sort of deadline for several reasons.

One of the reasons was the weather, as we cannot ride through places like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Xinjiang or Tibet in the winter as it reaches ridiculously cold temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade in places, even in late autumn. Another was that our funds were now in the red and we would both have to get jobs the following year.

As we had already ridden several hundreds of kilometers that day we had left it too late to ride the bikes a further 150 kilometers to Bexhill where we were going to store Fanny’s bike in Nick’s garage. So we checked out some budget hotels in London and were shocked that there was nothing available under £80.

Crickey!

Fortunately we had researched some campsites and there appeared to be one in Crystal Palace of all places and that is where we headed for.

It was quite fun riding through busy central London at night with all the neon lights and bustling activity, especially so with our South African registered bikes as however hard we tried to comply with the road signs, painted mostly on the road surface to make it even more confusing,  our Garmin GPS was forever causing us to be in the wrong lane at the wrong time, inadvertently causing us to break many provisions of the UK Road Traffic Act.

South African plates, though! We were effectively immune from prosecution in the UK. I felt like a Nigerian diplomat.

Although it was getting late, we took it steady through the busy boroughs of London. This was just as well because we were overtaken by a Triumph Street Triple that was filtering through the gaps and we saw it make the fundamental mistake of not checking vehicles waiting to make a right hand turn through held up traffic, and we watched in horror as  it ploughed right into the side of a white van that turned in front of a waiting bus.

Luckily the rider was wearing decent protective clothing and its seemed only his pride was bruised. Unfortunately his bike was not so lucky as it broadsided into the side of the van. His lovely new Triumph was a real mess and he had no-one else to blame really but himself.

As a fellow rider I did actually feel sorry for him as he picked up the fragments of his pride and joy and examined the holes in his riding gear.

Fanny and I had of course ridden through some of the most congested cities with the worst driving standards on Planet Earth and we had learned to ride with caution and anticipation. Many of the motorcycle riders we saw in Europe clearly hadn’t learned this lesson and their meeting with a wheel chair, or their maker is sadly inevitable.

We pushed on across the River Thames and got to the campsite near the famous radio tower in South London at about 10 p.m.

No-one was around and so I rode around as I had done many many times, in many many campsites around the world, scoping out the ground and looking for the perfect place to park up our motorcycles and pitch our tent.

In England such activity is obviously a heinous antisocial crime and this blatant breach of local etiquette had infuriated the two wardens and the 300 pound security officer who appeared out of nowhere and tore into me in what I can only describe as a “London rant” of obscenities with lots of “YOUR BANG AAAWWWT  OV AAAWWWDAAA” stuff and other Cockney cliches.

Now there is a time to argue and there is a time to put on a gormless posh accent and mumble “I’m terribly sorry old chap”…… like the British paratrooper played by Edward Fox who lands in a greenhouse in the war movie “The Battle of Britain”.

This was the time for the latter and it worked a treat because they did not know what to do and gradually calmed down and reverted to just plain lecturing mode with lots of tutting and head shaking.

In the end, instead of them calling the “Old Bill” to take us off to the Tower they found us a very nice camping spot and in the morning I continued my humble apologetic routine, told them we had had an awful day in the drenching rain, were held up in appalling traffic, and were riding around the world for charity etc etc.” (which is all true).

Surprisingly they had completely changed their tune and kindly informed us that the camping fee was on them. They told me they had also had a shit day, apologised for getting angry at us, and wished us well.

I should never have told this story to Fanny because she then went into a speech I have heard from my mother, teachers, wives, and a multitude of former girlfriends ….. The speech that consists of variations on the theme of being nice:  ‘I told you being nice is better’, ‘You see, you don’t have to start a fight all the time’, ‘People will be nice if you are nice to them’, etc etc..

To which I nodded intently and replied, ‘ Where’s my breakfast, Bitch?’. Which probably accounts for the fact that there is a long list of former females in my life.

In the morning we packed up and rode out of the suburbs of south London, which let’s be honest, is not very nice, and into Surrey, which is very nice.

We followed a lot of the route that was later going to be cycled along during the road event in the London Olympics, and we then cut through charming South Downs villages with cricket greens and duck ponds to a place I saw advertised in Motor Cycle News, called “Cycles Spray” that I hoped could repair and re-paint Fanny’s damaged side panels that had been grazed and gouged when she cart-wheeled her bike along a sand and gravel trail on the way to Soussesvlei Dunes in Namibia.

