There are the obvious reasons why one travel blogs. To share travel adventures, through photos and words, trying to encapsulate an experience to the reading and viewing audience. To imbue in others the same excitement, curiosity and inspiration that the blogger felt whilst traveling. To pinpoint exact emotional exaltation.
This is also the general sentiment of why I travel blog as well. The intricacies of it are way more personal. Solo travel for me only started at 24, with a trip to Brno, Czech Republic with a theatre show that ended up, with a very unexpected job in Prague and then a 4-month expedition, tracing my family’s heritage through Eastern Europe. I had never a train before and was thrilled with sticking my head out of the window, letting the wind make my eyes squint, a tornado of my brown hair, like a dog in a car ride. That same trip, I was introduced to couchsurfing. Travel took on an entirely new meaning, where it wasn’t simply placards and buildings and other travelers, it was local people, personal accounts, trans-ocean humour, Ipod music exchanges, one or two dance sessions, a game of golf in Dijon, foraging for dinner in Groningen. All I had read about travel came from books and those books laid out the foundational blueprints of how to travel. Yet there had to be something else, something more expansive and less focused on the MUST SEES and the MUST EATS.
So blogs. First big websites like Trip Advisor (which I still use as a base for exploration), then more obscure travel sites like Atlas Obscura (which, if you haven’t checked out, is the best source for Off the Beaten Path travel oddities), to the worldwide blogosphere of adventurers, trippers, dream followers and spontaneity experts. I was hooked to their words, as many of them weren’t simply telling me what they saw, but how they felt, how places impacted them or didn’t. Blogging is personal creative writing, an individual’s take on the world through their eyes, through their pens, through their keyboards. It can be laced with superlatives, poetics, judgment, digressions, failure, no words at all, all visual. I blog, even if only a few read it, to show them my version of cities and towns, of nature and of bike trips. They are my visceral accounts of the world. They are my endorsement of decorative language, trying to squeeze out the true emotion I felt in a singular moment, possibly written days after. I cannot prescribe nor would I ever want to, a reaction to what I write or how it effects where people decide to go. I hope that the few who do read it, have an opinion or an idea that sprouts from it. I hope, as that’s all one can do with putting writing into the public’s glance, that it pushes people to either travel or challenge themselves, ask questions, look unto other blogs to continue planning or imagining a more complete global sphere.
I frequently embellish memories. I cannot remember exacts, so I shameless fill in the blanks. I blog because I love to write. I love to reimagine what I have seen, to reinvigorate the recollections with verbose imaculations and neologisms (such as imaculations). Though, recent travel, via bicycle gives me the space to write as I travel. I stop where I want and if I feel the urge, I jot down the day, in summation or elongation. I write in a blue tent, where one of the poles is partially snapped due to a crow landing on it, by the waning sun, drifting behind the red mountains just outside of Santa Monica. That is an actual memory. The things that I lock into my brain vault are sometimes obscure fragments. Sometimes, due to my prior habits during travels (drinking copious amounts at night), memories are literally slits of narrow light with broken and blurred images. I write as form of self-preservation, because one of my greatest fears is loosing it all to time. Not necessarily as a legacy of what I have accomplished, but more as something for myself to look back on and simply account for what I have done. Not as somewhat of a CV for pomposity, but more as a timeline that I existed.
While my travels include people and places, I also consciously set quests for myself. I blog to uncover gems, maybe not ones that were necessarily covered by layers of sediment, just ones’ that maybe overlooked, underappreciated, the map to get to them has been used as scratch paper or made into papier-mâché for a birthday piñata (what I am saying is that no one cares where this place is). Blogs and websites are full of hints and my duty with these hints is to test them out and confirm their validity. This description seems quite vague without an example. The city of Xian, China, was the ancient capital for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to cycle the ancient walls and see the UNESCO approved Terracotta Warriors. What very few people know about, is that at the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a ways out of city, another burial plot was opened to revealed, miniature terracotta figurines, along with terracotta livestock and chariots. In total, over 50,000 pieces are on display. Along with this amazing experience, is a very beautifully set up underground museum, with large vaulted glass walls revealing the digs, but beside and below you, you are free to trapes around the tomb area, see several of the tomb gates, and watch an AMAZING hologram film about the history of the site (no 3d glasses required). This place is completely under the radar and when I got there, I basically had free range of the place (think Night at the Museum, minus the reanimation of historical items). There were a handful of different directions as to how to get to this place, since it was in an odd location of the highway, leading north of the city. Armed with a few of these Internet found directions, plus the Chinese characters to this place, I ventured out to confirm this place’s existence. Luck had it that the #4, the first bus I got on and was on my list, was confirmed by the bus driver to be the correct bus. For me, that could happen is I end up going somewhere else and possibly exploring something unexpected. So it’s a win win for me.
