26 October - Qinzhou – Nanning – 127 km
The price of
my room included breakfast, which was a rather interesting
affair. Loads of stir-fried veggies with chili, boiled eggs, and
soy milk was the order of the day. With a belly full of Chinese
food and enough heartburn to make me feel like the
fire-breathing dragon, I searched for a road that would lead me
to Nanning. Getting out was rather easy, but soon the dreaded
roadworks started again, and it was slow going through potholes
and muddy ponds. It did not take long for both me and the bike
to be totally covered in mud. Again, there was not much I could
do but try and avoid the biggest holes and stay out of the way
of the trucks as much as I could.
everything comes to an end, and I was back in the countryside
again. Although very scenic, I thought it a bit sad that so many
of the old villages were now abandoned as the occupants had
moved to the city in an attempt to elevate poverty (which it
did). Cycling into Nanning was quite a mission as not only is it
home to 7.1 million people, but there were also massive
highways, flyovers, and roadworks, and then there was me trying
to get into the city centre.
stopped to photograph me; others hung out of car windows with
mobile phone in hand trying to snap me as they drove past. Gosh,
haven't they seen a "Big nose" on a bicycle before? It took
forever to get to the city centre and, halfway there, my GPS
directions stopped working! Arghhh! Eventually, I arrived at the
hostel, which was conveniently situated right in the city
centre. Unfortunately, it was on the third floor. I was in no
mood for schlepping my stuff up the stairs, but there is little
I can do about it. After a few huffs and puffs, I was
comfortably ensconced in my nice room.
27/28/29 October, Nanning
I had plans
of doing loads of things, but in the end, I wasn't able to do
anything. I had to make up my mind in what direction I wanted to
go; it made the most sense to take a train to Beijing and cycle
south to Xiamen, where I left off last time.
Armed with a
note from the hostel as to where and when I want to take the
train, I took a walk to the train station. It was large and
busy, like most places in China, but eventually I had a ticket.
Unfortunately, I could only get a top bunk, which everyone
warned me to avoid. Once that was done, I took a bus to Yangmei,
an old village on the outskirts of Nanning. The bus ride took
1.5 hours for 25 kilometres, giving an idea of the condition of
the road! I walked around for an hour or so, and as the last bus
back to Nanning was at 4:30 p.m., I soon had to start heading
back to the bus station.
following morning, I loaded the bike up and cycled the short
distance to the train station. Fortunately, I already had my
ticket as, although there are about four or six trains a day,
the trains were all full. Getting the bicycle on the train was
also a fairly painless affair. The baggage area was in the
next-door building where they weighed the bike and bags and
placed all the panniers in one large bag. In the end, I paid
about as much for the bike and panniers as for myself. I was
warned that the bicycle may not arrive at the same time as me
and that I should then go back to the collection centre the
following day to collect it. I rearranged my panniers and took
one with all I needed with me, keeping in mind that the bike and
panniers may not be there for a day or two.
bunks were like most trains, stacked three high with the top
bunk having no window and very little head room. As everyone is
lying down, there are very few places to sit except for two
passenger foldout chairs and a little table with the result that
one is very much in the public eye. Not only did everyone in the
vicinity want a photo with the foreigner, but they seemed to
come from the other coaches, as well. Word must have spread! In
the end, I climbed to my bunk and pretended to sleep, giving
myself a break from the photo shoot.
At the end
of the coach was a large urn with hot water, which was in high
demand as the snack trolley came around every so often, loaded
with cup noodles and other popular Chinese snacks. It was all
terribly well organised, with each bunk having a set of snow
white linen, and the cleaning staff came around on a regular
basis, mopping and sweeping the passage.