The scratched and grazed panels did looked the part, and certainly gave the impression that we had indeed ridden across Africa, but it was time to get the bike back into 100% tiptop condition. The KTMs are superb motorcycles and despite where we had been they were in great condition and had been well looked after and serviced.

I unbolted the orange plastic panels, handed them over and said I would collect them in a couple of weeks when they were ready. We were lucky because they were being repaired and painted at a fraction of the cost of replacement plastic panels from KTM or Acerbis, which I have to say are a ridiculously expensive.

Fanny then rode her bike “sort of naked” to Bexhill where we stored it in the Dobson’s garage.  I then took her and her bag on the back of my bike to Gatwick to catch the express bus to Heathrow airport for her flight back to Shanghai.

As she boarded the bus I was suddenly and unexpectedly flushed with enormous sadness.

We had been together every day and every minute for the last year and been through some amazing adventures together. Few people live cheek by jowl as we had, and saying goodbye to a loved one is always tough.

After her bus pulled away and I rode back to Bexhill to get my own things I kept looking in my mirror. No more orange light following me anymore. My 尾巴 had gone. I suddenly felt extremely lost and very lonely.

It took several days not to panic each time I looked in my mirror and couldn’t see her bike. For everyday over the past year or so I had led the way with Fanny following behind.  I paved the way and moderated the way I rode to Fanny’s speed, Fanny’s capability, and made sure there was always enough space and time for both of our bikes to maneuver, get over something, passed something, or overtake.

I was like a lookout Meercat constantly doing a 360 degree scan for danger and risk. Now I only had myself to worry about and it was only a matter of time before I was back to my bad habits, riding around rather more quickly than I should, performing unnecessary wheelies, sliding on bends, and banking steeply around corners.

‘Are you riding safely?’, Fanny would ask me when she called me on the telephone.

‘Oh, yes” I would reply.

So what should I do now? I felt a bit lost.

The first thing I did was to organize all our kit and then take a ride to Arundel where I knew there was a YHA and campsite I could stay at cheaply, think about things and plan the next few weeks.

I really didn’t want to fritter the time away and yet I didn’t want to put unnecessary mileage on my bike.  I also wanted to do things that would have probably bored Fanny a bit.  Old fart activities like visiting military museums, airshows, county fares, bird parks, and castles.

I knew the Farnborough Airshow was coming up and so I headed for there, but on the way I pulled into the former WWII RAF airfield at Tangmere where Hurricanes and Spitfires battled against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. Now a museum, I had a great day looking at all the aircraft and exhibits and chatting with the volunteers who ran the place. These people are represent Britain at its best and I had an amazing time. I would love to have been a RAF pilot, but alas, not to be. A Royal Hong Kong Police officer was not a bad alternative as it turned out.

As I arrived in Farnborough it was pouring with rain. Very heavy, very wet and extremely miserable. I looked around for places to stay, but being unprepared I ended up camping right at the end of the runway, illegally in Army grounds as it happened, and in the morning a military patrol chased me away, but not before I watched some amazing aerobatic displays which put on quite a show despite low cloud and continuing bad weather.

Decidedly wet and soggy,  I pushed on into Wiltshire to see my sister again and perhaps do some skydiving at Netheravon. In the end I just watched the skydivers from Amanda’s garden with a cup of tea and a cake as they tumbled out of the aircraft and spent the remaining time walking her basset hounds (Urgh!), running across Salisbury Plain (good fun), riding bicycles with my sister, and going for rides around Wiltshire on my stripped down KTM.

I decided that if its going to continue to rain I might as be in Wales and so I left my sister’s house and rode back across the border. Whilst cahooning along the many superb motorcycling routes in Wales, and believe me there are many, I stayed at Rik Davis’ bed and breakfast. Rik is a fellow adventure motorcyclist and has ridden around the world on his BMW GS.

His website is www.thebigbiketrip.com and so with a URL like that he is sort of our motorcycle adventure cousin.

We shared stories and adventures late into the night and the next day I rode up to Conwy in North Wales to stay with my friend Alan again. We had provisionally agreed to do some hiking in Wales together and he suggested we hike the entire Offa’s Dyke.

Good idea I thought … how far is it?   177 miles!

Alan is a meticulous planner and also as a former Snowdonian mountain rescue team member owns the best hiking and mountaineering kit money can buy.

