If you occasionally follow the news and check travel .gc.ca you’d think that Sinai is a war zone full of bandits. I’m not saying that there is no such thing there but I and a month before my my friend Marco of bikesutras.org , both had wonderful time riding around the south Sinai penninsula. He made it sound like there was days of abandoned resort camping. I found that was just the first day day and a half from Taba. After I had pasted Neiwba I didn’t see so much of that- sadly I had zoomed through there in a day amd found myself wanting a dip in the sea or a bath and all that was around me was desert…. after Shar el shiek I may have been able to park at a fishing village and take a dip there … but I continued up the road. 4 days in I had almost arrived at Tor Sinai and the police stopped me and said you cannot continue on your own you must take a police escort or ride in our police truck.
My last 200 km in Sinai I was given the options of an escort or a ride with the police I took the latter. for 3 reason- First, the last time I had a police escort was in Morocco and it once almost went very badly as i rode into a pothole while surveying the road to determine whether to slow down or speed up to keep the transport trucks driving smoothly, effiecncy of motor and time of all involved- my guidlne for my world tour is on the use surface transport- preferably bicycle not necessarily. I did get an opportunity to ride a bit in those 200 km but After annoying one of the upper officers by stopping at a gas station to change what was charging on my solar panel but really getting sucked into some friendly Egyptian hospitality I was shipped out of Sinai and dropped on the Egyptian side of the Canal about an hour after dark. I camped in the garden of what appeared to be an abandoned building on some sort of farm.
The next day was simply Epic. It started with me getting caught at my camping spot by some builders or farmers doing some building maintnenance. The first Employ to arrive seemed like he might be trouble. His boss who arrived a few minutes late was all smiles. Since I was only about 15 km from Suez so I went down to take a look at the canal. Along the way I found a young man who was buying a new bike chain. I gave and installed my old one because it was a better chain in better condition than the used one he was buying. At the canal I took only a look so I didn’t take any pictures….. atleast not any good ones. After a quick lunch and a solar charging of a couple batteries. I decided to ride over to the soccer stadium across the bay and take a gander and a photo. When I stopped to take a picture someone came up to me and said no photos…He didn’t look like any sort of official authority that should be telling me such information so I took a picture of him and some more picture of the Suez Soccer Stadium. As I set about riding out of town a gent in a well kept BMW waved me down.. and they had a good vibe so I stopped. One friendly Egyptian got out of the car and asked me a few thing and brought out his friend to translate. They interviewed me for an Egyptian web based news service. Next I stopped at a little shop to buy some food. Just as I was about to pay Some Egyptian Police arrived- in a serious way 5 or 6 cars many officers and many guns. One asked me if that was my bicycle , I replied yes, next I was asked about my picture taking habits and I was asked for my passport and my camera… I only gave then the waterproof one. I was asked to wait where I was. Eventually the owners of the tea shop next to the grocery stall invited me for a glass of tea. Sometime later the police came back and asked me to follow them back to the station where they returned my passport and my camera (all photos still there) with apologies. On the road to Cairo I stopped to get more food and after a few hours I found a great camping sport under a nearly full moon in the desert.
Because of my delays leaving Suez, when it was starting to get dark, I still had over 100 km to ride in to Cairo. The next morning, despite having a great private spot of desert and being a bit cool (about 10 degrees) I got my self going going at the crack of dawn. I was expcting some mad African traffic like Casa Blanca or Dakkar, but put a smile on my face it never happened. It was a very uneventful trip into Cairo. All I really felt I need to do in Cairo was get some bicycle chains and se the Great Pyramids of Giza. I came up with the plan of staying at a cheap hotel or a warmshowers host for 2 night use one day to get the chain and see what Cairo is all about and the next tday to see the pyramids and get out of town. This went much as planned… I Stayed in a cheap hotel the first night and with a busy couple that decided they could host me on my second night in town. I made it to their home after I went in to the area of Cairo that has a few cheap bike shops. I was supposed to go to the one focus on BMX but ended up at the oldest and made friends with the oldest bicycle shop in Cairo- Albougouk Cycles shop which was opened in 1925. Sayed the god father of the shop was impress with my singlespeed touring bike and my knowledge of Bicycles and cycling. He invited me for lunch and I did a repair in return. In between the shop and Rosa and peter’s home I went to some touristy famous building but was stopped by the police because I was showing up too late… could’t
even go to the front to get a picture of the facade. While leaving I made friend with a group of Egypatians who wanted me to ake their pictures when they caught me taking pictures of the sign and traffic circle where they were sitting- I was able to share the photos via wifi to my phone and blue tooth the phones of the Egyptians. Rosa And peter live in Giza not far from the the main road to the pyramids this was convient. I when first thing in the morning, rodebackto their home loaded up my bike and hit the road going south.
So I left Cairo all psyched up for a week on the road down to Luxor and Aswan. The first day went as planned. I did abot 70 km and at dusk I found a farm track beside a canal that lead me to some Nile riverbank farmland were I was confident I could camp and not be disturbed. The next morning I hit the road bright and early. But around noon I arrived at Beni Suef and I was asked to ride with the police once again. This time for two days. the best section was for about 15 km I rode with a non uniform officer on a motorcycle. This solve all the problems I have with the truck/car escorts. This however inceased my expenses and it wasn’t always safe. In Qena I was dropped off at a 200 pound a night hotel and while wandering around the neighbourhood I saw some boys playing soccer/football, when I passed the started yellingg Hal la Hal la…. I thought it was part of thier game until they threw a couple stones at me
before arriving in Luxor I checked where the cheap hotels were on the internet- the 2 cheapest were Bob Marley guesthoust and New Everest hotel. I found New Everest first and when I arrived I wa greeted by Hussane who told me that He saw the newpiece on me he figured there was a good chance that I would arrive…. Bob marley is abotu 20 cents a night cheaper… I stayed at New everest. Luxor is the second biggest tourist destination in Egypt. There is alot history/heritige type things to do there- the kings Canyon, Luxor temple, Memon figures … but the best for me is the Karnak temple I stayed an extra couple of days because beside the Luxor temple there was a tent advertising that the Tour of Egypt cycle race is finishing in town. I went 3 times before I got an answer of when the festivities would happen…. but I sttill missed it because the tent was for post race protocol . the race finished an hour before 10 km our of town.
Next task was to ride to Aswan, find the Sudanese Consulate and get a visa. Aswan is about 200km from Luxor. So before I set off from town accompanied for the first 6 km with my new cyclist friend Mohammed, I picked up enough food to get me through. But I didn’t get to use the food because shortly after passing Idfu. the police stepped again and drove me into Aswan. A couple days later Iused the food to make dinner for my friends Emiie (a cycletourts I met at the Sudanese consul) and Enrique (who I met at the great pyramids) in a public park before we all went our own ways.
After staying in Aswan for 8 day my application for a Sudanese visa was rejected because I had been in israel… there is no Israeli mark in my passport per se but they knew because I got my egyptian visa in israeli territory. I realized i made a mistake that will cost me a few hundred dollars- I will have to fly if I want to continue my world tour. They have no airport in Aswan and their internet connection is poor at best so I should return to Luxor.
The ride back to Luxor partially explained the police concern for my safety. After a rather uneventful day I was chugging up a hill through a village and as I crested a hill in one town a bunch of kids were playing there. As I approached they stop and ran out in to the road. A girl of about 12 lead the charge. she went straight for my handle bars so I picked up my speed and rode away and as I escaped quite a large stone thrown by the youth bounce off the ground and hit my ankle. About 15 km later I came across a desert area that I made a mental not of while riding with the on the way down to Aswa… I felt it would be safe and would make a good camping spot- and it was …. no children would eb attacking me in the deseert. The next morning my ride continued where it had left off. After passing a couple villages with out a hitch, I passed a pick up truck full of young men… it was a bit lame but I got the message as they trew garbage in my direction… nothing had the mass to go very far. I think it was the same truck that passed me a few minutes later and this time stones were thrown. my 3rd thought was chase and get a picture and one of the young men applauded my efforts by having his middle finger on display for my picture…. what is wrong with these people… a couple hour later I was between two small villages that were about a kilometre apart and I had a flat….I made a serious effort to make it a quick innertube change…and as I started pumping a small group of young men approached me… not the guys from the pickup truck… in the end they just wanted to take selfies with me.
Safely back at New Everest I started to research how I can continue the second African stage of my world tour. I was hoping I could simply fly out of Luxor…. But the claim it is an international airport is a it thin as they have 2 flights to middle east flight hubs and twice a week to Gatwick and 8 flights a day to Cairo. I took the Train to Cairo.
Even though my ticket was for Cairo the train worker asked me to get off at Giza… no problem…. but it was 5 in the morning and dark so I took my time and started rolling at dawn. I got wome lovely picture of the city and the Nile at sunrise. I was Distracted my a couple cyclists and stopped to talk as their group showed up for a ride to a mosque… but I didn’t go with them because I figured I should secure a hotel room and a plane ticket first. So when I broke free I went to where I remembered seeing many travel agencies. but they were all closed because it was Friday. Then I went to some cheap hotels. The place I stayed previously had doubled their price… I checked a hostel even more expensive. Then I saw a large group of cyclist and took a break from hotel searching. When I returned it didn’t get any better…. Full,, full, expensive, I ended up paying 200 Egyptian pounds. The next day I bought my airplane ticket direct from Egyptair for 150 pounds less than the internet price and the emplyee gave me an estimate of 85$ to ship all my gear. Then I went to Abou el gothe cycle and hung out with Sayed, did a lesson on how to set Shimano indexed shifting systems. They gave me a bicycle box and I strapped to my bike and set out for the Airport
My Flight was due to take off around 23h00 so I arrived at 18h30 only 40 minutes later than I would have liked. The box Sayed gave me was a bit smaller than the box I had for the Cyprus to Israel flight and it took me a bit longer to box my bicycle. Fortunately I remember what was shifted where to get all gear in the right place and I save time over my previous flight. In the end I was walking my bike and airplane friendly packed bags to the first security check point 20 minute before boarding was to start…. that line took me 20 minute to get through. As I scanned my passport to get my boarding pass my flight was called on the public announcement system…. and I still had to check my bags. When I got to the front of that line the Egyptair representitive told me that I ned to wrap my panniers into one unit and wrap my box too. The baggage wrappers were right there. They wanted 60 pounds (about 4$) for the job and they would’t accept 5USd or 5 Euros…. I went to a bank machine… but it was rejecting my dollar bills. fortunately while that was happening a traveller gave me 60 pounds. I thanked him and ran back to the wrappers. With my baggage wrapped I went back to the counter where it was gestured to me to return the the back of the line… at this point I was somewhat nervous about missing my flight. When I got back to the front of the line I was being called to the gate over the public announcement system. The rep I was dealing with told me it would be 75$ for my overweight and over size luggage. When I explained what happened to the next guy he charge me only 40$ and rushed me through the next to process and told me next time when I my flight has been called I become a priority and should have skipped line to the front. Once through the passport control I ran… ran all the way to my gate…. when I arrived the last family was going through the boarding security and some one arrive 15 seconds after me and then I didn’t feel so bad about arrive 4 minutes after my flight was supposed to leave.Was it actually Dangerous? The worse thing that I had happen in Egypt was having stones thown. Potential danger that I didn’t meet …. I don’t know because I never met them but the police told me a couple times that they felt the traffic would have been dangerous and once I was told that there may be bandits in the area. On one trip in a police truck in Sinai and on one section of the upper Nile valley the officers sitting with me were wearing their flack jackets and carrying their riffles the rest of the time they seemed quite relaxed.
So people who follow me on Facebook may have noticed that I made a big jump from Egypt to South Africa seemingly overnight… to be honest that is right. The main reason for this is the Sudanese consulate in Aswan(but location doesn’t matter) didn’t grant me a visa. The reason for this is not that I had a Israeli stamp in my passport. I am not so foolish… but close, I got my Egyptian visa in Eilat (which is of course in Israel.. not in the Palestinian territories) and that was proof enough that I had been there. Since Sudan was no longer a travel option I was forced to look for other options After some thought and research I realized I would be in contravention of my minimum flight mandate of my world tour, I chose to fly.
From Aswan I rode back to Luxor where i could stay at The New Everest Hostel which is cheap, bike friendly and has better internet that any place I had been online in Aswan and has an International airport. On the 200 km ride I made a point of stopping in a place where I could have a free night of wild camping.. and use up some of the food i bought for the long remote ride to Abu Simbal. In Luxor I learned that their international airport has flights to Doha and Kuwait city everyday and a couple flight to London each week all the rest of the flight there go to Cairo. So I went back to Cairo. In Cairo there is not such a wide varieties of airlines… if you are going to an Africa destination Egypt air is your choice. There are many Arab state and a few European options. So at this point I was looking to go to an Egyptair destination where I can get visa on arrival or no visa required. 2 choices stood out from the others to let me continue my African adventures- Addis Ababa and Johannesburg. In the end I chose Johannesburg. It won over Addis Ababa for the following reasons: It is rainy season in central Africa and SA is dry. I no longer have to worry about transit through the Ethiopian border areas which are reportedly quite dangerous.