I slept well
as the train ran smoothly, and I hardly knew I was in a moving
vehicle. The following day went by uneventfully as we chugged
our way past beautiful scenery, flying past way too quickly to
my liking. We arrived in Beijing after 5 p.m., and by then it
was already dark.
was not on the same train (something I had expected), so I went
in search of a hotel near the train station. I walked and walked
but could find nothing at a reasonable price, and to my
frustration, the cheapies did not allow foreigners. What made
matters worse was that it was not the central train station
(which I thought it would be). Instead, we stopped at Beijing
West, 10 kilometres west of my intended destination. I also
discovered that Beijing is an expensive mega city, easily on par
with Europe and America. In the end, I opted for a taxi ride to
the hostel I had in mind from the start. Interestingly enough,
the first two taxis wanted 200 yuan (which I though was a bit
steep), so I made my way back to the taxi stand at the train
station where I managed to get a taxi at 50 yuan. Even a bed in
a dorm was more expensive than what I normally pay for a room! I
also made the shocking discovery that it was already too late in
the season for this part of the world. It was cold and in my
skimpy clothes I was ill-suited for this climate. Fortunately,
the room had heating, and I slept well.
31 October/ 3 November – Beijing
priorities had changed, and first thing in the morning I was off
looking for cold weather gear. With teeth chattering, I found
The North Face and requested their warmest jacket they had in
store. Thank goodness for a translating app.
unpleasant surprise awaited me as I wanted to pay as both my
cards were declined! I was in utter shock and took a brisk walk
back to the hostel where I contacted the visa office. The
verdict being that I have incorrectly entered my pin too many
times. That was weird because I know that number by heart. The
result was that the card was blocked, and to make a long story
short, it could not be rectified. The debit card still worked;
the only problem was that most of my money was on the credit
card, which I used as a debit card. By then, it was fairly late,
and I headed off to the train station to collect the bicycle and
back, freezing as it was, I managed a frozen half-smile as I
realised that there I was cycling in Beijing with its 23 million
people, and I felt small as I cycled past the famous or infamous
Tiananmen Square. It was marvellous, absolutely marvellous! I
ducked and dove through the traffic back to the hostel and tried
the debit card again. At least this time, it spat out some
money, enough to pay for a rather expensive goose down jacket.
With money in my wallet and a warm jacket on my back, I could
breathe a sigh of relief, and for the first time in 24 hours, I
felt relaxed in spite of the cold. I donned my new jacket and
gloves, grabbed the camera, and set off on a walkabout past the
Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. What a remarkable city it
packed up and cycled out of Beijing. I had all the warm clothes
I could possibly wear, from beanies to gloves and from a down
jacket to thermal underwear. Leaving Beijing is not interesting,
but at least it's easy with wide cycle lanes on most streets. My
idea was to follow the ancient Grand Canal of China. I therefore
headed to the "start" of the canal at Tongzhou Canal Park.
Canal is a vast waterway system running from Beijing to Hangzhou
further south constructed in the fifth century BC onwards,
creating the world's largest and most extensive engineering
project before the Industrial Revolution. By the 13th century,
it consisted of more than 2 000 kilometres of artificial
waterways, far surpassing the next two of the world, the Suez
and Panama Canals. The canal was placed on the UNESCO's World
Heritage List in 2014, and although I did not think one could
cycle right next to the canal all the way, I wanted to give it a
try and expected to see many interesting and historical things
along the way.
30 kilometres, I reached the official start/finish of the canal
and found a lovely cycling path for a good stretch along the
canal. The air pollution was so bad, though, that one could
hardly see anything. In fact, the air quality was so poor that I
could hardly breathe and had a blocked nose despite using a
nasal spray. I was seriously considering a face mask like what
most Chinese use around here. I'm sure it is just a matter of
time before I get a lung infection. I left so late, and the
travel was so slow that I only did about 80 kilometres before
stopping for the night. With it being winter, the sun went down
fairly early (around 17h00), and I did not want to push my luck
4 November – Anping – Tianjin – 80 km
I was in no
particular hurry as I anticipated another short ride to Tianjin.
