EDIT March 20th : Trip completed !
I left, as i had said, on my little boat but it turns out i didn't keep it very long as it was incredibly boring. It's not that i didn't like to navigate on water, but at this point the Mekong river is very wide and big boats pass all the time in all directions and i felt as if i was on a huge highway and going at the speed of a hiker... I could see a little road very close to the river bank and i was very tempted, as it seemed much more enjoyable, so after completing just 1/4th of the distance to Can Tho, i couldn't resist anymore so i stopped in a village and sold my boat to a very nice school teacher. The whole village was interested in seeing this strange foreigner selling a boat and just before i got back on my way we made a big group photo at the end (Vietnamese love to be photographed).
On some future trip, i would really like to travel on a small boat.
The road was indeed enjoyable and i cycled as far as i could until night time, feeling the proximity of the end of my trip. It would be my last night on the road before i reached Saigon and for that reason i wanted to camp somewhere, but the Mekong delta area is overpopulated and ressembles a neverending village, there's never more than a few meters between 2 houses so i couldn't find a single place and had to stay at a hotel...
On the next day, i was determined to reach Saigon in the evening and cycled at least 180km, stopping only in the morning to buy some bread (the only meal of the day) and a few other times throughout the day for some water.
Saigon is a crazy city in terms of traffic. It is filled with motorbikes that go as an unchained river through the streets, flowing around any obstacle that comes in it's way. Being on a bicycle in the middle of that is not the funnest thing in the world and i had a few very close calls last night, when i spent 2 hours searching for a hotel at a reasonable price...
Vietnam is a nice country, but quite touristic and the people are more money oriented than in other places i've been to (sometimes, some stranger, not even a bum, just comes to me and shows me his empty hand, expecting that i'll put some money in it, for no reason) and i heard it's worse in the north.
I did not see so much of Vietnam, but it didn't arouse my interest like Cambodia had. I realise that i'm always expecting to discover places like they must have been not so long ago, before mass tourism kicked in, and of course i'm often disappointed. Many times, i found myself trying to pass as fast as possible through an area or country (especially in Laos) as i would find no interest in it.
I think that on future trips, i'll try to stay away from such places and i'll visit more remote ones with sometimes other means than my bicycle. I'd like to venture where there is no road, for a change.
I'm happy to be coming home (arriving in Paris on the 22nd of March) because i can get back to my parkour training and projects, but a part of me wants to keep on travelling. If it wasn't for Parkour, i'm quite sure i would have made the trip back home on the bike.
I wish to thank will all my heart the many people who have supported me on this trip, i owe a lot to you all...
I'll post some photos of the trip when i'll be in France, along with a few comments.
EDIT March 17th :
I was looking for a pirogue but i was told that there aren't any around here, they can only be found more in the north, so i searched for a small boat instead. I was helped a lot in my task by the really nice owner of a small bookstore from whom i bought a map of the area. I think he was really interested in my way of travelling, as it is very different from the usual tourists' who go where their travel guides tell them to and never wander away from that "safety" line.
He took me to some of his relatives' who live on floating houses, to see with them if they had a boat for sale, but boats are precious tools around here and none of them wanted to get rid of theirs.
We continued our search near other floating homes and finally managed to find a boat for 60 US$, which is very cheap for such a boat : it's about 2,5 meters long and has 2 rows on poles that require to be standing up to be operated. This is supposed to make it faster, as the whole body is used in the process instead of just the arms and shoulders. I tried it out for a bit today and after so much distance covered on a bicycle, my first impression was that the boat is slow, VERY slow...
I only have 12 days left before my visa expires, so i'll just row as far as i can and wherever i decide to stop, i can try selling the boat for half the price i paid, which should allow me to limit the expense.
I have not exchanged my bike for it, as these people live on the river and don't really need a bike, and also because i'm more attached to my bike than i thought and i want to try to bring it home. Whenever i'll stop rowing, i can just finish the trip on the bike.
