Wednesday, June 27
It rained most of the night and just about all day, very high humidity, need to get a humidity meter in the motorhome to see what we are experiencing, temperatures are always in the high 20s, with the heavy rain all day was a good day to be driving the 350 km to Wuhan arriving about 3 PM, there was just time to go immediately to Hubei Provincial Museum before they closed the entry doors for the day so the team only had two hours to look through the massive building.
The main exhibits in the museum are the contents of a presumably a “Royal Grave”, dating 200 BC, and a beautiful exhibit of almost flawless porcelain dishes and figures obtained from the tomb. There are a lot of gold items including gold spoons and gold chopsticks. It looks like some Chinese had a wonderful life 2200 years ago.
Fortunately, due to the rain, we are probably two days ahead of schedule, which is good because it gives us time for something important later in the travel which is something it seems the others find hard to grasp as they have voiced complaints about “rushing things”. Tomorrow morning there will be another visit to the museum which can take up to half a day which is certainly more than allowed on the programme had we stuck to it the way it was drafted. Don't worry Ivan, you're halfway through your delightful China experience!
Were still seeing massive amounts of building everywhere we go, high-rise apartment blocks are the most obvious and not just one or two that many in each small city we go through, these apartment blocks evidently are all being built by private enterprise, so somebody is going to be making buckets of money. The high-speed rail system that is being built is also extremely obvious being built as an elevated level and costing I would guess millions of somebody's currency!
The cars were seeing on the road are all probably a maximum of five years old ranging from Ford through to Rolls-Royce with lots of Mercedes and BMWs. The major transport system for the great unwashed masses still seems to be bicycle, electric bicycle, electric scooter, or petrol scooter. There are literally hundreds of small three wheel vehicles that take two people and have a tray on the back. There's quite a large number of three wheel cars, they sound like they have a motorbike engine driving the front wheel, and for some reason they almost always seem to be taxis. Coming through the city today we saw a Lamborghini agent so somebody must figure there's a lot of discretionary money available in this country.
We were not allowed to park overnight in the museum car park, so we went across the road and are in a public car park and hopefully we won't be asked to move on.
Thursday, June 28
Today we carried on our drive to Yichang site of the Three Gorges Dam, again it was weird most of the day so was a good day to be driving. About 30 km from the dam is a security checkpoint and you're not allowed to enter without a permit, to get a permit you must buy a ticket, and the ticket office was closed when we arrived. We therefore booked to hotel rooms for the night on the understanding we could park our three motorhomes in the car park at the cost of 120 Yuan each which paid for the rooms, and Sue quickly grabbed one of the rooms with Eion and Liz grabbing the other room.
I guess that they are all desperate to have a shower after about seven days or so, we had thought that the decent thing would have been to let Andy had one of the rooms but no, evidently the tent was good enough for him in their view, we are quite happy in our own bed in the motorhome, it would however be nice to have been asked and we may have been unable to get Andy out of his tent for the night.
Friday, June 29
Again it looks like rain and see to the three Gorges Dam you need to walk to the bus and take a bus to see the dam as a normal sightseer, the dam is a massive structure and were the most interesting parts is the lock which takes cargo bearing barges through the dam in five stages, taking four hours to go through the locks, with five locks lifting the vehicles a total of 113 m from top to bottom. They make a big feature of this is that this is the largest continuous lift in the world, well naturally they have its lifting something through a dam, you would not call this a normal feature for a lock and a everyday feature.
It showed all stages of construction some of the heavy moving equipment which is what you would expect on a project of this size and they say that the dam supplies electricity for 15 of the 31 Chinese provinces, and if that is the most populated provinces that is quite a great statistics, and if it is the least populated provinces is still nothing to be sneezed at.
Whilst it has the largest instantaneous generating capacity in the world, because there is a shortage of water for six months of the year the second largest Hydro dam that is in Brazil comes out on top, at the moment, generating the most electricity over a 12 month period.
When we had finished the dam we drove on 360 km to Jingzhou, covering a motorway that we passed over to get to the dam, they look like very interesting roads that we could have taken but they looked like local roads winding in and out on the hills and our schedule, unfortunately could not accommodate that.
Our destination was the museum (surprise) but it was closed for the day so we will visit that in the morning and drove back 4 km to stay in a hotel car park where I managed to borrow a ladder and hopefully finish the sealing of my skylight window, of course a good rain will tell me whether I was successful or not.
It is extremely hot and humid every night and if we were in Europe and it was like this would be heading for Norway at this time of the year to miss out on this unpleasant climate, however if you like hot and sticky weather this is the place for you and it is going to get worse over the next 20 days, which is something to look forward to!
Saturday June 30
As predicted the team visited the museum, I wonder when they will realise that there are is only so many ancient artefacts available in the world and the articles you see in most museums are duplications of what you've seen in other museums in other countries, or perhaps it is just my overexposure to the wonders of the world.
Evidently my thoughts on the museum were correct as everybody came out very quickly, thus starting to see repeats of what had been on show elsewhere.
It was then time to leave the city and head towards our next destination which was Zhangjiajie, to get their we started off on the motorway and then went to a local road were finally we discovered there are extremely bad roads in China, we had about 20 to 30 km of some of the worst roads we have experienced.
After about 360 km we ended up at Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve at an altitude of 600 m so hopefully it will be cooler tonight, but I won't hold my breath.
The mountains all around a rather beautiful, softly rounded, as they seem to be only able to do in China, we met a couple from Switzerland whilst we were out walking, they are into hiking and they had a wonderful day hiking today and are looking forward to tomorrow.