I blog to interact with people. Blogs are a dialogue, a community of shared experiences and responses, where the responses may come in the form of words or in exploration of what the blogs’ describe. I hope that as this site builds that this dialogue fills the forums and itinerary of the new site (which will be up THIS MONTH) with evolving dialogues and information that result in people testing the waters, unburdening themselves with limits by asking questions and seeing the blog reflect your inquiries, with maybe not always answers, but further explorations, adding points to the map that I will travel to confirm experiences and places or discover errors, saving you the hassle of a fruitless expedition to nowhere. My blogs and my travels will mirror your dreams, aspirations, desires, or highlight your wonderful memories, follow your deep incites, possibly making travel a more tangible possibility instead of something you do on free weekends or something you’ll do when your decrepitly old.
I blog, because it makes me feel wonderful. It’s me facing my fears as well. I travel around the world, yet I am scared of publishing my writing. I believe it is good, that it is informative and well written, but am afraid of it being said to be otherwise. This is my version of being bold and it holds more importance that what many would be considered a blip, not part of any creative career. But blips are my greatest assets. Microcosms are my favorite worlds. I am worried about not getting anywhere; I am worried about denouncing things in favor of acceptance.
“It not a Great Wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”
-Karl Pilkton, An Idiot Abroad.
After reading information about The Great Wall in his Lonely Planet China Guide and realizing many of the tourist sections of the wall were rebuilt in the 1980s, to include such ancient devices of revelry such as massive, German engineered slides, hawkers selling you skull caps with a single braid of black hair coming out of the back of them and pits filled with suicidal brown bears, Karl was left unimpressed by what some would consider one of the greatest feats of human skill and endurance of all time. Like Mr. Pilkington, I was very wary to see “The Wall”, as I was not interesting in see Great Wall 2.0. Not even 2.0. Mavericks upgrade. Shitty, cheap and simply a money grab.
The GREAT thing about the GREAT Wall is it is humongous. One, I shouldn’t be so judgement, so….yes…one…fine…gentleman attempted to walk the entire length of the wall. For starters, there isn’t just ONE wall. Regardless, He failed. Like not, you were SOOO close. No. He failed miserably. It goes over ice mountain ranges. Like, your ability to walk isn’t how it is in Skyrim in real life, sir. Its Lord of the Ring’s helicopter shot BIG. Back to the Greatness of this, the Chinese government simply doesn’t have enough resources nor care to “tourify” every inch of it and tourists aren’t going to be bothered to trek into the middle of no where to stare at a wall. Or so they think. I wanted to see The Great Wall. Or more so, the Real Great Wall, not the Fake Wall. Luckily there are enough people on the internets that feel the same way.
For all your up-to-date Wall needs, check out: http://www.greatwallforum.com/
Huanghuachang, the Great Wall that goes into a river, due to damming was the planned destination. Buses were researched and on a rainy weekend morning I headed out on a somewhat empty bus from Dongzhimen Central Station. Our excitement was a sweet as sugar, but the rain would not melt it. So maybe it was as sweet as honey as I think precipitation has no effect of that sticky substance. Through the outskirt hills of Beijing, in Huirou city. A few stops. Nothing unusual. Faces come on and off. Sits empty and fill. A pair of eyes meet mine.
“You going to Great Wall”
“Oh. It’s closed.”
Pause. From my research I knew that this was an unregulated part of the Wall. This means no ticket booth or official check in procedures. This SHOULD mean no opening or closing time. I was confused and in my confusion, we got off the bus and loaded into his vehicle. It was like so trance. Like trusting the white panel van full of candy.
“Where are we going?”
“To the Great Wall”
“What? I thought it was closed”
“Mutianyu is open”
Mutianyu was one of the horribly touristic sections of The Wall I had wished to never encounter. We had been duped. The man, who was wearing an official bus staff uniform, removed it. He was a Black Taxi Driver and we were at him whim, along with another white couple that sat in the car with us as well. I counted my wad o’ money. I knew that Huanghuacheng was no longer an option anymore, but I was damned if I was going to pay a zillion dollars to go pay a zillion more dollars to hang out with a zillion tourists on a 5 year old’s macaroni art project, deemed The Great Wall. We came to a “reasonable” deal. Exiting the black cab, we were suddenly drenched from above and from all angles, by rain and dripping hawkers. Pretty sure I don’t need a 4 foot statue of Mao made of the finest plastics. No, thank you, that’s awful kind of you, I just don’t think I am in the mood to buy a pet bird or cat or dog or ?. Though we did need an umbrella. Again, hard bargained, including using the line, I live in Beijing, I know how much this should cost, don’t fuck with me (yeah, I totally have no idea how to say that last line, but imagine that reaction). The adult umbrella was ridiculously priced, so we bought two kid ones. It was like walking on a tight rope, balancing the circumference of the small umbrella perfectly above our heads. Through hawkers row, lined with booths, flashing blinding lights into your retina, like maybe if you were blind you wouldn’t be able to see the piles of shit, drinks, t-shirts, shit and more shit being sold. But, to be honest, they are people just trying to scrape by, so I get it. I feel for them, but on a day where the clouds had opened both physically and metaphorically, I had very little patience to gab. Purchased expensive tickets with a glib smile plastered to my face plastered in wet hair. Climbed numerous stairs up and up and up. AND Viola! On the Wall. Or were we?
