Drowned in mouth numbing Sichuan pepper, you must close your eyes and forget that you are eating chickens feet, somehow black in colour and chopped up in such a way so as to guarantee an annoying piece of bone in every mouthful of fatty skin. But, believe it or not, it tastes quite ok. Each meal is ordered by pointing at pictures of mushrooms, eggs, cow (or pig or chicken if met with a frantic negative head movement) and a general finger motion over the page with vegetables. Of all the meals so far, we have not eaten the same thing twice, but we have eaten amazingly well.
This is day 3 of cycling in China, and what a roller coaster it's been. Due to limited time we spent the first 12 hours on a packed train, scrounging for every centimeter of space we needed for any sort of comfort. Meanwhile a young boy slept under our seat and 20 others crammed into the space designed for 10. Among the hustle and bustle by some miracle, a wagon of hot food is ushered down the isle, over a foot here and a child there, but all without stopping the constant cry of, who knows, "food coming" maybe? If only I knew. Soon after the merchandise begins to circulate through the throng, first UV lights for helping with the Chinese obsession of checking for counter fit money, then flashing toys, cigarettes (even though it says No Smoking in the carriage, wishful thinking), tiger balm, tacky holograms and finally my favourite, a torch with a built in electric shaver! Just what everyone needs packed like sardines in a sauna-like train.
The bikes had to be shipped as goods separately, pay the money and hand them over to be collected at the other end the following morning. Works well if you use an elbow or two to hassle your way to the desk where dozens of locals "assist" the clerk by putting all their papers in place for her. In due course my papers make their way to the right place and two bikes are produced as shipped.
Chinese road builders are far less patient than their Indian colleagues, opting for steeper, shorter routes over the incredible topography of the Himalayan foothills. Sweat pours as I work for each turn of the pedal in the tropical heat. The weather cools, but the hills don't as we pass deep, rugged ravines, wide, lush valleys and numerous rivers stained brown from the over active erosion in this ever changing landscape.
It's not long before we are invited for walnuts, roast potatoes, apples, mandarins, pomegranates, cucumbers and Chinese moon cakes. Communication goes little beyond a smile and a hello in most cases, often we are met with just total silence. A curious stare or total indifference. It's not long before be arrive at a Chinese tourist attraction, an answer to why we are passed by hundreds of fancy Japanese and European cars everyday. It is the 60th anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China and the wealthy city dwellers are on holiday. After another gruelling climb our first glimpse of Lugu lake is a line of 200 cars waiting to pay a rather expensive fee to enter the national park. We fork out and head into the park where we are quickly invited to join a group of young people for dinner before cycling to the lakeside in the dark to pitch my tent on a deck out over the lake with at least 100 others. Here manyholiday makers speak English, a total contrast from the previous days.
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