Tuesday, 25 November 2014

mountain voodoo

It's quite possible that Wuyuan County in the north-east of Jiangxi province has some of the prettiest landscapes we'll ever see in China.  Our ride south from Huangshan City has brought us into another area full of old and well-looked after villages that look good through a camera lense - especially a one-foot long one as sported by the Nikon Camera Club - they are everywhere.  Well, not everywhere, okay, I'm exaggerating.  The joy of cycling is turning up in places that have not yet been branded by the Chinese as a 4 or 5 A tourist attraction.  Hey look! AAAAA!  Stop the bus!
And it helps if you have marked on your map a little connecting back country road based on what you think you can see on Google Maps only to find you have wandered down a dead-end lane somewhere in the hills.  Then you really are getting off the beaten track.

But actually, the beaten track is quite okay - with new tarmac and a steady supply of villages that can provide shops and restaurants as and when you need it.  Feeling peckish?  Oh look, here's a village.  The temperatures have risen and we feel like we've entered another climate zone having crossed a pass to enter the province of Jiangxi.  It seems like we're now in satsuma country, judging by the roadside open truck sales.  The villages we've come to see are not as wonderful as the UNESCO-protected ones in Anhui, but they are of the same style and era, with newer buildings popping up everywhere.  The clumsy touch of restoration/renovation/reconstruction that sometimes gives China's old villages a Disneyland look.  Authentic village or theme park?  Well, a bit of both normally.  If you wander away from the main street with its tourist shops and stalls you discover that normal rural daily life continues: bamboo and tree-felling, weeding of vegetable plots, washing laundry in the stream.

We find various camping pitches along the way.  Gayle's favourite is an Andy McNabb affair, which requires a commando-crawl up a terraced hillside through heavy growth to reach a bright little terrace over-looking the road.  Perfectly hidden and feeling relaxed we set to our dinner and getting comfy in bed when a strong lightbeam sweeps the overgrown land below us.  Who could it be searching in the dark in this lonely place? Forestry Police looking for careless campers?  Or just a farmer searching for his ornery buffalo? We don't know - they turn around before reaching us.  Another day, after a long ride through the mountains we pass through three villages with tourist facilities (i.e. hotels) before realising it is getting too dark to see anything and there's nowhere to camp except for that unused plot of land surrounded by vegetable plots.  In the morning we'll be plain to see, but in the dark every passerby on an electric scooter is oblivious.

Our ride takes us past one of China's least-visited mountains - should I say holy mountains?  There seems to be a top six that attract huge numbers of tourists and have had temples and monasteries built on them as places of meditation and prayer for centuries.  San Qing Shan has been an inspiration for Taoist monks and is now a UNESCO heritage site remarkable for a large number of hoodoos.  Yep, voodoo hoodoo.  We are wondering what we will come across as we cycle up and around the mountain, but apart from a few weird spindly rock shapes and a burgeoning tourist scene with cable cars and massive luxury hotel complexes, there ain't no sorcery or witchcraft that we can find.  The only fright we get is the entrance price.  Fifteen quid!

it turns out the hoodoo are the spindly rocks

The cyling has been a little harder than we've become accustomed to, but it should stand us in good stead for the ride south through Fujian.  There's not much of China that's flat in these parts. Coming down out of the mountains we reach a reservoir and then have to climb again as the road skirts around the steep slopes.  And then suddenly we pop out onto a plain, a wide valley, with big towns and dirty dusty roads with heavy traffic.  We opt for a main road to Shangrao and pass through the obligatory road-surfacing stretch where gravel has been dumped across the side of the road that isn't being worked on.  We emerge from the clouds of dust and find the road getting better - with much less traffic than expected.  After hurtling along for a couple of hours we cruise into Shangrao and start looking for a hotel.  To our dismay, the town seems to have undergone a couple of the Chinese City Makeovers.  So we have big avenues with grand buildings and only four- or five-star hotels which give way to a grimier city centre with an eighties' era white-tiled and blue-tinted glass look.  Behind these buildings are the old communist appartment blocks that look crumbly and grim, but these are well-tucked away behind the main shopping facades.  It's like peeling away an onion when you walk around, finding layers and layers like this.  It's rush-hour, traffic snarl-
ups outside schools, and no sign of anything but business hotels with business prices.  After trying a couple of these we come across one with nice helpful staff who have never had foreigners stay before. We agree to take their cheapest room - 100 yuan is about £10 - which is small but fine for us.  The bed is rock hard but then they often are.   After a bit of faffing around getting our visas copied and entry dates recorded we try to pay but the young manager/owner is having none of it.  He points to the bikes and gives us the thumbs up.  A free night in a smart little hotel - a fantastic kind offer we can only accept.

now this is a cheeky wild camp - on a hotel doorstep
There's something overwhelming about a big city after riding through the countryside for a few days, but the shock and awe soon wears off and we are happy to have a mooch about looking for food.  We find a cheap buffet canteen place with extremely odd looking but tasty food served on metal trays.  Foolishly, one of the dishes I opt for is the black-eyed peas - try eating them with stainless steel chopsticks.........

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