Paul had found us a very comfortable conference centre near Taiyaun . I say near Taiyuan it took nearly three hours to get around this 6 million pop’n City and get back into our final hilly traverse towards Beijing. The hotel was set in beautiful grounds with lakes and fountains. As we buzzed around the van making final preparations we had no idea what was in store for at the end of the day. The morning started off gently -Karen got some great shots – Part of the colour coding for Chinese lorries
Then into the outskirts of Taiyuan which had a “Gothamesque” feel to it
In one of the villages there was a shop selling blow up toys and bouncy castles
At lunch we have our usual official observers
Back in the mountains for the afternoon section and a warning about rock falls.
A few more villages and the bike stay in formation to deal with UBCCD
Comments from the cab
We left the mining villages behind, Paul confidently told us we had a mere 90 miles of easy driving up into the mountains ahead, no lorries and early supper and bed so we would be fresh for the last day.
My advanced Chinese driving test had begun!
School was out and the entire population of the first small town was out too on the main road on foot, bike, tribike, horse and cart, bus, lorry, school bus, tuk tuk, rickshaw, and pushchair, car and lorry. Barriers in the centre funnelled the traffic through the town but of course on both sides it flowed in either direction and in the occasional gaps a sprinkling of policemen appeared to be stirring the melee and directing very small children into the path of the van. Keeping up with the bikes was impossible as we were increasingly slowed and swamped by the mass of humanity pressing ever closer. The vast inflated yellow elephant billowing into the middle of the town was not helping either. Eventually a cheerful policeman pointed left and we dived thankfully up a side street. This was easy we had mastered ordinary less dense urban driving by now, dodging vehicles from all directions, asserting ourselves at junctions, tooting at everything that moved, veering widely to avoid potholes, sewers and suicidal dogs.
The mist clung to the steep wooded hillside as we left the town and wound up and up on a blissfully clear road. Wonderful only 83 miles to go. we had time to notice the wild cosmos, hollyhocks and even occasional lilies peeping out of the verges. Every terrace filled with maize. We were obviously following the route of the school bus as every few miles we saw children on the side of the road walking home in small groups. Some very,very young. Karen and I gasped as we saw a four year old helping a two year old walk along the drain inches from the van, no adult or house in sight.
The road wound on further up, the evening light set in. Workers were now walking down the hill back to their homes some with hoes and spades, singly and in twos and threes.
In the villages small groups were sitting eating and talking on their porches and watching the road and sometimes their children playing on it. Apparently the one child policy is less enforced in the rural areas which is fortunate as it unclear how some make it to adult hood. Maybe, we speculate, it’s a Spartan approach, only the ones with road sense survive thus fitting them for a lifetime of dodging traffic, because, although we have seen very old and young women, whole families, children and men on foot and on every form of vehicle throw themselves into the path of the van, miraculously and thankfully we have yet to see anyone get hurt.
It grew darker, the road spiraled up only 63 miles to go- we were watching the milometer like hawks we were already so tired.
The light finally gave way to night and then quite suddenly the road stopped too. In the headlights we could see only mud and in the distance the faint backlights of the bikes. Very slowly we edged forward picking out a path through the rubble and the mud. Occasionally we saw a stream or a precipitous fall at the side of the beam, and occasionally the terrain opened out giving us a choice of route through the holes and boulders the lights of the bikes like will o’wisps always ahead. 6 pairs of eyes staring ahead, two hands gripping the wheel we lurched on for 4 miles! Mostly in second gear but dropping into first, we bottomed out several times and stalled too.
Thank goodness there was no traffic I said! Moments later the mirrors flickered a blue flashing light! What the hell is that?
“Well” said Karen with that fantastic calm that is no doubt what makes her a great Intensive care neonate nurse. “I don’t know but it is definitely gaining on us!”Over the next 10 minutes a police car chased us and over took us at a breakneck 3 miles per hour- it careered crazily on for another few minutes before turning left and drawing up outside a house. Home for supper at last?
We lumbered on and on, more houses appeared and slowly we saw there were other cars bumping and lurching across the muddy wastes, more houses emerged from the darkness and then we saw a great basin in the mud filled with water. A whole family was camped out on the mound above watching and pointing as everyone ground their way down and up the other side. Just as we began our descent a couple of crazy dogs dived into the basin too- how we did not kill them I have no idea but I have seen more dead dogs on the road side over the past four days than in my whole life.
At last some lights, we turned left into a garage forecourt, where did that come from and then out again into more mud and two lorries; one stuck, one reversing into our path. But we were into true grit mode now, on we went squeezing through narrowly passing under some wires dangling across the road. the mud also turned to grit and we got into third gear, wow the excitement, and drove on through the outskirts of a town. The milometer said were should be there!
Then on our left we heard an enormous series of explosions, the sky filled with lights- a massive firework display! I saw Paul’s tail lights at last and we turned immediately left into a hotel car park and stopped. I dimly remember a crazy hotel and a meal that featured chips baked with honey and then all my lights went out.