The fog, which was as thick as being surrounded by a legion of Santa beards, made it difficult to tell exactly where you were. It felt as if we were on a road in the clouds. The rain was actually a blessing in disguise, as it cleaned the wall of most of the tourists and hawkers. Yet, with map in hand, I had alternative plans. I was heading to the greyed out area at the edge of the map. I was going to see the REAL wall. And no, you can’t go beyond this point sign or cement blockade was going to stop me. Up an over the blockade and finally, we were face to face with antiquity. The fog felt more appropriate here, as if it became part of the myth of the wall, something that existed on a scroll in waves of black ink. We stood atop a crumbling tower, one of the many guard towers that appear along the wall. We followed The Wall for a bit. Old growth vegetation fought its way up through the crumbling structure. At points it was hard to tell where The Wall was and if we were just aimlessly meandering, lost in a sea of evergreens. But then a small rock, a patch of rubble would lead us onwards. We walked for 40 minutes until the underbrush, became the overbrush and we had to turned back, in fears of being engulfed. This part, getting to touch the real stone of this magnificent work, the same stones that the builders had assembled hundreds of years ago at the orders of their Emperor, was the pay off. Done with the Real Wall, the rest of the Wall was simply the elaborate pathway back to the bus stop. But wait! The story doesn’t end there!
I had to go to the washroom. Not being completely savvy in ways of the public washroom at tourist sites in China, I thought there’d be toilet paper. There was definitely not. My favorite game ensued. Check your pockets and see what will work. Several receipts and the umbrella cover. FINALLY, I found an alternative use for those things. Velvety soft.
Famished from the walk and not interesting in indulging in the extremely out of place Great Wall Subway or Baskin’ Robbins, we tried the local inn. The food was meh, but it filled the gap. Unfortunately, the slow service led to us missing our bus. No problem, we’ll just cab somewhere and bus from there. Black carred it to a bus stop. A bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Like NOWHERE. Wait. Wait. Wait…..RAIN. NIGHT. Finally. Bus…..bus comes and takes us into Huirou, where we catch a connecting bus back to Beijing.
The Great Wall is an interesting place to visit and can make a wonderful great day trip from Beijing. Just realize what you are getting into, what you want out of the experience and research alternatives. I ended up making it to Huanghuacheng and it was more of the experience that I wanted. Again, if you want to see an easily accessible, no hassle part of the wall, Mutianyu, may fit the bill. One note: Bring some information about The Wall with you, as it will truly enrich the experience.
More photos and info BELOW! If you enjoy this blog SUBSCRIBE and CHECK OUT the YOUTUBE CHANNEL. A busy summer for EACH MILE!
Quick Dos and Do Nots of the Great Wall of China:
DO your research. There are many sections of the Great Wall to see. Make sure you find a section that fits what you want to get out of the wall.
DO NOT listen to people telling you alternative information than watch you researched, especially shifty guys on the bus. They might be simply black taxis trying to get you to pay exorbitant fares to go with them. The bus will get you there.
DO Bring supplies. Food, water, rain coats, toilet paper. It’s for sale there, but at three times the price. PLUS, I don’t think toilet paper is for sale out there. It’s just a good idea to bring it with you everywhere.
DO NOT listen to the DON’T WALK HERE signs. They are simply trying to prevent you from walking on the part of the Wall they haven’t charged people to walk on. It has nothing to do with Wall preservation. Do you see anywhere else “preservation” happening?
DO bring info about the Wall. It’s a magnificent marvel, but context makes each part of it that much more awe ridden.
DO NOT expect that you will be alone on the tourist parts of the Wall. It will be you and 85 billion people trying to get a picture of the pristine Wall, without dude picking his nose not in the shot.
DIRECTIONS and INFO
The Great Wall – Mutianyu (慕田峪)
Cost: 45 Yuan
The fastest way is to take bus 916快 (express) or 916, which run from Dongzhimen to Huairou Bus Station first, get off at the terminus (or Qingchun Road North End or Huairou North Street), Walk to the bus stop on the diagonal corner of the intersection and take bus H23, H24 or 936 (Huairou to Dongtai) and get off at Mutianyuhuandao. Again, these buses’ numbers change frequently. Best to show the symbols of Mutianyu to the bus driver.
It’s hard to consider living on the road without the feeling that you are shirking your duties. What these duties pertain to, at least in myself, relate to a sort of “suppose to” list of life stages that at certain ages in on the relatively short stint on this earth I have been indoctrinated, through all forms of nurture, that I must hit. Part of the process of living on the road is considering the validity of this society-enforced template of growing up. For me, it didn’t work.