It was, however, even colder than the previous day, and it was
extremely foggy. I doubted whether the traffic could see me, and
I made myself as visible as possible and stuck as much to the
side of the road as I could. The fog never lifted, and I could
only see a few meters ahead. It was bitterly cold, and I tied
plastic bags around my feet and hands to try and keep them
warmer. As can be expected in weather like this, there were a
few very bad pile-ups, with traffic backed up for kilometres and
kilometres. For once, I was happy to be on a bicycle as I weaved
my way through the backed-up traffic and was soon on the open
stopped as there was no need for water stops and there were no
photo opportunities along the way, so I pulled my new jacket
tight, put my head down and headed straight for Tianjin where I
believed they had a lovely old town. During the foreign era, the
British and French settled in, joined by the Japanese, Germans,
Hungarians, Italians and Belgians. Each concession was a
self-contained world with its world prison, school, barracks and
hospital, the result being that the old town is littered with
impressive Western architecture.
booking into the Three Brothers Hostel, I took a walk around the
Wudadao area with its charming European-style houses. The old
town stood in sharp contrast to the modern city with its KFC,
Burger King and McDonald's, and for a second there, I had to
rethink whether I was in America or China. Soon, it got too cold
for me, and I headed back to the warmth of the hostel where I
was the only person in an 8-bed dorm — bliss!
5 November – Tianjin
Waking up at
9h30 made me decide to stay the day and explore. I had to make
peace with the fact that the old China is no more and that the
new China is westernised, modern, sleek, and funky. Young people
sat sipping coffee in hip-looking cafés, and white-dress wedding
stores abound. I walked and walked, looking to see if there were
still signs of the old China, but except for a view small lanes
tucked in behind Walmart, McDonald's, KFC, Carrefour, and
Starbucks, there was (sadly) no sign of it.
riverfront (which forms part of the ancient Grand Canal) is now
a modern high-rise business area, and one can't help but think
about where it is all going to end. At least the few side roads
provided interesting and cheap eats; I made sure that I had my
fill before returning to the hostel and the more expensive shops
in the old town. There is nothing quite like a bowl of steaming
dumplings in a dark, low-ceiling hole-in-the-wall eatery in
November – Tianjin – Cangzhou – 110 km
It was a
miserable day on the road. Yes, sometimes I must remind myself
that there are days like this. At least the weather was
marginally warmer, and around midday, I could lose the down
jacket. There was no sign of the ancient canal, and I cut a
straight line to Cangzhou. The entire way remained busy and
built up, except for about 20 kilometres through sad-looking
farmlands, the highlight being one or two forgotten villages
where old men shuffled along past corn drying on the road and
villagers stared at me, mouths agape.
It was a day
of corn and trucks, and I cycled through a large town, easily 20
- 30 kilometres in length, consisting entirely of truck repair
workshops. Cycling into Cangzhou was not a pretty sight either,
with dirty graffiti walls, half-built high-rise apartment
blocks, abandoned residential areas, and the ever-ongoing
getting late, and I wanted to find a room. The first three
hotels did not rent rooms to foreigners, and the only one I
could find was a rather expensive international hotel. I needed
money, but the first bank wanted nothing to do with me and spat
my card out again, something that always gets me nervous.
Fortunately, the second bank was kind enough to give me a few
bucks, enough to pay for my expensive room. It was a rather
fancy room, I must admit, large as a dance hall with just about
all the mod-cons one could wish for in a hotel room. I had a
quick shower and then popped across the road to get food. The
food was dirt cheap and delicious, something that always makes
up for a not-so-interesting day on the road.
7 November Cangzhou – Dezhou – 117 km
I don't know
why I slept so late; it must have had something to do with the
cold. It was 9h30 by the time I left, and it took nearly an hour
to do the 10 kilometres out of the city centre. Again, like the
day before, there was little of interest along the way, so I
gunned it to Dezhou - not that I could gun it; a better
description, maybe, would be that I picked up the pace a bit.
As it was
cold, I didn't stop as often as I usually do. At first, I was
concerned that I might not make it to Dezhou before dark - not
that it would have been a big deal if I didn't, as I could pitch
my tent just about anywhere. It is, however, nice to be in a
room when it is this cold. Fortunately, the going was good, and
I arrived in Dezhou in good time.
become a bit of a pain in the ass to find a room here in China,
as most of the cheap hotels don't rent rooms to foreigners, and
I, therefore, must go from hotel to hotel, checking first if
they allow foreigners and, secondly, what the room rate is.
Looking for accommodation is one of my pet hates, and this
shopping around at the end of a day leaves me a bit long-lipped.