I have very little decent kit, and what I do have is all stored in Shanghai.  My last ill prepared climb to the summit of Mount Kenya in borrowed shoes and my motorcycle kit was rather miserable, wet and decidedly cold. I told Alan I would only do it if he lent me some kit which he kindly agreed. The only thing he didn’t have was boots as I take a size 12 2E wide, and as I didn’t have the money to buy anything decent I bought some cheap shoes in a sale.

I assumed if I could climb Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in someone else’s falling apart boots and borrowed kit, I could easily walk across Wales.

Wrong!

We drove down to the start of the hike at Chepstow on the Severn Estuary and had planned a 7-10 days hike to along the Offa’s Dyke trail to Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.

To save costs we were bringing camping gear with us in our rucksacks and against Alan’s recommendation we each brought our own tents. Alan lent me an 30 year old rucksack that felt comfortable enough in his dining room. Little did I know this 90 litre instrument of torture would bring me misery and injury in days to come.

The first day was very pleasant, walking up above the River Wye in unusually brilliant sunshine. All was well, but by 25 miles my ankles and feet were sore as my shoes had no heel and the rucksack was cutting into my shoulders as the waist support no longer worked, nor provided any support, and so the weight was carried 100% on the flimsy shoulder straps.

Alan was also suffering as he got bitten by some insects that became infected and although he wouldn’t admit it, being a “mountain man” and all was probably struggling too.

When we eventually clambered into Monmouth we were both tired and aching for different reasons.  We camped up and had some dinner in a local pub and the next day we were both in an even worse state.

After an unnecessary argument, that was mostly my fault, Alan decided that was that and went home. I think he was secretly relived to escape my yomping pace and Asperger’s ways.  I don’t like civilian style hiking, I like to march as if going into battle. No idea why. I just like the rhythm and pace. I used to like foot drill when I was training as a young Police Inspector in Hong Kong. Everyone else hated it.

The cheap Karimoor shoes I was wearing were not very good for long distance hikes because they had no heel or ankle support. However, I made the mistake of giving them away to a charity shop and buying an even worse pair of hiking boots that became so painful that by the third day of hiking I had no choice but to take them off and wear my flip flops, which in turn I had to take off in the soggy ground, or steep hills and walk bare footed because they were just too slippy to walk in, especially with a heavy backpack.

Crazy stuff.

At Hay on Wye my feet were in an awful state, so much so I barely registered the red welds and blisters on my shoulders from the heavy ill fitting rucksack. I put blister ointment and plasters on my feet and taped them up with silver gaffer tape, but the new boots were just too ill fitting, not worn in, and badly designed that they were agonizing the whole time.

It was a real shame because the weather and scenery was stunning. When the five days of sunshine in Wales was over and it started to rain I decided enough was enough. This was supposed to be for pleasure, not a selection for a counter terrorism unit and I was not having any fun at all.

Although my body was fine, my feet were very blistered and in excruciating agony and so when I got to Knighton I completed the trip back to Conwy by train and considered feeding the boots to Alan’s dogs when I got there. I have some decent boots in China and I have vowed to myself that one day I will do it again and complete it

(Post note —Offa’s Dyke Unfinished Business — May/June 2017–with proper kit!!)

As things between Alan and I weren’t that cordial, all my fault and I apologise, I didn’t hang about to annoy him anymore and so collected my KTM from his garage and rode back into England to see my friend Gary and Andrea in the Derbyshire High Peak again.

The only trouble was they had decided in the weeks since Fanny and I saw them to part company,  which was probably for the best as they seemed to spend their entire time bickering and arguing.

As Andrea had moved out I supervised her moving her stuff into her new home, went for a few motorcycle rides together, and gave moral support in her time of need by drinking most of her wine and eating everything in her refrigerator. What are friends for after all?

I was pleased for Andrea when I later heard she not only got a super new job, a new house, new man, but had eventually been awarded her PhD. We Thomas Alleynes’ Class of 81 don’t hang about.

I then went to Staffordshire to see my Mum again who was looking much better following her stroke a year or so previously.  As she is partially paralyzed she is confined to a chair. Why she doesn’t have a mobility scooter or electric wheel chair is beyond my understanding.

However, I think I know.

She is being held captive by her abusive partner of many decades, the dimwitted village idiot, Tom.  I only see her very rarely, living overseas, and when I do I am allowed only an hour or so a year before the revolting smelly oik returns and causes trouble.

The poor woman stupidly ran off with this oaf when my siblings and I were small children and subsequently she endured a life of domestic abuse, parochial drudgery and missed opportunities. She rightly left my father, who was actually a very well educated gentleman, but (like his eldest son) totally unsuited to marriage and domestic restraint.

