Into China now, and what a marked difference from Laos. Our border crossing was seamless, but it was apparent immediately that rules and regulations must be adhered to. After I was processed via the passenger lane at the border I went to Max and Penny at the boom-gate and had a friendly conversation with the border guard and hopped in Penny. My bad. I wasn’t supposed to do that, and it was indicated to me that I needed to get out and walk 5 metres ahead; when I was then allowed to get back into Penny after passing through the entry gate. Max and I realized immediately that our casual Australian disposition needed to be sharpened up a bit here.
There was a four-lane highway north of the border, a marked difference to the rough dirt roads in Laos; and also now with lots of Police border checkpoints.
Construction littered the landscape and huge grey concrete pillars grouped across the land. These fortresses are the roots of the proposed new highways and railways which connect China to neighbouring countries.
The surrounding mountains were covered with rubber plantations, with several National Preservation Parks however, where there are Asian elephants in the wild. I looked, and looked. I looked for rustling in the trees. Of course it would be totally impossible to see a wild elephant driving along the highway at 90km per hour.. but hey… it was worth a look… but however I didn’t see any. Lol
It wasn’t long after leaving Jinhong, quite a large town close to the border; that the landscape became agricultural and the rural nature was more similar to what we had seen in Laos. Rice. Bananas. Corn. And piles of firewood stacked neatly along the walls of fragile buildings.
Tobacco was a crop which we hadn’t seen growing before and the ragged stalks indicated much of the crop had been recently been harvested. The familiar sight of tall tobacco barns made me think of the similarities between all peoples to process crops in the same way across the world; as I know what tobacco barns look like. It was the first crop Max’s family grew when he was 6 years old, so he was very interested in seeing it being grown and harvested. I smelled the musty smell of cured tobacco as the trucks passed carrying it to the processing factories.
We’ve planned to stay off the highways, and our drive from Zhenyuan it was like we had gone off-piste! The route we had planned was closed so the new path was a track through the rural countryside. It was fabulous! Very bumpy and quite a tough drive with trucks also navigating the narrow road, but it was fascinating winding through the small rural villages. Evidence of the construction of highways striped across the rural land and led into arched tunnels in the mountains.
Large domed ovens were surrounded bricks in littered piles. The workers shovelled the mud into frames alongside these domes where the bricks were fired.
As we drove further north the main crop was the walnut; which were being harvested. All forms of transport carried the bulging bags of them to the local store, where it seemed that the farmers were being paid immediately as cash was exchanged for their crop.
I smelled eucalyptus in the warm air and I realised we were surrounded by eucalyptus plantations. We passed a large processing mill and sheets of plywood made form the Eucalyptus wood-chip were drying vertically in the sun.
A large pineapple sat perched beside a long line of stalls selling pineapples. Of course we had to stop and choose a couple of naturally ripened fruit. I learned a new way of cutting them from the lady who so adeptly made small pieces using a VERY sharp cleaver and by just holding the top of the pineapple. They were just soooooo delicious!!
Large groups of road working gangs lined the road to either sweep it or plant large trees which had been extracted from another location. Hundreds of kms of 4mt high pruned trunks flanked the road; most of which had died but were supported by crossed staking supports. Perhaps there weren’t summer rains and the trees didn’t have enough water? Perhaps this transplantation scheme was part of the responsibility to revegetate? Whatever the reason… it seemed like a huge waste of energy as large road gangs were continuing to plant in the hot dry conditions.
People seem to be busy here; except between 12 and 2.30pm. Everything seems to become quiet as the roller doors on small businesses close up and people retreat into their homes during the hottest part of the day.
Lunch in China has been so wonderful for me. Our guide Tom, has gone to extreme lengths to ask for food to accommodate my Coeliac diet; and the small roadside kitchens are absolutely fantastic the way the vegetables and meat are selected from a narrow glass door fridge and stirred and flipped feverishly with flames of fire engulfing a huge blackened wok. Each day we’ve been enjoying vegetables we aren’t accustomed to and able to source in Australia and its been fabulous. I’ve even learned how to prepare and cook freshly picked local bamboo shoot!! It was soooo good!
I Dali I had a fabulous afternoon learning a special tie-dyeing technique from the local Bai women. I stitched the cotton and wrapped the sections tightly with thread and immersed in a boiling indigo vat. I had heaps of fun and Max and our guide and driver also really enjoyed the afternoon as well.
Today we are in Lijiang after a short trip up the highway. Rain thwarted our planned rural route, and we were fortunate to not have to slog climbing slippery, winding mountainous roads today. We walked the Ancient city which was lovely. Very touristy – but a pleasant evening wandering and I even joined a local community traditional dance which was fun.
Penny has been going well except for a small hiccup yesterday. Max went with our guide and driver to get 2 new washers manufactured for the steering arms. Max’s ability to be resourceful meant that by lunchtime Penny was off the jack and ready to go.
Each day we climb higher and higher. Tonight we are at around 2500mts of elevation. We will be climbing up on to the Tibetan Plateau over the next few days… so will be in touch again when we can.