Evidently this nature reserve also goes by the name of Zhangjiajie Scenic Spot, and on a weekend like today there are literally thousands of Chinese arriving by bus and private car and making their way as fast as possible into the nature reserve. It is evidently is a walking reserve as far as I can ascertain there are no tour buses, or any other sort of motorised transport making their way through the park so you just have to walk along with the inhabitants of a small city.
Why we had been programmed at this spot during the weekend with the masses that would be here I fail to understand but no doubt in the bigger picture all will be revealed.
Sunday, 1 July
Today was a free day to explore the park, after you went through the entrance you could catch a bus which will take you to a gondola which in turn would take you up to the top of a mountain where you could walk a route round and come back down on the gondola or take the steps down, and spend the rest of the day on the many paths that went right round this whole massive park.
Monday, 2 July
We were just leaving the park heading towards Fenghuang with our van leading for the day we were just about to go into the 4 km tunnel when I had a call from Eion asking us to come back as he had a problem with his clutch. So we drove on through the tunnel found the spot to turn round and drove back to a bus car park where we found Eion and his 20-year-old Hymer. Evidently the clutch cable had broken, but he was able to put into gear and start the motorhome and drive it in that gear to the closest garage which was about 10 km away.
We got to the garage, the mechanic quickly had the cable out of its other housing and showed us all how it was the original cable and had broken and he then went off to the marketplace, bought another piece of wire, secured the ends and the cable was probably ready for another 20 years stint.
It was then on to the Yellow Dragon Cave a monstrous cave obviously carved out by a river and had lots of steps carved into it to enable you to walk through the whole beautiful cave, well illuminated everywhere with many different coloured lights, and after all this walking you are able to take a boat trip which gave you another view of this charming cave.
Then it was back to the motorhomes and onto our destination and at last we had started seeing the roads that we had expected to see in China, bloody awful, with the continual stream of traffic going both ways and absolutely one bus after another bus, buses of all sizes and quality, and this is not bad on the open road eventually we came to a market town and that was another story.
It became very obvious we would not reach our destination tonight winding our way through the mountains so we saw a sign pointing us towards an ancient town called Hunan Sheng, that also boasted a beautiful waterfall, so that was the direction we took parking in the town's car park along with the tour buses, and we enjoyed a walk through the old town and on to the waterfall and almost looked like an amateur photographer's convention with the number of expensive cameras and expensive lenses in use, most had beautiful tripods so it's very obvious that China has moved from a socialist, everybody's equal society to a straight capitalist society, but then anyone who knows the Chinese know that they have always been capitalists and is just a minor blip in their 5000+ year history.
Tuesday, 3 July
We carried on towards our destination of yesterday, winding our way again through the mountains and all of a sudden we came to a traffic jam. For the traffic on our side of the road had stopped and there was nothing coming towards us, and the Chinese love filling up an empty space, so they started driving down on the wrong side of the road until that as well came to a standstill.
Eventually we saw traffic heading towards us and all of the cars that had gone down the wrong side started pulling in making gaps on the correct side, and to make sure this was happening there was a traffic policeman walking at the centre making sure everyone did what they were meant to do.
So after about 30 minutes of the traffic jam we started moving and again there were lots of buses coming towards us, eventually found out what caused the traffic jam and it appeared that was a bus and truck colliding and now on the opposite side of the road and everybody had to wind their way past them, once we pass them was almost an open road on our side but on the other side there was a continuous slow stream of traffic for at least 5 km.
Our next interesting experience was a market town. This market town was a normal Chinese town, with shops either side of the street and living accommodation upstairs above the shops, and in front of the shops there was a space that they've set up their market stalls selling almost everything leaving enough room in the centre for two vehicles to pass, just.
Naturally nobody drove through this town at top speed, I think we were managing 3 km an hour, and people were of course wandering from one side of the road to the other, women with prams moving from one side to the other, people with motorbikes moving from one side of the other, people double parking which meant the traffic stopped and trickled through the opening, is a total disregard of every road rule we have ever learnt and absolutely no road courtesy whatsoever, if you wanted to move into the traffic you did, if they didn't stop to let you in, they would hit you and of course they are at fault.
If you want to learn defensive driving, come to China, if you survive you will pass the course.
Eventually we arrived at our first destination Huangsiqiao Castle a sixth century town boasting a castle and a wall, moderately interesting and then it was back to Fenghuang to visit the Phoenix town, and old town built on the edge of a river most of the buildings to 3 stories high, remind you a little bit of Venice, and even has some boats that might be mistaken on a foggy day for gondolas, it was interesting walking through the little alleys looking at all the sites and the whole town was open for tourist type shopping and I would put this town on a must see list. The whole town was packed with people.
When we arrived in town, we found some supposedly expert decorators that could seal our leaking skylight, they worked on it for about an hour and a half removing all of the old glue and cement, replacing it with a runny white stuff, of which they put three coatings on, and this is supposed to make the roof watertight, just hope the runny white stuff was not wet chalk, but the first rainy day will soon tell us, in the meantime I'm leaving the plastic raincoats up in the ceiling to catch any water that comes through. The cost for the sealing job was 800 Yuan.
Wednesday, 4 July
We set out today for Huitong on the road started off reasonable and ended up disastrous, one part that was disastrous was a muddy patch with very large puddles of water and little bits of concrete jutting up to make life interesting.
Winding our way through this the back wheel sunk down into the water filled hole, bringing the garage door in contact with the concrete, which in turn ripped the back right plastic decorating piece which also has the stoplights backing lights etc etc, this is the same piece we lost last year so I'm now a little bit of an expert at securing it back to the body. This year I have a roll of racing tape, tape that they used to hold together racing cars when they have had a spill, so I used that and now it appears as if it is almost as strong, or stronger than it was originally.
