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DAY 296

Guilin to Longsheng

October 22, 2000 

Joan was sagging so I left alone in a drizzle that soon became rain. It was a warm rain however and I was comfortable enough inside my bright red rain poncho. Because of the continuously wet weather the potholes were filled with muddy water, hiding their potential treachery. I was trying to avoid them as well as all the Chinese people on the roads. They have no apparent rules about passing or stopping or turning. We eventually overtake every Chinese cyclist on the road because they pedal very slowly. There are no rules for the 3-wheeled and 4-wheeled vehicles either except that people on foot and on bikes have no rights whatsoever. It keeps the riding interesting!

This was a climbing day, our first real hills in a long time. I could tell I had lost some leg strength. I did manage them all but slowly. We rode in the rain and mist up and up, past wooded hillsides and very tall bamboo trees growing alongside the road. It reminded me in some ways of the Hill of Death ride, steep with switchbacks and mist and rain and a nearly tropical forest but this ride wasn’t as awful as that one was. At the summit a sign over the road read, ‘Longsheng Hot Spring, The Sky on Earth’. The description of the descent in the DRG read ‘CAUTION fast, curvy descent with plenty of obstacles in the road’. Some people lost their brakes: Barbara had to walk down, and Danny made the descent by dragging one foot and shouting to warn others that he was coming. Something strange happened to me. I felt I was losing the strength in my hands for braking so I stopped to rest. I realized then that I felt very peculiar and saw that my hands were a strange yellowish color and they appeared to be paralyzed with all the fingers sticking straight out. I couldn’t bend or move them. My face felt like it was frozen too. I was also feeling faint so I leaned forward on my handlebars and rested, head down for awhile and felt slightly improved. I managed then to climb off my bike and open my bike bag with my stiff uncooperative fingers. I ate all the food I had left, 3 cookies and a candy bar, and within a few minutes felt good enough to continue. So I guess I was just too hungry although I hadn’t noticed any hunger pangs. Apparently I hadn’t eaten enough to fuel the hill work. There hadn’t been any place to get lunch but I had had a snack from my bike bag now and again when the rain eased.

I was weary and happy to finally reach the beginning of the construction because that meant I could get a lift the last ten kilometers. The road was so torn up and so muddy that TK&A decided to provide a bus for us and a truck for our bikes. While almost everyone took advantage of the offer, not some of the every-milers. I haven’t spoken to the others but I know that Ruth and Bill rode through the 10 kilometers of construction. Mud, gravel, boulders, machines, traffic, and water buffalo were just some of the obstacles they faced. They have great courage and stamina.

Longsheng is not an attractive city, maybe because the construction extends right through town. One purpose of the road construction was to widen the road, so corners and front walls have been torn off houses where necessary. Other homes just missed the bulldozer’s blade but now appear to be perched on cliffs, the occupants have to climb long ladders to reach their homes. Walls are crumbling; the place looks like a disaster area.

I was assigned to the Ying Sha Hotel, the one where the bags were unloaded and the meals were served, so that was a convenience. Fortunately the elevator worked because my room, 9001, was on the ninth floor. An extra bed was added to each room to make them accommodate three, Ruth and Barb Raitz were my roommates. It was a very basic room and dirty, but the lights worked and we had hot water although no towels. Someone said, ‘What kind of a place provides a toothbrush and a comb but no towels?’ (I won’t answer that!) The beds were as hard as usual, but worse than that because the springs were just under the cover of the mattress. There was no mattress pad, just a sheet. It was bone against metal when I laid down and I am sure ring designs were pressed into my flesh. It was more uncomfortable than a straw mat over boards. A peculiar thing about the hotel was that we had no key to our room. We could lock it when we went out by pushing the button in the knob, but to get it unlocked we had to locate the woman with the keys. That was not convenient and one wonders why such a system.

The dinner was the worst yet. They served many dishes and perhaps it would be a banquet for some but we didn’t enjoy it. Luckily there was rice although not at each table. Still in the enormous cooking pot, it was placed on a chair so that each of us had to go to it to scoop up the rice we wanted. My dinner was rice and the very hard green peas. They didn’t even serve tea!

Goodbye, Alice 

DAY 297

Longshen Layover Day

October 23, 2000 

The thing to do in Longshen is to go to see the rice terraces, which someone has described as one of the Wonders of the World. Andy, one of our four Chinese interpreters, arranged the busses for us. For 80 Yuan we got the transportation and the entrance fee. As inexpensive as that is, it was probably more than it should have been, but then why should Andy provide this extra service without a kickback. People are really hustling now that they are permitted to be enterprising. 

They were old, decrepit busses but we had no alternative and thought that if they were good enough for the Chinese then they’d be okay for us too. To get to the rice terraces we had to drive back the way we had come into town, through that dreadful construction mess. We were bouncing our way through the muddy mire when suddenly there was a loud explosion, a big bang, which startled all of us. We thought it might be a flat tire but the driver kept going. A couple of minutes later there was another explosion and this time we came to a stop. Both tires on the right rear had gone flat. We climbed off the bus into the mud and onto the wall of the ditch to wait and watch.