Since this is a travel blog, I hesitate to address bold life statements, so I will keep it as a series of personal revelations. I was introduced to travel by my parents. We did the traditional North American family trip to Mexico every other year. It was nice, but felt surreal, cultural mummification, as if everything you saw was in stasis, ready to perform for the next tourist. That sounds quite ignorant, but I was younger back then and that’s what family trips to those tourist meccas kind of enforce. It wasn’t emersion, but simply a dip in a highly regulated pool.
When I was 24, I was invited to perform in a play in the Czech Republic. I had never been to Europe before and had never travelled on my own. As part of the trip, I planned to do a sort of quick jaunt around the country. I planned meticulously and was very excited to finally travel at my own pace.
I planned for two weeks and ended up living in Prague for an additional 4 months teaching and then three more months travelling around Eastern Europe. I returned back to Canada for a girl. As I stepped off the plane at the Vancouver International Airport, I realized how seriously mistaken I was for doing so. I felt a sudden void inflate inside of me. And that was it. I was infected with the travel bug. Right away I knew this could not be a sometimes thing. I had to figure out how to make this an all time thing.
The traditional aspects of life weighed upon me. Yet in my own rebellious way I had started to challenge, question and answer them.
TA = Traditional Aspect
R = Response
TA = If you get tattoos, you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
R= I am dead, who cares where they put me. Throw me into the ocean, I don’t need to waste land.
TA = Okay. Well, if you get a tattoo, make sure it’s something you REALLY want.
R= It’s just skin. And don’t use the “but when you’re old it will look…” Because when I am old, “I will look”.
TA = Get married, have kids.
R= Monogamy works for some people. It sounds nice in a pastoral poem. You have kids, I’ll be the cool uncle that your kids want to be.
TA = Get a stable job, you don’t want to be poor!
R= International teacher and adventurer is a full time job. It’s stability is concrete in that I am not tied to a steadfast location. Contract ends, I find a job here or move! The world is my job market oyster. I am never poor, as I always have enough to eat, cloth and roof myself. The rest of wealth is stored in the emotional bank and I am pretty happy with the numbers.
TA= But that’s not normal.
R= I strive to be as abnormal as possible. No! It boils down to happiness. That is why I hesitate to generalize. If a suit and tie and Lambourgini make you excessively happy, then do it up. For me, a suit and tie are constricting and a car as a representational of more than cutthroat work ethic, an unshakeable faith in class delineation and sad attempt at becoming the human superlative is as confounding as you may find my excessive facial hair at times, my spontaneous tattoos and my amplified emotional states.
This is not a woe as me narrative, quite the contrary. You should be not just proud of the quirks you are allotted, but the quirks you develop out of experiencing life and discovering what you want of it. Because as I said before it’s a short stint, a snap of the fingers and I did not want to wait until I had to sit on a geriatrics filled bus to be hurled around this planet. I want to see it by bicycle. I want to see it in slow motion. I want to see it now and bask in it all.
Extended family dinners are awkward at times. The question, “what are you doing?” is always asked. I respond in earnest and a lot of the times they smile, in confusion, as if that will remedy their feelings of judgement. I know many of them don’t understand me, but at the same time, they all came around and support me. Good family will always do that, so don’t worry about the disowning factor. You can’t live as a source of vicariousness for people anyways.
So dream. If it’s in line with their dreams, great. If it is off the beaten path, unconventional, constantly moving, great as well. Pursue it all. Fail. Pursue more. Succeed. Nothing is damning. Love your careers and families; maybe I’ll see you somewhere on the vast highways. And it’s not our cup of tea, but we’ll understand why each other like to sip it. Because it makes us happy and that’s the crux of it all the why questions you can ask about existence.
Our bus from the famous karst landscape of Yangshuo sits on the highway in a nameless, industrial spread. The only movement that exists is on the bus, as people squirm in the uncomfortably small and metallic sleeper bunks.
Finally, I jumped down from my bunk, unable to hold on anymore. I had to pee and no traffic jam or on bus facilities would stop me from accomplishing this goal.
In broken Chinese I told the bus driver my intentions and he reluctantly opened the door. Seeing this act of rebellion, several other Chinese men jumped down from their bunks and followed me out of the bus, into the resonating heat of the valley we were in. They followed me in a line as if we were on some sort of school field trip. I had no idea where I was taking this cohort of mostly suited Chinese men.
Fuck it. With limited options I resorted to the tried and tested, pee on a tree (a lemon tree, to be exact). The men, crowding to see what I was doing, looked flabbergasted.
“Peeing on a tree! Good lord! What’s next? Eating cheese???! Barbaric!”
So logically for them, the best place to urinate was in someone’s shed that they found open.
After relieving myself, I climbed up onto the wide highway to see what the hold up was. It was a gruesome scene. A car vs big truck scene, where the body of a man now lay splattered on the road, face covered by a poorly weighed down napkin.
