4.1.17 JianShui to JingHong

The roof drumming continues from yesterday as rain batters the plastic roof and drips through cracks onto concrete, two floors below. The warter torture has a casualty and team Roberts is a woman down. Al has a bad head cold or bird flu as we know it. She’s so bad she doesn’t want food.

 The Horror……..The Horror……..

I use my excellent mandarin skills to order two pork boazi, which are steamed dough dumplings. Both are full of vegetables. Tasty.

We pack, checkout and paddle a coracle down the road to the only coffee shop in Jianshui where we aim to while away four hours until our 4pm bus. We manage one. We catch the number 13 and head out of Jianshui to the bus station. It’s a shame to leave as it’s a fascinating place. The province of Yunnan is the most ethnically diverse in China and there are many people here in tribal clothing. Babies are carried in decorated slings on women’s backs, old ladies wear charms and bells in colourful headbands. Poverty is also on show though, in the tanned faces and durable army fatigue clothing of the rural labourers. 

We arrive at the bus station at 2.00pm and decide not to go through the security check to the buses but wait outside where there are toilets and photo displays of people killed in traffic accidents. Al is suffering and cold so eventually we decide to go through but before we do, I nip to the gents. I’m used to amonia burning my middle aged nasal hair by now but I stand momentarily frozen, confused by the toilet. I’m faced with a set of small dividing walls raised about half a metre off the ground by two long rows of tiled blocks. Between the long rows is a trough. I notice a head at the far end, floating above a dividing wall and realise he is crouching over the trough. I can’t see any flushing mechanism. I look around. No water anywhere. Do I really need the loo? Is the bus journey really 12 hours? Someone walks in and climbs onto the long block and aims into the trough. I do the same between a different dividing wall. I still can’t see a flushing mechanism. It is easily the worst toilet I have used so far on this trip.

We go through security and put our bags through the x-ray machine which someone is watching. Wow! We wait and notice people wandering in and out of security and no-one is bothered. We watch buses come and go but they are all small and our seat numbers are 32 and 33 so we reckon we must be on the back seats which can be bouncy on an overnight trip.

A man shouts Jinghong and we get up. He checks the tickets and points to the road outside the station where a coach is parked. We go back through security and the suprised coach driver moves two young girls from their seats, cleans their food debris away and sits us down. The bus is full of adolescents, mainly boys. Seat numbers are irrelevant here.

We snake through mountain passes looking at clouds in the valley below until the light is gone. A couple of hours later we stop at a building for food. Its dark now and we don’t fancy food on an overnight bus but a toilet break is welcome. I enter the gents and am faced by two blokes crouching next to each other over the trough, confirming its use. They both stare at me. One is smoking. I have never been in this situation before so don’t know whether to smile or say hello, so I do neither.

We chat to the other westerner on the bus, a lovely Italian lady who teaches English in Sichuan. We seem to be making excellent progress toward Jinghong and maps.me indicates we aren’t far. At 11pm we arrive, 5 hours early! We have no room booked so cab it to the hostel we had booked for tomorrow night and thankfully they are still up and have a room available.

3.1.17 JianShui

Torrential rain continued throughout the night. The hostel was an old design of rooms off a central square open courtyard, with three floors. We were on the second floor (or first floor in the UK ), perfectly placed to hear the rain drum against the modern plastic corrugated roof and the loud rythmical splats of the drips from the holes in the roof hitting the concrete floor. An upgrade of Chinese water torture. The duvet kept us prisoner for some time.

Food drove us to escape and in damp cold conditions there are many things better than blueberry yoghurt and coconut bread but we couldn’t find them.

Further escape was needed so we paid 12p and caught the number 13 to the bus station. We dodged the touts and bought tickets on the 12 hour overnighter to Jinghong at 4pm tomorrow. 

Despite the relentless rain we decided to walk back into town. The road was being redeveloped but between the rubble and puddles shopkeepers sold shoes, baskets, steamed buns, shovels and optimistically in this weather, solar panels. We passed a place which had a picture of xiaolongbao and although the shop was, by western standards, filthy, we had to stop for one last taste. The buns were doughy but the flavour of the chinese black vinegar with the addition of corriander was sublime. We also had a steamer of dumplings too.

