Heading South – and no dogs for lunch, thanks

We’re back in Lijiang, where our tour began. Except this time we’ll be turning our wheels south, towards Laos and Thailand in search of sun and warmth. If we’d thought about it, we’d have started in Chengdu and ridden south from there. But we didn’t, as our minds were full of aspirations of cycling to Lhasa, only to be blighted by visa restrictions and an impending winter.

This means we’ll effectively be stitching together two routes and making a complete Chengdu-Bangkok ride; a tour from China’s mountainous South West into the tropics of South East Asia. And we’ve gone light for Part 2, now that we’ve left the bulk of the big passes behind. One of the trailers has been sent home, along with our camping kit and bundles of warm layers, so Cara will be running rear panniers and we’ll be guesthousing it from here. Shipping costs were good – 16kg to the UK for 30GBP by sea. As ever in China, it all felt very official and ‘un-Indian’. The China Post-issued, regulation-sized box was stamped with neat but mysterious Chinese character stencils after being thoroughly checked by customs, then bound up nice and tight, and sent on its way – a journey time of around 8 weeks.

Here in Lijiang, the sun is shining too; standing against the blue sky in the shape of an unhealthy ECG reading is 5500m Mount Yulong Xueshan, completely lost in a drizzly gloom when we were here last. Old Town was milling with flag-chasing tour groups, so after breakfasting on a couple of baskets of dumplings dipped in chilli and garlic sauce – 60p – we hit Lijiang’s new town. Everyone was out and about, making the most of the good weather. The centre is a weird pastiche of architectual styles – the usual, white tiled blocks, odd looking domes and blue mirrored offices. Various amusing signs caught our eyes, like the Vigorous Fitness Club, and the enigmatic labelling on a tube of hand moisturiser: Moisten an Estate Agent. Ah, of course, moistening agent. The town’s huge statue of Chairman Mao looks a little lost admist all the shiny new shops and developments. A young, hip Chinese couple on folding bikes clambered up for a pic, the guy’s spiky hair and Aviator shades standing out somewhat incongrously against a stern Old Mao.

In the land of imitations, I picked up a look-a-like Camelback Blowfish made by the Chinese outdoor brand Neeko, for a reasonable 10GBP. It’s the perfect size for an SLR, my notebook and a layer, so when we’re exploring towns, I can leave my over-the-shoulder bar bag behind – lugging it around always gives me a sore back. Cara bought herself some perscription glasses – a quirky, upside-down frame and ‘high quality’ lenses set her back just 25GBP. The opticians appeared to double up as the reception for a semi-swanky Chinese hotel. Going to the loo upstairs felt like stumbling upon the villain’s den from a Bruce Lee film: pretty girls in embroidered silk and traditional print uniforms, blood red, plush upholstery, and ornately carved, semi-circular archways leading off down dubious corridors.

As for our accommodation, we’re staying back at the Carnation Guesthouse, a great little place. Our simple room is set back from a wooden veranda, around a spotless courtward full of potted plants, and the owners are lovely people too. There was a slight misunderstanding this morning when I thought they were inviting me to eat the smaller of their two dogs; they pointed to it, then their mouths. In fact, we were just being warned that it bites. It didn’t matter too much, and as I’d already politely refused, saying I was full.

Tomorrow we’ll head south towards Dali, then make a dash to the border before Cara’s visa runs out.


5 Responses to “Heading South – and no dogs for lunch, thanks”

  1. 1 Simon November 20, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    Good luck on the journey South. I have been busy researching HDR before the trip and trying to decide what to take as a final kit. If you get time to check it out at an internet cafe look at the gallery on http://www.lonelywolf.pl and check out the links at http://www.hdrsoft.com/resources/index.html. The key is to auto exposure bracket by at least two stops either side so that the image can be post processed. It works especially well where there is a broad tonal range (highlights and shadows)…sunsets…sunrise…indoors with window lighting. Check it out and be ready to take a few Raw images so you can practice back home during those long winter nights.

    Good luck with the next few days…just remember what happened last time you went light and fast without camping equipment on Sach Pass late in the year. I can hear Cara shivering from here…

  2. 2 otbiking November 22, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks Simon, will check out the links.

    If you are shooting in RAW, do you need to bracket the pictures? Can you not just do this when you’re processing them, and make two copies – one adjusted for highlights, the other for shadows?

    Just in from a 130km day, sun all day! Travelling light feels good (-: Just hope it doesn’t get cold rainy, at least until we’re further south…

  3. 3 Simon November 22, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    You need at least 1EV bracketing…+-2 EV over 5 shots is better in high contrast shots. Important to minimise movement so use the motordrive to take all five shots back to back (the camera will pause after the preset 3 or 5 shots). You need to switch to manual focus and switch off the auto White balance to ensure that you get a consistent focus point and colour cast. Finally, set the mode to Aperture priority so that the only thing that changes is the shutter speed. You need to under and over expose so that it records data in the areas that would be too dark or bright in one shot. You can’t recover data on luminence that isn’t recorded.

    We went to one of the Wilderness Lectures in Bristol last night with Rob. A guy was talking about a series of winter trips up the frozen Zanskar river. It looks like the guys from Expedition 360 are speaking in the new year. You should be back for it. Alastair Humphries gave a talk at the same series a few weeks ago.

    Love to Cara…S

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