We got into Sanjiang at night. With no leads on accommodations, we found a random lady waiting at the bus stop, whose broken English promise of a ‘warm bed’ seemed like an oasis in the dark. Our room was in a non-descript building near the bus station. It had running water, two beds, slippers and lock. Heaven as far as I’m concerned. Satisfied, we quickly ate some foodly food and went to sleep.
The next day, we were up early, as we had to find this mystical bus to Chengyang, our final destination on this leg of our South China Adventure. I refer to the bus as mystical, not because it’s driver is Greek God or a Wizard, no, it’s because finding buses in China is somewhat of an epic task, as they are constantly changing numbers and services. Crossing the river, following the much-lauded Ipad GPS, we found the bus stop up a hill and miraculously purchased tickets and got on the right bus in one fail swoop.
Forty-five minutes later through farmland, following the Linxi River, we had made it to Chengyang, in the Guangxi Province of Southern China.
Chengyang is a series of 8 villages of the Dong Minority that the Chinese government has made into somewhat of a tourist attraction. What this means is, along with sleeping accommodations, such as ours, the Dong Village Hotel (which was a lovely wooden structure), there is also an entry fee and hockers trying to sell you “local products”, which look oddly similar to items I could purchase in Beijing.
The local Dong Minority are friendly people. They have their own language, but from what I found, many of them understand basic Mandarin. They are known for the Wind and Rain Bridges and their polyphonic choir singing, which is a UNESCO recognized intangible cultural heritage. Their songs and stories are about nature and agricultural work, which are still very much part of the Dong peoples’ lives. Like elsewhere in China, they were curious about us as we walked through their towns, but seemingly were happy to have us there and were excited when they interacted with us, especially the kids. On a random side note, I also found out these people were traditionally involved in bullfighting! That is nuts and doesn’t fit with the image of this truly tranquil place.
We quickly dropped off our stuff at the hotel and went to explore. To gain perspective of where we were, we climbed up some random steps into the forest, past some tea terraces where we found an observation deck that looked out onto the whole valley. If we followed the river to the horizon, we could see the villages, nestled into the green trees and hilly landscape, with their easily identifiable dark wooden tiled roofs and their central cone shaped drum towers.
Not a lot of movement going on below, which in China, is an odd feeling, since even in the remotest of places, hustle and bustle seems to be a national credo that all adhere to.
No, Chengyang is a place for the somewhat slower paced. Though the bridges are UNESCO heritage attractions, it’s remoteness and lack of anything to do (completely subjective, as I found LOTS to do), make it still a safe haven for travelers wishing to just walk around and be with the locals. And that’s what there is to do.
Over the two days we spent there, we made our way from town to town and stopped and sat with people in the traditional drum towers, that act as a meeting point for each town for ceremonies, such as dancing, smoking tons of gross cigarettes, playing cards, washing the town TV (wonder who decides on the channel) and simply a hangout spot:
“Hey, where you at?”
“I’m at the drum tower”
“Ya? What you doing?”
“You know. Sitting around smoking, around a fire, with a bunch of other dudes.”
“Sounds like a blast! See you there!”
Though we couldn’t speak to the older generation that asked us to sit around a fire as they chimneyed smoke from their cracked mouths and blackened teeth, we shared a few international laughs at our situations and shook numerous outstretched hands, liked celebrities. The towers themselves look like wooden Christmas trees, with beautifully painted and decorated interiors.
The main attractions are no letdowns. The Wind and Rain Bridges are defiant marvels, spanning over the Linxi River. Since the turn of the 20th century when they were originally built, hey have survived the elements, without a single nail in their wooden structures. And they aren’t simply covered bridges. Like the drum towers, they are also focal points with many functions to them. They act as a thoroughfare for vendors, a safe haven from the rain and as a place of tranquil prayer at one of the many alcoved temples.
The meals we ate in town varied in quality and if you asked me, I couldn’t name you exactly where or what we ate. And that’s the joy of exploration, the spontaneity of trusting new situations and just putting whatever they have labeled food into your mouth. Though, the food in Chengyang isn’t ex-factor level. It is simple fair of veggies and meat. There are a few local specialties, such as rice wine and cooked pumpkin, which are both delicious and apart.
The towns themselves are fun little mazes to wander through. The buildings are two storied or on stilts (Ganlan houses), tightly compact, intersected by small cobbled passages. Life exists up and down, left and right, and of all variations and species. Where you’d expect a human head to poke out, a rooster stares down at you, head cocked sideways, listening. The sun is all but blocked out of these wooden crevices, and black figures make their way from one house to another, pausing for a curious moment to see us making out way towards the light.
