Friday, June 30, 2006


Found a map of the area around XiangCheng and noticed a group of lakes just north. We set off to find the lakes, and in the end spent four days getting there and back.

Once we found the trail leading the the lakes and stashed our bikes in the forest, it was pretty easy going. The trail was over a meter wide, and followed a river up into the mountains from the mainroad for about 25 km. We later learned that the trail had been a branch of the Cha Ma Gu Dao or "The Tea Horse Trail", the famed ancient trading route that runs from China into Tibet and Myanmar.

On the second day we neared the lakes and found grasslands full of yaks and Tibetan herders. Most were from the small villages down below along the road, and said that they spent about four months grazing animals before heading down. These kids where spending the summer with Grandma. I swear that the little girl looks a little Irish. (Brett's pic)

We were making our way up to the lakes that evening when I took this picture.

The next day we went to summit a mountain overlooking the lakes in the hopes of getting a fine view and breaking 5000 meters. Though the peak turned out to be 4950 meters (over 16000 feet), the view of the lakes and surrounding valleys was spectacular. The air was thin, and so the trick was to breath heavily through your mouth as you climbed. Every 20 or 30 steps up the mountain required a little rest to catch your breath. It was cold, but well worth it.

These are the top two lakes in a chain of seven that run down the valley. There were two huge waterfalls connecting the lakes, one of which you can just see here.

While heading back to camp later that afternoon we were caught in a thunder storm. By the time we got back to camp we were soaked and freezing cold, and so we decided to head to a nearby herder's house. They had suggested that we should sleep there the night before, and we finally took them up on it.

We warmed up quickly around their fire, and eventually feasted on momos (Tibetan steamed bread), hot butter tea, boiled yak's milk, yak cheese, yak yoghurt, and bai jiu. I like Yaks.

They were up at the crack of dawn to milk the yaks. Everything was fogged in and the air was biting.

A little while later the sun crested the peaks and began to burn off the fog. By this time the four had milked over one hundred yaks and were prepared to start churning the milk.

We left their shelter a while later, full after a breakfast of butter tea and tsampa - a delicious mixture of barley flour and sugar moistened with butter tea. We bought some cheese that I've been eating on the road during the past few days. Perfect to stuff in the local pan bread with some of the chives I've been finding on the high platues.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

up and over to SiChuan

Bought camping equipment on our last day in ZhongDian and set off on "the back road to SiChuan." Judging from it's name, I guess we should have known better what to expect. The 240 km of gravel roads over two huge passes took us four days of cycling. The first pass "Little Snow Mountain Pass" was just under 4000 m, while "Big Snow Mountain Pass" was 4360 m. We arrived in this honky tonk Tibetan town called Xiang Ba La yesterday, way in the backwoods of SiChuan, after a tiring and incredible ride though some beautiful areas.

I haven't got a map of SiChuan province yet, and so I'm having a little difficulty in orienting myself to the roads, nature reserves, and passes in the area. Fortunaly Brett has his trusty GPS, which he frequently consults. Although the maps it contains never note Chinese towns and rarely have the roads we travel on, it can report our altitude with astonishing accuracy.

A view of the peaks while climbing the first pass.

We found great campsites next to running water each night, and kept strong and healthy eating a strict diet of noodles and cookies. The last night we spent on top of "Big Snow Mountain Pass". We had considered camping up high, but in the end we didn't really have much choice. After climbing for most of the afternoon, we summited about an hour before sunset. It was crazy windy and really cold. Luckily we found an old abandoned herder's shelter just below the pass that we stayed in. It's stone walls provided the perfect windbreak, and we managed to start a fire and have tea and more noodles. Nice.

The alpine Himalaya burst into bloom over the past week. Blue and purple and yellow and white and red flowers cover the sides of most mountains. Some of the flowers are similar to those found in the Rockies, while others are unlike any I have ever seen. In this meadow we also saw many different birds and some pikas. I think that's what they were anyway... like a gopher crossed with a rabbit, only smaller.

Upon descending from the pass, we rode through a valley unlike the others. This one is steep and dry. The Barley has recently ripened, and the farmers are harvesting and threshing the crop by hand (you can see the man on the roof there is threshing hard). The Tibetan houses here are much different than those in YunNan, though still very imposing.

We met a group of backpackers upon arriving in town, and they directed us to an amazing guesthouse in one of these traditional Tibetan homes. The interior is all wood and very dark, vaulted ceilings and huge beams, with every wall covered in depictions of stories from Tibetan Buddhism painted in primary colours.

The owners don't speak English, and so Brett and I find ourselves serving as interpreters for both groups. "Can I have some sugar for my tea?" "You need to pay your bill now." "What time do you close the gates?" "How do we get to BaMu lake?" and so on ad infinitum. Maybe I will stay here for awhile and help manage the place!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

long time coming...

We've been in the saddle riding through the Himalaya for over a week now, and decent internet connections have been hard to come by.

City's tend to temporarily suck the life out of me if I'm not careful, and getting a bit sick in Kunming didn't help much. But that's all over now! Mountains have the opposite effect on me.

