Wednesday, 10 December 2014

round the houses

Gayle's not convinced but I think we're going downhill.
"Look - I still have to pedal"
"Can you not smell the sea?"
after 30,000 km this Marathon XR is retired

After nearly two months in China we are finally nearing the coast.  There's about an inch and a half on my map.  Annoyingly the road still has some ups as well as downs.  We spend a good afternoon coasting mainly down through a series of unpretty towns and then spend the following morning going back uphill.  But now we're off the main road and passing through small villages with tulou houses so we're very happy.  The people in this region are Hakka - migrants long ago from the north - who settled here in the hills and then built themselves fortress houses to protect themselves from clan disputes.  There must have been constant warring judging by the number of these houses.  The buildings are made from rammed earth, with bamboo and even glutinous rice!  So large and so sturdy are the constructions that they have survived for hundreds of years, although they are slowly disappearing behind new build.  Th-th-th-that's progress, folks.  UNESCO has been on the case to protect some of the finer examples.  As we pedal up and down the hills we come across individual tulou houses tucked away here and there.  It's all very peaceful and pretty.

some can house hundreds

Looking for a camping pitch Gayle is sent on a recce up a dirt path on a steep hillside.  She reports back.  There's family graves, there's trees, there's one spot which requires a little weeding, it's a big push.  Up we go to a carved out terrace big enough for two or three tents. Or for a family grave.  It's hidden from the houses down below.  We sleep well until at some point I awake with a start to hear footsteps on the path nearby.  It must've been the soles of the dead - I don't hear them again.

the 'king of the tulou' - tulou means mud building

The largest Hakka tulou in the area and a cluster of other tulou has the usual large tourist complex built around it.  There are still families living inside the big multi-storeyed house.  The tulou is circular (others are rectangular or horseshoe) and inside the circle is another circle of rooms and then the ancestral hall.  Tour groups are herded through at breakneck speed - there are other clusters to be visited including one on a mountain which neither of us can face cycling up!

The truth is we are tired of the many hills and eager to reach Xiamen on the coast.  As it turns out our road is taking us through more villages with tulou anyway.  And then it finally happens - after a climb ending in a tunnel we emerge into a long and deep valley with a humungous descent.  It goes on so long we finally have to stop to camp in someone's bamboo plantation.  The climate suddenly feels sub-tropical and much of the hillside is given over to banana trees.  We fall asleep content, knowing we have no more hills to climb.

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