Eventually we got off this third or fourth world Road and got onto the motorway which took us towards hopefully our destination, Luda noted as we left the motorway something about 3 m height, all written in Chinese of course, but we carried on and about 25 km later we met this barrier across the road that was 3 m high, next time I'll take a tape measure to it to see if it is 3 m or greater, but today we took it at face value, after asking about ways round it with a van full of police, and we're sure that they were saying the motorhome would get through it, but we decided not to risk it and drove back to the motorway, heading towards Shanghai, and hopefully will get across the river at a different location tomorrow.
We are continually amazed at the people standing or walking on the road with total disregard to the traffic and sometimes even walking in the middle of the road and you have to drive around them, if you blow your horn, you're just telling the people that you've seen them and they don't even flinch, I often wonder what an alpine air horn would get a movement!
Thursday, July 5
In my last newsletter I wrote about learning defensive driving in China, I then thought I should look up some facts, the world average for deaths from automobile accidents works out at two per 10000 vehicles. The Chinese police statistics for 2007 are for 71,000 deaths which average is 5.8 per 10,000 however the burial certificates for death by automobiles is 221,000, substantially more and works out at 18 per 10,000 vehicles. The police average makes China the most dangerous place to drive a motor vehicle and it looks like the real average increases it threefold.
Today we drove 430 km to Guilin and fortunately we found a motorway for the full distance, more or less, on the route we passed several trucks carrying pigs, there was a large pipe cage with a floor through the centre and all the pigs were lying down peacefully, well when we saw them!
The next interesting truck had a lot of plastic boxes full of grown chickens with probably 6 to 10 per cage and these were stacked up about 10 high filling up the full tray of the truck.
The next truck of interest had lots of cages built on the back up to a height of about 5 m, lots of little compartments, and all full of dogs, I have to guess that there was at least 200 dogs on board, and the only reason I could think of for so many dogs on one truck was that they were on their way to Vietnam where they are a delicacy, hopefully I was wrong because there were some cute dogs on that truck.
Coming into Guilin, Sue saw a Toyota agent and stopped to have them check her ABS light on the dashboard, they put it on the computer, but evidently it was inconclusive and the next stage was a full-blown “open brake surgery” which she put on hold.
We headed to another series of caves and are currently parked in their car park in hot humid weather with a temperature well into the high 30s.
Friday, July 6
Today we were due to drive to Yangshuo, but I suggested the team go on the boat cruise to that destination and when it was discovered that there is one trip that leaves at 9 AM so they all decided to go, so they all loaded into our motorhome, we drove down to the wharf, on the way, on the three lane motorway, we passed a man lying on the inside lane fast asleep.
After dropping everybody at the wharf and he and I drove down to Yangshuo which was a typical China Road with very little work having been done on it for some time.
Evidently Yangshuo is one of the top tourist destinations in China and we did see more Europeans getting on the boat at Guilin than we have seen in the total time we have been here.
We parked the motorhome in the public car park and then walked down to the dock where the boat would be arriving, about five boats arrived and you can only travel one-way, they go back empty.
Back to the centre of town, the others booked in to a type of bed and breakfast, everybody had lunch and then they went off to climb 800 steps up a mountain whilst I stayed in town in the high 30s temperature.
I decided to turn the motorhome around so that the refrigerator was not in the sunshine, and in doing so overlooked a large crane that was badly parked so a large hook that was sitting on the end, scratched along the right-hand side of the motorhome wiping out the outside light and leaving a nice good scratch along one third of the motorhome. To use the words of Forrest Gump, shit happens!
We stayed in the car park for the night in extremely uncomfortable hot humid weather.
Saturday, July 7
Sue caught the bus back to Guilin and the rest came with me in the motorhome, Sue arrived back first which is not surprising with the speed that the buses drive, on our arrival back they all had lunch and then went to the cave that was associated with the car park, and I took Andy into the city to search for a method to connect a Chinese gas bottle to our European vehicle. The full report is at the end of this newsletter for those that are interested.
I was totally unsuccessful sorting out a replacement gas bottle, which means we have about 15 days of gas left, and we use the gas for heating water, cooking, and most important running the refrigerator and deep-freeze.
So when the others had finished with the cave we headed off to our next destination which were the Longsheng rice terraces, we arrived there about 5:30 PM so just camped up for the night. We had a little bit of rain and so far, touch wood, the skylight sealing is holding.
Sunday, July 8
The team have taken a bus up to see the rice terraces and overcast weather with traces of rain whilst I sit here and catch up with the newsletter. The team went up to the terraces by bus and spent about three hours up there, it was foggy when they arrived but they got glimpses of the sunshine and to-do photos like you see in their books would be just a waiting game, however with a little bit of sunshine, and shooting in Digital Raw, and working on the images in Lightroom, I'm sure our finished result will be quite close.
Let me talk a little bit about the Chinese, most things we do as an adult we have been taught by our parents, first I thought the lack of common etiquette and manners was caused by the Communist system they had for decades, but that doesn't hold up to inspection because they had the same concept of government in Russia yet the Russians do not lack common etiquette or manners.
They have no perception of common courtesy on the road, if there is a space that will try to fill it, if they are walking along the road they will walk anywhere and it's over to you the vehicle driver to avoid hitting them. If you blow your horn, all you are telling the jaywalker is that you've seen him he does not even flinch. It is quite common to see very small children aged three and four walking along the road without supervision so I would guess if they survive they become adults.
Pedestrian crossings are extremely interesting, people try to walk across these crossings and the traffic almost never stops, but drives around the people on the crossing.
Spitting is rife here in China, almost everybody spits, even small children who have obviously been taught by observing their parents, and it makes me wonder, if you are Chinese and you're dating a beautiful girl, do you both split before or after you have kissed!