Many older vietnamese speak french around here and one of them impressed me a lot yesterday by having a conversation in french with me. He was speaking very well, but not in an academic way, his french was that of someone who's been around french people for a long while, and some words or expressions he was using were those of old french people. Because of this, he reminded me of my grand parents, so it was a really nice moment for me. I hope i can have more conversations like this before i leave back to France.
EDIT March 15th :
I left the very touristic Siem Reap for a bit more than 300km of pure boredom on a main road (one of the only ones in Cambodia that is made of asphalt), quite dangerous too as there was a lot of traffic and the least i can say is that Cambodians are not safe drivers : buses pass just centimeters from me at full speed, motorbikes take sudden sharp turns right in front of me, and people often drive on the wrong side of the road... Annoying honking horns joined the party too, putting my nerves to a serious test.
I made it safely though to the town of Kompong Thom but on the next day, i decided not to take a detour on a quiet secondary road (as i had planned to do in order to see more of the Cambodian countryside, which i love very much), as the bicycle was showing some signs of weakness. Since Thailand, the part linking the pedals together had started to make strange noises, but it got worse lately as it is now broken and needs to be replaced. However, i could still cycle although i was slower than usual so i decided not to replace the part, knowing that the trip was almost done. I didn't want to take the risk of being stuck on a secondary road, so i stayed on the busy main one and covered the remaining 170km to Phnom Penh in the day.
I thought i would have to stay at least a few days here because it is the weekend and the embassy of Vietnam where i need to go to make my visa is closed on those days, but i went there this morning just to see where it was and i spoke to a security guard. He asked me when i needed to get the visa and i said as soon as possible, so he told me to come back 1 hour later, which i did.
It appears that normally the embassy was closed for tourists but open for travel agencies making the visas for their customers, but they kindly made my visa for me anyway, which gives me the possibility of leaving towards Vietnam tomorrow instead of Monday or Tuesday.
I also visited the Tuol Sleng prison camp, turned into a museum about the genocide in Cambodia, and it felt strange to visit those rooms where many cambodians had been brutally tortured and killed, to walk on a floor that had many times been stained with human blood and to see skulls pierced by bullet wounds exposed on a shelf.
Some rooms had boards covered with many photos taken by the Khmers Rouges of the people they had tortured and killed.
Among the more or less 17 000 prisonners that went through the S-21 (the name they gave to the prison), only 7 survived.
I'm leaving the noisy Phnom Penh tomorrow morning. I'll be heading towards a boarder along the Mekong at no more than 100km from here where i hope to be able to pass as this border is usually used by people travelling on boats and my map is not very clear as of whether or not the border point is on the east or west coast of the river.
If i cannot pass there, i'll probably turn back and head full south to another boarder, further down.
Shortly after, my plan is to trade my bicycle for a pirogue and to go along the Mekong until a point that i have not chosen yet. I don't know if anyone will want to give away his pirogue for my bike, so if it doesn't work, i'll just finish the trip to Saigon on the bicycle.
On long solitary cycling trips, the bike is a friendly companion that shares all the moments of the cyclists, good or bad, and i feel sad about leaving my friend behind if i manage to get a pirogue, but friend or not, my bicycle is damaged and several parts need to be replaced, which would cost more than the bike itself (as a reminder, this bicycle bought in China is a copy of a famous brand equipped with copies of famous parts and probably not designed for such a long and rough trip), so appart from the sentimental aspect, i have no reason to bring it back home with me (i swear i'm not like this with my human friends, whom i would never trade for a pirogue and who can manage their way back home by themselves anyway).
I'm also sad about leaving Cambodia so soon, without having explored enough of it. It's the first time on this trip that i get such a feeling, so far i've been happy to leave every country : Tibet because it was damn hard, China because i had been there long enough, Laos because i found it uninteresting, and Thailand because i had discovered it already on a previous trip. I know i have to come back before it follows the path of it's neighbours and becomes too touristic to be authentic anymore, which will happen soon...
