Saturday, June 2, 2007

24/05/07 Litang
It took some time to find a decent hotel, in Chinese standards (not Tibetan nor backpackers standards). After 3 nights of camping, we choose to spoil ourselves.
Litang is situated in a wide valley, 4,100m high, surrounded by barren mountains.
We we've been cycling for over 2 weeks in Tibetan country, where all the villages are totally Tibetan, while the towns (~50,000 people) are dominated by Chinese Han... obviously not local. And Litang, except for the bigger shops & restaurants (actually, all the business opportunities...) - all Tibetans; and their features are totally different from the Hans.
The Lonely planet guide book was finally accurate: The place seems like the wild west, just replace the horses with motorcycles! The town has no rules. We don't understand why all they do is sit on the sidewalk in big bunches and fondle with their 'medicine' chili and cruse up & down the main (and only) road with their fancy motorcycles.
We spent most of our time updating this incredible blog, staying clean and eating 'Boutze'.
We sneaked into the upper floor of the main prayer-room of the monastery, watching from the balcony a ceremony being held - "been there, done that".

In Litang monastery.

Litang main street.

27/05/07 Uncharted Territory
The road from Zhongdian to Litang, a tough and rewarding cycling root, was well described by cyclists before. It detailed distances, altitude of valleys & passes, possible camping spots, water availability, road condition etc.
From Litang EVERYBODY goes east, towards Chengdu. We went north, towards Garze, knowing nothing about the road, armed with 4 instant-noodle-soups.
3 km from Litang, half way to the 4,500m pass, another car slowed down while passing us. Rami immediately recognized Jiang, a Chinese friend we met 2 months ago, in Yanshen. After 3 months in China, not all Chinese look the same!
We had an exciting reunion, exchanging travel tales (he's been driving all around west China, lately).
Knowing we had a long day a head of us, we departed, continuing our climb.After 8km on the Southern-Sichuan-Tibetan highway (G318), we reached our unknown road, heading north. Luckily, we decided to go a further 1/2 km east, to a small food stall, and ate noodle soup and an extremely oily omelet :-(
We started heading north, ignoring the locals warning about rain and the huge, black clouds above us.
After 1.5 hours of cycling in this pleasant, grassland valley, with few scattered tents, many yaks and many more marmots, we felt the first drops. Learning our lesson from last weeks' rain, we immediately parked our bikes, pulled out our huge plastic sheet (for covering our luggage & bicycle) and hid underneath it, comfortably, on the side of the road. After 15 minutes of rain, hale, and strong winds (which we didn't feel :-), the storm was behind us. Dry and happy we continued.
The valley climbed slowly. We has another half hour storm, and suddenly it was 18:00.
Gal was exhausted. We stopped near a small village, (10 very small, very basic, very poor houses) at 4,500m. The kids ran up to us and invited us to sleep. The last 2 things we wanted was to sleep at this altitude and sleep in that village. We decided to quickly cycle over the pass, descend as much as possible and camp. After a few minuted of cycling uphill, we stopped again; Gal was too tiered. 2 locals, on motorcycles, part of the previous crowd near the village, offered to take our luggage to the pass. We tied Gals bag, they were off and we continued. After 1 very slow km (Gal barely carried herself) we met the 2 guys waiting for us. They tried convincing us that Gal, her bicycle, trailer & bag will jump on their 2 motorcycles up to the pass. We refused, thinking of the damage to the bicycle and trailers. They tried telling us something, using their hands (maybe hiding Gals' bag somewhere near the pass?). We said: "O.K., O.K., O.K.!", and off they went, with Gals' yellow bag.
A few minuted later we saw the road climbing to the pass, far away. Gal decided she doesn't have the strength, it being 19:15. Too late to climb and then descend. We decided that Rami will quickly cycle to the pass with Gals' bike and empty trailer and bring the bag. Gal waited with Ramis' bike (and the plastic cover). 5 minutes later it started to rain. Gal took cover and waited, watching Rami zigzagging up. She saw him reach the pass, continuing a bit, returning, taking another road, running here and there and understood. A few minutes later she saw him cycling down, trying to spot the yellow bag. When he arrived, she cried!
Rami tried calming here down, optimistically saying that, in one way or another, the bag will return to us.
We cycled down, back to the village, totally wet, thinking about all our dry clothes, in the missing bag.
At the village, we were taken to a small house/shack. A small fire was lit (using dry yak shit, as there are no trees at this altitude) and a pot of hot water was brought. A kid, which earlier invited us to sleep, helped us explain what happened. He tried to calm us down, hand-showing us that the bag will be returned.
It was dark and rainy. Villagers came and went while we were drying near the fire. Then the kid ran out to a commotion and called Rami. The 2 motorcyclists came, totally wet, with the yellow bag. All were excited. They joined us to the fire.
The whole evening we all sat around the fire and laughed. While arranging our bags, we repeatedly bumped our heads in the drying meat, hanging above us.

