WELCOME TO CHINA – COUNTRY UNDER CONSTRUCTION
17th June Huanguoshu Waterfall
I am sorry that we are not blogging as often as we would like. The reason is that we cannot access our blogging site properly in China and therefore have to write them on the laptop and send them back to my brother to publish for us.
Right now we in a hotel in Huanguoshu, where there is a very large waterfall that is supposed to be one of the key highlights of this province, Guizhou. We arrived too late to enter during daylight and were lucky enough for them to be doing a night lightshow (apparently because of the world cup). So we had some supper and descended 559 (Ants counted them as we ascended) steps to see the waterfall illuminated by green floodlights. I have never seen a waterfall by night and it was quite impressive- I actually think we enjoyed the experience more than if we had seen it during daylight.
Back to the last 2 days of driving. The roads seem to have improved since we left Yunnan, although rather than being bad all of the time, they are now bad just some of the time. Today’s drive had mostly good tarmac, but we were slowed down by the steep and windy mountainous roads. TT has a front disc brake and back drum brakes. The disk brake is a motorcycle brake and is used for about 80% of our braking power. This is not ideal when we are descending steep windy roads and instead of speeding up between corners, we have to keep her in third gear and use the engine as our main brake. This is not a criticism of her construction, because it is the only way that she could be built- she is not big enough to have a front brake like a car.
Yesterday was possibly our most challenging day, although I didn’t find it as mentally tough as the driving last week. Our accelerator pedal had felt really stiff for awhile and we think it had begun to get more stiff. I spoke to my dad and he warned that the cable may snap. Lo and behold, I am driving down the road and the cable snaps. We were right out in the sticks, with the nearest form of civilization 20 minutes away. I phoned Anuwat (our tuk tuk maker and guru from Expertise) and told him the problem. He told me that it was really easy to fix and that we needed to find a spare cable. Thank goodness Anuwat had sent us on our way with two full boxes of spares which live on TT’s roof-rack. We located the cable and Anuwat explained that we needed to unscrew the front seat and get access to the engine. He then explained that we needed to find the carburetor. I responded that I didn’t know what the ****ing carburetor looked like, to which he burst out laughing. We toyed with the idea of hitching a lift to the next town and getting a mechanic to come and help us. However, the fact that Anuwat had said it was easy to fix made me want to try it without help. The next two plus hours were spent on our hands and knees or back fixing the problem. This involved removing the old cable and putting in a new one. If we had to do the same job again it would probably take just 20 minutes, but we were trying to cut a new cable complete with plastic sheath down to size. A truck mechanic came over and told us it would be easier to just insert a new cable rather than try and cut a new plastic sheath down to size as well. You may wonder why we found it so hard to cut a plastic sheath, but the problem was that the plastic sheath had a metal coil wrapped around its inside and this was tricky to cut without crushing it and therefore affecting the movement of the cable inside. We gave up on our original idea and instead just inserted a new cable into the old plastic sheath. We then had to make sure the tension was correct and cut it to size, so that it did not dangle on the floor. Eventually we succeeded, a combined effort from Ants, myself and Sam (our brilliant guide). It was with great trepidation that I started the engine and drove off, unaware whether the tension would be OK. To our great relief TT was driving like a dream. Once in the next town we asked a mechanic to check our handywork and he said it was fine. I cannot tell you satisfying doing our own mechanical repairs was, even though it left us with many hours still to drive.
The rest of the day was OK, apart from a rather hairy patch of road that was under construction. I have decided to get a T-shirt made which reads “China, Under Construction”. The driving here is the worst I have experienced anywhere in the world. The Chinese make the Indians look like Formula 1 drivers. There is no regard for other road users at all and wing mirrors are not used. People here may as well be wearing blinkers (like horses) for all the attention they pay to other road users. Even if we are on a good stretch of tarmac and could drive at 60mph, it is very dangerous to do so for a number of reasons e.g. a buffalo cart doing a U-turn, a huge Dong Feng truck overtaking and playing chicken with TT.
Our day ended with a tropical downpour. The rain was like nothing we get in England. It is like having buckets of water thrown at you from all angles. I hate getting wet; when I was a child I would cry if my feet got wet. When the rain started I went out of TT with Sam and we put down the back rain covers, with me holding a limp and useless umbrella over my head. We hoped the rain would pass, but it got stronger and stronger, until everything in the back was soaked, having come in from the front. I had to get out and put down all of the covers. I screamed at the top of my lungs and got soaked to the bone. Ants was driving, it was dark, pissing with rain and really windy. We eventually made it to the hotel at 9pm. It was a town that I doubt sees any westerners and we park TT outside and emerge sopping wet and stagger into the hotel. I think they could hardly believe their eyes!
Over to Ants…
Well I won’t repeat Jo but this country really should welcome all visitors with a sign saying ‘Wecome to China – country under construction.’ Everywhere you go a plague of blue Dong Feng lorries blights the countryside, the beginnings of new expressways march across the mountains and piles of rubble litter the roadside. You can not drive more than 10 km without being met by queues of honking traffic waiting to pass a motley crew of roadworkers, smoking cigarettes and ostensibly improving the roads. It gives true meaning to the phrase ‘developing country’.
The last few days have, as Jo has aptly illustrated, been incredibly tough. We covered 270 km in 11 hours yesterday, and 240 km’s in 9 today. Yesterday was hellish; not only did we have to deal with fixing the accelerator cable (when Jo yelled down the phone to Anuwat ‘ I don’t know what the f*** a carburetor looks like’ I thought we were in deep trouble), but we got totally drenched by the most violent tropical rainstorm I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. So suddenly was it upon us that by the time Jo had bravely leapt out to put down the raincovers us and all our stuff was drenched. All I cared about was the DV camera, which we wrapped in my tropical poncho and luckily saved from a watery grave. You should have seen the faces of the people at our hotel last night as a pink tuk tuk pulled up and three sodden individuals crawled out. Jo’s T shirt ‘What the fook fook is a tuk tuk’ summed up the situation perfectly. However, the comically bad karaoke - a feature in every hotel here – soon had us laughing hysterically and forgetting the hardships of 11 hours on the road.
So now we find ourselves in Guizhou province. A traditional saying states that here there are, ‘No three days without rain, no three hectares without a mountain and no three coins in any pocket’. They also have a predilection of dog meat, which has me looking at every dog wondering if it is dinner or a pet. We’ve already experienced some of the regions famous karst landscape, and the roads today have taken us through some incredible mountains, rice terraces and lakes dyed electric green by the limestone. As for the roads, they are definitely better than Yunnan, but still hard work. The potholes are smaller but the S bends just as challenging. Having said that though, we did encounter a stretch of road this morning that had me wondering how the hell we would make it across. At one point I had to hang off the side of Ting Tong to balance her as Jo navigated one particularly deep rain-filled pothole. Slightly hair-raising.
The roads may be better but the driving is still totally bonkers. Our ‘best’ stretch of road yesterday was perhaps the scariest we have encountered; buffalo carts doing U turns onto the carriageway, trucks coming straight at you down the wrong side of the road and upturned nails where temporary speed bumps once were. You can’t afford to lose concentration for a nanosecond. I still can’t work out why so many people here seem to favour driving the wrong way down dual carriageways, or going round roundabouts backwards.
One final thing. The loos here are the worst I have ever encountered – think Glastonbury day three and you are almost there. I nearly vomit every time I have to use one, much to Jo’s amusement. She certainly has a stronger stomach than I have.