On Saturday March 4th I went checked out of a relatively cheap hotel in Cairo and set about getting a plane ticket to South Africa. At first I stopped at a small travel agency who agreed to the price I found on the internet but he wouldn’t accept credit card payment so I left in search of a place that would a few minute later I found myself at an official Egyptair office where they accept all forms of payment. Bonus it was about 100 pounds less that what I remembered as quoted on the internet- That can go tot he estimated 80-100 dollars to fly all my gear. The flight is at 11 pm… no problem right? I had already arranged to pick up a bicycle box from my friend Sayed at Abou El Goukh bicycle shop. But I had an extra hour so I thought I might check out a nearby park until I was caught in a traffic jam and then went straight to the shop. After, a visit including lunch and teaching the mechanics a bit about adjusting Shimano Indexed shifting. Shortly after 4 out for the airport about 12 km away. After a couple traffic jams, stopping to check offline maps on my phone to make sure I am going the right way, buying tape to reform the bicycle box which had been flattened and folded in two for easier transport…. and one wrong turn I arrived at the wrong terminal at 5:45. shortly after 6 I was starting to disassemble my bike by 9:20 I had my bike in the smallish mountain bike box (a 26 inch wheel unsuspended 18 speed mtb box which was much tighter than the 29er box I picked up in Cyprus so much more disassembly was required.) and all my gear repacked and ready to fly. While standing in line at the first security point I checked my ticket which told me I should be boarding at 9:40. I get through the Security at 9:40 and I hear them call my flight to the gate as I collect my boarding pass. Then I get inline to check my baggage. the Egyptair representitive is less than impressed with my taping job and tells me to go get my bags wrapped…. the wrappers tell me it’s 60 pounds which I don’t have because I am leaving and they won’t take any other currency and point me to a bank machine. As I am loosing the battle to get some dollars exchange a kind traveller(who sense my haste) give me the sixty pound and wouldn’t accept my 4$USd. I run back , my baggage gets wrapped and the Egyptair representitive tells me to go to the back of the line… at this point I am getting a bit nervous. I’m not sure why but when I return the front of the line the rep tell me the fees for my bags will be 75 dollars and he hands me off to another worker and dealt with a simpler case (no additional fee like my over weigh over size luggage)… At this time II am being called to the gate over the PA system. The New Egypt air rep asks me why and I tell him I had to wait inline to check my bags twice. He told me that because my flight had been called, I should have push up to the front of the line as I was priority. He charges me only 40 dollars to check my bags and rushes me through passport control. From there I ran to the gate. At that point I didn’t feel so bad because there was still a few people going through the boarding security check. Then I had a relaxing red eye flight to Johannesburg…. and the bicycle tour continues
2. Fonthill,, Canada, -race -dismantled (1996)
3. Winnipeg commonwealth track, Winipeg , Canada -race- dismantled in 1997
4. Copps colesseum, hamilton ON Canada-race- dismantled moved to Bromont, then St. Augustin
5. T-town, trexlertown PA, USA- race and photos
6. Kissena, Flushing NYC, NY USA- race and photos
7. Arima, Trinidad- race and photos
8. Palo saco, Tinidad- training and photos
9. Skinner park, trinidad, race
10. Grass track, Point a Pierre, Trinidad,- race
11. Superdrome, Frisco Texas USA- race and photos
12. Juan de Fuca velodrome, Victoria BC, Canada- race
13. Bromont’s first velodrome AKA copp’s coloseum velodrome Bromont QC canada- race
14. Burnby Velodrome, Burnaby Canada-race and photos
15. New Bromont velodrome, Bromont – race
16. louis garneau velodrome, st augustin, Canada; race – AKA copps coloseum
17. Argyl, Edmonton, canada- ride
18. Dieppe National training center, Dieppe, NB Canada – race and photos
19. forest city velodrome, London Canada- race and photos
20. the velodrome in Broomers park, Deroit MI, USA-race
21. NSC, Blaine MN, USA -race
22. Dick Lane Velodrome, Atlanta GA, USA -Race
23. Dunc Grey Velodrome, Sydney NSW Australia- race and photos
24. newcastle- lap and photos
25. Muswellbrook, NSW, Australia- race and photos
26. tamsworth NSW, Aus- No ride- abandoned- Photos
27. Bundeburg, Queensland AUS- Race and photos
28. Marysborough, queensland, AuS-race and photos
29. MacKay, queensland, Aus- ride and photos only
30. Rockhampton, Queensland, AUS- race and photos
31. Darwin, northern Teritory, AUS-ride and photos
32. Alice Springs, NT, AUs- no ride closed, exterior photos
33. Tempe, Sydney AUS, training
34. Rosebury, tassie, Australia-race and photos
35. Devonport, tassie-race and photos
36. Burnie, tassie-race and photos
37. Launcestion, Tassie AUS- race and photos
38. Horbart, Tassie-race and photos
39. Denton Park, Christchurch, NZ- race and photos
40. ILC velodrome, Invercargil, NZ-race and photos
41. Disc, Melbourne Victoria, AUS- race
42. Ipoh, ride and photos
43. Kula lampur, ride and photos
44. Jakarta, photos
45. Guangzhao, china, exterior photo
46. kitatkishu, Japan- exterior photo
47. japan, kitakyshu, Japan- closed exterior photos only
48. Yokohama, japan, watch kierin
49. , west tokyo, japan, watch kierin and many photos.
50. Hofu, japan- gate was open- ride and photos
51. busan korea- closed for renovations, exterior photos only
52. chagwon, korea= watched race -no ride. photos
53. Bangkok Thailand- ride and photos
54. Chaingmai, Thailand- gates were open- photos and ride
55. indira ghandi velodrome, new delhi, India-not open, photos only… snuck inside
56. Athens Olympic velodrome- gaurds on strike, walked in met some riders and took photos.
57. palermo- closed in 2011, but gates were open- ride, photos
58. Dinaomo Velodrome- open access, ride, photos, video lap
59. Lyon france- closed, exterior photos only
60. UCI velodrome, aigle, switerland- open but expensive to ride- pictures only
61. Olikranon,Zurich switzerland- got permission to ride and videos and photos
62. Vienna, Austria- closed exterior picture only
63. Budapest Hungary- Closed- exterior picture only
64. Scunthorpe, Uk- ridden, Photos and video
65. middlesborough, UK- unused part of multi sport facility- part of the track removed- photos only
66. Manchester, UK- Open but rules prevented me from wanting to pay to ride. photos only
67. Caird velodrome, Dundee Scotland- ride and photos
68. sir chris Hoy, glasgow Scotland- Ride, photos and video
69. Belfast- wet and dark with poor condition including soccer goals stored on the track
70. Dublin, Ireland, – ride – photos and video
71. Kanturk,Ireland ride- photos and video
72. Golf cycle track, Waterford, ireland- Abandoned, mostly covered with grass- ride, photos and video
73. Liverpool-UK- close dark and rainy – exterior photo only
74. Lyme valley stadium, Newcastle under lyme- open and staffed- couldnät ride for the venue rules and lost the photos.
75. Aldersley, velodrome, Wolverhampton UK- open staffed- photos no ride becasue I couldn´t use the track because of facilty rules
76. Halesown, UK ride, photos and video
77. Newport, Wales- open staffed but photos only
78. Maindy velodrome, Cardiff Wales- easy access- ride, photos and video
79. Bournemouth, UK-easy access- ride, photo and video
80. Winton Park, Bounemouth, UK- easy access- ride, photo and video
81. Calshot, UK- ride, photos and video
82. Preston park, Brighton, ride, photos and video
84. old velodrome Roubaix, ride, photos and video + asked to leave so they can prepare for the arrrival of some little road race
85. Radstadion, Koln Germany- open staff?- photos only inter and exterior
86. Berlin,Germany- closed- exterior photo only
87. Chemitz, Germany- easy access, ride, photos and video
88. Prague, Czech Republic- closed easy access- ride, photos and video
89. old veldrome, Warsaw Poland- abandoned- covered with broken glass and weeds, photos and video
90. Klaipeda, Lithuania- gate was open, ride, photos and video
91. talinn, Estonia- closed and raining exterior photo only
92. Helsinki, Finland- closed rainng pictures only
93. Turku, Finland- easy access- talked to the rider who were training- ride, photos and video
94. Falun, Sweden- open and staffed- in a health club and not ready for use- photos only
95. Copenhagen, Denmark, open staff?. photos talked with riders in training
96. Bruge, elgium- ride, photos and video
97. Ghent, Belgium,-closed- exteior photos
98. Eddy Merckx, Ghent Belgium- close- exterior photo
99. Jacque Anquiteil, Paris, France- closed but met a friend that is friend of the velodrome-track not in use, photos only
100. Velodrome National de Saint Quentin en Yvelines, Paris, France- Open and staffed- track in use, photos only
101. Velodrome du lac, Bordeaux, France-open and staffed- ride, photos and video
102. Damazan, France- ride, photos and video
103. Horta, Barcelona, Spain- Locked tight exterior photos only
104. Portugal- open for national team training-photos only
105. Casa blanca, Morrocco- open for dog racing- photos only
106. Zaragoza Spain-challenging access-ride, photos and video
107. llieda Spain- challenging access-ride, photos and video
108. west Terragon Spain- challenging access- ride, photos and video+ trouble
109. Grenoble France- only exterior picture
110. Hyeres France- open and staffed-ride, photos and video
111. Forano, lazio Italy- ride and fast lap, photos and video
112. Firenze, Italy- closed, exterior photos only
113. Montichiari, Italy- open for junior European champs- photos only
114. pescantina, italy-gate open for grass cutting- ride, photos and video
Hello Everyone in a brazen attempt to catch up a bit on my writing- I’ve been working on my 2 months in Greece for about a year now cause it’s quite tough to tour and type at the same time… props to all those travel writers out there…. So to catch up a bit I decided that I’d work on some of the smaller countries I spent less time in out of the way.
After Greece, southern Italy and Albania, my next European country was a little place call the Former Yugoslavia republic of Macedonia. I crossed over from Albania on my birthday(2013) and after hanging out at a restaurant at the border waiting for the rain to pass and I used their internet and set about finding a place to stay and anything about the area called Orhid… someone in Tirana told me that it is beautiful… it is…. and relatively cheap. The natural scenery is stunning- a lake a 700m surrounded by 1500m+ mountain peaks- many of the higher ones were snow capped at the beginning of April. the village of Orhid sits at the north east corner of the lake. It is home to a few old religious structures and and old European fishing village. My first night I found a room in a nice little guest house for 5 euros a night I was expecting to leave the next day after touring around the town a bit but as it was approaching check out time I met Slava. Slava is not the type of person i would normally talk to. Before I got to know him,I would have labeled him as some one who survives a step or too above beggars- like a busker; one who offer a little service to try to get money from passers by. Now that i know him and want to put a positive light on him I describe him as a classic Greek philosopher who gives information about his village in hopes that the people he philosophizes with will buy him a meal, a beer or if he is really lucky maybe some money. Normally I don’t have anything for people like that… maybe I could share a cooked meal but I cant afford to tour and take people out to restaurants. So I was avoiding Slava until he said wait man I was like you, I’ve ridden a bicycle around the world. we started talking about travel and bicycles.. then i realized i missed my check out time and would have to stay another night. The Next day I was determined to leave my 5 euro a night accommodation but it was pouring rain. And I ended up hanging out with Slava another day and overnight and leaving the next afternoon during a break in the rain.
Before I left Orhid I consulted my my new friend as to which road is best to take to… there was the main and there was the one over the baba a mountain pass-1600m. He recommended the baba, said it be more scenic. I rode riding southward along the lake. when I got to the south end at 4 pm I started my ascent to the baba. I rode up above the rain, past a park that had some shelters that would have been good to take refuge in given the likely hood of a wet night. But I continued up into the clouds. While riding in the clouds I found a bit of snow in the ditch a km later even more snow and it was starting to get dark too. Eventual I came to a big drift of snow that covered the road with a solitary bicycle tire track and some foot prints. I pushed my heavy touring cycle into the snow and pushed until I need a break. For a break I ran up the trail to see how much further I’d have to push… fortunately I was 3/4 of the way through. I suspect that Slava had no idea that the pass was still under snow…. but it give me the pride that I was only the second person through the pass that year. the snow was there because it was the late melt on the north side- so on the other side there was a few small patches but nothing that really stopped me. But now it was dark, the sky promising rain and still I continued down the other side of the pass looking for any sort of place that had some shelter… why didn’t I stay in the park??? I thought there might have been traffic. But, of course, since the road was blocked with snow really it wouldn’t have been a problem. All the way d own to the lake on the other side I regretted my decision to keep moving that is until I saw my free camping spot for the night- a big old abandoned communist hotel. I went in, grabbed a snack and walked around looking for a clean dry spot.. there were so many places to choose from- the bowling ally, the bar, the movie theater but I settled for a simple hotel room that had been stripped of most anything of value…. after I cooked my dinner it sounded like some people arrived and were taking pipes out of the place, i kept quiet and my locations remained a secret.
The next morning i woke up to a beautiful sunny day and continued op the road to Skopje. along the way i stopped I stopped to off help to a young bicycle racer with a red pick up truck that had broken down at the side of the road. I told him that it sounded like I stopped for a little break in Prilep. there wasn’t too much there most notably- a mosque and a church next to one another, a few drunken men sitting around in the park by the religious buildings and some what more interesting- a blacksmith’s shop, something I never expected to find let alone in Europe. With the light starting to fade i left Prilep. at 8 when dusk had truly fallen I entered a gorge and figured I’d be screwed fro finding a camping spot until the other side but less than a Km in to the gorge I found the remains of a rail line accessible by a foot trail from the side of the highway. i set up my tent the other side of the short tunnel. and bonus if it rains i can move to the tunnel.
the next day i rode into Skopje and checked myself into a hostel. Tourism in Europe is pretty slow in the winter and the early spring so there wasn’t too many people there but I did meet an worldly American couple and the hostel owner, who told me to go to Lake Matka. Lake matka a man made late to the west of town…. it is a stunning image of reflective still water in a steep deep gorge. I had good weather when I was there and along the way I met some Macedonians on bicycles. Now, having covered all that I could gather to do in Skopja I was keen to head out the next day but I didn’t leave too early as it was pouring rain. however in my head i had to leave because i had only about 50 cents left of Macedonian currency. the morning started cloudy and by the time I was ready to go it started remaining, so in the early afternoon during a break in the rain. I made it to the other side of town before I was soaking wet. Cold , wet, miserable and desperate for a dry spot to rest, about an hour before dark I settled in to an abandoned concrete farm house. The next day I rode into Bulgaria.
If you hadn’t had any contact with me, facebook or my website you wouldn’t know that I went to Nepal(April 16th to June 23 2012 so everytime I say this year I mean 2012 not 2013). Nepal and India were high enough on my list of places I want to go that I flew there. But only after looking in to boats and Tibet,and Myanmar crossing neither of which could be done for political reasons and bureaucratic red tap. Why so high on my list of places to go. Well when was about 10 year old I learned the highest mountain in the world is called Everest and it’s part of the Himalayas in Asia. I fancied myself a bit of a climber at the time so the initial plan was to climb it. That changed because I learned that I am not a mountaineer… and when I first went came to Asia I looked up the cost and at the time it was 20000 Usd for a permit, this year it was 50000.and I’m nowhere near rich enough to justify paying that to climb a big rock so I settled on going close enough to get a good view. Also when I was touring Australia I gave a ride to a Czech adventurer who highly recommended hiking the Anapurna trek. Initially I couldn’t put my finger on why India was so high on the list aside from a couple famous buildings, being the cradle of eastern religion, gurus, snake charmers, about 10% of my highschool cohorts were of Indian descent and the Homeland of Mahatma Ghandi. And curry is a good thing. I guess that’s enough to peak my curiosity But I’ll get to India at a later time.