Since KunMing, we have spent time the backpacker center of DaLi, the Chinese tourist Mecca LiJiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, and a backroad over a 3800 meter pass to get here.

Now we are in ZhongDian, a.k.a. Xiang Ge Li La, a.k.a. Shangri-La. Shangri-La is a bit of a strech - a ploy to bring in tourists no doubt - but it's a beautiful area none the less. On the edge of the Tibetan plateau, this has apparently been a centre where Tibetans met with YunNanese and others to trade for the last thousand years.

I don't really have anything good to say about DaLi and LiJiang, so I won't. Onto Tiger Leaping Gorge. Located about ten kilometers after the "first bend" of the Yangtze River (where the Yangtze essentially turns back on it's self, therefore flowing out into central China rather than Southeast Asia - you understand the significance), the gorge is flanked by 4000 meter peaks on both sides, while the Yangtze flows at 1900 meters. It's big. It's so big that it was really difficult to take a decent picture of it. You had to be there.

Roadside house.

There's even farming in a few more open spots along the gorge.

We waited here for a couple of hours after we came upon a little landslide that injured three road workers. It seems that while they were clearing the rocks from an earlier landslide, more rocks came down and broke a few arms. It was a little scary for a while, as those with the "authoritah" were panicking. Eventually a van was commandeered to shuttle these boys to the hospital. After the authoritah left, some locals took to clearing the rocks that blocked the road themselves. They would sprint into the red zone, grab or push a rock of the edge and sprint out. Then another guy would take his turn. I can attest that at least two more fair sized rocks fell during this operation. After it was suitably clear, a truck approached the slide area and everyone but the driver got out. They ran across one by one, and finally the truck sped through. About twenty vehicles proceeded in this manner. It had been about an hour since the last rocks had fallen, so last of all Brett and I also made our way through. hmmm maybe I shouldn't tell this story.

We stayed at a nice guest house in the gorge for the night. There, this little girl taught me the correct way to beckon "BaoZi" the dog. She also laughed to herself every time she saw me walking (I developed a limp, not from bicycling, but after walking my knee into a firehydrant placed in the middle of the sidewalk in LiJiang).

The little farmstead above was around 3400 meters. They raise pigs, horses and a few cattle, and farm wheat and vegetables.

After the gorge, we continued on a backroad towards ZhongDian and eventually over a huge pass. We must have done about 1700 meters of climbing over two days. It was slow going, but the views were great. There were four distinct valleys, scenically and culturally. In one valley an older women dressed in full traditional wear stuck her tongue out at me (this is a greeting I understand?). I stuck my tongue out at her in return and she laughed.

One valley I have named "Friendly Valley" and the next I named "Crazy Valley". In "Crazy Valley" I was accosted by a marauding group of ten year olds. They grabbed onto my panniers and stopped me dead in my tracks. They demanded chocolate. They attempted to open my bags, and then tried to take them off my bike. I humored them for a while and then said my farewell. They immediately gave chase and managed to stop me again. In the end I had to employ a technique that I use on mountain dogs. I pretended that I was going to kick them with one foot as I rode away. It worked.

A man also hissed at Brett in Crazy Valley.

We came over the pass and dropped down a few hundred meters, but everything was different. The houses, the people, the livestock. Yaks everywhere. Monstrous houses. I guess this was the cultural border of Tibet. 30 km we arrived here in ZhongDian...

A current events section of my highly informative blog follows...

Strangely enough, I may be teaching English again soon. I've been offered a job as an English Instructor at an English camp in Korea. I did apply for this job, so it's not as random as it might seem...

Your input regarding whether or not I should take the job will be given 50% weight in my consideration. Leave your comments below. The remaining 50% will be determined with the flip of a coin.

If I decide to take this job I will fly to Seoul in mid July and stay until late August. Then I can come back to China and... do something. I am forming more diabolical plans in regards to what exactly I should do. I guess I'll let you know.

On a slightly different note, I'd like to say "Gong Xi Gong Xi" to my sister Simone and Neil. If you didn't know it yet, they recently got engaged. Congratulations and love from across the way.

If you're interested in getting to know these two fine young people more, you can check out their blogs on the right. Maybe they could start a couples blog detailing their engagement and the trials and tribulations of organizing a wedding! Could be good reading.

They're probably getting married next year from what I understand. I guess if you don't see me before then, you'll see me... then.

I know that I have a bad track record for attending friends and family's weddings in the past few years. So, if any other people out there are thinking about getting married next year, perhaps you could get married a week before or after my sister.

If you do, I promise here and now that I will attend.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Quite Boring

This road was as dangerous as it looks.

Taking down old buildings the quick and easy way. I'd like to point out that these guys are hammering on the very brick walls that they are standing on.

Downtown Kunming.

More of downtown. Kunming is way out in the boonies, far from ShenZhen and the factories that produce most of the goods in the world. And yet, the economy is booming and the city is arguabley more developed and progressive than most North American cities. In addition to dedicated bus and bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks, solar heated water, and plenty of public green space, almost all of the scooters are electric. All this in a city of 5 million people that succeeds in feeling like a city of about 500000.
Today we are off to DaLi and the Himalaya. Better pictures are sure to follow.