A few years back I had a run in with this dullard, when we were trying to relocate our mother to a more suitable disabled friendly bungalow on the south coast of England. A part of the country she loved as a child and young woman, pleaded with me to go to when she was lying in her hospital bed, and where her mother and father retired to by the sea.

Tom, the village cretin, refused and insisted that she remains confined to a chair on the ground floor of a totally unsuitable 16th century cottage in the village that time forgot. She can’t even go out or sit in the garden.  I understand she goes shopping occasionally, when it suits Tom to get her into the car and push her about in a wheelchair.

During a heated debate when I was reiterating my mothers wishes Tom raised his fist to hit me, much like he did to my siblings and I when we were small children, but he suddenly realized that I am no longer eleven years old, nor very small.  In fact, I am an evil fucker of note, love a ruck, and extremely well trained and practiced looking after myself.

For the first time in his life, the village oaf realized he was nano seconds from a sound hiding, and like all bullies he scurried off, in this case to the next door neighbour, an off duty police constable, to come to his rescue, and perhaps arrest me …. as was the constant threat when I was a teenager.

During the 1970s he was prone to dishing out beatings, often threatening to have me locked up, or sent away to a children’s home. Most of the time he was just a typical nasty stepfather. Aggressive, abusive, unsupportive, highly embarrassing, and irritatingly dimwitted.

My teenage years would have been an absolute misery if not for Graham and Jean Whirledge, local farmers, who sort of adopted me and allowed me to work on their dairy farm when I wasn’t at school. I also thank my aunt and uncle, Bill and Gail McCarthy, and my grandmothers, Amanda Utley and Joan Golbourne for allowing me some respite from the misery, and to enjoy a modicum of normality and support from time to time.

My brother, Simon, clearly an undiagnosed dyslexic, was also badly treated and his bolt hole was another dairy farm called Aikenheads, until he escaped and joined the British Army Junior Leaders Regiment at 15 years old, and later the Blues & Royals Household Calvary.

Our schools? In those days teachers didn’t care. We had nothing, got nothing, and got punished and further disadvantaged just for being poor and underprivileged. Plain and simple. I regret that I never learned to play a musical instrument, play rugby, or any other team sport because I didn’t have money for kit, or extra curricular equipment, nor transport to get about. I generally hitch hiked everywhere, which, whilst a common practice at the time, wasn’t particularly reliable for getting anywhere on time.

I did learn to throw a tractor around a muddy field as soon as my feet could touch the pedals, shovel poo, milk a cow, deliver a calf, toss a straw bail high up onto a trailer, and developed a respect for graft and money!  I remember village kids used to smoke cigarettes. I never did, not for health reasons, but because ten No. 6 fags equated to an hour of shoveling shit in my mind, and I had better things to spend my “50 pence an hour” on.

Later in my mid-teens I supported myself with money earned from some other holiday jobs. A memorable and lucrative gig (that my Aunt Gail arranged when I was 15) was with the Long Term Credit Bank of Japan in Lombard Street in the City of London. With cash in my back pocket that I earned all by myself and a 50cc moped to get around, Joy Division, The Stranglers, Bauhaus, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Psychedelic Furs, and Stiff Little Fingers took care of me until I escaped to London to help old ladies cross the road and chase crims in a SD1 Rover.

(Back to Bagot Street, Abbots Bromley, 2012) 

So, to the embarrassment and visible discomfort of the off duty officer, he was educated (or reacquainted) with how UK law should be enforced, should have been enforced 40 years ago, and sensibly slide away back into his house and closed the door. The deflated village oaf was left standing on the street and had no option but to escape in his “Fritzl” van and go off to a nearby cow shed to be consoled by one of his cretinous mates, or one of the revolting farm hags he often shagged.

Alas, the poor old dear remains in her chair and I visit her rarely and far too infrequently. My inability to resolve this issue fills me with frustration and anger. My siblings accept the situation, but I never will. Families, huh!

After saying goodbye to my mother and feeling thoroughly wretched about the situation and somewhat depressed, not least because I hate that fucking village, I received some good news from Fanny.

She had managed to negotiate sponsorship and two brand new motorcycles from a Chinese motorcycle manufacturer called Chun Feng Moto. She also got sponsorship from some adventure kit manufacturers, including The North Face, the adventure clothing and equipment manufacturer. This was super news and I was delighted for Fanny that all her hard work had paid off.