Perhaps i'll be able to access the internet in the following days. If not the next update will be in Saigon, just before the trip back home (on a plane, for once) which will take place before the 29th, date of expiry of my visa.
EDIT March 11th :
I went on my way, completing my remaining kilometers in Thailand, and as i was starting to feel a bit bored on yet another too perfect road, i had a flat tire. Until then, i had had only a few flat tires during all my trips and i was starting to tell myself that i was perhaps some sort of holy man, blessed by a mysterious and all powerful entity and hovering through life without the ordinary problems that mortals have, such as flat tires, but 20 seconds after having repaired, the same loud "Pshhhhhhhhhh" could be heard, putting my beliefs to serious doubt. The hole was just over the repaired spot, right against the wheel, not the tire, and i could simply not understand where the problem was coming from. I checked the wheel many times, and the tire, and repaired again, and "Pshhhhhhhhhh" it went once more.
Some nice guys who probably had pity for the poor cyclist struggling under the hot sun that i was stopped and offered to give me a lift to the next bicycle shop, some 10km further. I refused, if i had to go anywhere it would be on foot or on my repaired bicycle. Not knowing what more they could do to help, they left.
A few minutes later, some other guys stopped and tried to give me a hand. They didn't speak any english and i had no way of telling them that no matter how many times i would repair, i would always end up with a new hole 20 seconds later, so i just let them try to repair and "Pshhhhhhhh" it went.
2 of the guys spontaneously took the wheel and tire and inner tube in their car and drove off to the next repair shop while another stayed with me on the side of the road. They came back with the tire and as they passed it to me so that i could mount it on the bike, i realised it was still flat ! The men laughed and so did i, even the repair guy had been fooled by this inner tube from hell.
They went back to the shop and this time came back with the repaired tire. I thanked them warmly as they had helped me a great deal, but they refused that i pay anything. Thai people had proven once more to be very generous and helpful.
Everything seemed alright, until the next morning, when the loud "Pshhhhhhh" came to interrupt my thoughts... Luckily, i had just arrived in a small town and i went immediately towards the first repair shop i could find. As soon as the owner had pulled out the tube from the tire and seen the many repair attempts, he said i needed a new tube (it had indeed been through some serious cycling over the last few weeks). I pulled one out of my bag and he mounted it for me.
This didn't stop the flat tire series and i had another one later on the same tire, but this time it was a piece of broken glass who was responsible and i repaired it easily.
As expected, right after i passed the border point into Cambodia, the roads became dirt ones making me feel like i had gone back in time, especially because the ones in Thailand were all in excellent condition. Before reaching Cambodia, i had told myself that i would cross it as quick as possible, because i was simply getting tired of cycling every day and i wanted to go home, but there is something about Cambodia that i cannot define which triggered a new wave of motivation into me. I fell in love with those little dirt roads that seem to come out of an Indiana Jones movie, going through mine infested forests (as long as i stay on the road i'm perfectly safe) and over cool old style metal bridges, and sending brownish red dirt behind me as i pass, making me look cool. I would only find small villages on my way and it reminded me a lot of Tibet, without the mountains and the cold of course.
I'm already planning to come back as soon as possible, before the country's economy becomes stronger and they decide to pour asphalt all over the place, like in Thailand, so that the buses can come and go even faster with their groups of tourists... The fat-ass comfort-seeking tourists always get what they want...
Unfortunately, i had to leave my great dirt roads and follow a bigger one (dirt road too, but not as nice because it was a main road) as it was the only one that would take me to the Angkor temples.
I rushed as fast as i could in order to reach Banteay Srei (a small temple a bit North of Angkor Park) before the night. I arrived as the sun was setting, and the guard who had evacuated all the tourists a little while before accepted to let me in alone for a little while, after seeing me all sweaty and tired in front of the entrance (he didn't know, however, that i didn't have a pass to visit the temples).