They have no perception of privacy, I guess with so many people packed into their country privacy is a thing that disappeared a long time ago.
There is a rapidly developing middle class here in China, with all of the Chinese tourists visiting the tourist spots and with the people out walking with the clothes they wear and the fancy dogs they have, there's obviously extra money available to be a little afford these items.
However if you live out in the country in a village your whole life from a very young age until you die will revolve around working. It's not uncommon to see an old woman with her bent back walking out to the fields carrying a hoe over her shoulder, no such thing as retiring when you're 60 and taking life easy.
After the team came back from the terraces we had lunch and then drove towards our final destination Sanjiang Chengyang Wind Rain Bridge but stopped first of all after about 20 km and wandered through a minority village that appeared as if it was being set up as a tourist attraction so I guess in three or four years time if one was to return there would be tourist souvenirs everywhere.
It was then on another 75 km to the Wind Rain Bridge going through a delightful town with many obstacles on our way then we were trying to cross the river, eventually that we found a bridge and then down another road with a dead-end are finally we got onto the country road that led us to today's destination.
We staked our claim on the car park, and welcome one or two other cars had wanted to join us.
Monday, July 9
Everybody did a little walk down to the covered bridge and was well worth the time to take the photos.
We then set off on a 300 km drive with the intention of calling in on a another minority village where we arrived about 3 PM. Knowing that the performance they are putting on and walk through the village would take at least an hour and a half we decided to stay here the night and do the 80 km drive to the next town tomorrow.
The road that was winding through the mountains and lots of little villages was in moderate condition with many slips blocking half the road in many places and then of course in the villages often half the road is blocked with a large pile of bricks or shingle because really there is nowhere else to put these items.
We are plugged into electricity tonight with the hope that our gas cylinder will last longer, I have asked the tour company to investigate the LPG domestic gas bottle filling stations to see if they have an adapter which will work from the Chinese fitting to the European fitting, and if they haven't I will attempt to have one made at a engineers shop was hopefully more success than last time.
Tuesday, July 10
We left the minority village, wound our way back through the hills to the closest town and then set our GPSs for the next minority village about 250 km away.
What we didn't count on however was some of the roughest roads we've been on and when we arrived in the city that was halfway we refilled with diesel and then set off on the next 160 km but the first 7 km were so bad they seemed like 40, so we turned around and went back to the city to get on to the motorway with the idea of missing out the minority village and going on to the next big attraction.
It was wonderful to get on to a motorway again after the roads were being on for the last two or three days, it was getting close to 4 PM so we stopped at the second service area, I was leading, Eion was next and Sue was last, Sue pulled in beside me and then turned around to join Eion who've found a parking area at the top, as she drove away I saw in my rear vision mirror flames coming out of her rear wheels.
I got onto the radio immediately and then drove down to where she was, she was out of the van sufficient distance away waiting for it to explode, fortunately it is the diesel van, and is not a Hollywood movie so it just sat there.
Eion came driving down and the angle that he approached Sue's van from he saw flame's so dashed over with a fire extinguisher which if it had worked (it did not work) would not have been much use, (being a powder type extinguisher) so he grabbed a jug of water and that soon extinguished the flame.
They then got on the telephone and contacted a recovery truck and about 8 PM that arrived loaded on Sue and her truck and took takes Sue and her truck to the next city some hundred kilometres away ready for the Toyota agent when they open in the morning.
We again have found some electricity is supplied into and will tomorrow try to find an engineer to make an adapter, it seems that nobody in the tour company has a clue as to what the problem is with my bottles, and they have absolutely no idea about the socket I want made with the Chinese thread on one end of the socket and the thread from the tap on my gas bottle on the other end, so we will see just how bright the engineers are.
Wednesday, July 11
This morning we set off on the motorway to the town that Sue had her camper taken to, a Toyota dealer.
When we arrived they had the right side axle and brake housing off and evidently there had been an oil seal leak which had leaked on to the brake drum which was the part that had caught on fire.
They got most of the parts from their spare parts stores around the country and the bits will arrive in probably three days time which means we'll be here probably for five days.
If this had happened to me I would have not held up the tour, but insisted they go on by themselves and I would catch them up but evidently Sue and Eion and had the heads together, because Sue arrived at our motorhome and told us what was going to happen that everybody would be staying here until Sunday, take it or leave it!
She also told me that is what we had to do as Tracy could not send a guide to help her catch up with the tour if we carried on, in my emails to Tracy after this I found out that was a lie, I guess when you're dealing with some people you have to expect this.
It was interesting that Tracy commented on Sue “ especially as she is a OLD lady (56) alone” Hell I would rather face a full member of Hell Angels in a dark alley at midnight, you can reason with him!
On the gas adapter front, at the rear of the Toyota establishment was an engineers shop with a complete range of lathes and milling machines that are capable of producing anything.
I had a long talk with many drawings to the owner of this establishment and he agreed to make the adapter and it would be finished at 10 AM tomorrow.
I thought a lot about waiting around for five days or more and what we may have to miss out on the tour if we do this so I send eMail to Tracy telling her that this was unsatisfactory and that in two days time Luda and I were going to separate from the tour and drive our own way through China meeting everybody at a later point.
Tracy replied by telling me, this was not permitted, but neither she nor Andy could physically stop us from leaving the tour, so she be forced to inform the police that we were driving contrary to the law of China, and we would be arrested and eventually deported from China.
I told her that I would love this, I could see the headlines all around the world “NAVO have the police arrest their clients and put them in jail” I told Tracy all of the newspapers would love it.
She replied that people would want to know the truth and she would tell anybody the truth that enquired.
I told her that the newspaper headlines would be all people would see, and all people would remember.
