August 1st: Lijiang to Daju, Yunnan, China
Lijiang to Zhongdian, via the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Haba and a string of Naxi villages...
The week begun with an enormous breakfast at the characterful Mama Fu's, who fussed over us and served up endless rounds of sustenance - carrot juice (for sun protection) muesli and yoghurt (for the carbohydrates) and banana pancake (because who knows when we'll have the next one!)
We were by now a convoy, Trystan and I were joined by Dutch cyclists Donner, Margritte and Boas, and John and Nora. A beautifully clear morning provided the perfect backdrop to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a 5500m set of craggy peaks and snowy pillars.
Morning melted into day, as we sat and chatted over a long lunch at the foot of the mountain, watching and watched by the Chinese tourists who arrived by the coachful. 'The Chamonix of Yunnan!', complete with cable car ascending halfway up the peak. A steady stream of yellow baseball-capped Chinese tourists queued up excitedly to have their picture taken, donned dramatically in Arctic style down jackets. Others, dressed in traditional clothes and adopting stoic poses, sat astride long haired yaks; enormous and majestic beasts who looked humbled and bored as delighted Chinese took their photos - we half hoped one might turn on its rider and provide some entertainment...
We've now surpassed the 3,300m marker, the highest I've ever ridden. The scenery is looking distinctly impressive, as roads teeter on the edge of cliffs in the shadow of snow capped mountains. After a morning gaining altitude, a seemingly endless 34km descent fed us towards the valley floor and into the dusty village of Daju. The Tiger Leaping Gorge was our backdrop and moods were electric - this was the dramatic China we had envisaged. Stopping for the night in a friendly guesthouse, we feasted around a courtyard table against the setting of the sun.
August 2nd: Daju to Haba, Yunnan, China
The following morning we wandered through the village. Donner and I were both overwhelmed by what we saw - the desolate, dusty and windswept feel of how I imagine Tibet to be. Every villager was a character in himself - my favourite was a wonderful old man, his face etched over time by the elements, with a wispy goatee. A sparkle shone in his eyes as he casually wandered over, an umbrella slung over his shoulder. Donning a pair of oversized shades, he was coolness personified.
We unpacked our bikes and hauled them down a steep valley path to the ferry crossing, where our road continued over the top of the opposite hill. After battling the current across the river, the climb on the other side was so steep we strapped our panniers onto mules, who happened to be going our way. We joined a backroad which had only just been blasted and was prone to landslides, one of which we clambered over heroicly, after unpacking the bikes once again. As we hoisted them over the rocks we looked down the steep drop at our side, and a few stones tumbled out of sight leaving a trail of dust...As darkness fell we arrived in the village of Haba, perched on the edge of a spectacular valley surrounded by steep mountains, whose scale seemed so vast it almost looked unreal. The guesthouse we tracked down was managed by a frenentic lady who welcomed me like a traveller returned - indeed, it seemed she had mistaken me for someone who had passed through earlier, commenting how I'd changed - the beard presumably.
Electricity was out so we washed by candlelight, with freshly boiled hot water from an urn, then munched on fruit while she diced, sliced and threw a feast of ingredients into a wok. Occasionaly it flared up and lit the room for a few moments. The meal was delicious, as we knew it would be...Outside, the night was crammed with stars, and there was no doubt that we would all sleep soundly. A short but exhausting day.
Morning came, the smell of breakfast wafted into the rooms. Dashing gracefully around the kitchen like a TV show chef, the owner had laid on another 'grand bouffe' and we tucked into pancakes, potato, vegetables and rice washed down with glasses of green tea. We struggled away from the table suitably gorged. Ahead lay a morning's climb. What better way to start the day?