Sichuan Tour. Day 3, May 16. Dujiangyan to Gengda

Mun Tau, Pao, Yie Tiaw, Shi Fun, Tau Jiang (plain dunpling, meat dumpling, crullers, rice congee and soya milk)… they would feature quite constantly in my diet. But what I really liked was the price – cheap, cheap, cheap. It made up for the lack of breakfast variety, I suppose.

There's nothing like steaming hot man taus and freshly fried yew tiows to warm up a cold morning

along with shi fun...congee, and pickles

I always make it a point to sit with the locals if possible. They're always good for an interesting conversation. This guy was no exception. The hotel is directly in the background. 7 Days is just a little behind to the right.

After breakfast (featuring all of the above), I headed out of Dujiangyan. The sky was cloudless, and the sun shone hot and bright. I couldn’t wait to hit the hills. About 10km out of the town, the road quieted down from the sparse traffic (most of it went through the expressway), and I started on the first of many climbs for the day.

The first of many dams that I would be passing

The first of many tunnels I would be riding through

I see a guy waving excitedly and taking a photo of me as I turn a corner. An admirer? His name is Michael Leonardo; from Shanghai en route to Lhasa on a solo bike tour, and he is mighty pleased to see me, or my bike pump* rather, after experiencing a puncture. Michael (call me Leonardo) suffered the same problem I had with his puny pump but my new 30Y pump made short work of filling his new tube.

* I’d just bought a new one prior to leaving Chengdu, as the one I’d brought had developed weak lungs and couldn’t seem to make it past 50psi; my Marathons demanded 80psi at least to be able to hum a nice tune on the tarmac.

Leonardo bade me ride with him as far as we were going on the same road until we parted ways, each to his day’s destination. Collecting brownie points seemed to be the order of the day as, a little later, we came upon a stalled 3-wheeler in a tunnel. The owner, an elderly man, was obviously having trouble pushing his vehicle to the end of the tunnel. Passing him by, I asked if he needed help and his face broke out in a huge sigh of relief. We rode quickly to the end of the tunnel and then ran back to the old man. He got inside to steer while we pushed him on his way. There was an ever-so-slight incline but we easily managed. Out of the tunnel, the old man was very thankful that providence had sent 2 timely rescuers to his aid.

Fruits are cheap and plentiful. We stopped a fuit vendor in a van and gorged on watermelon and fresh plums. Perfect for blazing hot days like today

Chalking up 2 good deeds in one day sure felt good so lunch was in order. At Yingziu, the epicentre of the 2008 earthquake, Leonardo repaid the pump favour with a huge lunch, one which, hungry as we were, we couldn’t managed to finish. I wondered if it was the shop owner who fleeced us with bigger-than-necessary portions of food, or was it Leonardo in typical generous-Chinese-host mode, making sure that I was not wanting for food.

Coming into Yingziu

The old Yingziu was totally wiped out. Every house here is spanking new

You can tell it caters to the many tourists who come and gawk at nature's handiwork

Lunch was fried tomato and egg, fish soup, and fried vegetables.

After lunch, we parted ways. Leonardo to Wen Chuan directly north, and me to Gengda, directly west. The road to Gengda almost immediately deteriorated into broken gravel and loose dirt. This was to continue for 20 kms, but it did make up for it with some very stunning views of the gorges. Remnants of the earthquake could still be seen here and there – houses rooted up and hung at precarious angles, and the sides of the gorges raw and broken where tectonic plates rubbed each other into submission. It’s a very depressing sight.

Riding into earthquake territory. It started out nice and smooth.

then got rough...

and then it got rougher..

But it was still beautiful country

At one point, I rode through a longish tunnel that was unlit, wet, muddy, potholed and cold. My 900-lumen Magicshine light helped immensely in lighting up the dingy bowels of this tunnel. Everything is doubly amplified in a tunnel, especially the sound of heavy vehicles. A bright rear light is an essential piece of equipment when riding in these tunnels.

Finally, I climbed one last long incline and came into the small town of Gengda. As I passed a decent-looking building with a restaurant downstairs, a man in rubber boots called out to me. And another round of ‘Do you have a room, how much, let’s have a look first’ conversation took place and pretty soon I was carrying my stuff into the room.

It was 30Y for a room, with attached bath, hot water and all. It was getting cheaper as I rode further out. But when I asked for the room key, the lady boss who checked me in said there was none but not to worry, it’s very safe. Oh well….It didn’t really bother me, as I wasn’t going anywhere after dinner in this nothing-town.

It was cold that night, but the thick, heavy quilts which are used in all these hotels are very efficient in keeping one warm. Complemented by the electric blanket, you’d be warm as toast. Actually, I’ll never understand why they call it ‘electric blanket’ when it’s laid underneath the bedsheet and not on top of the sleeper.

Gengda

Gengda Jiu Tien or whatever the Chinese name is.

Dinner was fried fish with Sichuan peppers and fried egg with onion...again very salty and very oily.

Next, riding in panda country.

………………………………………….