Luda of course was very uncomfortable with all of this, so after business hours I set off another e-mail saying that I had read the contract and that I was not allowed to do this and gave some guidelines for redrawing the tour.
I think all of my strong arm tactics may have paid off and made the executives at NAVO come up with some alternative because……
Thursday, July 12
This morning Andy arrived saying we will be leaving Friday morning, I said, what has happened?
He said you hadn't heard? Sue is staying behind until her truck is fixed! And if he knew more details he was not letting on, all Tracy will say is Sue has decided to stop and not affect the group and possibly wait for her husband to arrive, which is quite a come down from what she told us yesterday.
Mind you, my use of good old Anglo-Saxon descriptive words, yesterday to Sue, may have helped!
At 10 o'clock the adapter was finished, however the thread to fit my English bottle, which is the left-hand thread like most gas fittings, they had made it right-hand thread, so obviously they remade it and had it ready by 2:30 PM. It was finished at that time and trying it on the bottle they just had to take a little bit off the English side so it fitted better and it was finished all for the expense of sum of 200 yuan.
I then had Andy collect me with a taxi and would go up to the gas company and have the cylinder filled. Andy arrived with a taxi and a taxi driver was very unhappy going so far out of town on such a rough road and would only do it for 100 yuan, I said return? The reply was yes, so away we went.
When we got to the turn off I'm glad I was in a taxi because the road we started off on was very steep and very narrow, and that was just at the start, a little way down the concrete road was quite broken and in pieces with large holes and quite frankly probably one of the worst roads I've ever seen.
We got to the gas company, and it is always interesting when you're listening to somebody telling somebody what you want and they seem to talk forever in their own language, and you think that it must be that you're asking them to do something against the law, at least. In reality there was no problems and they fill the bottle up easy, cost was 72 yuan, then it was back down the worst road in the city, fitted the bottle back into the motorhome, tested it, it all worked, so I figured the engineer deserved a couple of cans of beer.
Friday, July 13
Yes Friday the 13th, were all ready to go and Eion decided that he needed to replace his fire extinguisher that didn't work two days ago, not quite sure why he had to leave it till this morning, particularly when I look at what I accomplished in the last two days, and he couldn't get to a shop to buy a fire extinguisher!
Well he and Andy went off in a taxi and were back in about 30 minutes, then we are able to leave heading towards Huangguoshu Water Falls, this took us back on the road we came on, on Wednesday, and this road has got to be one of the most expensive to build in China. It seems to have a tunnel every kilometre or so, and between the tunnels you have a high viaduct connecting the road to the tunnel.
In an e-mail this morning, Tracy offered to buy the adapter and pay my taxi fare total 300 yuan and they would keep this for future groups, I said okay, but remember it is for an English bottle.
There must be a formula that they work out at what point the increased length of the tunnel costs more than the height of the viaduct because the viaduct is certainly high, and most of the tunnels are at least 1 km long and sometimes as long as 5, but was sure a pleasure trip to drive even if it was so new it wasn't on the GPS.
Eventually we came to the end of the road and went off on to a now the highway, then eventually it off at a place called Longgong, this was the location of the Dragon Palace Cave, and as this is the Chinese year of the Dragon when we arrived at the road to go to the cave, the road had been flooded and we were not allowed to go down the road, so we assume that the name should have been long gone!
We drove round in circles a little bit trying to find another road and eventually gave up, got back on the motorway, got off at the waterfalls exit, drove into the car park, incidentally all this time it was raining, and incidentally my skylight is still leaking a little bit. To go to the waterfall have to park 1 km away and catch a bus and all this was going to cost NZ$46, to see a little bit of water over a cliff! Thought I would wait until the film came out!
The G3 coverage in China is phenomenal, you can get an Internet connection almost anywhere, you see the cellphone towers in all sorts of places, and I guess there are no lobby groups to say you cannot put a cellphone tower next to the kindergarten, it does not work like that in China! But it certainly gives the user wonderful coverage.
Saturday, July 14
Today we carried on our drive towards Kunming, naturally on the toll roads, we were due to go a different way through the mountains, but with all the rain that there has been in this area it would have been a very slow rough trip so we ended up taking the easy option, the motorway.
The motorway here in China have rules like the motorways is right round the world, no bicycles, no pedestrians, no motorcycles, no horse and cart.
Today we saw scores of people walking along the motorway, walking through the tunnels, we saw a motorcycle winding its way through a tunnel, we saw two men on a bicycle going downhill at about 60 K, we saw a woman walking a water buffalo along the motorway, so the rules here in China seem to be different to most places.
People walk onto the motorway from their villages and catch a bus from the side of the motorway, and of course when they come home they get let off on the side of the motorway!
It is not uncommon as you drive along the motorway to see lots of people sweeping the edge of the motorway with their long handled broom that is made from branches.
Often along the motorway to see a large green sign indicating if you have an emergency you should telephone this number 13984628884, it uses the letters SOS and I quite frankly wonder what sort of person that would take to remember that number as you're driving along the motorway at 100 K!
Today we saw the results of two crashes than just happened with the last 30 minutes and considering how many accidents there are in China I'm surprised we have not seen more.
Today one of the bridges we drove over was a very long four-lane suspension Bridge and has to be among the biggest/longest in the world…..perhaps!!!
The destination we chosen from today was the Luliang Colourful Sand Forest, this was not on the itinerary, Luda found it on the map close to Kunming so we headed to see this sight and we are staying the night in their car park.