Today I was lucky: The third hotel allowed foreigners, the room
came at a very reasonable rate, and the receptionist could even
speak a bit of English; what a bargain! I dropped my bags and
headed straight for the dumpling stand. I typically ordered so
much food that it is assumed that the food is for two people as
I always get two sets of chopsticks!
8 November – Dezhou – Ji'nan – 127 km
best part of the day seems to be in the morning when I leave
when all the markets and stalls are in full swing. Steam from
the dumpling stands rise thick and high in the cold morning air,
while people in warm coats gather around, rubbing their hands
together in an attempt to keep warm. I could not help myself and
had to follow suit to the great amusement of the locals. They
chatted away, but, of course, I did not understand a word of
Chinese, so I followed their example and rubbed my hands
together while smiling at them.
I set off,
with my steaming bag of dumplings, in the direction of Ji'nan.
Going was slow as I was into a slight breeze, and I did not
appreciate getting a flat tyre along the way. The most common
cause of flat tyres, for me, is riding over exploded truck tyres.
Their insidious steel wires will work their way through most
tyres, and today, I found no less than two of them stuck in the
tyre, even Schwalbe tyres. The Schwalbe tyres are excellent but
a real pain to get on and off. Eventually, the new tube was in
and the tyre was back on.
past large areas of vegetable farms and past a few brand-new
towns not even on the map as yet! I wonder how many trees have
been planted in China in the last ten years or so. I'm wondering
as most roads are lined with trees, and each town has a number
of huge parks. Then, there is the very impressive Great Green
Wall, which will eventually consist of nearly 90 million acres
of new forest in a land stretching 2,800 miles across northern
event, it was already late by the time I cycled into Ji'nan, and
once again, it was a massive city that took forever to get
through. I was looking for the Chengbei Hostel but could not
locate it. After looking around, for what felt like forever, I
eventually found a room at the Home Inn. By then, it was already
dark and cold, and I was starving. No sooner had I settled in
and I was off to the closest restaurant and spent the next two
November – Ji’nan
I stayed put
as I desperately needed to do laundry and pick up a few things
from the supermarket. I also went in search of the hostel, which
I found, but it also did not accept foreigners, despite being
listed in the Lonely Planet.
It was also
with great sadness that I learned the outcome of the US
election. Not that I’m at all interested in American politics,
or that I care which political party or person runs their
government, to me, the picture is far bigger than that. I was
sad that so many people back a person who is clearly hateful
towards others, racist, and chauvinistic; the fact that Trump is
backed by the KKK is an indication to me that there is something
seriously wrong with this world. I know that nothing will
change, and I know that American politics will not affect me and
that what they do in their country is their own business. Still,
it saddens me that so many people backed a person who boasts
about violating women. For me, as a feminist, this is truly a
sad day for all women. I have lived under an apartheid
government for far too long and, quite frankly, I am sick and
tired of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism, and I’m
equally tired of people who practice them. I have, however,
never met anyone who claims to be any of the above. I have,
however, met plenty of “but” people, always stating, I’m not a
racist “but” or I’m not homophobic “but”, and I will, therefore,
include the “but” people in the above list! It feels to me that
we are going backwards, and soon, we will be burning women at
the stake again.
In a sombre
mood, I packed up the following morning, but once outside, I
encountered a 35 mile an hour wind. There and then, I offloaded
again and planned on waiting the weather out. There is no need
for me to cycle into such inhospitable weather, and I, most
likely, would not have made it to my next destination. Instead,
I wandered around the very shiny new city of Ji'nan with all the
brand names one can imagine, but mostly spent my time in the
allies of Ji’nan, where I sampled as much as I could of their
interesting and delicious food. Completely stuffed, I returned
to the warmth of my hotel room to check on the weather forecast,
which did not look all that promising for the following day.
11 November – Ji’nan – Taishan – 80 km
I had no
intention of staying another day in Ji’nan and was happy that at
least the wind had calmed to some extent. It was a slow day
travelling into the wind. Fortunately, it was not far to Taishan.
Taishan is one of the very few sacred mountains in China, and it
is said that it has been worshipped since the 11th century BC!