This meant I knew exactly what I had to do now.

Get a new Chinese visa and arrange for both KTMs and myself to get shipped out of the UK.

I had been looking for new Pirelli tyres for both KTMs, but this was now unnecessary as they could more easily be found in South Africa. Every tyre fitting place it seemed in the UK, and even KTM UK had no time to find and fit tyres.

After a wasted trip to KTM in Hemel Hemstead to look for tyres I had to find somewhere to sleep or a place to camp and looked around in vain for a decent priced B&B or a campsite, but there were none to be found.

I remembered I used to paraglide at Dunstable Downs which wasn’t too far away and I also knew there were fields and meadows I could possibly get into on my bike under the cover of darkness and this is what I did.

It was a strange experience because as I was putting up my tent on a grassy bank surrounded by trees about ten cars suddenly drove into a nearby car park and a mighty commotion started. It took me a while to realise what was going on and how far the UK had slide down the slippery slope since I left three decades ago. This was a doggers party and the local “dogs” (if that what you call the participants) had all rocked up and were doing their thing.

For crying out loud.  I was stuck, didn’t want to alert anyone to my presence, and so I waited unseen and unheard only a few hundred meters away until these “sad acts” had finished their evenings entertainment and drove away before I managed to finish pitching my tent, secure my bike and get to sleep.

It must have been about 3 a.m in the morning that I heard roaring and as I roused from my sleep I was confused.  I rubbed my eyes, pricked my ears and listened out. There it was a again, as distinctive as when I had heard that sound before in South Luangwa, the Kruger, Okavango Delta, Swaziland, the Masia Mara and so on.

Its a fucking lion.

I sat bolt upright, considered where I was and then the coin dropped, I was literally 500 meters from Whipsnade Zoo.

The next day I packed up and rode out to a nearby biker gathering to see my friend Alex from Kaapstad Adventure. It was at a Ducati dealers shop and the Long Way Down rider Charlie Boorman was going to be there to support Garmin who were launching a new GPS and were clearly a sponsor of his.

I met a few bikers and I wandered up to Charlie to say Hi. He said, ‘Oh I remember you, are you still riding that heap of scrap’. I tried to think of something witty to retort, but could only think of  “Cheerio”.

As my friend Nick was still in Italy, another friend, Andrew very kindly volunteered to put me up again in his comfortable studio apartment above his house and later take me down to Bexhill to collect Fanny’s bike and store them in his garage until I could ferry both bikes to Anglo Pacific Shippers in London NW10.

We arrived just in time for a famous Dobson’s Sunday lunch. Perfect timing. While both bikes were in Andrew’s garage Paul Chapman of Adventure Parts very kindly fitted them out with “Camel Toe” side stand supports, adventure windscreens and wind vents to direct the air to the radiators to improve cooling and sound dampening.  I really wish we had had those when we were in Africa.

While I was rested up and waiting to leave I also spent some time thinking about what to do for work when the expedition finishes at the end of the year. I had been asked by several companies to get involved in their forensic investigation and risk consulting practices and I had to have a good think whether this was something I wanted to do again. I believe I am very good at my job, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the politics and intrinsic unfairness of large consulting firms.

Over the years I had built up a great network of satisfied clients and good relationships with a number of law firms, and so I decided to set up my own practice, Apollo Advisory, which has been a great success.

I had a year working for a firm called Censere with three other forensic directors, but this was not working out, despite us working on amazing projects and meeting the objectives of our business plan. While I was in hospital recovering from a serious bout of peritonitis that nearly killed me, they decided not to pay any of us for our work, and so we all went our separate ways.

This proved to be a blessing in disguise, despite being owed a lot of money, my company, Apollo Advisory, went onto even better things.  It allows me to work with very talented people, on projects I like and am very good at, earn a few bucks, continue with my pursuit of fluency in Chinese, travel, keep fit, and have sufficient time for more adventures and expeditions.

But all that would come a little later, as the Asian leg of our big bike trip was just around the corner.

Next chapters : China, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, USA.

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Fanny packing up her bike in Wiltshire

 

 

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Bernard, Cathy and Biscuit  …  famous RTW riders at HU meeting

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Rupert & Nick doing some off road riding with Yamaha in Wales

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Stonehenge in Wiltshire (again)

 

 

The orange North Face bag in the holdall en route to Shanghai… bye bye Fanny

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Fanny’s bike all kitted out.. thanks Paul