It's a nice walk through the erosion created pillars which have been, with a little bit of imagination, called a forest, the pillars of rock have a multitude of colours fused into the rock over the years and the whole thing looks a little bit like the Painted Desert in the States. There was a delightful walk through the park and a few rock carvings to keep the interest. Their website is www.csshl.com
There is a large circular arena type setting beside the car park with a dirt arena, not quite sure what it was for, but I guess the dirt would soak up a lot of blood if they were using the arena in the good old “Red Book” days feeding the people that needed to be re-educated to the Lions!
Sunday, July 15
We have about 32 days to go before we exit China, then of course we had to get back to Europe, in the meantime today we have driven to the Stone Forest, very swept up since I was last here, but then everything is! The car park is in front of the Stone Forest Tourist Reception Centre which is a large complex including a hotel and restaurant on the inside is using marble everywhere, they have spared no expense.
It is hard not to compare the two countries that are favoured communism, Russia and China, Russia went from communism directly to capitalism with the result that they probably got more billionaires through corruption than any other country, China has maintained their version of communism and they have also many millionaires but the difference in the infrastructure of the two countries is incredible.
China has got autobahns everywhere Russia has very few, China is building hundreds of high rise apartments, perhaps even thousands, Russia is also building them but at a much slower rate, of course they have just a fraction of the population, and in Russia as foreigners we get stopped often by the police for no real reason, in China we have yet to be stopped by the police, China has hundreds/thousands of small businesses in small shops in every village town city, Russia appears to have larger establishments selling high-priced western goods at Western prices.
Supermarkets in China are chock-a-block full of food, Chinese food, if you're a Westerner looking for meat, vegetables, butter, cheese, diet Coke, diet anything (if you are diabetic) you'll be hard pressed to find anything you can buy!
We arrived in Kumning drove through into the centre of town, were almost getting the hang of driving in China now, the rules are you give way to nobody, but try and not smash into a another car. We made our way to the hotel and parks in their car park for the large sum of 50 yuan.
Today we went shopping in a Wal-Mart supermarket, again no butter, but if the number of people walking round the shop is any measure of success this shop was a super success as it was packed and very hard to move the trolley around. We found some of the basics, paid and went outside and found a three wheel motorcycle with a small cab on the back, built of course the Chinese, I managed to squeeze in with the bag full of groceries and there was still room for Luda. It took us back to the hotel car park for the large sum of five yuan.
Monday, July 16
Today our destination is Dali, and on the way there we stopped off at the Dinosaur Museum, this museum is built on the location where they found the dinosaur bones and evidently there are three major types of dinosaur found here. It was very well done showing the life of the dinosaur, how they lived and how they died. They had lots of skeletons and you're able to walk over the ground were some bones still were and you walked on glass so you could see the bones in their final resting place. There was a very good film on the asteroid that scientists believe hit the earth and caused the extinction of this animal.
It was interesting driving into the Dinosaur Valley, as they call it, a lot of the houses we saw had paintings of dinosaur’s on their walls and as we left the valley again the houses were decorated with paintings.
A little further on we found the house was still had beautiful paintings on them but this time they were rather nice designs, mostly round but they certainly made the houses stand out and reminded us a lot of the houses of Bavaria.
We carried on our 340 km drive to the lakeside city of Dali, the lake on one side and the mountains on the other. Last time I did this drive 20+ years ago it took 10 hours but this time there was a motorway which made for much easier and shorter travel.
It's always interesting coming up behind the trucks in China, the size of the loads that they carry are horrendous, there seems to be no maximum width and often they are loaded so far out to the side that they have a special mirror on an extended arm, (very similar to the extended mirror cars put on when they are towing a caravan) so they can see around their load, and of course going up the hill if one track is going 1 km faster than the one in front they will naturally want to pass on this holds up the traffic for the incredible length of time.
Today we saw a truck on the side of the motorway, he had been parking and decided that it was time to move on, so he started driving and the two cars that were trying to pass him almost had a major pileup that he drove on oblivious to everything, this seems to be the norm everywhere.
Our first impression of Dali as we drove into the car park for the old city that was possibly the cleanest most beautiful Chinese city were being in yet. Their houses that we saw were beautiful with lots of art work on the walls, the streets were very clean and there was none of the mad traffic we have come to expect of China.
Tuesday 17 July
This morning we caught a taxi out to the three pagodas had a good look round them and then climb one set of stairs and look at a temple, beside this temple with two other buildings full of golden statue's, first to build out of copper and then gold plated, said to be most valuable statues in China, even the prayer wheels were golden. Then another set of stairs and another temple and finally went up to the top to look at the Buddhist monastery, there were lots of monks in the monastery busy praying.
The other item of interest in the city was the old town which has now been turned into a tourist shopping town. The car park that were in had at one stage 40 buses and the buses were coming and going all the time poring the people into the town following guides with their flags. We saw quite a few Europeans in the town, well perhaps there were a dozen which is a lot for China.
The shopping was aimed totally at the tourist without much pretence and with the volume of people walking through the place all the time one would assume they do a reasonable business. I made one purchase and am now the proud possessor of the “ Little Red Book ” in English, I could have bought it in almost any other language, the first price was 80 yuan but they accepted 20.
The old town was full of restaurants, quite a few catering for tourists with English menus and English dishes, all very reasonably priced by Western standards.
As we came into the city we had noticed some shops specialising in automotive upholstery so we took our motorhome there to have the drivers seat fixed, there was a piece of metal had come loose under the seat and was slowly wearing the leather away.
The tradespeople had a look at it and seemed to know what the problem was and so we gave him the job, they took the seat out which took ages, and undid the staples under the seat, pulled the leather back, found the piece of metal which had come loose, took it out and its partner, stabled it all together again and it looked like new. Total sum 80 yuan, it's finally nice to be in a country where you can afford to employ a tradesman.