RIDE STATS:
Dujiangyan (708m) to Gengda (1,540m)

Total ride time: 7:26
Distance to day: 74km
Distance to date: 135km
Max altitude: 1,540m
Total ascent: 832m

Sichuan Tour. Day 2, May 15, Chengdu to Dujiangyan

I lived up to the Lazybones culture the next morning. After a meal of ‘pao’ and ‘tau jiang’ opposite the hostel, followed by a mug of freshly brewed coffee (yes, like the coffee-geek that I am, I brought with me a pack of fresh coffee beans, a Hario mini grinder and … an Aeropress!). It would be almost noon before I was ready to leave.

The all-day restaurant directly opposite Lazybones. It was cheap and good.

Only for the serious coffee geek -- Aeropress, Highlander beans (from Sg btw) and Hario mini grinder

It was quite easy heading out to Dujiangyan. I simply followed the Ying Men Ke Ou Lu a couple of kms from the hostel, all the way to my destination. Didn’t even turned off once.

It turned out to be a dull ride. Nothing much to see, plus, I had to share the road with a fair bit of traffic. Just before Dujiangyan, however, I caught a glimpse of snow-capped peaks way in the distance; my pulse fairly jumped a bit.

Flat all the way to Dujiangyan. It pararells the elevated railway and the expressway

As I rolled into town, I kept an eye out for some decent digs to roost for the night. Dujiangyan is not a particularly attractive town. Its only claim to fame is an ingenious irrigation system that some brilliant Chinese engineers constructed after taming the Min River – 2,500 years ago! Clever fellows. No wonder they’re such accomplished dam builders.

One of the many irrigation canals in Dujiangyan. Notice how high the water is?

A bright yellow building caught my eye; it had the words ‘7 Days Inn’ screaming in big bold letters across a bare wall. It was also the only hotel around that advertised itself in English. The yellow-uniformed receptionist quoted me 177Y for a room, no breakfast. Too steep for just a night’s sleep. I moved on.

A girl sitting outside a shop called out to me, and although I didn’t understand what she was saying, she couldn’t be offering anything else except a room. I decided to check it out. The entrance was at the back, a little doorway with a sign that probably said ‘hotel’ in Chinese. It looked a bit shady, but her brother was there and said why not have a look first? I half expected a lady of the night to come strolling down the stairs at any moment….but thankfully, it wasn’t that kind of joint.

Hotel entrance cum lobby cum...

..Internet Cafe

60Y was the asking price for a clean, no-frills room; with squat toilet, of course. After I checked in, I went looking for dinner, which was at an interesting looking little diner nearby. It was my second experience with Sichuan street food. All the raw items are laid out in bowls and you simply picked what you want and they’d be cooked for you.

Mandarin is not my preferred spoken language; English is, followed by Hokkien (or Fujian) dialect, which incidentally is a corrupted version of the real thing, being a Penangite and all. And so, I struggled a bit to convey my dinner requirements, but with a bit of gesturing and prompting, I ended up with a decent dinner. I was also to learn that the Sichuanese are very liberal with the use of salt, MSG, oil, and spices, especially peppercorns.

Tai Chao Sichuan style...no lack of variety here

Looks good but ... oily, salty and spicy

View from outside my room window...hawkers selling BBQ, fruits, porky stuff etc

The same scene the morning after. No trace of the night before.

It was an uneventful first day of riding but tomorrow, granny gets her workout for sure.

Sichuan Tour. Day 1, 14 May, Chengdu

Chengdu is big. Very big. It is, after all, China’s fourth largest city of some 11 million people. I was quite impressed with its modernity. But most of all, I was impressed with its provision of bicycle lanes in all its thoroughfares. On the other hand, this isn’t surprising because the bicycle used to be a major form of transport for its citizens. Today, bicycles still rule; except that the Chinese have gotten lazier – it’s all electric now, and it comes in every shape, size and colour.

From the airport, I breezed into the city in a van pre-arranged by the hostel I was staying in. The driver was waiting for me with a scribbled piece of blue A4 paper with my name on it, ‘Michael Khor. Lazybones’.

A bit excessive in the name-calling, you might think, and not the kind of welcome one would expect but… he wasn’t labelling me actually; that was just the name of the hostel.

Hot, balmy and humid it was not (that would be where I’d just come from). The Sichuan weather was sunny with a very agreeable temperature of 22°. Lovely. Didn’t even need air-con in the car.

Lazybones didn’t look too promising from the outside. Located right in the bullseye of the city (which is arranged in a circular manner with 3 major ring roads circumscribing it) on a busy 4-lane road, this was downtown Chengdu.

For slackers, backpackers and cyclo-tourists.

The chill-out area

But inside, it is a welcome oasis from the chaotic streets outside. The local staff are very friendly, speak decent English and sport very funky names – Rogge, Kaye, Sunny, Ivy, Violet, Laura and, the boss-man himself, who goes by the name of … Mix???

Green and orange seem to be the colours of choice here. Not too bad actually. So was the single room I was boarded in. It felt more like a Balinese budget resort, but it was clean, cosy and comfortable.

Rooms are predominantly green while corridors are in Balinese orange

After putting the Surly back together on its 2 wheels, I went looking for food. There was a Sichuan style BBQ 2 doors away and it looked very promising. I ended up enjoying different meats and vegetables. This was my introduction to the ubiquitous Sichuan chillies and peppers – zingy, zesty stuff that’ll liven up your tastebuds with never-before-experienced senses. The low-alcohol Snow beer was a perfect complement.

Tomorrow, I head out to Dujiangyan, a flat 65 km ride to the north-west.