The area is, therefore, a major attraction and tourist
destination, and I was not sure if I was in a mood to walk up
the mountain in the cold.
day did not provide interesting cycling, it is always a delight
to cycle into a typical Chinese town. The hostel I had in mind
was, fortunately, situated right in the heart of the old town,
with all the temples traditionally visited by pilgrims, before
heading up the mountain in close proximity. The narrow lanes
were lined with food stalls spewing steam and heavenly aromas,
but by the time I had a shower and ate it was already too late
to look around, so I'm considering staying another day.
12 -13 November – Taishan – Qufu – 73 km
man predicted a slight tailwind and warmer-than-usual weather,
and I wasted no time in hopping on the bike and heading to Qufu.
It was a pleasurable ride, and soon I reached Qufu, hometown of
Confusions and a UNESCO world heritage site.
walled city is beautifully restored, and the youth hostel is in
a lovely old building. I dropped my bags and took a stroll
around town, first to the Kong Mansion. Interestingly,
Confucius's family name was Kong Qiu, but he was also known by
the honorific Kong Fuzi. I understand that the Latinised name
"Confucius" is derived from "Kong Fuzi," and was first coined by
16th-century Jesuit missionaries to China. In any event, the
Kong Mansion, although stunning, is not where he lived (I think,
seeing that he lived between 551–479 BC!); it is, however, his
I also made
a turn at the Temple of Yan (521–490 BC), said to be the
favourite temple of Confucius. Soon, I was getting hungry as I
had not eaten since breakfast, and it was time to go in search
of my favourite dumplings.
eating, I checked on the Facebook comments from my American
friends about the recent election; it made me realise that I
will never make a good American. So many of them stated that
they would support their new president, and I'm gobsmacked and
can't believe that one can trade one set of personal values for
another in the space of a day! I'm saying this as I have lived,
nearly all my life, under a government whose values and beliefs
I did not share, and I would never have supported them just
because they were in power. I don't see it as my duty as a
citizen of a country to support the government in power as it is
completely random where one is born, and your country does not
define you. I'm obviously not patriotic, but that is a totally
different issue as I am not for patriotism either, LOL.
political situation in my country is equally interesting as I do
support the current political party and have voted for them, but
I do not agree with or support our president as I believe that
he is not reflecting the values of the ANC and is not doing good
for the country. I think he is corrupt and dishonest, and I will
never support him or anyone like him. I, therefore, find it
difficult to believe that one can go from one set of values to
supporting someone with a completely different value system.
another day in Qufu as there was so much to see and I just loved
this little walled village from ancient times. I must have taken
about 200 pictures as the light and the colours were beautiful.
I also found a pharmacy where I could get some nasal spray as my
nose seemed to be constantly blocked. I also managed to put some
more data on my phone, all things not so easy if one does not
speak the language.
14 November – Qufu – Tengzhou - 66 km
I was in no
mood for cycling, and it took me forever to pack up. It was
already late by the time I cycled out of foggy Qufu.
Fortunately, it was a lovely warm day with no wind, and it was a
pleasure to be out. Even so, I seemed to drag my heels
(figuratively speaking) and made slow progress. This part of
China is planted under so many trees that it feels like I'm
cycling in a forest, making for some lovely scenery and colours.
In Tengzhou I called it a day, as there is no point in cycling
when I don't feel like it.
15 November Tengzhou – Tai'erzhuang – 93 km
kilometres into my ride, I spotted a sign for Tai'erzhuang
ancient village. There and then, I decided to throw a sharp left
and head in that direction to see what it was all about. It was
once again a lovely ride, and the village turned out to be a
located in the centre of the Beijing – Hangzhou Grand Canal, was
established in 221–207 BC. The town was mostly destroyed during
the famous or rather infamous Battle of Tai'erzhuang in 1938;
most of it has, however, been reconstructed, and today, it is a
popular tourist destination. I sought out a rather
inconspicuous-looking hotel where the male receptionist was
sleeping behind the counter. Once I woke him, he was in total
shock to see a foreigner standing in front of him. I handed him
my passport, which he gave one glance and returned it. Without
me being able to speak a word of Mandarin and him, obviously,
not a word of English, there was a lot of OK, OK, OK, and
hands-together bowing! What a spectacle we must have made! In
any event, it was a nice room if one overlooked the soiled
carpet and the hair on the bathroom floor. The price was right
and the bedding clean, so no complaints there. Right outside the
hotel, I found a lady making and selling a kind of crispy
pancake with stir-fried veggies inside, which came with a glass
of hot soymilk, all for 8 yuan!