When I landed in Kathmandu I went through the usual arrival stuff- customs and immigration- 40$usd for a … day visa. Then I put my bike together with spectators(something one has to accept in Nepal and India), rode across town in the dark… with no local currency and no knowledge of the local language. I did have a google map on camera but still missed the main road and rode some back roads and used my compass and eventually ended up in the right neighbourhood. The city was much dirtier and stinkier than expected and everything was shut down by 10 pm except a couple bars in Thamel. I think everything would have been easier had my flight not been delayed by 3 hours. That had me arriving at 8 pm in the dark, I got my bike rolling just before 9 and arrived in Thamel around 10:30pm. So I rode around and rode some more looking for the cheap hotel I found on the internet in Delhi, my map was really bad. at 11:00 I found a couple hotels but they were 20 Usd a night which isn’t for me. Around midnight I found a guy pimping a hotel on the street and I followed him because it was 7 Usd a night. I passed the night there as I was afraid there was nothing else left. The next morning, on my way to the bank I found the hotel I was looking for 100 m down the road to the sign and up an alley. I asked if they had a room- they did and it was only 2 Usd. By the time I went to the bank, checked out of the other hotel and went back to Mountain peace their least expensive room was clear so now I had a place for 1.50 a night. Even better the cheap room is rooftop with direct access to the water tank for showers and laundry but the closest toilet is down 2 floors.
Then I found myself with lots of time to decided how I would go about seeing the highest mountain in the world because my credit card had expired couple weeks after I arrived and it’s in my best interest to sit tight and wait for my new one. Why not eh? I was staying in the cheapest room in the cheapest hotel in Thamel (the tourist) district and found the cheap food so I was spending about 6 or 7 dollars a day while I waited. Mount Everest is about 300 Km north east of Kathmandu on the border with Tibet. I found a few ways to view to Mount Everest on the Nepal side. The cheapest, about 160 dollars, quickest(about 2 hours), easiest and least environmental is to wake up early and take a mountain flight, sit in comfort in an airplane cabin while burning enriched kerosene and the flight staff tell you which mountain you’re flying by and which window to look out of to see it. Not for me because it’s not a real experience- it’s out of touch with nature and the nature of the mountains. These days most people will fly to a town called Lukla (140 dollars each way)and hike in from there (5-7 days up and 3-4 days down or longer and more money). If you’re rich there are a lot of package tours that cover this for about 1500$. (I met a group from Singapore who paid 2500 SGD each for their tour) That is excessive and someone is getting rich and sadly it’s not the porters and guides. The closest paved road to Lukla ends in a town called Jiri about 200km ENE of Kathmandu. A few brave souls will take a bus there and some will walk in from there a few will take the local dirt road bus to the next town- Shivalaya or maybe even to Bandar. I figured if a bus can go there so can a bicycle so that was my choice. Carrying a full pack it takes about 10 days to get from Jiri to Lukla. If you have the time it’s a good idea. In the end getting to Lukla by surface will cost about as much as flying but the hike will rush you into shape and there are some fairly high passes that one can use to aid acclimatising to the altitude.
While I was researching and waiting I had a look around Kathmandu… I had a rough time- birds kept pooping on me(at least once if not twice a week) and I caught a cold. My credit card came went back to Canada and returned to Kathmandu for me to receive it so it’s like done more miles than me this year, I found a store that had cyclists working there (sadly most of the bicycle rentals/stores/tours are run by people who want to make money off tourists and have no passion for the machine) only a couple stores are run by people who are passionate about cycling (mountain biking in particular, as the roads are crap, they have no velodrome nor bmx track) They do have lots of dirt road and trails up steep hills well suited to mountain biking… before I left I rented a mountain bike and had a little sampling of nepali cycling- it was good despite only having about 3km of single track in a 120 minute ride. I’m sure the guys have better loops. Though I was having a rough time I made many new friends like Mathieu, Morganne, Steph, Emiline, Neraj, Suzanna, Sonam, Jorge, Suraj, Mani and…of half of who are french and all are spiritual(in a cosmic sense) and or adventurous souls.
So a couple days after my credit card arrived, I had extended my visa, and had found all the supplies I though I might need on the trip- new sunglasses, dried buffalo, lapsi candy and a couple kilos of indian snacks. My bike loaded up with cold weather clothes… I reduce my riding gear,tools, cook set and odds and ends from my full load. And I headed east on highway 13.. On the road my rough times continued the first day was filled with navigational errors as I got used to my maps and with the twisty roads and cloudy skies wreaking havoc with my sense of direction and my compass. I figure I did an extra 40 kilometers that day. I called it a day after only having covered 10 km of the Jiri road and 100 km of Nepali highway There was nothing was there so I camped at the side of the road. I was almost out of water and too tired to cook the soup I had so I made a big dent in to the provisions instead- consuming most of the lapsi candy to get a little hydration. The next day I rode the most uphill in a day I’ve ever done- two mountain passes separated by 8km of rolling stuff at the top and 20 km of twisty rough down hill finishing with a 80 km total. At the beginning of the day I switched to a slightly lower gear expecting the first hill might be short… when I arrived near the top I was so frustrated by getting off the bike and walking so many steep bits that I stopped and switched my lowest gear. Just in time to start the rolling bit and the downhill bits for the day- I spent the first 7 hours of riding in the WRONG gear that day… but I was set when the road turned upwards again. And I had my first encounter with children begging for candy or money in the hills of Nepal. The hoy cased me fore 200 m asking for 100 rupees. Damn that’s my dinner money. That evening I arrived in a town at dusk and went to a restaurant/hotel… but they wanted 7 dollars for the room, I ordered food while I was waiting I rushed out to my bike and pushed two children away from it, and their mom was angry with me for pushing her kids…teach your kids some respect and some manners and this wouldn’t have happened continuing my rudeness the food was taking too long the room was too much so I left. I was bloody starving and not prepared to wait over 45 minutes for my meal. I rode up (and I do mean up) the road a few Km and cooked myself some ramen and set up camp on a flat spot not far from the road.
The next day I went up the last 10 Km then downhill into Jiri where I vainly tried to restock my supplies- no Lapsi candy, no dried buffalo, no Indian snacks. I did buy tang, eclairs candy, and some donuts. I had too this is the last stop for most motor vehicles. A few 4s4’s go beyond Jiri but most things are brought in on the back of mules or porters. Then I set out for the next village. I took a dirt and cobblestone road for about 2 km where I saw a sign for the hiking trail and the other way was a road that was shown to be incomplete on my maps. So I went up the 2400m mountain pass where I found a road that took me to the head water of the river in the valley, back down the other side of the river where it up at another river then down into that river valley. I carried my bike up on to the bridge and walked it across to the other side of the river. I rushed down the road into Shivilaya just ahead of the rain. I quickly scouted the town for the most appropriate guest house as the rain was fast approaching I quickly settled at the Kalo Pathar Guesthouse and Restaurant.
Now in Shivalaya some 7 hours after leaving Jiri. At my guest house and in talking with the owner I found out that Jiri is 3 or 4 hour away by foot. By recalling what sort of terrrain I rode over, lookng at my map and seeing how I got into town I realized I rode about 35 km to cover the 7.5 km hike. I started the next day with some sherpa toast but that was highly inadequate so I ordered a bowl of Museli to get the necessary calories to keep going. And I noted that Museli in hot milk is one of the cheaper more filling items on the menu. When I started walking the meals started to become somewhat consistant. A bowl of soup or chowmein for lunch, a dal baht for dinner and a bowl of Musili in hot milk for breakfast. That day I rode up to another 2500m pass got chased by more baby beggars twice for a good couple hundred meters each time. Then thing went really wrong., past Bandar and down in to a valley and broke a couple bones between there and Kinja (see my website [www.keiththewheelman.com] to get the story of how I broke those bones) Fortunately a couple brothers from a very friendly helpful family picked me up off the ground when I broke my bones and I stayed with their family for a couple days while I reassessed my situation and let my body heal up a bit. I decided I couldn’t ride, so it was a good time to let broken bones heal by going for a walk that’d take 20 days or thereabouts. So, off to base camp was still the plan.
Good thing I switch to foot there too as when I set off from Kinja I face a 2000m climb up to the 3245m pass. An it’s not rideable at all, half of it is stairs and the other half might make an okay downhill racing trail. Infact in the next 20 days I would only see about 5km of trail that would be truly suitable for me and my touring machine and only slightly more that would make nice mountain bike trails. On the trail, I met 3 other souls taking guided treks up to Everest base camp there was Chris an American who races through his trail for the day and then has a nap, and spends the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Girls from BC who were hiking at a more sedate pace.
Half way through the next day I had a headache by 2 in the afternoon it was really starting to slow me down. At 4 I stopped in at the hotel where the other trekkers I met stayed. After I had the most bland curry ever then I went to bed after talking a bit with the others.. The 3rd day of hiking I figured out that the headache that was killing me (in terms of distance covered and pain) was caused because I’d forgotten how to adjust a pack correctly and I need to get the weight off my shoulders and onto my hips. Shortly after I figured that out I stopped for lunch at a point had it been super clear I may have been able to have seen Mount Everest. But it was very overcast. While I was waiting for my chowmein I looked at the other stuff they had in their store and ended up getting some Yak cheese and some dried apples and a bag of Musili to snack on because it was by far the cheapest snack available-Now I was all about Museli for breakfast and Museli for snacks hence I call my trek to EBC the Musili march.
Later that day I was taking a short break- putting my sunglasses away, having a snack when a free kinderd spirit come bouncing along the trail and I met Paul Watzlaf. An Aussie kid who got hooked by society in to making money via accounting and after a couple years he decided that was the wrong thing and dropped out of the rat race and took on a life a little more like mine. We hike up to Takasindu where I discovered I had forgot to repack my sunglasses after putting them away in a case with the eyeglasses that Shizu gave me in Japan. I ran back down to where I had met Paul… but my glasses were gone. When asking around the town if any one has seen my glasses, one merchant gave me a pair that had been sitting around his shop for a few years. Then I ran back up to the teahouse at the mountain pass. The next day Paul and I set out from Takasindu. Just before Lunch we met with Mathieu and after lunch Paul decided my pace was a bit slower than his and to leave me in his dust. I arrived in Kharikola and it started raining. I thought about going to the hospital there but in the rain the path was too steep and tretcherous for a man with a couple broken bones to risk hiking. I stopped for the night at yet another teahouse…. instead of Dahl baht I orderd the sherpa stew.
I decided I wouldn’t have breakfast at the teahouse because the night before the other group of people (Nepalis) got second portions of their sherpa stew and I didn’t. I didnt’ find much in intersting food while crossing town and so I headed out on any empty stomach. That’s OK because halfway up the mountain I found a little place catering to porters that gave me the biggest portion of chowmein for 100 ruppees. Then I caught up with 2 russians. They came to Nepal with plans to summit a few peaks but after finding the first one so difficult they came down and were heading to Lukla for a flight back to civilization. I hiked with them for the next two days talking about camera and telling adventure stories. In Lukla I finally got to a hospital to confirm that my finger was indeed crushed and that my ulna did have a small impact fracture on the styloid process. On the way back to town from the Hospital I met a German named Michel, it ended up he was staying at the same hotel as me and the Russians. I wanted to talk more but I felt it was more important to go into the village and spend some time on the internet and get more Museli(and yak cheese). When I got back to the hotel my Russian buddies had already gone to bed so I talked with Michel and his guide,Gudjara Sherpa, who was very impressed that I travel about the world spending generally about 10$ a day and told me to come to his teahouse up the road. Michel had spent about 6000 Euros during his 5 week mountaineering trip.
A day’s hike out of Lukla I found myself staying at Everest pilgrim guest house at the entrance of the Sagamartha National Park. It was as bit of a rip off (they prices were higher than what I paid in Periche 2 days later) The next morning I proceeded into the park I was really excited by this not just because I was in a park with some of the highest mountains in the world but also because there would be no more mules on the trails. No mules is a good thing because mule urine is near the top of the 5 worst things I’ve ever smelled in my life and they frequently piss on the trail between Takasindu and Lukla. Later, I stopped at a well used rest stop to take a break and someone’s guide mentioned that one could see Mt Everest from there so I had to take a couple pictures before continuing up the trail. I arrived in Namche Bazaar around noon and I spent an hour unsuccessfully looking for a restaurant that has internet included but I did manage to find some reasonably priced indian snacks to give me a break from the museli. And left for the next town… although most people would stay in Namche to acclimatise to the elevation… it’s at 3600m… I slept at 3600 m 4 days before in Taksinedu. So I continued onwards to Tenbouche (4200m). In the afternoon I stopped to talk to an Aussie bloke who was limping back to civilization after slipping and straining his knee when he slipped on one of the glaciers. He reminded me mountains and ice are a dangerous combination and that I shouldn’t be gaining more than 400m a day to help avoid altitude sickness.
At this point, I haven’t seen a motor vehicle of any sort for a while, since Kinja to be exact. They do have powerlines and many people carry cell phones, Air planes can land in Lukla and a few villages can take a helicopter but from Namche on up besides the cell phone it’s like a trip in to the past all goods are transported by yak train or on the backs of porters……. Most places have iron stoves which were likely carried up by porter, I stayed at a couple places like that the most notable experience was in Periche where the lady put a bucket of yak poop in the stove, poured in a 100 ml of kerosene and threw in a match to heat the dining room and a kettle of water. In The Sagamarta park they don’t even have AC electricity from power lines. In the park teahouses have their own power systems- solar panels, batteries and inverters and they charge upwards of 3$ an hour for recharging batteries.
