Everything looks awesome when it’s about to rain

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It’s bipolar season in south Yunnan. Sometimes the skies are bright, the clouds are thin and sparse, and the sun cooks all of my mangoes so thoroughly that I have to eat them practically half-rotten. At other times, everything up above goes black, eclipse-like, turning the scenery eerily beautiful. Downpours start and stop without rhyme or reason. One drop, then two, then five million. A week back, within the space of five minutes and not even one kilometer, I went from “scorched by a trillion unhindered sunbeams” to “enveloped by a rain so thick I couldn’t see five meters ahead of me.” The raindrops pounded like golf balls, so solid that I could actually watch them bouncing off of me intact. (Is it possible for hail to fall when the temperature is in the low 90s?) Thirty minutes later, the storm had passed and everything was back to normal, except that what had once been clean little rivulets running down the mountainside had now become torrents of mud.

Another example of mysterious weather, this time from last night: behind me, a clean, blue sky, spotted with cotton balls. Directly above me, the clouds all joined together into one expansive white mass. Slightly ahead of me, the mass darkened, seeming to become the sky rather than cover it. Further in the distance, somehow, were darker clouds standing out against the already dark sky-cloud conglomeration. I did not know such things were possible.

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Anyhow, aside from the weather, things have been good. Going back through the pictures and choosing which ones to post always makes me feel nostalgic, even if it’s only been a week. Sometimes it almost feels like the trip wouldn’t even be real if I weren’t blogging about it. Nonsequitur: this is what young tobacco looks like – I’ve been informed that it has to covered in plastic during the first weeks of its life.

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I went to couchsurf with Olivier and Pei-han in a tiny village outside of Lincang. According to Olivier’s profile, there are “no restaurants, no bars, and no prostitutes” out here.

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That’s ok by me.

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O (French) and P (Taiwanese) live out here researching, promoting, distributing, and (primarily) drinking Pu’er tea. They also make their own pasta. And beer.

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Amazing sauce: sautee onions, tomatoes, egglpants, and herbs, then blend it all up. Or, replace the onions with squash, add a little more water, and serve as a soup instead, perhaps topped with croutons made from diced potatoes, first parboiled, then fried? Christ that was good.

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Triple-salad: potatoes (sauteed then cooled) with mint leaves; cabbage vinagrette; egg something or other.

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Their village, Wanyao, is famous for pottery.

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And home to twelve “Dragon Kilns,” which are pretty much impossible to photograph. Each kiln sort of slithers up a hill side like this and is made of ten or so different sections. My understanding is that they start the fire at the bottom and then the heat rises up through each chamber as it gets opened. We tried to go see one in action, but they had stopped stoking the fire, and only the last (highest) of the segments was still hot.

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Sunrise from Olivier’s roof.

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Not an inch goes unused.

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Hey hey, another bald Frenchman! Alain got out his notebook to write down my email address and, lo and behold: a fellow Sadhanite! One year from France, across Europe, to India, through Southeast Asia, and into China. He taught me how to say “I don’t eat meat” in Lao and assured me that all would be good. Happy trails, brother.

For the record, the above photo was taken within an hour of the hailstorm mentioned earlier.

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Another 20km later and look who I run into in town – three more French cyclists. These three started out from Laos, where the one on the right had been working. Notice anything interesting about her bike? Yeah, the frame is made out of bamboo. Craaaaaazy.

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“Continuous ascent.” The biggest, longest climb I’ll have to make to get out of China. 1000m+ elevation gain.

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Three hours later, the tunnel at the top.

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A year ago, in Korea, a climb a third of this length to an altitude a fifth of this mountain’s seemed incredible to me. Incredible that nature formed such things; incredible that I could surmount them on a bicycle. Three months ago, in Vietnam, I spent a whole week dreading the ride past “Fansipan,” the nation’s highest peak, just about this high. Now, Yunnan has hardened me. This was a big climb, but only about 50% bigger than the ones one has to do daily while cycling here. I don’t think I even let out a whoop of joy when I hit the top.

After all, what’s the sense of getting all worked up when this 17km descent is going to be followed by another 12km going upwards?. What a day!

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Alain tipped me off about a bike shop in the next town with a friendly group of riders who had bought him dinner and even got him a hotel room. I made my way to them, but wasn’t quite sure how to approach the boss. “Ummmm….I met this guy on the road…he said you gave him some stuff for free, can I maybe have it too?” After a bit of awkwardness at the beginning, the friends started pouring in. First, dinner at Yellow Shirt Man (official nickname: African)’s restaurant. Then, drinks and more food at the bike shop. Then, free deluxe hotel room at a friend’s hotel! Sweeeeeeeeet. A couple of the guys spoke some English, and enjoyed saying things to each other like “The world is a dangerous place, you should get out!” and “I hate you so much!” It almost felt like being a middle schooler again.

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“Calabash gourd world square.”

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Ooh, classy.

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They made me promise to stay for lunch the next day. No problem, since by morning I still hadn’t recovered from the corn whiskey the night before – even though I had stopped drinking after my second shot and switched over to just sniffing the glass and gagging each time everyone else toasted. Indigenous alcholol is vile, vile, vile stuff.

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I took a detour. The road started out as a nice, sidewalk-style paved path through some paddies and villages. Then turned to dirt. And rocks. And switchbacks. The last 2km were this – mud three inches deep and a narrow slice where someone had already come though on their moped. Thank god for whoever that was.

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2 Responses to Everything looks awesome when it’s about to rain

  1. chris green says:

    Not sure why exactly, but this is one of my favorites of your posts. It might have something to do with how thick the beard is getting. ..