Though the hotels rent bicycles, the immediate villages are easy enough to explore on two, semi-affluent of hiking all day, feet. I, myself, are always curious what’s beyond the tourist map (literally a map outlining the 8 walkable towns), so we did rent bicycles and cycled beyond the Chengyang area. What exists there are other Dong Villages that are also attempting to build up their tourist cred to attract new visitors to their towns. Though, it’s hard to say if this new infrastructure is a local endeavor or the government’s moneymaker.
It’s a place of deep reflection and nature. Sitting by the river and staring at the wooden villages, like stilted reminders of the past, I realized how utterly dense this country is and how diverse it’s makeup is. Many of these people were force fed nationality, of a country they couldn’t be farther from being apart of. And yet that underlying animosity that exists slowly flows downstream. What you’re left with is nature sounds, the window flipping through my book novel. Thank goodness I folded the page to remember my spot.
Some would say that once you saw one village, you’ve seen them all and there’s only one lousy museum with NO English. This is culture at its rawest, real people who have to get up and work the fields or they starve, wells in use, because there isn’t enough water, fires in pits used to heat the room. The museum isn’t MOMA, it’s what some MOMA artists use as inspiration or as reflection upon. It is a room filled with preservation, a rare feat in China, of usable items, of tradition, of belief. But above a basket or a drum tower, the people in these small pocket communities, have the twinkle of a deep routed, energetic spirit in their eyes and are well worth the several bus rides and train rides to get there. Did I mention they use to be in BULLFIGHTING? Ernest Hemingway approved! Travel details and gallery below!
If you arriving from Guilin, you will arrive at the HeDong bus terminal. To get to He Xi bus station walk out of HeDong bus station, turn right and then turn right onto the bridge, when you come off the bridge, keep walking straight across the intersection and the bus station is a little way up the hill on the right.
The address for He Xi is: 三江河西客运站, located in 71 Xingyi St. Sanjiang.
If all else fails, the word Gong Gong Qi Che (Gong-gong-chee-ch’uh) means bus.
Simply saying Chengyang Gong Gong Qi Che should get someone’s attention.
At the end of saying that phrase, if you want to add a bit of flair to your random blurt, you can say “Zai Nar?” (Z-eye N-uhr), which means “where is”.
The word for ticket is “piao” (pee-ow! – like a laser sound).
The bus heading to Chengyang costs around 6 Y and takes around half an hour. From around 7:30am, it leaves when it is full, to around 5pm.
The bus coming back, meets right outside of the main entrance to the park. Make sure you flag it down. The last bus leaves around 5pm.
The bus to Chengyang, was around 10 Y. The park entry fee is 60 Y. There didn’t seem to be a way of avoid this, though, if you can it’s not such a bad thing, since the money apparently isn’t going into the pockets of the locals.
The Dong Village Hotel cost around 80 Y per night, but had spacious, wooden rooms, wireless, western toilets, BIG balconies, overlooking the Linxi river and the Wind and Rain Bridge. They also have bicycles for rent, which we used and were quite well maintained. There are also a few guesthouses in town that are both labeled and unlabeled. I am sure you could also stay with a local for a really, personal experience, exciting for both yourself and your host.
I did see some western food on the menu, but why…..would….you? Eat local and try something new. If you are not allergic to anything and don’t have any food inhibitions, point to something on the menu and get ready to eat a mystery meal.
If you are into trying to local foods, you can attempt to ask the waiter (foo-yan) if there are any local specialties:
“yo te se t’eye ma?
A little bit behind the journal entries. These shall be my “Photo for the Day” for a wee bit:
I pull the covers over my tarnished black legs. At my feet it reads “God Bless America”. Lady Liberty’s flames rub my ballsack. How appropriately you act, my dear femme fatale. Unlike last night, the room is heated and in the same quarters as the couch surfer host. There are no dead flies on this bed and I feel safe to use the various pieces of the bed as what shall keep me warm through the night, rather than a bunch of misrepresented bedding I will try to avoid. When did I last write? Who knows. I am certain I wrote in Townsend…yes…as I stole Quimper’s signal. Good times. Never did go into any shops in Port Townsend. This trip is prepping me for my inability to see it all on the second bike trip. I have no time. I did, for your Global AFCers, have time to do quite a bit of work finding accommodations. More to follow on that front.
Port Townsend was gorgeous. The rest of the day I wandered by bike, following the historic map up Washington Street and Lawrence Street, passed the old warning bell for the fire bragade, passed the unimpressive Rothchild’s house and the unpink Pink House. Try to fit that court house in a shot is a ridiculous task that I absolved myself of by clickity clacking it in portions. Bumped into a lady who invited for internet and spoke about the marvels of wifi. I mistook their movie theatre for a theatre theatre. A man going uphill stopped to explain how great this town in and how when he broke up with his girlfriend he lived at the homeless shelter. I believe just because through break up your house broken, doesn’t you don’t have a pot to piss in. Quite the opposite if you think deep.