Wednesday, July 18
It's very interesting now that Sue is not with us how the tension seems to have disappeared from the group, Eion is even smiling and talking and seems much more relaxed, it's interesting how just one person can affect a whole group of people.
Finally the true story as to why Sue left the group has emerged, we were told it was because she wanted to wait for a husband Roger to do the rest of the trip, I found out yesterday that the mechanics had discovered more problems with Sue's vehicle which were going to take at least 10 days to fix so that left her with no option but to stay behind. I'm not sure why we could not have been told this almost a week ago, perhaps it was secret squirrel stuff!
Dali is at 2000 m elevation and the hot humid weather we've been experiencing over the last few days have now disappeared to be replaced today with rain! Is certainly good to be able to sleep at night with a cool temperature and much lower humidity.
Today we are driving, in the rain to Shangri'la and then on to Lijiang, however first 20 km out of Dali we stopped to visit Xizhou Bai people's Town, a village of a minority, the road was so narrow that we parked on the main road and the team took little three wheeler motorcycle rickshaws down to the village, in the rain whilst I sat in the motorhome, in the dry, updating the newsletter.
Lulu came back after having had a tour through the village and stopped at a workshop where they made pictures from silk, some of them taking 18 months to finish and selling for about 5000 yuan.
We carried on in the rain north, just going up some hills, Eion's Hymer had a problem with the gear linkage which meant he could not go into first or second gear, so was back down the hill, back to the previous village where he found somebody that can do an emergency repair and got him on the road again.
We carried on the road north winding in and around the hills, through interesting little villages, looking at some of the outfits the women were wearing they would have been their minority villagers, when we had about 100 km to go and we were about level with Lijiang we found a petrol station where we could stop for the night.
Thursday, July 19
We carried on our route to Shangri-La up in the mountains, evidently a Tibetan village, something we were destined not to visit, as shortly after being on the road this morning we heard an unusual noise from the motor of our motorhome, we stopped and Eion listened to it agreed with me it was possibly the water pump, we topped up the reserve overflow for the radiator, stopped in 10 km and no problems so we carried on up the hill.
All of a sudden the temperature gauge went to the top, a red light appeared and we lost all power, so we pulled over to a convenient parking spot, steam was coming from everywhere, so it looks like the original diagnosis was correct, and possibly add to that the bottom radiator hose.
Looking underneath the motorhome the whole bottom of the motor had a cover so one was unable to see anything from underneath.
The next thing was to cruise down the hill, so we started the motor up after it had cooled down and turned the motorhome around and then freewheeled down the hill with no power steering and very little brakes, we found a guesthouse after about 5 km so we pulled into that and parked, then looked at what our next option was.
The village that we had just passed was not equipped to do anything for us so and Andy got on the telephone to Kumning, found an agent for Fiat, books the motorhome in to be repaired, and then started looking for a recovery truck to take the motorhome 500 km south.
Eventually one was found, no they could not take passengers, so we had to have a car take us separately, and the price for the recovery truck and the car for us was 14,000 yuan, and they were due to arrive to collect us in the motorhome at 10 AM tomorrow.
Friday, July 20
10 AM came and went, at 11:30 AM the car to take us arrived and about 30 minutes later the truck arrived. My first impression looking at the truck was that it was too small but with careful measuring it was decided that it would fit on, just!
Then came the fun of putting the motorhome on the back of the truck and the manner in which they wanted to do this was to lower the tray at an angle and winch the motorhome onto the deck. This would have been fine if we didn't have a large overhang after the rear wheel so they had to obtain two garage jacks, on wheels, placed the checks at the rear lifting it up and winch the motorhome on carefully almost an inch at a time.
Around this time they wanted all the cash up front to do the transport job, well I was not having this on, so I asked him how much is the vehicle being insured for and they replied 500,000 yuan, I said I am trusting you with this 500,000 yuan vehicle and I might never see you again and you are asking me to pay money up front, I told him he was dreaming and walked away, not sure how much was translated that no more mention of money was made. Around this time the total fee went from 14,000 to 15,000 yuan because we were 10 km further out from the village.
About three hours later they had it on the back of the truck and so the next thing that happened was that the truck took off with us following in a car making sure it remained on the truck. They stopped a couple of times to tighten things up and then we went through the bit of road that was under construction and that was definitely a test for how it was secured on the back of the vehicle.
We were almost through this roughest part when we received a text telling us that they are unable to obtain insurance for the transport of the motorhome because nobody knew what was or its value. Then the decision was do we carry on with no insurance, take it off the truck and try to find another truck and perhaps try to find insurance, so really we had no option but to carry on with no insurance and we requested that the truck goes slow and not at the normal Chinese speed.
The next thought was no insurance means we should be getting a lesser charge, their answer was that it will take longer to deliver the motorhome because they are going slower and so this will cost more in driver's fees (as if they paid them very much) so they said sorry no difference, except they missed the word sorry!
Eventually we got up over the rough stuff and so the car with us in it, took off at high speed leaving the truck to hopefully carry on slowly, carefully, and safely.
While we were travelling south Eion and the guide Andy, now to a group of one, carried on north to Shangri-La and we may see them as they pass through Kumning on Wednesday carrying on their tour north.
All the time we have been in China we been watching the way Chinese drivers drive, now we are experiencing it from inside the car. Around 8 PM we were driving in the dark, and this perhaps was better because at least you could see headlights coming towards you, at one point our driver had his hazard lights on driving at high speed through a 40 km village occasionally blowing his horn, but we made it through all the winding roads and ended up once again in Dali.
We had the problem of getting money to pay for the carrier once we arrived so we visited in an ATM in Dali, using our three cash cards were able to draw out a total of 9000 yuan and were left wondering how we were going to get the rest to pay for the transport tomorrow when they were due to arrive.
