Hello to everyone from Southern China,
This is the third time we are trying to write and send this update as all previous writings have disappeared into e-mail heaven (or hell). If you are reading this we succeeded, if not we will write from Vietnam.
The last time we wrote, we along with a number of other folks, had decided against riding the bus for three days and eating bento box meals for breakfast and dinner. As we found out, this was a wise decision as 6 hour rides turned into 9 and all in all a long and tiring time was had by most.
We had a great time in Kyoto exploring the many sights and took the opportunity to do some nighttime sightseeing, which turned out to me a good move. The city takes on a whole different face what with crowded streets and the many spectacular lights. It was also a good opportunity for us to visit Nara a small city close to Kyoto. The main attractions were the largest Buddha and wooden structure to house it in the world, 1200+ deer which room the grounds surrounding the temple, pesky things as they are fed by tourists, protected by the city and as a result they constantly have their noses in your pockets looking for food. We also visited a beautiful Shinto shrine, which with its natural surroundings and bright colors is completely different from the Buddhist one.
Kyoto to Osaka,
All good things must come to an end and we had to leave for Osaka where we were to meet up with about 50% of the group who were driving in from Hiroshima on the ever-popular buses. The plan was for all but 22 to fly from Osaka to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia the following morning where they would overnight before boarding a flight to Honk Kong (HK), don't ask it is a strange way to get from point A to B. The remaining 22 would stay one extra night in Osaka where they would board a flight direct to HK. Talk about pleased to find out we were 2 of the 22 who would be spared the extra flight ordeal. Since we had a day to explore it was off on the train to Osaka where we managed to once again overdose on people, electronics stores and not much in the way of culture, Osaka is a big, busy, industrial town not unlike anything you would find elsewhere. Osaka to HK, After a very nice breakfast at the hotel it was off for a short bus ride to the airport where we boarded a Cathy Pacific flight to HK. The service was spectacular, the flight on time and since we landed at the new airport no where near as harrowing an approach as when we flew into the old HK airport some 12 years ago. The arrival procedure was painless but the wait to meet the rest of the group, wait for buses, board small buses after a long wait turned what could have been a short day into a long one. Some 5 hours after arriving in HK we were in our hotel waiting to get a shared room for three people. While we enjoy the other riders we have still to get used to random sharing of our living/sleeping/showering facilities with strangers. The evening meal at the hotel was good and we decided to make the most of our short stay in HK and catch a subway train to the heart of HK some 30 minutes away. We decided to walk the Temple Street market, which as you guessed was on Temple Street. This is a street that comes alive at around 5:00PM with to many stalls to count selling everything and anything one could imagine. The thing Mary likes is that the merchants love to barter and Mary loves it as much. After many minutes of some heated bartering Mary was the proud owner of a fake Louis Viet ton wallet that looks like the real thing. This is a must see street in HK for anyone doing the town at night. The next day was a layover day and after depositing laundry etc. it was off to town to see if we could find an optician on a Saturday who could make Mary a pair of new glasses. We found out anything is possible as glasses ordered at 10:30AM were proudly displayed on Mary's nose by 6:30PM that evening. In HK anything is possible on short notice. HK to Wuzou, This was going to be a long day which started with 5:45AM breakfast followed by a bus ride to the ferry a 4 hour ferry ride to main land China then another bus ride this one 4 hours to our first nights accommodations. The trip went well and save the rather dilapidated buses to take us to Wuzou was interesting. Following customs clearance after disembarking the ferry it was loading the bags and bikes and away. When we arrived at the hotel we became the main attraction for the towns folk what with our bags and bikes strewn over the sidewalk and steps of the main hotel in town. The rooms were two to a room and they were rather good considering the age and condition of the hotel. The dinner turned out to be interesting as some of us were seated in the same room as a wedding party. It became clear we were of as much interest to the guests as the bride and groom. Imagine our surprise when the bride and groom who had been going from table to table toasting the guests decided to include the westerners seated in their midst. We all had a great time and toasted them to long life and happiness. Wuzou to Xindu, 101km After what can only be termed a rather interesting breakfast it was off for our first days riding in China, little did we know the type of day we had in store. For the first 70+km of it we rode through construction dodging trucks, mud and very poor road surfaces. In addition we had dust and diesel emissions that made riding rather unpleasant. The saving grace for the whole day was the people we met along the way. It was as if all the countryside