I arrived In Tenbouche at dusk. The first teahouse looked pretty lively so I went in and took a room. This teahouse had strict rules that all eating must be their food in their dining hall at their prices… but it’s only 150 ruppees for the room. I ordered another Sherpa stew for a couple hundred Ruppees. While I was dinning I was listening to a fellow Canadian tell some stories of everest expedtions to a couple girls that were heading up to Gorek Shep for the annual Hillary/Tenzing marathon. I found out that he was Canadian because he was busy taking and making calls from people back home asking about and making sure that he wasn’t the Canadian that died on Everest that day… the 12th mountaineer to have died in the spring climbing season of 2012. I had a restless night. After 11 I would wake up gasping for air then fall asleep 5 minutes later and then shortly after wake up gasping for air again. This cycle repeated until about 4 in the morning. The Next morning I saw Marc filming and again at breakfast and I asked him a few other questions about his expeditions and his experiences in Nepal. While we were talking one of the marathoning girls arrived saying her friend was not well. Marc lent her an oxygen meter… if she was in civilization she would be rush to hospital and put in an oxygen tent or have a mask… With my new understanding of altitude sickness I kept my day short and went to Periche a little over half a days hike and only 4500m. My night in Periche was much quiter because it seemed like I was the only one in town and the definitely the only one at the Amadablam view lodge and teahouse.
I left Periche a 8 in the morning and soon after I caught up to an Aussi father/son Duo. While the father and I mosied along talking and me stopping to take pictures his son seemed to be rushing a bit. With in 2 hour he could barely keep up to his dad who was waiting for him freaquently. I stopped for lunch at the next tea houe where I ran in to Paul… Just as I was leaving the Aussi duo came in. I talked with the father a bit more.. all that stands out is that his son has altitude sickness and he was thinking of renting him a horse and continuing upwards. I hope he followed my advice. DON’T continue up. Sit here until he is better or go down recover and then come back up.
I continued on to Denbouche. On the way up I met another bikeless cycletourist named Ash who was on his way down. We exchanged emails and he said he might ride out of Nepal with me in to India… and he and his mate recommended a guest house which couldn’t find when I arrived. But they all had the same deal stay for free eat a meal or two before you go. The teahouse that I chose hosted the dinner of some marathoners that were sleeping in tents outside. Well to be honest they weren’t real marathoners more like rich people having a bit of an adventure. The cost of the guided tour and Marathon is 3000USd and the entry fee for those running but not in the guided tour the entry is 1000 Usd. The couple I talked to.. again Aussies were early retired folk, were fit and active but had no goals dreams or ambitions about the race. When I learned about this race the athlete and adventurer in me said cool and the environmentalist and health professional in me said what a stupid reckless idea.
After another solid night’s sleep I woke up at the crack of dawn, looked out my window, grabbed my camera and rushed out to catch some images. First was a marmot or similar type large alpine rodent which was pointed out to me by the marathoner from the night before… sadly my white balance was off and the critter was off before I realized it. The next subject was the mountains across the valley. There was the dawn light with shadows of the 7000+ m mountain peaks casting their shadows into it, giving the mountains a special sort of glow. After breakfast I left for GorekShep the last pernament structures on the trail to Everest.
I arrived in GorekShep at 10 in the morning,there, talked to a couple of the people I met on the trail had lunch and took a room at the most affordable looking of the three guest houses of which the town comprised. Then I set out for EBC. On my way out I stopped to talk to another marathoner. But this one An Aussie name Kevin had done the race before and had a target time and other answers I’d expect from someone who is about to run a 1000$ entry fee race. At EBC I took lots of pictures it’s not much, it’s a tent village with a couple stupas, prayer flags strung around them for good luck. It is on a Glacier so there is some interesting snow, ice and melting/refreezng actions but really there isn’t much there I didn’t even see any mountaineers. One needs luck climibing that thing- I heard 8 avalanches in 24 hours in the area, I met half a dozen people suffering fairly severe altitude sickness, 14 people died climbing that mountain this year. On the way out I meet the people from Singapore. When I returned to Gorekshep it was time for dinner.. I stated off with the Singaporeans because one of them wasn’t looking well and no one figure out to give him water. But they all went to bed before I was done dinner and I saw Kevin sitting across the room so I went over there. Shortly after I sat down His Sherpa put a little electrical box on the table. I asked what’s that? Oxygen meter? I was told it’s a heartrate monitor and they’ve been having a contest to see who can get the lowest heart rate. So far the Sherpa is on top- 55 bpm. I asked if I could give it a shot… ye old athlete got 49
(Incendently I ran into Densheng sherpa(Kevin’s guide) in Mcleod ganj India where he recognized me. I asked him about the a marathon, He did well and was happy with his finished 7th or 9th in the marathon with a time of about 4 hours and now he’s trying to be a marathoner. I didn’t get Kevin’s placing but he came in at about 6 hours.
The mext morning I woke up at 3:45, which wasn’t so hard because I was suffering a head cold which compounded by the altitude- it wasn’t a good night’s sleep, so I could try to summit KalaPathar before sunrise, that should be the best time for seeing (getting a picture of Mount Everest and the surrounding mountains) . When I got out of the tea house I realized that I only had 200 ml of water. So I grabbed my filter pump and filled up my bottle from the glacial lake 200m m a way. The ceramic filter was plugged so there was a lot of fiddling about…. and I saw the lights of others startup the trail to the summit. I knew I had to push a bit to reach the summit by sunrise but at the same time the views were incredible so I had to stop to take pictures in the dawn light. I ended up just below the summit when the sun peaked over the shoulder of mount Everest (destroying any attempt to get a nicely lit picture. The peak of Kala Pathar was a bit crowded about 25 people on it. Some of the Singaporeans were there as well as some Canadians I met briefly just before arriving at Namche bazar. It didn’t occur to me the scale of what I had done until I over heard one of the canadian boys saying to his buddies “hey were at 5545m that’s higher than any mountain in BC”… damn it this peak is only 350 meter over where I had been sleeping until then I really didn’t think it’s a big deal.
Then I hiked back down to the village, gathered up my stuff and pushed on back to civilization. I was moving quick in a couple hours I was past Denbouche and on my way down to Periche. When I got to the steep descent I ran into the two ladies who were going to the marathon from Tenbouche I was happy to see the one with the severe altitude sickness was feeling better and ready to run. I was thinking that it’d be nice to cross a couple mountain passes and a glacier get more pictures of the high peaks but all my camera batteries were low or dead, the weather wasn’t looking promising (the monsoons had arrived) and before I had decided that I shouldn’t do any alpine glacier play without a partner… there was nobody around so straight back to civilization for me. Going back down was much faster, in part due to not having to worry about altitude sickness and in partially because it’s down hill. After my half day of hiking I was in Periche. During much of the day I yo-yoed position with the group from Singapore I met at EBC. I was thinking of staying in the same teahouse but it was 15$ a room so I went back to The Amadablam view lodge. Mostly because the fist time I was there I was looking at poster advertising that they have Seabuckthorn berry juice a 4000m+ speciality. It’s well… very very tarte. The next day I continued to meet with the Singaporeans. I Skipped the festival in Namche Bazaar (the annual celebration of the first successful summiting of Everest and the finish of the Marahon in 3 days) I proceeded down the the park entrance.
The next day I would arrive in Lukla. I was surprised as it had turned from a sleepy mountain town to a home of antsy tourist who where worried that they would have to pay 500$. They all had plane tickets but no flights have been made since the clouds rolled in 3 days before. It was much busier, for example the internet cafe which I enjoyed by my lonesome on the way up was packed with tourists on my way down.
A few days of walking and I found myself back at the Basnet house where I visited for a few more days. The day before I had planned to leave. Suraj and I were watching his little brother Paresh riding my bicycle on their trail/road when a neighbour invited us over for a drink. Since I didn’t drink Alcohol I was given a couple boxes of frooti mango drink. There tasted a bit funny so I checked and they were about a year past the expiration date. Then when we went back to the Basnet house I finished the cold milk tea that was given to me when Parech asked to ride my bike. This was a particularly bad combination, That night I started belching alkyli flavour and I ran to the toilet 5 times that night and I was freezing cold despite the warm Nepali air. The next morning I was in no shape to move. I figured since the burping was base in flavour I need to eat only acidic stuff to help get my stomachs balance back. Fortunately the body bounce back from food poisoning/ acid-base problems quite quickly. By Dinner time I was ready to eat again and I was ready to move along the next morning.
In the end maybe taking my bike past the pass between Shivalaya and Bandar was a bit of a mistake as I had to push my bicycle for most of the first day. And only because I have good off road skill could I ride the whole descent in to Shivalaya and make up the time vs a person walking…. that was 4 hours pushing up hit to Bandar where I could ride for about one hour followed by a push-a-bike up to the pass which was another 2.5 hours. That’s 6.5 hours of pushing and 2.5 hours of riding. The rest of the ride to back to Kathmandu went quite smoothly.
Back in Kathmandu I set about finding out what countries I would go to after India.
Kathmandu for Visa- no Pakistan, Indian easy and cheap
I also wanted to do something for the Basnet family so I printed a Photo that I took of the family and one that I took of their mother at her request. And I gave photos to their Suraj’s big sister in Kathmandu. She was really happy to see the photos because she has not been home in 8 years and no one but Suraj had been to Kathamdu.
Unfortunately after my trip to EBC and mucking about with the Pakistani and Indian Embassies I didnt’ have time to do the Annapurna Circuit. But my new friend Mathuieu was in Pokhara and told me I should meet him there. On a clear day it is possible to see the Anapurnas but since the monsoons had rolled in by this time it was cloudy everyday. But I did hang out with some great cosmic beings, Ro, Thor, sheri and of course Mathieu. We met for most meals a swim in Pokhara lake and a hike up the hill.
This leaves one last great pilgrimage to be done in Nepal- Lumbini- the Brithplace of Buddha. Lumbin has a much different feel than the rest if Nepal.. it’s pretty flat to start with, people are riding around on Indian type bicycles and there is heaps of agriculture. After riding up to the world heritage site 30 minutes after the gates closed I took some pictures of the stupas and temples inside. The I hit the road to get my but out of the country. This would have me riding aroudn the chitwan National park because at the Indian embassy the border towns near Lumbini were close to individual tourist… but appearently open to buses of pilgrims doing the Buddha birth to Buddha death… he was cremated not to far away in India. There are lots of tourist doing the birth and cremation of buddha pilgrimage and they don’t have to go arround Chitwan park like I did. Riding around the park was easy. But I arrived at the bordertown of Birgunj around 4:30 since I had some Nepali rupees and no Indian ruppees I stayed one last night at a hotel in Nepal. The next day I paid for my 3 days of overstaying my visa and rode into India which is another story.
Like Laos I’ve crossed Thailand a few times and haven’t stopped for anything. I had been in bangkok 4 times and haven’t seen any of the tourist sites except the ones like the giant swing which I stumble across while riding around on bicycle. I had ridden past some temples and the royal palace but I’ve never taken the time to go in. But first I had to go see Gerald and get my new bag and contact lenses.
My First stop in Thailand was Pattaya, I don’t like Jomtien/Pattaya very much. But Gerald loves it. It’s a fine example of what happens when too many tourist show up throwing too much money around in a different and giving culture where they’ve only recently learned the power of dollar. The locals see it as a way too come up but inevidebly too many people get in to the tourism services(so they stay poor), there’s too many umbrellas on the beach, too many cantine huts servicing them, too many taxis, too many restaurants and hotels. Everyone learns other languages, music the foreigners like is played at bars, clubs and restaurant to attract big foreign dollars. so the local culture gets watered down as they foresake their culture to make the tourist feel more at home. Hence I once described Pattaya as little Russia. And there there is the sex trade ……of Pattaya- but I won’t touch that. Before I fled town Gerald let me in on one of the gems of Pattaya. It’s called the sanctuary of truth and it is a traditional Thai Buddhist temple made complete of wood using traditional methods- not a nail in the structure. Despite not being particularily Buddhist or religious I found. The sanctuary of Truth is not only an impressive structure with impressive carved statues and images of Buddha. But it is truly is a sanctuary in the madness of a tourist town gone somewhat wrong. And left town for Khao Yai park as it is 150 km North east of Bangkok and everything else I want to do is in the west.
On my third pass through Thailand I look at my nearly useless guidebook while passing though the middle of north eastern Thailand and I read about Khao Yai national park. The book said it was particularly good for spotting wildlife- tigers, elephants oriental hornbills, deer, monitors. My time in Khao Yai Started off slow. Well at the gate I read the entry fees: 500 baht for a tourist 70 baht for a thai, 1000 baht for a motor vehicle, 200 for a motorcycle and 20 for a bicycle. After the cars cleared the gate I went to booth said, “Saw wah dee krupp, camping”(while pointing at myself) and handed the parks worker a 1000baht note. He handed and 910 baht change and opened the gate- sweet. My entry to the park was slow cause it was up hill. I stopped to see a waterfall and it was dry, mid dry season go figure. However while climbing about the dry waterfall on the lower levels there was a crazy cluster of butterflies and a massive cluster of daddy longleg mites covering a rock beside the path to the waterfall. The wildlife spotting got better from there. Despite my arrival time of 4 o’clock at the park gate it was dark by the time I found the center of the park and the campsites. I didn’t see any place that was clearly the registration for the camp ground so I went to the quiet end of the grounds and set up my camp. I was on the go shortly after sunrise the next day. That morning I saw some monkeys, a couple of hornbills, a monitor that was damn near big enough to be a komodo dragon and countless deer. Later that day I talked to a bird watching couple from the Netherlands and they told me that there were crocodiles in the park. The next day I started off at a salt-lick and saw a big bull elephant. I first Observed him from a blind made for that purpose, but the Elephant was facing the other way which doesn’t make for good photos. I had seen a path going that direction, so I left the blind and took the path. The path forked so I took the one closer to the salt like. I soon found myself entering the salt lick. I started edging my way around the perimeter of the salt lick to get a better picture. But after a few steps the elephant noticed me. I wouldn’t say he was mad but I obviously disturbed his salt lick time and he wasn’t happy about that. He then walked my direction and I walked briskly away after a few tense moments he quit coming towards me and I went back to the path. For Then in the afternoon saw the crocodile, a couple waterfalls and more deer. The next day I left for Bangkok.
On arrival to Bangkok I found my way to the Peachy guest house, I have stayed there twice before- the biggest draw for me is it has courtyard to lock my bicycle in and always seems to have room for 160 baht. But it’s the least appointed place I’ve ever stayed. They renovated, since I had last stayed, to improve and now had 4 electrical outlets for the second floor. Peachy is in the Khao San road area which requires two things of the people staying there they must be cheap travelers and they must drink. Without both qualifications one will grow tired of the neighbourhood quite quickly. So I move to a dorm called ‘ban ma dee’ in a quiet neighbourhood on the other side of downtown. This is good for me cause it’s closer to the velodrome, closer to the offices of Pentax and Olympus, closer to Bangkok’s finest parks but it is further from most of the tourist sites and the cheap bike stores… but closer to the expensive ones. I also met 3 quirky characters Ken,Amber and Jean.