16 November – Tai'erzhuang – Pizhou– 50 km
cycled through town to see the "ancient town" and was pleasantly
surprised at what I found. I thought it would be only one or two
buildings, but in fact, it was a whole village, mostly
reconstructed but still a lovely place to wander around. The
Battle of Tai’erzhuang took place during the Second World War
and was an important victory for China over Japan who was trying
to invade China at the time. Tai’erzhuang was an old city,
situated on strategic railroad and canal junctions. This was the
first major victory for Chinese in the war and it broke the myth
of Japanese military invincibility. The result was that it was
13h00 before I was done.
On my way
back to where I had left the bicycle, I wanted to check the map
and discovered that I had left it in the handlebar-phone holder.
Arghhhh! I'm such a "loskop." To my utter surprise, it was
exactly where I'd left it!! I love China!!! As there was not
much time left for cycling, I changed my route and cycled the
short distance to the next town via some small country roads.
Not a touristy area, by the looks I got! I also discovered that
the Grand Canal is still in use after all these years -
17 - 18 November – Pizhou – Xuxhou – 80 km
In Pizhou I
had a good look at my options as I was coming to the end of my
one-month visa and had to extend it or get out of China. The
flight tickets to South Africa, where I want to visit after
China, seemed to be increasing by the day, reaching its highest
around middle December. It looked the better options to fly out
at this stage and return to China later in 2017.
I was out of
time to reach Shanghai in time for my flight and decided to take
the train, something that sounded easier that what it turned
out. It was, in fact, better to cycle to the next town, that was
much larger, and catch a train there. Off I went and it was a
pleasant ride with a slight tailwind, making for easy cycling.
Xazhou turned out to be a massive city and not all that
attractive either. I cycled straight to the train station where
there were plenty of hotels to choose from. I settled for the 7
Days Inn and then it was off to the train station to buy a
ticket. I took a soft sleeper, slightly more expensive but I
thought it a good idea to be a bit more comfortable.
following morning I took the bicycle and panniers to the baggage
department where, once again, it was weighed and booked in. I
paid a bit more to stay in the room until the evening and around
20h00 headed for the train. Once there, I discovered that my
train was actually 9h30 in the morning and not in the evening,
so I don’t know what all the fuss was about the sleeping car.
Fortunately, I could change the ticket to a later train but this
time could only get a seat and not a sleeper.
It was a
rather uncomfortable ride in a very full train. At around
midnight I asked the conductor if there was a sleeper available
and I was in luck. There was, at first, much talking over the
two-way radio with everyone in the coach looking on at the
foreigner now causing such a disturbance. Then I was led off to
another coach where I could stretch out until the morning.
19 November - Shanghai
in Shanghai at the ungodly hour of 5h00 in the morning and the
streets were still eerily quiet. I caught a taxi to the hostel
in downtown but once there found that they were still closed.
There was, however, a night watchman and I could sit in their
restaurant area until staff arrived.
Unfortunately, the hostel was fully booked and by that time I
had enough and took a room at the hotel around the corner. I
never had a burning desire to visit Shanghai but what a pleasant
surprise it turned out to be and to think I nearly missed it
altogether. I walked the short distance to The Bund, a former
concession area and today home to some lovely art deco
architecture. Originally, The Bund was the place where most of
the concession era trading took place; from rice to opium, it
all happened here, it was the “Wall Street” of that time. I
walked back via East Nanjing Road where the first department
stores in China opened in the 1920s. Today it is a busy
pedestrian mall, home to some of the world’s leading fashion
names and a massive Apple store.
All that was
wonderful but I still had to collect my bicycle from the train
station and as it was only about four kilometres away, I took a
walk here and cycled back. The search for a bike box started and
with the rapid development in China the first three bike shops
were long gone. Fortunately, I found a Giant store down the road
and arranged with them to box the bike for me the following day.
How I hate flying! I will much rather be cycling.