We pottered around more, trying to enjoy the beautiful, old architecture of Jianshui but the rain became even heavier, so to avoid drowning, we went back to the hostel to listen to the roof drumming. It was a shame because Jianshui is beautiful. If you imagine old Chinese architecture of grey tiled rolling roofs and wooden carved doors along tiny cobbled alleyways, here it is. So much of the China we have seen has been redeveloped or facelifted or repainted but Jianshui was beautifully old and decrepit. I loved it for its honesty.

Dry time was spent blogging, reading and planning a route for the next three months. Paula and Dave, we’re excited to see you soon!

Food once again meant battling the deluge so we headed straight to a restaurant the hostel recommended to us. We were happily given an English menu and ordered happy duck, spicy fish, peanut and herb soup and broccoli. It was very tasty. The duck had a spicy coating but also came with a spicy bbq sauce which was very, very good.

PEOPLE, PUT SOME HOT CHILLI IN YOUR BBQ SAUCE. TRUST ME.

The fish looked amazing. Count those chillis! We really enjoyed the meal.

We swam home.

2.1.2017 Kunming to Jianshui 

After tossing a virtual coin we decided against leaving China on an overnight bus to Laos, where it is 27 degrees and sunny, and prolong our chinese adventure by going to Jianshui and Jinghong on our way to Laos. 

We (stupidly) ignored the easy option of train travel to Jianshui instead opting for a bus which left from Kunming South bus terminal, a 45 min, 65RMB taxi ride away.

After the usual pointless xray machine checks, involving unloading and reloading of all our bags whilst no one checked the xray screen, we found the bus stand. About 4 locals came to ask where we were going, for no other reason that they wanted to know, they weren’t there to help us, just curious, which is fine by us.

Our bus left the stand at 11am sharp, it reversed about 5m and stopped for 15 mins. This reoccured a few times. We then had a policeman come on board before we eventually left the bus station.

The journey was fascinating, travelling through towns and fertile lands absolutely full of vegetables, with a few goats and water buffalo wandering about the fields. There were loads of people working the land as as well, most crouching down planting or tending the seedlings and some spraying god knows what over the growing veg.  One town we went through seemed to be the vegetable processing town with trucks piled high with veg, pak choi, spring onions, peas, Chinese cabbage that had been prepared for the chinese markets. 

We had a lunch stop, although we weren’t hungry we saw a lass with some fried spicy potatoes and got ourselves a portion. They were hot, spicy, and as usual undercooked, potatoes with garlic, spring onions, chilli, rice vinegar, coriander and salt.

With various stops on the way to pick up people from the roadside we made it to Jianshui in 4 hours. A local bus ride later we were in our new room, it was cold and slightly damp with a sign lowering our expectations for a hot shower. 

The reason we came to Jianshu was for the food, it was supposed to be great, so we set off for a snack.  The streets were wet from previous rain and the pavement was like walking on sheet ice. I have never slipped so much, sober, so we walked at a snails pace. There is little English signage here so we are somewhat out of our depth,  we spy a street stall with the spicy potatoes we had earlier and queue for a portion. They are similarly undercooked, with mint instead of coriander and another aniseedy spice we do not recognise however as it was 5 RMB, including chicken, we eat them eagerly. 

Everywhere the cafes had old ‘Aunties’ crouched over some embers with small round things on a grill, I was hoping they were goats cheese, however I was greatly disappointed to find out it was the local speciality of grilled tofu. Guy ate 13 of them before he could work out how to stop them coming.  The bill was worked put by Auntie putting a sweetcorn kernel to one side every time Guy had a piece of tofu. Genius!

We shared a wild mushroom rice, yum.

It is amazing we have come just a few 100 km and the food is so different, the tofu, the rice, the potatoes are not found anywhere else.

After more careful walking around in the pouring rain, we ducked into our last restaurant and ordered the local Cai Yu  (vegetable similar to bamboo) with pork, and some aubergines in brown sauce. The Cai Yu was probably the most tasteless food we have had in China (well, apart from tofu, but that is supposed to be tastless). The plate was swimming in oil as well, so we ended up leaving some food, a rarity for us! Aubergines were really oily but tasted delicious.  

We did tai chi in the room,  admittedly mainly to to keep warm, and wondered what 27 degrees would feel like…..