One of the first things I set out to do was to fix the wheel I damaged on my arrival to Phou Khoun. I imagine it’s getting a bit old in North America, but in urban Asia the kids are getting in to the hipster with the fixed gear bicycle thing this is good for me because it means I get a larger variety of parts to pick from and the parts are more widely available at much lower prices than the top level racing equipment that was all that was available when I started racing. First I looked up some specialty fixed gear stores on the internet. The first one I went to only had bikes and a very slim selection of parts and no spokes. Since the new hub wouldn’t likely have the same dimensions as the vintage Dura ace 110 hub I had bought in Fukouka I would need spokes as well. The next store on the list was recommended to go to by the first store they even gave me directions. . The owner of the second store was cool not just because he filled his store largely with really cool bikes and parts picked of Ebay but he was an apprentice steel bicycle frame builder as well and they had all the stuff I needed. The next day I went back and built the wheel in his shop. While I was building my wheel, He recommended that I visit the master frame builder and gave me directions to his house/shop. Later I found the cheap stores had fixed gear stuff to so I* bought more cogs (rear gears) and a crank to get myself a new 44 tooth gear that I found very useful when I got to the mountains in Nepal.
The Second priority was to get the Pentax w-90 fixed. I also looked into getting my misbehaving Olympus e-620 fixed. I put a delay on that because it’s a common problem (common enough that the reception knows about it) and its a 2700 Baht fix. I also went to Panthip the computer and electronic gdgets market. Recently I had been reading about landscape photography and the professional who wrote the article recommended getting a graduated square filter. At Panthip I picked up a Chinese made square filter system for 1000 baht for that I picked up 2 filters, adapter and holder It’s probably the best cost dollar per improvement to my photography.
Next on the list of things to do was to look into the next few countries. I would have liked to have crossed Myanmar but first I found out that the Indian territories on the other side are protected areas and I need permit for that and to get the permit I’d need to be in a group of 4, then I found out that the Burmese visa is an in and out by the same port visa mostly for people flying in to Yangoon. But I would be able to enter through anyone of the 3 open surface crossing but I couldn’t legally go more than 5 km into the country. This meant the next country would be Nepal. And I’d have to fly because I was now sure that Nepal and India are surround by no free-cycle-tourist zone except maybe Pakistan. If you haven’t noticed I’ve been avoiding flying in my travels this is in part due to the cost and also the environmental cost. On researching my flights to my fist destination in 2007, I found that the long portion of the 3 flights I was taking would create the same amount of pollution as driving my pickup for a year.
On my second pass though Bangkok I found out that there is a velodrome there. A quick check on google maps showed me the velodrome was about 5 km north of my guest house sort of in my part of town. From ban ma dee the directions were simple too.- out of the neighbourhood turn right on Sukumvit turn left on the next major soi ,going north, and follow it through 3 name changes, a big turn past the univeristy and look for the big sports park- pool, skate park, gymnastics center, stadium and velodrome. I rode up there, found it open so I went in took some photos and rode a few laps. Just as I finished a rider showed up. And another. Soon there were 4 riders (Bank who rides a 1:08 kilo and Noppharit where the two I talked to most)and a coach with a motorbike. After I exhausted my possibilities of taking pictures of rider from the center of the Track I went out side to take a picture of the exterior. Outside of the Velodrome I saw a guy with a bit of a belly for a young skate punk with a friend who had the new NEX5nr video camera so I talked with them for a bit. And took an few picture of Fred Gall making an attempt and a successful jump. I went back in to the velodrome some hipster fixies had arrived and the guys were finished their warm up so I couldn’t resist going over talking to them and then joining the racers for a few laps. Later I got information about their training times so I could come back and ride again… and again.
Camera fixed,, bicycle fixed and most things from my list of things to do in Bangkok, from previous trips, covered. It was time to start on the new things like meeting the master frame builder. His home and shop is a few kilometers north of Khao san road so it was quite far away but that didn’t stop me. The Thais are always friendly when I was unsure of my location in the right neighbourhood I stopped to refill my water bottle at a water vending machine and someone say my bike and point me next door. Good thing too because with the gate closed I would have seen a bicycle in an alley and rode past it. When I entered I saw a familiar face I hadn’t talked to it was one of the other cycletourists from the campground in Khao yai park- the frame builder’s brother. We had some water and talked bikes, training and riding for a while. They also started Bangkok’s equivalent of the derby (t-town) or the donut (toronto) called the super highway club ride- their club was the super highway cycling club. When the weekend came I would do the ride. It involve going out to a highway where they have a 15 km loop that avoids major intersections by turning left then going under a bridge when the road hits a river… in the end your path resembles a cross. And you’ve only gone over 1 or 2 bridges a loop so it’s pretty flat.
tourist site- wood palace and galleries of the King
The Frame builder and his brother recommended that I check out the old wood palace. The palace is an impressive structure. However; I found the shines more of attraction.. But the most interesting thing thing for me were the two houses for princesses’ that have been converted into photo galleries of the King. If you don’t know any Thais and haven’t been to Thailand you probably don’t know that the king was a photographer- if you’ve been there you’ve seen the pictures of him all over with a Nikon SLR or in more recent pictures a Canon dSLR hanging around his neck. Interestingly I learned, he is a self-taught photographer from the era where one had a light meter and wood box with a fixed focal length lens that requires calculating the settings of shutter speed and the aperture before setting them and finally pressing the shutter release. But then he became King and his photography became more automatic and changed to family and landscape. In particular he started taking pictures of flooding and other disasters and then he’d work with the engineers to make a solutions to prevent them from re-occurring. Truly a great king worthy of the love he garners from his people
I took more time than expected in Bangkok when I left continued to fall further behind on my Thai tour plans. It took me 5 days to cover the 700 km from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. When I arrived my nearly useless guidebook was as useless as ever- all the cheap hotels and hostels were at the opposite corner of the old city From what the guidebook said and goo few had closed their doors or upgraded and raise their prices. It was Dark before I Settled in to a cheap one Where I made a coupe of friends Erin and Chris a rock climber and gambler respectively. On the way to ChiangMai I broke 4 spokes so I decided to look for a new rim…at a cool bike shop I found one. It was used and sort of pricey but it was in great shape and the same as my currant rims so a perfect match. While I was rebuilding my wheel at the store I met Alex Pape a balancer circus performer(and juggler). He is highly capable of balancing various items on various body parts. He is particularly proud of recently balancing pencils on his face and down on the fact that people don’t see and appreciate the skill and challenge. They usually want to see him balance furniture (tables and chairs) on his face while more spectacular it is much easier and he’s bore of it after mastering that over 20 years ago. He’s also into cameras and bicycles… we hung out for 6 hours after I finished building my wheel, talking about life the universe and everything. He mentioned that there is circus practice in a park on Sunday so I decided to hang around and check that out… and take some pictures. TO make the best use of my time I rode up to the nearby hill top temple that morning.
At some point in my travels I was reading the Thai section of the nearly useless guidebook and in a shaded box it said that there were Burmese refugee long neck women in a town called Mae Hung Son. Said town is in the far north west of Thailand on the1864 curves road. When I saw long neck women in a picture atlas when I was young, I couldn’t believe it so I wanted to see it for myself and who can resist taking any sort of vehicle on a road with 1864 curves. Okay a loaded touring bike is not the best vehicle for it my mx-5 or my road racing bike would have been better but you gotta work with what you have on you. The road was tough and very hilly but yet it was fun to ride. It is also littered with interesting places 2-20 km off the road. I went the the Geyser which blows the water out slightly higher than the average hot spring.. And when I went down stream to the bathing pools.. I changed and thought gee this would make a good picture and fell into the water with my precious Olympus e-620 dSLR in hand. There was water all over the camera body and some water in the lens. I quickly removed the battery and set it to dry out. My camera safely away from the pools and I proceeded to enjoy a natural hot bath… and took my picture with the little Pentax instead.. I can do about 10 minutes of bathing then I get really bored. So it was back on the bike and the 1864 curves. And my precious camera and standard zoom lens firmly bungied to the luggage on the back of my bicycle where they could dry out. 3 hours later I put my camera together and was So relieved to find that it works properly… note to self no more SLR near the water… that’s what the water-proof camera is for. Back to my twisting road , what can I say, it lived up to all expectations it is a very twisty mountain road. I had previously stated that Lao has all the mountains and Thailand is a pancake with a few bumps, I have now learn better.. a few really big hills can be found if you look really hard. In the next 2 days I’d be off my bike walking 3 or 4 times because the road was too steep for too long. The area would have made for some stellar pictures but I had to settle for OK ones as the whole ride was in the smoky haze of a dry season crop waste burning.
Three full days after leaving Chiang Mai I arrived in Mae Hung Son. I met up with some tourists that were impressed to see me there after having seen me struggling up some of the hills as their bus was only doing slightly better than me. The next day I set out to see some long neck women there are 3 refugee colonies where they live within 50 km of Mae Hung Son… I went to the closest fulfilling that curiosity But since I don’t speak Burmese and they didn’t speak any English I couldn’t ask much about the rings and why. But I did meet a student who was studying them and she showed me a special annual worship spot Then I visited the hill top temple and took pictures and took more pictures of the temple by the lake….and left the next day.
A few hundred Kilometers south of there is the town of Mae Sot where I could meet up with Erin the rock climbing girl I met in Chiang Mai and take more pictures Burmese refugees. The road was simply a continuation of the 1964 cures if no the last couple hundred curves . I was quite content to get back to flat land when the road joined the river 50 Km north of MaeSot. I was taking a back when I rode past a massive shanti town appearetnly with 30000 Burmese refugees who made it across the river, about 40 km north of Mae Sot. In town I took pictures of the action on the street, the men wearing srongs and the women with the paste on their faces. There is also a big impressive Burmese temple that was the subject of a few pictures.
On my way up to Chiang Mai I stopped to look for bicycle parts and dinner in Kamphaeng Phet, it looked like an interesting town but I was behind schedule and wanted to get up to Chiang Mai. After finding the bicycle shop and eating dinner itwas dark, but I couldn’t find any < 8 dollars accomadation. So I left and slept in a rice field with a billion mosquitos But the old ruins looked interesting enough to draw me back on my way back down. It didn’t disappoint in the old palace temple area there is a great reclining buddha elephants statues, stupas and more buddhas. I can’t put it in words but it is a great place. Simply spectacular old buddhist ruins. I should post some some of the pictures on my website: keiththewheelman.com as well as on digitalrev and facebook
Being on a tight budget, to save 40 $ I purposely bought a plane ticket to Nepal for 3 days after my Thai visa from Laos was to expire. This is okay because all I need to do is make a surface crossing out and back to Thailand with in 15 days of my flight. And the re-entry is free. I ‘m always looking for a new stamp in my passport so I planned to go to Kawthung it’s in the south on Adaman seas and if they wouldn’t let me out and in for some reason, a a back up, I could go down to Malaysia for free. In the north if the Burmese border was closed I’d have to go to Laos for 45 Usd. But, as it is I was able to take a boat from Ranong Thailand to Kawthung Myanmar. A bit of grief on arrival the immigration wouldn’t accept either of my 10USd because they were creased in the middle. Then more bother the boat driver want money because I wasn’t taking his boat back right away with the others who were, sadly, Expats on their visa run. For them it was only out and back, they had no interest in meeting any Burmese or experiencing any bit of Burmese culture. Me I went to two temples, up the hill to they they have a statue of a past leader or General, I took 180 pictures, I had 2 meals one of which was generously shouted to me by a generous Burmese patronizing the same establishment a (food stall at the side of the road up towards where I can’t go if I stick to my 5km limit) and a snack for the boat ride back. Got some Burmese currency as change. Then it was back to the pier to catch a boat back to Thailand
The number 1 thing on my list of what I wanted to do in Thailand was go snorkling with a camera and take some pictures of some underwater wildlife. This was made more difficult by my equipment, I bought a Pentax w90 waterproof compact camera in Hong Kong for this. When I arrived in Patttaya I hopped in the pool at Gerald’s condo pulled it out of my pocket.. found it unresponsive and the battery was out before I was out. 3 days drying out a few days of funny behavior a repair at the pentax office in Bangkok… 2000km round about way to the west coast and it died on the second drownding. 50 km from the ferry to Koh Surin………….To add a little insanity to this when I broke it I was with two thai brothers (Duangkhao and Duangkai) that were cycle touring to their home town in the south and when I left them late that morning I started thinking. I thought about what I am doing here, what is important now and my dead camera, and what my options are- by afternoon I decided to try to get it fixed in Bangkok and rode across the isthmus of thailand (180 km) between 2 in the afternoon arriving in Surat Thani at 6 in the morning to find all the trains and busses going north were full. There was no way to get to Bangkok, get the camera fixed and return to the deep south of Thailand for a 2 day snorkling trip and get back to Bangkok in time for my flight to Nepal. The new plan was to get another water-proof camera. While I was there I looked into The Islands near Surat Thani and koh SimLian (recommended by a bicycle store owner) and Koh Surin. I decided that the east side Islands were too tracked out bu tourists for my liking and Koh Simlian is only by package tour so I would go back over the isthmus to Koh Surin. Against my better judgement,I bought the fuji(I think it received the lowest rating of any camera ever reviewed on www.dpreview.com) and left the next day, riding back over the isthmus to catch the Koh Surin ferry at 9 am the next morning.
I arrived on Koh Surin completely exhausted with diarrhea. So I checked in set up my tent and went to sleep. I woke up for dinner that evening. The next day I got serious about getting to the cheap boat tour out to the random surrounding islands and coral reefs. On the trip I made friends with a Finnish couple that had been on the Island for nearly a week. When I went to the rental counter after breakfast I found that there were no flippers my size so I picked the pair that ware too big and taped them to not fall off and after enjoying an hour in I had to pay for my poorly picked equipment with 5 or 6 blisters on my feet. In the Afternoon the Finns convinced me to try heading out into the lagoon next to the camp ground. I headed out with a mask and a snorkel with my sandals on my feet. Now my Chinese sandasl (13 months old) had come unglued in a couple places and held together with some tape I found at the side of the road(same tape I used on the flipper (fins) . And they failed me again here- half way out to where the coral gets interesting the 2 or 3 of the 8 points cam unglued and I went back to the beach and campground. The next day the kind lady at the rental desk had guarded a pair of flippers the right size for me and my swim was much more enjoyable. In the afternoon I caught the ferry back to the mainland. Where I rode across the ismthus of Thailand for the third time, on the same road, in 6 days. I didn’t bother staying in Surat thani again when I arrived I caught an overnight train to Bangkok.