With Jiang.

Last look at Litang.

Heading north.

Taking cover from the storm.

In the smoky house.
The motorcyclist who brought us back the bag.


We conquered last nights' pass. The last few km uphill were unpaved and so were the following 12km down. Instead of 1/2 an hour of enjoyable ride, we had rough 2 hours. But the scenery was worth it. The deeper we went down the valley, the greener it became.
After having no dinner the night before (due to the mess), we decided to stop on the beautiful river bank for a picnic, lunch and tea. We took advantage of the opportunity and washed our intimate parts.
We continued down the valley. The road was partially paved and we decided to stop early. Gal found a beautiful camp spot on the river bank, far away from the road. We had a fantastic camping experience, with excellent weather and plenty of leisure time.
The next morning was quite lazy. We left at 11:00.

Climbing to the pass.

The other side.


Our camp site.


A nowhere village.

Connecting to the Yalong river.

So, they finally added toilets to the house.

Since the beginning of our trip, Rami tried to avoid camping (maybe because he is spoiled?). He always looked for a house/ village/monastery to sleep in.
In Thailand we slept a lot in our tent, but almost always in temples, where there were toilets and showers, and the monks/locals spoiled us with fantastic Thai food and more.
In Vietnam there were always hotels/whorehouses and camping was out of the question, due to over population.
In China, till now, there were hotels everywhere, usually quite good. Only lately, up in the mountains, we had less choices, or none. Most hotels on the way, in the Tibetan villages, had only a small room ,simple wooden beds, a very small window and no toilets at all. Gal got tiered of walking a few hundred meters to the 'village toilets', in the night, especially when they have never been cleaned (emptied) and running water hasn't reached this part of the world yet. And even these hotels were sparse.
We had no choice but to camp. Quite quickly we found out that it's cleaner in our tent, we sleep better, the toilets are cleaner and closer and we can wash ourselves in the stream (oh, and we save $2-3).
The most important thing: we enjoy the quiet, the fire, the scenery and the sound of the river. We just hope for good weather.
The only problem is the lack of nutritious food: we eat instant-noodle-soups and sweets, but the food in the villages is the same...
We compensate by eating like mad when we reach the "big" towns.

We remember a French couple, cycling, we met in Laos. They cycled all the way from France, and have been camping a lot. At the time, we didn't understand why they made 12 hard boiled eggs at noon time when they reached a town...
We now also understand why Tom, who cycled from Germany, always carried with him so many sweets...

Camping again.

Building the road.

The local "Sabih".

"Childs day", Xinlong.

500 years old bridge.

Water power.

Wetting ourselves, fighting the heat.

Snow again!

01/06/07 Full moon.
We searched for a camping spot, near a river with views of the holly snow-peaked mountain. We knew tonight will be a full moon, and the mountain will be spectacular. After 63 km we found the perfect spot. We had our usual instant-noodle-soup dinner, built a fire and saw the sky covering with clouds. We waited till 23:30 (Rami gave up and went to sleep) and no moon...
We set an alarm clock for 01:00, but no moon...
Then it started to rain - all night, until it stopped in the morning.

The kids bringing water from the river (next to our camp spot).

Deap in the gorge.

Exiting the gorge.

Our worst storm ever (wind - 12.9 beaufort scale).

Garze valley (half an hour later - blue sky!).

Before the shave.

The view from our hotel roof.