The post office was an amazing stone building that seemed a bit to large for this town. Imposing and physically astounding, the former customs house occupied my last 15 before returning to the bus depot to return to Discovery Bay. The millions of numbered cash boxes, the wood liquered panelling, the augmented glass windows, the natural light created skinny half oval pillars of brightness on the ground. I explored, but felt that odd feeling you get when you go into closed door rooms of other people’s houses. Fascinating and overwhelming.
I came home. Shot the shit with Andrew. He showed me the Llamas, a baby goat…
Longest day of my life. Worried that people think I am dead. I am NOT dead. Internet tomorrow to insure that death has not occured. No pictures. Nothing. Biked 100 miles to insanity. Never again…I think the stupid Google Earth sucks teste. Saw lots through Joyce and Sekiu and…..need to rethink trip as I cannot ever do this again. Going to bus at least to Forks tomorrow. Its not cheating…most people do not come out this way. Makah Tribe. Night night.
A day was lost due to scarcity of life left in my loins. Yesterday took my body to a wonderful new place I have never been before. Apologize for my summation of the events that occurred…this past night I have slept in the Forks visitor centre. And much to my own choosing, since I refuse to give a cent to a motel that I will only occupy for 5 or so hours. First daylight and I am gone…gone…gone. I have no real idea as to the next stop, I am trying to hit Taholah. Oh…I slept outside for a bit….damn shoes suck and the water pants froze me even more…the sweat from two days ago’s epics still seeps in its pores. I chose to reside here due to helpful tip from the lovely server at Fork’s Pacific Pizza. I ate a personal pan for no reason. I wasn’t hungry. I am spending cash like a rabid dog…10 bux a day…10 bux a day…I keep trying to convince myself that such frugality is possible with how I want to do this trip. Again, I feel, no avail will come to it at all. I am finally heading down down down after a treacherous day up up up.
Two days ago I did 100 miles in a day. From Sequim, I rode the Discovery Trail to Port Angeles…where it failed…I took it all the way to a split in the ocean that lead to a dead ender at the Nippon Paper Mill. Span around, up a hill, left on 18th, and onto 12 to take my chances with that callus road. That be a road I shall never forget as long as I live. No shoulder, up hills and down hills, twirling and twirling, truckers honking, tempting beaches, warning go 25mi, walking when my knees eroded. Finally, at 7:30, I pulled into Neah Bay…..made it to the Tyee Motel, pulled myself under the awning, near the sign that says “if you need a room, call Cary” and placed my 50 cents in a pay phone and called Vicki, a couch surfer who lived this way. After several attempts….tada…Vicki pulled up in her car and I followed her to Hemlock Road, to Nursery Road, to Hemlock Road, last house on your right.
She gave up her own bed so I could pass out. She fed me Elk Soup and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The next day I awoke. I discussed Makah History with Vicki. She explained how the language was being kept alive and about how her different parts of her family looked at religion, the advent of Catholism, the different parts of where the Makah would roam, the mudslides at Ozette that covered the town for 500 years, the goats that mysteriously appeared on the small Wadah Island and their eventual escape over a rock jetty built to protect the bay. She spoke about the Coast Guard that use to live on Tatoosh Island, a girl named Vicki who she looked up to in elementary school, her grandfather that would teach her to live off the land and her sons who fought and put holes in the walls. She went on about drugs, a Native Art, and her laugh sang to me its own tales. I went to the Makah Museum and learned about the covered Ozette site, where over 50,000 Makah artifacts were found, preserved for 500 years by a mudslide. A whale from the 1999 whaling incident hangs from the ceiling, long canoes sit below it. A long house in its entirety sits in the centre of the museum, built to perfection. I walked the town, bought a note book, listened to people interact…tried to get smoked salmon, but the guy only had tuna. Albert, one of Vicki’s 5 children, showed me how to put up a tent. Simple enough. At 7 I left on a bus to Forks and here I am. Today is a new day at 6am. Gonna try to sleep for 2 hours. Tata.
With Southbend in my rearview (figuratively speaking) and only a few towns ahead til the end of Washington, I set my sights on the town of Ilwaco. Unfortunately, due to a late start and my wandering soul’s good intentions to take everything in, Ilwaco was not where I would end up that night.
Passing the 4,000 intertidal mudflats, the numerous shells strewn about by accident or by design, put this part of the world’s secret on display. The Willapa oyster, smoked, friend or cooked, a gumbo, a burger or raw, was apparently the creme de la creme of oysters. That’s quoting a local resident. Despite what the episode may say, I did for lunch have a fried Willapa oyster burger, and while yes, I’d rather have breaded fish or beef between those two buns, this was pretty damn good with homemade tartar sauce.