We all arrived back in Kumning at 4 AM so added a little bit of sleep with what was left of the morning to what we managed to get in the car coming down. Our room is costing 380 yuan a day with breakfast for one, which means we eat every second day!
Saturday, July 21
For some reason we were not feeling 100% today and I cannot work out why!
The good news was that the truck would not be in until 10 PM tomorrow and we would take delivery of the motorhome at 9 AM Sunday morning.
Sunday, July 22
We were having breakfast and our two drivers of the car came in and told us the truck had arrived and would be going down to the garage at 9 AM, so we finished breakfast met up with them downstairs, told them we wanted to go to an ATM, and then we pulled out the rest of the money to pay for the transport.
Down at the Subaru garage the truck was waiting for us and the motorhome looked in exactly the same condition as it was 500 km ago.
Around this time the guy that was in charge of the transporting of the motorhome asked to be paid and I told him to get the motorhome off the track first, naturally through an interpreter, so no more mention was made.
Then there was the big discussion amongst all the garage people and the transport people how to get the motorhome off the truck, this discussion must have taken the best part of 30 to 40 minutes, then they finally decided to shift four cars which allowed the truck to park slightly lower (on sloping ground) which meant they could move the deck straight back and it was almost level on the higher slope.
Naturally while all this was going on there was a large audience of people from the garage and who else happened to be in the area.
All that was a good exercise and about three hours after they had started they had the motorhome off in one piece pushed back into a corner of the yard, at this point I was once again asked for the money and as the common currency is 100 yuan notes 15,000 made up quite a handful. Most Chinese establishments have money counting machines, so I put a heap of money on one of these machines and kept adding money until it got to the 15,000. This then was countered again by the machine, passed over to the transport executive, and he countered it again by hand, it was correct, so that was finished.
Andy had told the garage what the problem was with the motorhome and what needed to be done, but that was two days ago so we had to go through everything again in the first step was with who I assume was the chief mechanic passing me a telephone with a friend of his they could speak sort of English, to ask me what had to be fixed, after a few minutes I realised I was getting not very far, so telephoned Andy, and he said they know what is to be done, I said tell them again.
After about 10 minutes or so of talking evidently the message was understood, and I thought I'll see if I can get them to fix the step that was damaged, so with the lot of sign language and pointing to the bits and pieces I think they got the message, time will tell.
So now we sit and wait to find out exactly what is wrong with the motor, as they do not sell Fiat commercial in China, the parts will have to be shipped in, so in next two days we will know how long we are in Kumning for, and then we will have to decide where do we go from here.
Around eight o'clock there was a knock on our hotel door and I went and answered it, and I was passed a Chinese newspaper, or almost pasted one and when she saw who it was, took it back and gave me an English written newspaper.
It had some interesting items in there, China currently has 388 million mobile web users, this is people using the web from their cellphone. After the Japanese meltdown of the atomic power station, China had put a hold on building any more, this has now been lifted and there will be a building new ones to add to the +40 that they currently have.
There was an article on how a large number of foreign companies are building retail outlets throughout China, all the big names from Europe and America seem to be represented and they quoted that the sale of the 50 large department stores in China increased by 8.15% in the first quarter of this year.
They mentioned that Wal-Mart, who is the world's largest retailer by revenue had 376 stores, Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer by revenue, had 206 stores, UK’s Tesco the world's third-largest retailer by volume has 124 supermarkets, and all are expanding. Adidas have opened 6000 stores and are planning another 600 by the end of the year.
A lot of the industry depends on coal and with the world economic downturn, the demand for coal has taken a big drop and consequently the price has dropped substantially so some mines have ceased production.
The smart phone market is dominated by Apple and Samsung and a Chinese company ZTE are wanting to grab some of the action releasing its latest smart phone in London, 10 days before the opening of the London Olympics.
Monday 23rd July
We went out to have a look at one of the supermarkets, the hotel said it was 10 K out, but it turned out to be just round the corner, interesting people's perception of distance when they use public transport.
We were there at lunchtime, and as there was a Pizza Hut there we decided to splash out and dine there, what's the smartest Pizza Hut I've ever been in, all the Chinese that were there were well-dressed, and there was not a chopstick in sight, although how you can eat a pizza with the chopsticks I'm not sure, but to be fair there was a tremendous amount of other type of food on the menu, some of it might even pass as being healthy.
Back at the hotel and message came in saying that the water pump was not available in China (which I knew), so I told them to contact Fiat Italy and bring one in, so it looks like we're here for the long haul.
Idling in Kumning from July 23rd
One of the first things we did when we arrived in the city with the motorhome on the back of the truck was to contact my friend Hank in Holland and asked him to make enquiries about a water pump.
It's just as well that I did because Fiat China do not import the Fiat commercial line (I have seen enough on their own Chinese manufacturer), and Fiat China were not interested in bringing in spare parts for something they know nothing about. Added to the confusion, our translator described our Fiat as the Fiat made motorhome, I'm sure Carthago would be delighted about that.
Then there was the garage that was reluctant to touch anything they did not know and at one stage said they could do nothing. They were a little bit happier when I told them I was bringing in a workshop manual cover was still rather dubious.
So the message went out to Hank to order parts and shipped them to the garage here in Kunming via DHL, I ordered a water pump, set of radiator hoses, and a workshop manual. I asked Hank to send me a PDF file of the water pump section from the manual before everything was given to the Courier. The message came through that was due to be available on 1 August.
The workshop manual page arrived, showing the four bolts to be undone to remove the pump, something a Kiwi mechanic would not have to be told, when the mechanic saw the page he was very happy and later in the day got to work removing the pump. I've heard nothing to the contrary that there is anything else wrong beside the pump!