had come out to wave us on and say "nee hao" (hello) by the end of the day not only were our bottoms sore but our jaws from smiling, our arms from waving were feeling the pain of an exciting day. The weather also cooperated as it was sunny and temperatures were ideal for our first day in the saddle after three weeks off. The only bummer for the whole day was the accommodations that we stayed in for the evening. Since we were in a small town the group was spread over three hotels (term used loosely) The facilities were very primitive in all but one of the hotels and things worked to varying degrees. The evening's meal was reasonable. Xindu to Zhongshan, 95km Once again breakfast was interesting and we were off for day two of our China section. The country folk were all out once more and it was a day like the one before only with much better roads. The interesting thing was that now "nee hao" was greeted with "hello" as the folks were trying their English on the westerners. Every place we stopped we became the center of attention, even in places where we thought we were by ourselves turned into a spectator sport as the locals had seen very few westerners and even less tandems. The scenery along the route was not special it was the people that made the ride memorable. Once again the weather was sunny and warm great riding weather. Arrived in town to find out we were staying in a much better hotel than the night before. The hotel was clean the rooms did not have a musty odor and everyone was very helpful and accommodating. Before dinner we decided we would visit the local market. This was truly a sight to behold as the meat and spice market presented us with some rather interesting sights especially the meat market, yes there are on display furry little animals that we in North America keep on our laps and walk on a daily basis. On our return to the hotel for a great meal we were accosted by numerous school age children wanting our names on a piece of paper and trying their English. It got so bad we had to almost slow trot to get back to the hotel. Imaging our surprise when we were greeted by an English class and their teacher in the hotel lobby asking for our signatures and once again practicing their English. THIS WAS A SPECTACULAR DAY ONE WE WILL REMEMBER! FOR A LONG TIME. Zhongshan to Yang Shou, 118km Following another interesting Chinese breakfast it was off for another day of weaving and greeting the locals as we cycled along the roadway. Men, women, children, grand parents and great grand parents alike were there to smile, wave and say hello. We also took some pictures with some men who just had to pick up and inspect the tandem, imagine their surprise when we showed them the picture on the digital camera, now everyone wanted a picture. We once again had fine weather and the roads were nowhere near those painted by the organizers. We found the roads wide; reasonably smooth and vehicular traffic while noisy and smelly gave us wide berth and was not as heavy as expected. We also got our first glimpse of some interesting rock formations called karsts (sorry about the spelling). Arrival at check in was rather hectic and when we checked out our room for the next two nights decided it was time to seek out alternate accommodations. Imagine our surprise to find great, clean and reasonably new rooms for $US12 per night. The evenings supper was self cooked on small barbecues and while the food was reasonable trying to fight for space on a 18" x 12" grill with 10 others proved challenging. Managed to find a Magnum ice cream bar after supper that was like eating heaven. The following day was a rest day so we took the opportunity to rent a boat and sail up the river to view some karsts up close and personal. We had lunch cooked on board the small boat and stopped at a small town on the way back where we visited the market before heading back to town on a bus we have rented for our stay in China. All in all a super day was had by all. Yang Shou to Guilin, 68km's. As we woke up to pouring rain we decided we along with 15 others would ride in our rented bus for the trip to Guilin. From what we saw of the filthy riders who straggled into the hotel we made the right choice. The rain came down in buckets and the dirt splashed up was by some accounts the worst to date. Along the way we visited a snake farm (yes kid's a snake farm), which was interesting to say the least. They milk the snakes for their medicinal qualities and as we saw feed the old ones to some mongooses to shock the tourists. We broke down and bought some throat lozenges made from snake things, actually they do work. The hotel is reasonable but the rooms have a rather unique smell and preventive maintenance is a word not yet in the management's vocabulary. We are two to a room and so far after one dinner we can report the meals are great. Mary is not getting very good with chopsticks and is now the proud owner of her own fork, she can be heard saying, "cannot get used to eating with these damn wooden sticks". Mary keeps looking for the golden arches of McDonalds but so far none are to be seen. It is raining again today and we are hoping tomorrow is sunny and warm if not that then perhaps just dry. We are really enjoying China, as are most if not all of the people. The country is developing fast and the infrastructure is coming along at a rapid rate. We cannot say enough good things about the locals they have made the trip very special. Will close for now and write again when we get a chance. Love, Dave & Mary