I had to get going and push myself hard after Koh Surin because If I didn’t arrive in Bangkok well before the weekend everything would be closed during Song Kran the Buddhist cleaning festival. And I needed bicycle basic parts because I didn’t know if they would be available in Nepal and India… If the tires last that long. Thai tires only seem to last me a couple months vs 2.5 moths for sweet riding Japanese tires, 3 months for Vietnamese tires or 4 months for Taiwanese tires. I arrived in Bangkok late in the morning and went back to Ban Ma dee… a good place and better for catching my flight as it’s atleast 10km closer to the airport than Khao San road. Song Kran is the Thai Buddhist spring cleaning festival and they take a few days off around a weekend in late April to smear cleaning paste over anything they get their hands on and soak everything with water. After going for my brunch on the first day of it and getting sprayed outside the restaurant This was dangerous as I had my computer and my dSLR camera in my bag (as usual). They would have to sit in my locker at the hostel for the next 4 days. I decided I had to join in. I went to the Tesco and bought myself an 80 cent squirt gun. Then I rode around Bangkok squirt gun in my left hand, water-proof camera in the right resting on the handle bars with just enough force to control the steering. Then the tough decisions followed every time I came across a group of colourful, celebrating Thais- do I squirt them or do I take a picture. After 2 days I took a break by meeting up with Donal and his cycling gang- he lent me his extra bike and I must say it was nice to be on a proper road racer again. The next day I spent discarding, organizing and packing my stuff for the first flight in nearly 2 years. On the Monday after SongKran I loaded up my bicycle including a bicycle box and rode 10 km to the airport where I caught a flight to Kathmandu Nepal.
So finally 4 years after my first arrival in South East Asia (Bangkok by plane) I finally got around to thoroughly touring Thailand and enjoying some of the Thai culture and a lot of Thai food. Sadly I must say that tourism has made a globalized impact on Thai culture but thankfully the are still many great adventures and travel experiences to be had there.
South East Asia for the last time- Laos and Cambodia
My last travel update ended with my arrival in Laos after rushing across the north and central China to beat the winter weather and continuing to rush across Yunnan Province to leave China for Laos before my visa expired.
It was a relief to get back to the laid back, easy life of South east Asia (that’s why so many tourists go there)- easy visas, easy weather, easy good food, easy accomadation easy transportation, easy access to favourite vices. Laos is sort of the least easy to travel of the main countries not because the people are not easy to survive with actually they are the easiest (no theft, no begging, less hustling and touts) but because there are so few of them. The population of Laos is about 6000000 people and it is in the 15 least densely populated counties in the world. If you don’t plan properly you can find yourself half way up a mountain with nothing in sight or in a river valley with no official restaurants or guest houses but my experience is that you can always find a helpful Laotian to put you up for the night … or if prepared you can always camp. The border town of Boten has little to offer so I meandered down to Luang Phrabang- Laos old capital their equivilant to Kyoto or Nanjing or Gyeong ju. But since it’s a Laos city it is really a small town, the old palace is small and the town has a true small town feel.
Having checked out the temples across the river, the palace, the temple at the old palace, the temple on the hill in town, spent time recovering from my rush across China and mostly caught up on my internet stuff after a week and met some friendly tourists from the USA and Italy- I was about ready to move on. But the night before I planned to leave I was in the 10000 Kip ($1.25)all you can eat alley and a stranger chased me down and started talking to me. It turns out he was a German cycletourist heading the same way as me. I agreed to ride with him so long as I do the navagation to Phou Khoun because I’ve ridden the road before and he takes care of the navigation after that- across to the Plain of Jars and down to the Mekong river because his map is in much better shape than mine. I waited around a couple more days and hit the road to Phou Khoun with Patrick.
The road from Luang Phrabang to PhouKhoun is the first really mountainous road I ever rode a bicycle over. A year before after I first rode that road I swore I’d never ride again lest I be a fool… so a fool I am but this time I was better prepared- lower gear on my bike and company. As Patrick and I approached the first mountain we were caught and joined by two lightly loaded Chinese cycletourists. As typical, the Chinese guys know little English (just a little more than my Mandarin) But I gathered that they were university students getting away from the Chinese New Year (or as the chinese(CCTV englishnews) now call it ‘spring break’.) and riding a loop around the opium golden triangle Yunnan across Laos to Vientianne and through Thailand back into Laos returning to China the way I went 9 months before.. The Chinese guys were free to go ahead but they stayed with Patrick and myself, never straying too far. I asked Pat if could look at his maps and see how hilly it is to plain of Jars.. Maybe I can use my freewheel. There was no time to counnt rivers and guess at the height of passes so we just put it off until we are eating in Phou Khoun. On the short descent in to PhouKhon my chain jumps and my drivetrain locks up. The others go by as I makeshift and force my drivetrain into something I can roll the last 600m into town. When I arrive in Phou Khoun I pull everything apart and find the core of the problem is that I stipped the threads off of that classic Dura-ace 110 hub I was hoping to ride back to Canada a few rude utterances weren’t enough, few thrown bike parts and the nerves in my brain mellowed. Then I was ready to tell the others that both restaurants only sever pho soup.. All four of us enjoy our bowls of soup and then parted It was great to travel in a group of 4.
When I was in Luang Phrabang I touch base with Otto who had just returned home from a trip to Thailand. I told him that next time he goes to South East Asia he should go to Laos rather than Thailand. It’s more real, less crowded and there’s lots of rock and mountains to be climbed.. He responded that he thought about it but he’d rather not because of the landmine problem. I said ‘what landmine problem I’ve ridden a through a good portion of the country there are no beggars missing limbs and I’ve seen no landmines, bombs or similar dangerous items or signs warning of their presence.’ A few days later, I woke up to a stunning scene from our camp spot at a hilltop school about 50 KM from Phonsavon, but that’s a whole other story. later I’m cruising down highway 7 with Patrick and I see people, workers, dawning orange jumpsuits.. I’m thinking prisonworkers??? surely not in lovely Laos. Seconds later I approach a pickup truck and a worker has just finished putting up a sign that says”PCL Phoenix Clearance Limited landmine and bomb disposal Unexploded Ordinance Site No Unauthorized Entry” We stop to take some pictures and we get some get information from the team leader(a Cambodian who spoke English quite well). The story of that site is that during the Indochina war the Americans made highway 7 and it was their supply road between friendly Thailand and positions in central VietNam. They had bases at the top of this hill and a couple other hills overlooking the road to protect their supply line. Sadly when they left they didn’t dismantal and clean up everything properly… they just bombed the abandoned based adding more explosives to the landmines they laid to protect the bases. While this was being professed I was looking at the workers and realized they were nearly all women. So I asked why, to which it was explained:
We hire women for a few reasons: one, the unemployment rate for women is about 3 times what it is for men so they need the jobs more. Two women are more thorough than men so when the field is cleared it really is clear of landmines, bombs and bombies, three women tend to learn well from a book whereas men tend to learn through their mistakes- which really isn’t an option in this trade..
Bombies are small anti personal bombs. They were dropped from bombers in large cases containing hundreds. They explode when they have turned an adequate number of rotations. This could have been in the air showering the people below with shrapnal or it could land in a field get tuned up by a plow a few times then kill the farmer. Leaving a sad story and a sad family. (who the #&(^#&( thinks up these kinds of things)
Phonsavaon and the plain of Jars
after checking the Phu Kheng plain of jars site to the east of town which was quite lame- only about a dozen jars were spotted so it was pretty sparse and one had to look pretty hard to find some of them. One had a sign guiding the masses to it, all there was was one small jar. Most were mixed in with other rocks and trees, a couple had trees growing out of them. Patrick and I arrived in Phonsavan in the mid afternoon, rode up and down the main strip of town twice and settled into a guesthouse that had wifi .But we didn’t rush off to the plane of Jars as the sites are 30 km out of town and we need a break after 3 days of riding over mountains.
The next morning we got a bit of a slow start and we were ready to go around 9:30, seeing that all the group tours had already departed, an feeling a bit lazy we decided to go on our own on motor bikes. We we arrived at the motorbike rental Pat decided his budget was a bit tight to rent his own bike and was agreeable to me doing all the driving so we rented one lil honda wave. And rode off to the first site. After checking the two biggest clusters of stone age jars at the first site I stopped to talk to a tourist who had his tripod set up over a bombcrater on this bright sunny late Laotian morning .As it turns out he had the tripod out for clearer pictures although it doesn’t change much at the 1000th of a second exposure time… interestingly the rest of the pictures he took that day were handheld. except maybe the other big bomb crater. We talked a bit, there was a lot if interest in what the other were doing- motorcycle touring wth a camera and cycletouring with cameras. And then introduced ourselves. I had noticed his Kawasaki on arrival. Jeremaiah….check his site Joureysofar.com. He’s brilliant while we were walking around the first site through the maze of jars and bomb crates He recalled that one of the American generals was being poetic about their military might claiming that “we will bomb them back into the stone age” Jeramiah noted here what they did was bomb one of the worlds few sites of stone age relics. Then we all went to Site two and looked at more stone age jars and took more pictures of stonage jars and rolling Laotian hills. The next day before we all left town we stopped in the market for breakfast and photo of market stuff… especially the wild animal market at the back. Jeramiah was asked to leave. Me I shot with my compact, screen off and hanging from my hip while my DSLR hung around my neck as a decoy. Nobody said anything to me. Jeramiah asked how accurate is that… I said at least as accurate as trying to kill people with bombs and landmines
We pack up , loaded up and hit the road, Patrick and I would ride a bit further together as he wanted to got to some caves where on the edge of southern Laos where the country narrows. I wanted to go down to Savankhet to get a visa for Thailand that would allow me to stay longer than the 15 days that has become standard for land entry into Thailand (it used to be 30days but too many foreigners were abusing it working illegally in Thailand). The first day went as planned. Before we got too far we stopped in a little town to the south that had some ancient Buddhist gompas and a Buddha that survived the temple around it being bombed. (I saw a picture of that Buddha in Luang Phrabang and spent a day looking for it because the area across the river has a similar name to the town south of Phonsavon). We took pictures, had lunch and continued on. When it was about to get dark we stopped and Patrick asked about camping the big(school) the answer was no it’s a hospital. But then someone claimed that they were the town police and we could come stay at his place. They gave us dinner of khao niaw (sticky rice)and a couple mystery vegetables. The next morning we each gave the family 20000kip and hit the road. Now the mountains are not mountains but mere hills and Pat and I cruzed along smoothly. That night at dusk we reached a town with and we ate at the first restaurant…only to ride on and find two more, there was also one guesthouse but it was full, So we simply rode down the road until I spotted a farm that looked abandoned. We parked the bikes and double checked my observations we couldn’t agree which untended rice patty to camp in so we each took our own.
The next morning I looked out of my tent and found cobwebs… serious cobwebs all over the field round me, and the next field, funnel webs, tunnel webs. I took some pictures. I looked but I couldn’t find any spiders. Then I checked up on Patrick and his camp site. We packed ourselves up and hit the road. Without a thought we set off in the direction we were going the night before. The road became a broad road under construction. But neither of us thought too much of that. The road started to go up. I questioned that as we were supposed to be going down river to the Mekong… and down river some more. In the late morning the sun came out and I noticed we had been heading east north east. I had to put my foot down. I told Pat, “we’ve been going the wrong way for sometime.” He was Adamant that we hadn’t because he hadn’t seen the road to follow the next river to the Mekong. We stopped at a drink stand to get some liquid before we dehydrate and die and to mull over whether we are going the right way or not… well we couldn’t go any further because I wouldn’t…” I don’t want to go back to VietNam I’ve spent enough time in that bloody country’” I lamented. The drinkstand owner concurred with me and told Patrick that the crossroads town were looking for is 55 km back the way we came. That night we camped in a banana plantation about 5km up the road from the rice patty we slept in the night before.
The next day we had breakfast in the crossroads town and headed south on the correct road. Late that morning we met another motorcycle tourist. He suggested we stay at the same hotel as him in the town where the river meets the Mekong. All was going well until late in the afternoon when I felt it was necessary to draft a slow moving truck. This would have been so bad in it self but I stopped to take pictures of a temple and Patrick decicded to chase so he pass me while I was doing that. We eventually found each other in the next town. Had dinner and found the Hotel that the motorcyclist was at. When we arrived he was hang out with another couple guys we had seen that day they were on a little motorbike like a honda wave each with their own big pack… loving the freedom of having got away from the busses.. Another late start after all went for breakfast, a couple uneventful days of nriding and it was time for Patrick to head into the mountains to find the caves and time for me to continue south. It was great to have a touring partner for 10 days..
I stopped in Savankhet long enough to get a 60 day Thai visa. While I was waiting I emailed my uncle Gerald to let him know I’m on my way and arrange a meeting place(I suggested Bangkok as it’s not 250km away from anything I wanted to see in Thailand like Pattaya)- he had some contact lenses and anew cycling panier form me. To which he replied with a 500 word rant about how he doesn’t want to carry my crap anymore. And to fit in with his plans and see the 4000 Islands all the cycletourists going the other way have been recommending I have 17 days to meet him in Pattaya.. I should push for 15.. Google map directions taught me that going though Cambodia would be about 20 km longer than going down to the 4000 islands then back up to the closest border crossing. Either way the rush is back on because it’s about 1500 km to be done in about 15 days plus I want to stop for 2 days of tourist sites.. I’ll take Cambodia for 20km extra because I should have a few more American dollars on me and in Cambodia I can get them straight from the ATM and not lose any money on currency exchange. More importantly I can go back to Angkor wat and replace a couple key pictures I lost over 3 computers and 4 hard drives I’d been through since I was last there… and take new pictures too.
