The alarm woke me with a startle at 5.15 from a deep sleep. It had been a restless night as I tossed and turned considering the imponderable questions of what would happen if the car still failed to perform.
Our guide, her name is ‘Green’ as she was born on Earth Day came as my passenger and guide, while the 2 mechanics trailed in a second car. Unfortunately for Green, she cannot let us out of her sight – these are the rules in China and what we need to accept for the opportunity of driving around the country. The objective was to get the car hot by working it hard. We did just that.
Green said she enjoyed driving fast when I apologised for what I was putting her through. We got airborne a couple of times, not hard with the way the suspension is set up and the back roads we were using were bumpy, dark and narrow. But her colour gave a different slant on the issue.
Driving in the dark poses challenges. Trying to spot stray dogs and chooks wandering along or sleeping on the road is difficult, but is compounded by the local road users who either don’t have headlights on their motor bikes, tuk tuks and assorted other farm machines pondering along the road or are unwilling to use them because it will flatten the battery.
We arrived back safely to the Navigator who had been waiting anxiously. The car did not falter. However, there were still concerns that we would still have problems with accumulated heat when the car had been run all day. We would only know once we got on the road.
The hotel we were staying in and I assume like many more to follow, does not see Western guests often. It caters for the locals. This was reflected in the breakfast. We are getting used to noodles, chilli or congee. We did not go hungry.
The other thoughtful addition has been the provision of condoms in each bedroom. The Navigator was looking for the soap, kettle and bar fridge. She did not think the condoms were an adequate substitute to the missing items.
Our destination for the day was the Yuanyang Rice terraces – I am sure you have seen the photos of this World Heritage listed sight.
The morning drive was exhilarating. Similar to previous days with steep climbs, descents and lots of curves. Never a straight stretch. All linked together with lots of tunnels and viaducts. Its not cheap on the toll ways. This one cost AUD23 for about 150k. This is all overlayed with spectacular scenery: misty mountains, forests (with elephants the sign said) and every conceivable thing was being grown on any available surface.
The second stretch for the day was 180k along a secondary road that followed the Yuanjiang (Red) River which flows down through Vietnam to the Gulf of Tonking. The river was aptly named as it was the colour of the surrounding hillsides. The whole area is much drier than our previous route.
The area is populated by (in Chinese speak) a number of ethnic minorities. The Hani are the rice farmers at Yuanyang. They are spread across this border area in China, northern Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. But was the Yi people, who we were warned by Green we needed to be wary of as theydrank beer like it was water and then when tired fell asleep on the road. You have got to love the freedom of expression in this country.
The rice terraces are spectacular. They cascade down the steep mountain side, and each day the farmers trudge down and back up with their water buffalo. There does not seem to be any evidence of mechanical assistance.
Many of the women wear traditional dress, especially the old who at around 140cm tall, are often seen walking along the roadside, bent double with heavy loads across their back, held on with a strap across their forehead.
Every time we stop we draw a crowd. People driving past pull over and if they speak English come and talk to us, otherwise they come and stand by the car for selfies or group photos with their friends. What really excites them is to drag us into their group photos with arms embraced. The ver lucky get to sit behind the wheel and take photos. We figured we should be charging for this:
· 1 yuan (about 20 cents) for a photo;
· 5 yuan for a selfie by the car; and
· 10 yuan for photos in the driver’s seat.
I think we would pay for the trip before we left China.
Dinner at the local restaurant was a hoot. Despite this being a World Heritage area, the villages sort of have the appearance of Bagdad after the bombing. There is piles of rubble everywhere and no building seems complete. The restraint had concrete floors, the beer was served hot as usual, but the local specialties were what was in demand. The big family group next too us was into the home brewed Baijiu. At plus 65% alcohol it tasted and smelt like metho to me. Anyway it was not long before they were singing traditional Chinese folk songs and one of the female members was dancing while we quietly chewed on our stir fried crickets and other local delicacies.
We made a strategic exit before getting too involved in numerous shouts with our new best friends. It was out into the torrential rain satisfied that we had made it and the car had not faltered.