I made my way into Chengdu with relatively little to speak of, which is good! Things have been a bit too adventurous of late. The weather became increasingly pleasant, and as I rode into Chengdu I enjoyed a sunny, temperate day and easily found my way to my lodgings.
I was especially excited, for I was to be staying with Zach and Alizé, from the Camel Krew! They were living in Chengdu teaching English and had just gotten an apartment, so I had a couch to crash on. I arrived early and waited for them to get off of work, the notion of which struck me strangely. Work? What an antiquated notion!
I met up with Zach and our reunion was sweet. We had so much to talk about! We hadn’t seen each other in almost five months- I last saw them outside of Bukhara, in Uzbekistan- and we sort of stumbled over each other as we enthusiastically filled each other in. He showed me into the apartment, which is a lovely little affair, then we went out to grab some dinner to go. Back at the apartment we waited for Alizé to get home, and when she did, another round of hugs and excitement ensued, and we chatted like birds.
The next few days were full of rest and relaxation, intermingled with a few refreshing social events! I was informed that I was giving a presentation at an “English Corner” club of sorts the next evening. I relegated this to the back of my mind, and focused on relaxing completely, sleeping long and hard.
Zach and Alizé had work at nine, and I roused just enough to accept the keys before returning to sleep for another few hours. Zach works close to the apartment, so we ate lunch ogether, then I returned to the apartment for some leisurely reading and writing.
In the evening I made my presentation, which was strange, but lowkey, and met a great many fluent and semi-fluent English speakers. I will state, for my own benefit mostly, that Eddie the artist, John and Josh- the hosts- Kitten, Stone, and Andy were fascinating and interesting new friends I made there, along with Alex, from Russia, who speaks flawless English and also Chinese. I need hardly mention that these are not their given names, but their real names are terribly difficult to remember! A few days later we had a housewarming party:
We were induced to draw self-portraits. Some real talent out there!
I repeated the process of sleeping, reading, and writing, only leaving to eat, essentially. Zach and Alizé’s weekend came and we explored Chengdu a bit and tried out some restaurants and bars. It was nice to feel normal again for a few days! I could have stayed there indefinitely, but I had some kilometers to cover.
My mother and brother are meeting me in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the 8th of February, and I have been riding hard to get there! I cannot wait for a two week vacation and my body is crying out for it. Nevertheless, I left Chengdu reluctantly. Zach and Alizé are family to me, and the prospect of setting off alone was not as appealing as the company in Chengdu. However, we had arranged to meet again in Vietnam, for they have a vacation- as do many Chinese citizens- for Chinese New Year, which falls on February 4th this time around, so I will see them in Hanoi, and they will get to meet some of my family! I am excited to introduce some of the characters in my story to some of my family members, and I hope I get more opportunities to do so!
It is funny to talk with this pair as if they are not travelling anymore, but they’ll be holed up for at least six months teaching English in Chengdu. It seems they are already excited to hit the road again though!
I left, at last, with my sights set on Leshan, where there is a thousand year old, 230 foot statue of a Buddha carved into the side of a cliff. I saw it… from afar. Apparently I didn’t take any pictures though! Sorry…
It was too much of a commitment to see it up close, and it was cloudy, so picture opportunities were not ideal. If you go to Leshan, take the ferry out on the river for the best shot.
Decorations in anticipation of Chinese New Year
From there, I had more pleasantly uneventful days in the mountains. Initially I followed a road that flirted with the path of a river. This took me through a massive bamboo forest which was mind boggling to look at! The bamboo droops over when it gets too tall, so the forests look like tightly-packed bunches of caterpillars festooning the hillsides, as if the forest were writhing. They call it “The Bamboo Sea.” Sichuan province is gorgeous, as is Hunan. Truly, these regions redeem China in my eyes.
Another article of note is that, at long last, I started camping again. I had forgotten how nerve-wracking it is to find secluded places to camp as darkness descends, but I was quickly reminded. I slept on the edge of a river the first night in a steep patch of farmland that I stumbled upon by chance after having fled from a spot that may have been the path to someone’s home… I tore out of there as if the demons of hell were on my heels. I had given up on camping after that, but had no idea where the next guest house might be. I stumbled on this spot as my anxiety mounted. Upon finding it, the niche was so small I didn’t bother pitching the tent.
This is a pathetic attempt to capture the view I got after emerging from a tunnel. I almost cried! The miraculous flamboyantly decries itself in the landscape…
I really, really enjoyed camping again- I have missed it. It was so peaceful laying out in the open air, and the simplicity of such a lifestyle charmed me back away from my luxurious hotel life I had grown accustomed to. I realize I have been getting more and more starved of the communion with nature and the quietude that suits me, fills me, nourishes me. I am a man of the woods. When I get back I would like to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I reckon.
I am in Kunming now, a stone’s throw from the Chinese border, and another to Hanoi! Three consecutive days of massive climbs- I found myself back up at almost 10,000 feet again- and a pretty ornery headwind had me limping into the city.
I am hoping my knees last to Hanoi! They will, they have to. It was nice to feel every muscle in my body ache again with the remorseless, unremitting sequence of climbs, but I think my bike is heavier than it ought to be- I have accumulated some superfluous items. One of which I am eager to unload is a copy of “Ulysses” by James Joyce. A ponderous volume it is, and not even a large edition! It is also a dense tome, and I am hard-pressed to finish it in time to hand it off (I like the edition, so I’m going to keep it.)
The sun is warm and shining again, which has reminded me what it is like to enjoy cycle touring again. Perhaps there are some who are affronted by such an ungrateful statement, but it is true- this winter and this country can only be described as a trial. I am ready to enjoy myself again, and I have earned it. I am also ready to see a new country, it has been almost three months!
That’s all for now, I’ll write next from Vietnam!