13-Aug-2014 -- Black Water
It was nearing the end of summer and I had an itch to get out of Chengdu. I wanted to try and visit a couple of confluences with some friends, but previous attempts to get the uninitiated to go had always failed. So I decided to organize a bike trip and slip a couple of confluences in along the way.
There were four of us who had the time and desire to take a trip; all rugby players. James, the South African women's rugby coach had been on two other rugby bike trips with me, and two women in China as English Teachers: Peege, a Malayan woman engineer taking a break from building buildings, and Kara, a Dayton University student of special education.
We had six days that worked for everyone. Due to limited time we decided to take a bus to Heishui (Black Water) and start cycling there. We met a 6 AM at my garage where the bikes are stored and loaded the panniers with the gear we needed. It was to be simple affair to travel light and staying in hotels or home stays.
We cycled about 45 minutes to the bus station to catch the 8:30 AM bus to Heishui. When traveling on buses with bikes, it is critical to get there very early to insure there is room in the luggage compartment for the bikes. If you get there too late, all the space is taken by other passengers luggage, and you have to wait for the next bus. We got there in plenty of time, but the driver insisted we pay extra for the bikes.
The ride should have been about six hours, but about 20 kilometers from Heishui, a land slide blocked the road and we had to switch buses and climb up a steep path about 100 meters with the bikes. This proved very difficult as the path was slippery from the recent rains that caused the landslide. We got help from other passengers and one even carried Peege's bike up the hill.
Upon arriving at Heishui, we went into town to look for a rain-cape for James. While we were there, the police stopped us to question us and photograph us and our passports.
My plan was to try for the confluence 32n 103e. It was 11 km from Heishui up the hill. There was a road with some villages shown on the map. The hill was steep and as we were already at 2,300 meter in Heishui, the climb was not easy for us four low-landers. We cycled about 5 km per hour up the hill. James and Kara were up ahead, as would be the case for the entire trip. Peege was having a hard time as her bike and gear was 60% of her weight, where as for the rest of us it was more like 30%.
James and Kara stopped for a break near a house that turned out to be a small shop. The old lady was startled to see us but welcomed us into her house to see what she had to sell. Not much as it turned out, but we got some important info on the situation up the hill. We learned that all the villages along the road above the one we were at had been abandoned and everyone resettled in the lower village. So we had to change my plan to cycle to the furthest village as there would be no where to stay.
Actually that was fine with us as we were all a bit tired anyway. We continued up the hill until we met an elderly couple in their 80's sitting out on their step watching the world go by. Earlier we had seen the man tooling up the hill on his speedy electric tricycle with a shit-eating grin on his face. We sat around ad talked as best we could to them. Them man could speak Mandarin, but the woman only knew Tibetan and was hard of hearing as well. None of us knew Tibetan, so we spoke the man, who translated to his wife.
After about 30 minutes of this, we asked if there was any place we could stay the night. Their house was too small, but the neighbor across the street had a big house, she might be able to put us up. A while later she came by and after a discussion invited us to spend the night at her house.
The house was stone and wood built by her family. The woman was in her 60's and she was taking care of her grandson while her son and daughter-in-law were working done in the city. We put the bikes in the shed, which housed two enormous pigs, scaring me with a big snort when I went in. The toilet was a squatty potty pit style that use mulch to mix with the deposits and was surprisingly easy on the nose.
Inside the house was simply furnished with a few overstuffed chairs, an electric stove used for heating people and water, a TV and an alter with a Buddha. The kitchen was a grimy affair with a surprising poster of government leaders. The woman spoke simple Mandarin, so we could communicate. She made us some tea and then started making dinner. Peege helped peel a boatload of potatoes. These were mixed with lard and boiled for a while along with rice. Out hostess also cut up cucumbers and mixed them with chili spices.
The meal was difficult, as whenever we would eat half of what we were served, out host would add a big ladle of rice or potatoes to fill it up again. And it was impossible to refuse without offending.
Finally the meal ended and she showed us where we could spend the night; upstairs on two queen size mattresses on the floor soiled with some mice droppings. James and I shared one mattress; Peege and Kara shared the other.
The night passed fitfully for most of us. In the morning our host reheated the leftovers from last night, much to our shagrin. This time she made rice porridge and followed the pattern of never letting a bowl become half empty until we were ready to burst. As a going away gift, our hostess made us a giant momo, a round heavy thick Tibetan bread that was fresh off the skillet.
Our plan was to left our gear at her house while we went up the hill to try to get to the confluence. This proved difficult to organize because our hostess was going into town. IT worked out in the end though with her neighbor having the keys. As we were departing, we gave the young boy 200 RMB for payment of the food and accommodation. It is always best to give it the kid since the adults will be too shy to accept it directly.
Free of our gear, cycling up the hill was relatively painless. James and Kara were ahead again, and when we stopped for a water break, a group of Tibetans on trailer pulled by a tractor came by. I asked them how to get to Nake, the abandoned village nearest the confluence. They pointed up a dirt road that veered off the main road. James and Kara were already gone the wrong way, so I left Peege at the junction and tried to catch up. A small pickup truck came by and I asked the driver to tell James and Kara to come back. He said he would and I waited for about 10 minutes, but they never turned up. So I continued up the hill in search of them and finally found them at the top of the dead-end road waiting for Peege and I. They couldn't believe they had gone the wrong way.
We had an exhilarating ride back down the hill to Peege and then a slow bumpy ride on the dirt road. It started to rain and we came across the Tibetans harvesting tree trunks for houses and greens for the pigs. We continued to the closet point the the confluence, which we 1.3 km and found what appeared to be a path along a small stream. We hid the bikes in the bushes and started up the steep hill. The path soon disappeared and we were stuck walking in the cold stream and climbing up small water falls. After an hour of this we had gone 300 meters, and it was getting harder and harder. I made the decision to turn back as we would be very hard pressed to make it to the confluence and back in time before dark. It was heartbreaking to get that far and then turn around but there appeared to be little choice.
On the way back, we looked at another possibility of a patch leading in the right direction but it soon gave out to thick underbrush and forest which would have been also very slow going without a machete.
The ride back down was great for all but Peege who was fearful of the bike getting out of control as it was too big for her. Story continues on at 33N 103E.