I started off from Savankhet the slow way. I left my guest house at 10 in the morning. Rather than ridiing the same 10km back out to the Highway I came in to town on, I rode the road along the river. A dirt road that is supposed to have a few interesting stops along the way… some picturesque rock in the river and an “ancient house” where Buddha stopped in his travels. The River road started paved but I soon found myself on a dirt road of varying conditions- mostly loose gravel… As it was approaching sunset I finally saw the first town in hours, I went to the riverside hopping that it was the town with Buddah’s riverside travel stop… no such luck. A though look at the map revealed that I was about 2/3rds of the way to that town. When I got to the town I saw the best example of French colonial archietecture I had seen in all my travels in french indochina. I stopped and took a picture and some guy comes running from across the street and he won’t let me go. I saw him saying something and gesturing before but I ignored him because in his camophlage shirt and jeans he doesn’t look very official. He calls someone. 10 minutes later someone comes and tells me to delete the pictures I took. And I’m told to remain, then a very official military officer comes full on with stars on the shoulders, and medals on the chest. He ask to see the second camera and makes sure that I’ve deleted all the pictures…. (damn to bad I didn’t think to use the second card in the big camera that one might have got by), He told me that the building is a secret government building and I’m only to take pictures of tourist sites. I explained that I saw a beautiful colonial building , and that I thought it might be a school or something like that. He said that OK but from now on only take pictures of tourist sites and sent me on my way…phew.
Actually he went on his way the other two hung around to watch me, I went across the road to stay at the hotel there. I think they didn’t want to rent me their room for the night probably because they saw me in trouble with the military but told me they’re full even though they had no cars or motorcycles parked there. No problem, I went back into the village and ate some lap and khao niaw. Put on the lights and rode till I found a nice spot under some trees between two rice paddies to camp for the night. Even though there were things going on that night I felt I was safest laying low until sunrise. There were gun shots, a couple men were talking and came close enough to see the bike and the tent, then went away, more gun shots… the next morning I was pack and on the road at the river side buddah travel house at 7, the scenic rocks at 10, breakfast and a spoke replacement at 11 and back to the main road for noon.
Many of the cycletourists I met along the way recommended seeing the 4000 islands region in far south Laos. Now a bit tight for time I went to my guidebook and decided seeing the river dolphins would be cool and the Mekong waterfalls too. I woke up to find I was already in the area… went to the falls and the entry toll was already up, went to the boat landing. After a couple hours of mucking about l finally paid some kid to take me out in his boat to see the dolphins. I still had enough money to see the falls.so I rode back up the road. I must say the falls weren’t as nice as as the Deitian and a far cry from Godthafos or Niagra falls but had a surprisingly quaint fell for a major waterfall. Not having seen many open meal options and being out of Kip. When I arrived at the border there was a drink stand and I bought a last ‘kelly’ juice drink went the border crossed to Cambodia were I finally got to have breakfast er lunch.
The First town in Cambodia was a bout a 80km ride from the border post. Along the way there was nothing but dry rice patty, , and brush ether on fire or recently burnt. When I arrived in Strung Trung, I was very dehydrated, while getting a bottle I met a couple(motorcycle tourists) they recomemended I check their hotel (also a hotelery training center) with free treated water. I went there, fiilled my bottle, and ended up talking to the other travelers. But they didn’t have anymore room so after a little more talking a few hours and I finally left to find myself a hotel room.. first I bought snacks (to get smaller money maybe some reils. Then I finally got dinner and a room… with wifi but I was mostly too tired to have had made a post to facebook.. But it was a great evening the couple on motorcycles told me that the is a road to crossroads and on to SiemRiep- I got pictures of maps. The people I had dinner with had more maps and more travel ideas.
The next morning I bought a new chain, new tire and new innertube Now with fresh equipment and all the information from the night before I was ready to move and took a boat across the MeKong from where Id follow the road through the Jungle to cambodian civiliatiion. My movement on the dirt road was pretty slow. I stopped in one village to by water and snacks and it was the best deal ever. I stopped in another town and they charged me 3x the price for my potable water. I reavelled in the fact that there where no powerlines slong side the road. I took some pictures of the sunset and continued riding into the dark swearing next time I stop I’ll put my lights on… but there is few reasons to stop on such a wide strip of packed dirt through the jungle. Well I stopped when I passed a detour sign for a construction zone. While I was digging my lights out of my bag and putting them on a construction worker comes over to me and gestures that I’m invited for dinner. They ate barbequed beef, rice and vegetables they offered that I could stay but a few were drinking so I apologized and gestured that I must continued down the road.I rode a couple KM to a village and continued on for a few more kilometers and stopped when I found a great spot to camp. The next morning I hit the road early but before long found myself stopping for breakfast- a stall in the first village of the day was serving curry sauce on rice noodles…. for 1000 reils. At noon I found the paved road south and civilzation so I had to stop and eat again.
After 2 days of eating and riding I arrived in Siem Riep in the early afternoon. Sometime you get lucky being really cheap. I made a meager attempt to find the place I stayed 4 years before but then went for the cheap spot recommended my my guide book and couple travellers I met and I went for the 1$ a night dorm room. Since there were no other really cheap tourist there at the time I had the dorm to myself. At 4 pm I was at the Angkor Wat gatehouse getting my free 1.5 hour and tomorrows pass for the temples. I first stopped to take a picture of Angkorwat then I went to the hilltop temple that has many people looking for a great sunset. Since I was a little slow getting there I was too late to go up the temple and it too treed so otherwise get a view of sunset. The next day I tour the main temple again and then went to Bantay srea which is sadly being restored – it one of the most broken up of all the temples and has big trees growing out of the wall. I came to a place I really wanted a picture of but there was a seeming endless stream of tour groups. I ended up talking to another photographer on a similar mission. after we finally got our picture, on our way out we had to stand in awe and take picture of the gear some Russian guys had a 6 rotor helicopter mount for a DSLR camera so get the great overhead snaps….damn. The Number of tourist seeing the temples has increase greatly over the3 last few year eeven since I was there 4 years ago. To protect the people and the stone work many of the once steap stone stairs now have not as steap wood steps built over them. While riding out of the temples I met another guy who was riding around and we rode into to and straight to one of the bar-b-que places I wanted to go to the night before but I could do a dinner like that solo. The next day I hit the road early and a couple days later I was crossing in to Thailand. While in line to stamp out of Cambodia I met another cycle tourist (with racing experience from 55 years ago) Named Bernard Molot. We talked about racing, we took pictures of one another, then crossed into Thailand and had Lunch.- duck and rice for a $.we would have ridden together be he was going a northern route to Bangkok and I was on a direct rush to Pattaya.
REGARDING MY BROKEN ARM:
I had misfortune of breaking my right ulna and middle phalange of the second digit on my way to Everest base camp. I’ve been telling people that I’ve had an accident and I’d rather not talk about it. Still everyone wants to know so here are 4 stories and one tis truth mate:
1. I’ll tell you loaded bicycles are not the same as unloaded bikes. Many things change when your bike goes from 7-10 kilos to 40+. I’ve learned the hard way. Little corrections that required a little weight transfer or a small input now need massive forces and a balancing compensation. In the last 2 years I’ve become adept at handling a loaded bike on all types of roads. But on the way the Everest the road ends ay Jiri…well there is some thing that resembles a road to the next town-Shvalaya and it degrades further from there. Eventually I was on a steep rutted rocky path where only the boldest Nepali truck drivers might go for a lot extra pay Think 17% grade, rough, rutted, trucks make 5 point turns at the hairpin turns. I was descending the serpentine track faster than the porters taking the straight down path when things started to go horribly wrong. I rode over drop off that bounced my front left pannier off my bike my bike lurched to the right and i was bouncing off rut and off the road on the cliff fall side. My finger got mashed by my brake lever and my arm hit a rock in the big fall.
2. I accidentally turned on to the wrong road, where I was chased by baby beggars. Shortly after I escaped them I disturbed some cattle and was accidentally mistaken for a thief. Thinking the cattle was the only problem and the guy is overreacting, I stopped instead of going after the buffalo he blocks me and starts threaten me with his stick. I’m not phased so after a minute I start threatening him back with my fist. We start to fight and another farmer hits me across the back and go after him. then another farmer joins the melee which is rapidly becoming a simple beating. There’s now there’s like 50 people watching me get beaten up by 5 or 6 farmers. I’m sitting on the ground, blocking blow with my feet, someone is trying to tie me up and hits me in the face each time i pull my arm out of his rope. Eventually some brothers realize the guy on the ground is foreigner and stop the beating. The brothers are great people they would have stopped any beating. 2 days later the farmers came to apologize to me for their mistake and gave me money for medical treatment as they learned I likely had broken bones.
3. When a body goes from hot climate like Kathmandu to a cold environment like the 3500m passes in the hills into the Himalayas or other high peaks, the body will release alot of water normally by seemingly excessive mixturation- less sweating(water loss), less water needed for temperature regulation, ….so there are a lot of people rushing to the toilet in the middle of the night to shed this un-need weight. Others reported and myself included going to the bathroom up 6 times a night. one of the first nights I experienced this I couldn’t find my head lamp and to make matters worse the toilet was outside some 30m away from the tea house. On the way to the outhouse I stepped off of a small ledge I tried to catch myself but instead I land hard on a rock… that’s the forearm. the finger, it got caught in a door o the s later that morning. While saying goodbye standing inside with my hand on the door frame a gust of wind came and slammed the door. What a clumsy 6 hours.
4. Everyone thinks that yetis are a myth, but I encountered one. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how low the Yeti was. I was at the Lamjura pass only 3600m and the closest snowy Himalaya would be Numbur- half a cheese trek away. We don’t know much about these creatures. The standard description of hairy, unclothed, man-like with big feet is pretty much right on. I’ll add fast and dim sighted or atleast the one I came across was. There I was sitting on a stone bench/wall taking a break from the weight of my packs and enjoying the view of the pass. I was looking the other way, as it came bounding down off the mountain. The yeti didn’t even notice me before or after it stepped on my arm and hand (on toe off- ball of its foot on my finger, lateral side on m arm) which were stretched out over the shoulder level stones next to me. There was little I could do but watch in agony as it ran off into the forest.
I started rushing my world tour last October. I was riding around mostly aimlessly for 10 days while waiting for my Chinese visa from the Consulate in Busan. I had to go through a travel agent to get it but that’s a whole other story. I meandered over to the south east coast and things started to get cold. I was beside the sea wanting to go for a swim with my waterproof camera, but it was too cold to swim. I was camping and I had to breakout my old -7 celcius sleeping bag out of the bottom of its bag… I even had to zip it up… and pull the draw strings to keep warm. This put me in Rush mode. I still hand a bunch of things I wanted to do in Northern China before I get out of East Asia- Visit my friend Fire- he rode with me for 3 days in May, see the great wall, Beijing, the bicycle museum in Bazhou, the Terracotta warriors, go to inner Mongolia as a tribute to Ghanghis Khan, go to the panda breeding centre in Chengdu… hike the tiger leaping gorge.. Ok the latter is not north a but at 2700m it is alpine.
After visiting Fire and a few of his friends inbetween Dalian and Jinzhou. I saw the great wall for the first time at Juimenkou. This spot is unique not just because the lack of tourists, there were about 12 other people there when I was there, but it’s the only place the wall is built over water. It’s hard to say if the wall was authentic as there were remains of a wall in the distance. A couple days later I was checking out Beijing. I spent a few days, I had quite a bit to do- met up with another of Fire’s friends- who treated me to a 5 star Beijing roast duck dinner- Thanks Blue, my aunt Eleanor and uncle bob(who thankfully brought me some cold weather cycling gear from my family in Toronto) and artistic cycling legend Ines Brunn. I also went to a couple of Olympic sites… but not the velodrome because Ines said there is no way to get past the elitist attitude of the Chinese which dictates that velodromes are off limits. No one is ever let in with 2 exceptions the annual world cup race and elite athlete training all others are banned.
Continuing the cycling theme I went to a small city called Bazhou just to see the Chinese national bicycle museum. I found out about this by watching CCTV-news. I probably fell asleep to the news or the 3 times daily arts program but woke up in the middle of the night to a tourism program talking about the national bicycle museum… I had to check it out. It was well….in a word: disappointing. First I was expecting it to be in it’s own building because they made it out to be such a big deal when I saw the CCTV travel bit about it… and it’s the 4th floor of the Bazhou city museum. For a worldly cycling enthusiast there were many glaring errors- authenticity and accuracy, in typical Chinese fashion, are not the museums strong points especially in the international or racing displays. For example they have tour de France jerseys on display but most of the jerseys are for a race around Mallorca. A couple chromed chopper like bicycles labled as 1990’s americana- Damn how hard is it to get cheap old mountain bike. Some cheap green, never heard of sport bike pretending to be a classic Bianchi road racer in the Italian display. I could continue on but I think y’all get the picture. If you want to see some pictures just ask. It so bad, I occupied myself by laughing to myself and taking pictures of the worse offenders. The pictures accompanying the displays through out were pretty accurate though. They did have a good bit about the history and the development of the bicycle with well dated information and a couple of great vintage bicycles. The Chinese section did look quite good. That means push rod brakes and single speeds and plenty of them… Imagine the excitement when I found a 1960’s labelled five rams Chinese bike with an internal 3 speed hub(5 rams is from Canton near my grandfather’s village). And more single speed bikes… mostly in black, with racks, push rod brakes.. but lots of different head tube badges. And some more black single speed bikes.