We had a tiny porcelain doll of a Chinese girl as the bus hostess. She was pretty and dressed in crisp new bell-bottom jeans, a figure-flattering red shirt, and new tennis shoes with three inch soles, perfect for tromping through the mud. She dug out the jack and then stood in the mud beside the driver, doing whatever needed to be done. She helped take the nuts off the wheel, jack up the truck, and get the spare tire from under the truck. The driver needed to get under there so he cleverly took a board that was a bench seat out of the bus and laid on it. They succeeded in changing the tire, and we went on. I was amazed because I had initially thought we’d be stranded there until another bus could be sent. Of course we didn’t have any way to send for another bus.

The driver went more slowly now, moving carefully through the rough places, as well he should. The spare tire was completely bald and entirely worn through in one area. I wondered how long it could last. But the driver had a plan. After some 15 or 20 minutes we left the road and drove into a small village to a tire shop. At the second shop we tried we found someone actually there and ready to work. He had an air impact wrench and made a noisy and short job of getting the nuts off the wheel. Our poor driver had had to jump on the jack handle over and over to remove them the first time. Both wheels were removed and the flats repaired in just 15 or 20 minutes. Meanwhile we wandered in the village taking photos and buying little green tangerines, tiny bananas and embroidered bags. Local women had made the colorful hand-embroidered bags and were there to sell them wearing the regional costume. It was hard to resist buying the bags because the prices were shamefully low, 5 Yuan for a small one, 10 Yuan for a larger one. (The exchange rate is about 8 Yuan to the dollar.) I was one of the few who didn’t buy a bag before the day was out.

Back on the bus again we traveled for about two hours to reach the rice terraces. It was a long climb up the mountainside on a narrow twisting road. Truckloads of gravel had been dumped on the road making it even narrower and very difficult to get past approaching vehicles. I have never seen a longer, steeper road with more switchbacks than that. Our driver proved to be excellent, but I wondered about the condition of the brakes for the downhill return trip. If they were as shoddy as the tires, we’d be in trouble. 

Finally arriving at the top, The Sky on Earth, as the sign said, we left the bus and climbed the steps. We had a view of hill after hill, high and steep, each one terraced all the way to the top. The one thousand steps we climbed (or so it seemed in the heat and humidity) were stones set into the hillside and as we climbed we passed through a village of large wooden houses, typical of those in that region at lower altitudes. It was amazing to see dozens of big homes perched on the hillside. Every last stick and stone to build them had had to be carried up all those steps to the building site on someone’s back. New houses of the same style and of the same building material, wood, were under construction. (I had noticed that in other areas entirely different materials and designs are replacing the typical homes. The resulting mismatch of homes is not attractive.) And all this because of rice. The people raise only rice and garden vegetables. They had no livestock except chickens so I don’t know how they plow the many little terraced rice fields. Do they harness themselves to the plows? I just had to wonder how anyone could be so hungry or so desperate to go to the effort of building those terraces in order to raise rice. The terraces and that way of life have been there for hundreds of generations. Now that it has become a tourist attraction, 20 Yuan are collected from each visitor who climbs the stairs; they may no longer be entirely dependent on the rice harvest.

The trip down was safe and slow, the brakes did not fail, and we had no more flat tires. But the five-hour tour had taken eight thanks to the flat tires and to a few people who had lingered on the terraces an hour longer than most, delaying our departure. The layover day was all but over by the time we returned to the hotel. That was the Ying Sha Hotel, never never eat there! Joan and I had decided we couldn’t face that food again so we went to the Teahouse Restaurant across the street from the hotel and had some very nice fried rice with vegetables and chicken with cashews.

There was a meeting scheduled in the evening to address the dilemma that Odyssey 2000 now faces. In a nutshell, we have been told that there is only enough money to take us through Asia, that when we arrive in Singapore Nov. 24 the trip will have to end. That is, the Odyssey 2000 that we paid for will end 5 weeks early, omitting New Zealand and Hawaii, the New Year’s Eve celebration in Burbank and the Rose Bowl Parade. TK&A will complete the trip only for those people willing to pay an additional $3000. Whamo! What a shock and a disappointment! This has really split the group into factions and for those who already disliked TK&A for various reasons, this has only fanned the flames. People say that it was mismanagement of the money that caused this catastrophe. Maybe so. Definitely a contributing factor was the highly expensive charter flights which were not part of the original plan or budget, I think, but TK&A went to them after the commercial flights failed so miserably to move us and our stuff. We all appreciated those charters until now. How soon we forget!

Most people feel that the right and honorable thing for TK&A to do is to find the funds they need from their own resources, but we’ve been told that that is impossible. So what to do? Lots of folks will fly home from Singapore; TK&A will pay for those tickets. Some will take that ticket money and go to New Zealand or elsewhere on their own and for less than $3000 or so they think anyway. And some will pay up and stick with the program, which is going to cause a lot of hard feelings, broken friendships, ridicule even. What a rotten situation!

Goodbye, Alice

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