So yes! No Ilwaco, yes to some random town called Naselle that had not much more than a shopping centre, a church, a gas station and a motel for 30 bucks a night. After sneaking my bike in the room (they had told me I could keep it outside…if I had to argue for it’s right to stay inside like people due, I would have seemed a bit off), I went to the a-joint restaurant/pub/karaoke bar for some eats and a beer to wind down. Lucky for me, it was karaoke night and in a small town like this one could only imagine the wonderfully unique inebriated locals that would come spitting their sorrows into a song. Well tonight was a good night, because it seemed to be biker night. Not just any type of biker, but as I sat at the bar conversing with the bartender a wide-stanced shadow lured me to see who had entered into our midst. There stood the large sized lot, posed like a pose take a photo, tattoos faded, masses of blotchy colors, hair blowing in the wind. Drinks were consumed like bullets from firing squads, laughs drowned out conversation, slaps on the back would have hospitalized me. Their women sat on their laps, my knees hurt from thinking about such weight situated on my frail frame. Nothing was frail about these ladies, their saliva was iron ore, their sweat was ethanol, their glance made doors where walls once were. Then the singing commenced. Duets, solos, manage a trois, a guy constantly laughing and talking to his friends instead of singing, you name it, it happened. A large man, who reminded me of Gimli from Lord of the Rings, perched tidiously on his stool beside me, the leather screatching beneath him as he swivelled to catch the performance. We talked, I don’t remember about what, partly because it was about nothing, partly because his English has turned into slurred jargon. He introduced me to “Bill, Ted, Ryan, Ethol” a slew of characters from his motley crew. It was his turn to sing, he stared at me for support, so I sang loud too, not knowing what the hell I was singing. He asked where I was staying.
“Right here, at the Inn”
“Wellllll….whhhhhy don’t you come stay with uuuussss??”
“Well, thank you, but I already paid for my room”
“I can take care of that”
Not wanting him to take care of that or me or anything, I slowly slunk out, like Alice at the tea party and passed out in my room, exhausted and beer smelling.
The next day I packed, returned my key and zooooom, I was on the Columbia River, one of the widest rivers in the US, Oregon was on the other side, but it was still a world a way. Many boats over the centuries have been engulfed by this moody body of water and I saw a few victims washed up on the shore. Lewis and Clark, the great explorers almost died in the Columbia several times. I tried to imagine crossing such distance in a canoe. I looked at my arms. Not much there, I would probably have capsized two strokes in. In boats, unlike bicycles, there are no downhills, no cruising. And before me stood my only way across this monstrosity of H2O that separated the two states. The Megler Bridge, one of the largest bridges in the states, over 4 km in length, I wasn’t really sure if bikes were allowed to be on it. Well, there wasn’t really an information booth insight, unless I wanted to round the bend, go in the wrong direction, back to Ilwaco. To hell with it, it was windy, so might as well throw caution to it and see where it flies. And fly I did, cars zoomed passed me, my camera tried to capture the moment I crossed over the boarder, you barely can make out the Oregon sign. Winds tried to hurl me off the side into the blue below. Not a single car honked, so I knew I was in the clear on that front. I wasn’t in the clear for many other fronts. Headwind tried to blow me back into Washington as well. The clouds were heavy and looked like at any moment they would unleash, slickening this already terrifying crossing. At the last moment, the bridge turned upward, into a steep incline. So this is where the boats go under….so happy it’s at the end and so suddenly. My legs screamed at the sudden hill, my hands worked quickly, changing my gears around so I could manage. There was no possible way I could stop and readjust. Finally, the incline, declined. I was in Astoria. I was in Oregon.
Washington had been my learning curve of the basics of touring. Oregon would be the intermediate and hard level as the landscape turned into a roller coaster of peaks, cliffs and gullies. As I sat in a coffee shop, staring at the poster proclaiming that Ninja Turtles had been shot in this town, I thought of how great this trip has been a rekindling my inner child, how much fun it was to play again, how one should never loose this light, this light that keeps one exploring, and wondering and being curious about all things, making the world new everyday.
Svoge. A town like many others where we stopped to enjoy the lush scenery for a few, idling moments, just enough time to catch our breaths and then we were off, down another hill or along the side of another mountain pass. Time is so crucial when you’re on two wheels and have some place to be. You can’t meander as much as you’d like to meander, you can’t bask as much as you’d like to bask. But it gives you a postcard, a reminder of where you’d like to return to. I’d like to return to Svoge.
After conquering a few days before of torrential down pour, that made it so the road and the sky were one, constant, grey, maniacal flood, it was nice to have a middle of the road weather day, not too hot, not too cloudy, not to wet. The Bulgarian country side was new to us as we headed through beautifully lush, jutting cliffs, switchbacks that seemingly played tricksters, luring you to plunge from wheel or panier first into the brown, slow moving Iskar River below. Towns like this in the Sophia province, seemed to appear out of no where around every bend, looking like small hamlets, yet a bit more sterile and grey in architecture. It was quite a surprise that the lead up to Sophia, the capital, was miniscule, off tune slide whistle, as opposed to a whole cavalcade of wind instruments, blowing, red in the face, with victory!