After consulting google map directions I looking for the shortest route to accomplish my list was to go to Dongsheng, Pingyao, Louyang and then Xian- that’d be 100’s of Km shorter than Louyang, Pingyao, Dongsheng Xian. Reading up on the area in my 8$ Vietnamese photocopied Lonely Planet (unlike the Chinese, I do believe in paying for intellectual property but when you have no income and you’re faced with the choice of 40$ expense or an 8$ one…) and it said that in Shanxi and Sha’anxi provinces people often lived in caves and some still do… I set out to find an abandoned cave to squat er I mean camp in for a night. In my first crossing of Northern Shanxi I didn’t see any. but when I got in to Inner Mongolia; at the border I saw the great wall stripped of it’s bricks, a long line of truck waiting to cross the border and a nice sign to tell you that you’ve arrived…a few kilometers later as it was getting dark I saw a cave… and stayed there for the night. While I was setting up camp, the cold rain in turned to snow. Then next morning I continued on in the beautiful white blanketed landscape until it started to melt and I went downhill to where they didn’t get any snow. I was cruising along and the kilometers were rolling by until night fall when all the trucks strangely left the road. I was thinking of following them but I thought back to my time in Yunnan when I got shifted off the G325 and spent the next day and a half on some pretty rough roads including a 50 km stretch of cobblestones so I let the trucks go and continued on my G – people’s road… for about 20 minutes until the road got very soft. So, I set up camp right beside the road cause I knew nobody was going by. For the next 2 days I walked, carried my 40 kg bike or pushed it to stop and clean the debilitating mud off it every 5-50 meters. it was pretty slow progress. At the end of the next day I was out of water and stopped at a construction worker’s shelter and asked for shui(Chinese for water) they generously filled my bottle for me and . About 5 minutes after I left a little Chinese SUV pulls me over and it’s the guys from the construction company and they insisted that I ride with them to DongSheng- they were going in to town to get a part for one of their machines. In town they bought me dinner and a hotel room for the night. The next day I rode down the express road (there was a parallel G road but when I stopped at the police booth on the express highway and asked if this was the right road the police told me to continue on the express road- way cool) to the poorly rated site of the Ghanghis Khan masuleum just as it was closing. Nobody stopped me at the gate and asked me for 80 Yuan so I walked in and took a couple of pictures and decided to continue on as my guide book had me thinking it’s not worth the entry fee- Ghanghis isn’t resting there, all the original article were destroyed in revolutions and replaced with replicas. While I was taking pictures someone not in official looking attire came after me yelling and motioning me to leave. So I left, Hotels in the nearby tourist village were expensive, that insured that I wouldn’t even think of going back in the morning… I hopped on my bike and rode until I found an appropriate looking spot to camp… in the desert… like Ganghis.
Since I was so slow in Inner Mongolia I had to change my internal visa location from Xian to Pinyao then to Yulin. I picked Yulin over a couple other cities I could have made it to because it has desert, the Great wall, a restored old town and I found a nice Giant bicycle store… at the store I re-built my wheels, installed brake levers on my bike, met guys to ride with and found out about a race that I waited in town to do but didn’t do because it was cancelled for lack of interest. I even built a couple bikes up out of the box. There was a customer who spoke english quite well but nobody else did.
The visa run was a bit of a misadventure I arrived on a Saturday night and went straight to the biggest police station I could find and asked if there was a public security bureau where I could get a visa- I was told yes but it’s closed. After some time it was confirmed that I could go there on Monday morning at 9. Typically you need: a passport size photo (often the make you get new ones to support local business), a photo copy of your passport picture page and current visa, your passport, 160 yuan, a paper of temporary residence and a week. My readings left me with the impression that only certain hotels can issue foreigners temporary residence papers to in the morning I stopped at the PSB and asked where they’d issue me one. They sent me to a Hotel down the road that cost 55$ a night fortunately I only need to stay there that night, and that is less than the fine for overstaying by a day. Being an up scale hotel one of the employees was sent to the PSB with me. When we arrived at the big police station, I told the girl from the hotel that I need to wait for the PSB door to open we’re 15 minutes early (15 minute I was hoping to use to get myself a meal). I’m not sure what she told the guy at the gate but I was told that to go into a different section of the station. They took my papers and started asking me all sort of unusual extra questions. They were looking at their computer and my visa and getting frustrated. After an hour they started confirming with me that my visa was not yet expired. My translator from the hotel left and I was marched down to the PSB office. The police talked to the PSB people after a while I was sent next door for new passport photos and passport photo copies (even though I made copies in the morning) Back to the PSB and more talking between the police and the PSB people and I was asked for proof that I have money… #&&%$ I’m staying in a 50$ a night hotel why the $#(*&^ do you think I’m broke. So, I woke up my dad and asked him to fax bank statement to my hotel because after a year of not using a new bank card in Vietnam I cant remember my PIN, I return to the PSB 10 minutes before they close with the best proof of my financial situation and the nice lady gave me a visa application form and told me to come back tomorrow. I returned 5 minute later Cause the door was still open and was told to comeback tomorrow. Figuring I’d been through enough crap when I got back the next day the woman at the PSB didn’t ask me for a new temporary resident paper. She gave me the payment papers, told me which bank to pay at and that my visa would be ready in the afternoon.
I think the hotel girl told the guy at the police station gate that this foreigner has visa problems and then I had work through the much tougher immigration police rather than deal with the friendly ladies in the PSB office. The whole experience was a fine example of why my usual practice is to tell people to G#^ L0$^ when they offer or try to help me.
Someone had recommended Pingyeo as a great place to see. It’s a nice old walled town but I thought it was good not great… it might be better if you’ve read ‘the art of war”.. From there I rode to Louyang and Dengfeng to see the Shaolin Temple on the suggestion of my 80 year-old skiing mentor mister Murphy. I was a bit tardy to arrive, so I skipped all the tourist highlights- the shaolin monk kung-fu fighting, the cable car ride to the top of the mountain; I went to Bodi Dharma’s cave. Bodi Spent 7 years in the cave meditating… that’s dedication.
3 days later I arrived in Xianyang a suburb of Xian. I met up with one of my uncle Gerry’s ex-coworkers and drinking…er I mean traveling buddies. He invited me to ride with his cycling group and stay at his place- Thanks Paul. The ride was really short- from the University where Paul works to family run weekend restaurant just out of town… not a bad idea for a ride on a cold late fall day. During Lunch one of the guys from his cycling group offered to ride to the Terracotta warriors with me. We met a couple days later under threatening November skies we got to Xian an there was a couple drips from the sky. Then we stopped for the specialty soup of the region and by the time we were done it was raining pretty hard. My new friend didn’t bring any rain gear but sill rode to the tourist attraction with me but went home right after we arrived. I was prepared – a little damp but doing well so I wandered around the sites for a little while. The warriors by themselves are not so impressive but then after wandering a bit one realizes the scale of the thing which wows you and it becomes somewhat disturbing someone had a city made as a burial right.
China is really big and I had used over 3 weeks of my visa – wait for a race not to happen, getting lost, and seeing a few tourist sites. And it was already time to think about getting my next visa. I wanted to do that in Chengdu….
Having covered the spiritual and the historical China, I met the ex-pats, the rich kids and the workers- it was time to get in to the wild China… and a new visa. in 6 days I rode 950 Km over 3 small mountain ranges from Xianyang to Chengdu. Halfway there I arrived in Sichuan province. This in itself was quite exciting for me because when I was 11 I decided hot food was good and when I was 12 my uncle Gerald came back from his first trip to China and said “Kid, you like hot food you gotta try Sichuan food.” He took me and the rest of the family to a restaurant called the taste of Sichuan which I liked so much it was my choice for my birthday dinner for the next 5 years. The food in the restaurant is more akin to what I’d get in Yunnan province. In Sichuan they always use is a spice they call ‘ma’ and it makes your mouth numb… I’m really not that keen on it- I prefer the flavours of Yunnan where the food is served hot with lots of hot chilies.
I arrived in Chengdu at 1 in the afternoon so I set about finding a good guesthouse (picked one out of my lonely planet guide). Having accomplished checking in by 2, I then set out for the PSB. This visa application went smoothly accept I was filling out the application I was too exhaust to think of what the expiry date of the visa should be… so I just wrote in January 31. When the woman scrutinizing the applications saw this she frowned and said “you write in today’s date next month.” Being to exhausted to question it I did so. On the way back to the hostel I realized instead of getting a week extra I just signed myself in to 24 day visa… or maybe that is jsut how they do the visas there. I was thinking while waiting for my visa I’d check out some of the mountains around Chengdu but something tuned my stomach on it’s side and I spent 4 days in bed, 2 days looking for bike parts, cycling clothes and a morning checking out the Panda breeding base. I’ve always wanted to see Pandas in there natural environment, but seeing a wild panda is nearly impossible- only 1000 scattered in the bamboo covered mountains of china so I settled for that glorified zoo.
While I wasn’t feeling well I used the internet to get directions to Lijiang the city that is near the Tiger Leaping gorge trek. It started off well, got myself out of Chengdu and a couple days later I checked out the worlds largest Buddha in Leshan and made it Emei shan find a tourist hostel to sleep. Even the next day went well, over mountains and down in to the stunning Jinkou river gorge, but that evening in the gorge I saw a sign that said “district not open Aliens are not allowed to enter without permission- Leshan public Security Bureau” I looked at the sign in dismay, I thought about it, I took a picture, I consulted my maps and took a few more seconds to think about it and continued down the road. This of course meant that I camped that night rather that check into a hotel where they would check my passport and call the police. hmmm what were the Chinese hiding- could it be discontented minorities- they had many minority people in the area or could it be the massive construction project on both sides of the river just past the city … is the Jinkou river the next river dam in China??? does the rest of the world know about this one? Shame it’s a beautiful river valley- a steep and deep gorge.
From there my directions got worse. After I left the gorge I picked up some food in the town of Yuexi I continued along the provincial road which turned uphill and continued across a high plain. Half ways across the plain my directions said save 50-70 km by taking a country road. The road went up to a T intersection with no signs. After the north east was explored- it degraded to a far tractor trail after a couple Km. I went back and found a second unmarked T intersection 100 m away from the first one. I choose the road going down mostly because that’d get me off the ice – did I forget to mention the freezing rain ice covering well everything since I got on the country road. the road down was nice but after going down out of the ice zone it continued for a few Km and then split in to two horse trails after I figured that the one going up wasn’t really going anywhere I followed the other one to a train line. I used the train line to cross the river but instead of following the line I foolishly decided to go up the next mountain. It was getting late after few hundred meters of cycling and a few Kilometers of walking to I set up the tent and had a couple packages of ramen noodle soup. What a way to spend Christmas day.
On boxing day I knew I had a train track that goes somewhere (running north-south) to the east I know somewhere to the west there is a road. I hiked up a mountain pushing and carrying my bike up the trails and near the top I met some nice mountain people who gave me some water and directed me to go back to the train track. Hours later when I reached the tracks I found a dirt road. I followed it through a village were I bought some food and took some pictures. Then I continued. In the next town I found a train station and a hill person who followed me out of the village directed me off the road to the station. At the station I looked up the character for lost and said to the station masters ‘Wu’ and pointed to the lost symbol. They spoke little English – just enough to get a bit of my story and where I’m from. They fed me and stuck me on the next train to Xichang in the employee section for free…. I was a bit concerned because the train was going north when it left the station but 3 hours later it arrived in Xichang and I was found.
I arrived in Xichang at 10pm I ate, and found a hotel where I showered did laundry and called my sister and nephew on skype as well as my mom and dad, by the time that was all done I went to bed at 3 am. The next morning I checked out at 11, took some pictures of the town, ate then stopped at a bike store to get new brake pads. At the store I asked which route to Lijiang would be better – the main G roads or the road to Lu Gu Hu (a scenic lake mentioned in my guide book). One guy said the G roads and 3 people said go to Lu Gu lake. Looking at my atlas which showed some relief I knew I was going to ride up hill, down to a river up another hill and down to a river and up a hill to a high plain. I left town at 3 pm with a basket full of snacks at 5 I was riding up the first hill. Before I set up camp I rode though a tunnel, stated down a hill at twilight. I finished the first downhill and climbed one more hill in the dark. At the end of the next tunnel I found a dead-end road or it could have been the parking area for the workers when the tunnel was made and camped there. The next morning I rode the 10 Km to the second river. I crossed the river and the road started going up. After 18 km of steady uphill riding I stopped for lunch. Foolishly I didn’t get myself any extra snacks because I figured there would be more villages up the road. The road continued up. and up… and up after 35 Km there were no vilages since the one at KM18 now I’m hungry, grumpy and swearing that the road cant’ go up much further.. this isn’t the Himalayas … it could be the road to the high plain the base of the Himalayas it’s not the Himalayas LuGu Hu is only 2000m above sealevel. But the road continued upwards… it separated from the river which was now a stream and it continued up hill for another 12 km as a twisty mountain road. I was treated to a lovely 15 km downhill after cresting the ridge. well sort of treated… I was a bit delirious and light headed from the altitude or the hunger. I put on another layer and warmer gloves before embarking on the descent but my hands started to go numb after a few km and by the bottom mild hypothermia set in all from the windchill. 15 km from the base of the hill I stopped in Yanyuan for the night. Initially I was worried because there was most of the restaurants had their lights off…because there was a power outage. Fortunately by the time I’d found a place to eat, eaten and found a place to stay the night the electricity was back. The next day I had an uneventful surprisingly flat ride up a river to the beautiful Lu Gu hu.
The next destination on my list was the Tiger leaping gorge. Only 500 or so kilometers from Lu Gu Hu passing through the popular tourist town of Lijiang.. The gorge is famous for the 4000m mountains towering over the gorge. it is so scenic the hiking trail that passes through the gorge on the west side about 1/2 way up the gorge is the most popular hike in China and a road that passes through the gorge about 1/6 of the way up for the lazy people. The hike was a nice break from the usual 100+ km on bike. it is quite scenic… but as gorges go I’d say the Jinkou gorge was much more impressive. Even though it was off season, I met a few people during the hike. This was my first hike with guest houses and villages on the trail, previously I’ve only done north American back country hiking so I was maybe a little over prepared- my Electronics, toiletries, food, change of clothes, rain gear, rope, sleeping bag… but better that than the Asians I met- a Thais couple that had little more than a dslr camera and a bottle of water, and a chinese guy who had a big bag and little in it he was a martial arts athlete and he hiked the trail with me- he carried a big bag with very little in it. I lent him my extra jacket when the trail passed under a waterfall. On my second day I hiked some trail in the bottom quarter of the gorge but couldn’t find a trail to take me to the bottom. After that I ended up near one of the last guesthouses as some Aussies arrived I walked with them and we all hitched an expensive ride with first car we could flag down.
Back at the guesthouse I hopped on the internet and looked for directions and checked the distance to Mohan… 1260 km…. I had 10 days before I’d be overstaying my visa. that doesn’t sound too challenging but this is across Yunnan province and I’d have 100 km of flat road the rest would be up and down. My gearing options where down considerable at this point too after having wore out a couple gears and a chainring riding for days in the mud in Northern China- when. The miles rolled by. The scenery was great but very much up and down. I spent half days in Dalian and Jinhong and got to the border with a few hours too spare. I passed into Laos without a hitch and decided I’d take it easy and explore this country of friendly poor people and lovely scenery.