On the way out, i asked if i could set my hammock somewhere in the area, as it was too late to reach Siem Reap (the town very close to Angkor temples). He looked at me in shock as if i had asked to do something that would ultimately bring total chaos and destroy the entire universe :
_"Tourists sleep in Siem Reap, not here, impossible"
_"But i can't cycle to there, it's dark now, and i'm not even asking to sleep in the temple"
_"Impossible, tourists cannot stay here, no hotel, no sleep, i go speak to my boss"
His boss was the chief of the local police station and he didn't look like a fun guy. He told me the same thing about it being impossible to sleep around here, so i just went on and had dinner a few meters further. As i was paying, the chief came to find me and invited me to set my hammock in a small hut in his yard. We spoke a little bit and i told him about my cycling trip. He became much friendlier and invited me to wash myself at the well and to join him for a second dinner. I think he was just worried about people being around the temple at night, he was just doing his job as well as he could. I figure he prefered to have me where he could keep an eye on me.
He was living with his wife and daughter, and mother who spoke a bit of french (like many of the elder cambodian people). I had a very nice evening and a good night.
In the morning, as i had just said goodbye, i realised my front tire was flat...
After repair, i set off towards Angkor temples and started the visit. Normally i was supposed to buy a pass in Siem Reap for 20$ in order to be allowed to visit the temples during one day, but i didn't feel like going to Siem Reap and coming back, since it was in the South of Angkor and i was coming from the North, so i just went passed some of the temples without going through the gates, and when i was thinking that one of them was looking interesting, i would sneak in through a breach in the ancient walls, or simply pass nonchalantly through the gate when the guards were distracted by something, if they had seen me and said something, i would just have acted stupid and said i didn't know about any pass. The fact that i was coming from the North helped me a lot, because most tourists come from the South, where the airport is and where all the buses go to, so all the checkpoints and such are located in the South, and no one really questions himself about the one strange guy coming from the North.
I have to say that i wasn't against paying, as i know Cambodia is a poor country and they can really do with the foreigners' dollars, and i had decided that i would leave 20$ in one of the "help the temples" box at the end of the day, to pay my debt, but unfortunately, i never found one in Angkor Wat, the last temple i visited, so i'll have to find another way to make up for it.
The park is huge and i haven't seen everything, but i saw the most famous temples, and especially the one i came for in the first place, Bayon temple, where 160 sculpted faces cover the walls. I don't know why but i'm crazy about those faces.
I had another flat tire and i replaced the inner tube with the other new one i was carrying. Now i'm riding with 2 new inner tubes and i hope i'll be able to cover the last few hundred kilometers to Vietnam without too much trouble...
I'm now in Siem Reap and i'm taking my time. Maybe i'll stay tomorrow to rest. I'm also thinking about making a detour along another of my beloved little dirt roads in order to see other temples, but since i'll be coming back to Cambodia later, i don't know yet what i'll do tomorrow and in the following days.
Phnom Penh is less than 3 days away (a bit over 300km) if i take the short route and then Vietnam is just a hop away. Saigon, my final destination is very close to the border too.
EDIT March 6th :
I've already covered in 1 day and a half more than 200km to Lopburi, along a big flat road (quite boring actually). I've seen some monkeys but not as many as i had expected. Most of them are just hanging out on the ruins of old temples in the center of the town.
Thai people are really great, a guy who spoke to me for a while in thai although he could see i couldn't understand a word decided to pay my meal this morning. I've also tested out last night the hammock i just bought, just to be sure that it won't brake if i sleep high up in a tree (which i intend to do). I've seen a few (big) snakes sunbathing on the roads of Thailand and it reminds me that i'm not anywhere near the harmless nature of Europe. I'll have to be careful in Cambodia if i don't want to be bitten by a much more vicious predator : the landmine. They are remains of the war and can be found just centimeters away from the roads so i'll avoid venturing into the wilderness...
Cambodia is now just a few days away. Once there, i'll go straight towards Angkor temples.
It is not a very big country, and although most of the roads are dirt ones, i should be out of it quite quickly. The part in Vietnam will also be quite short and i'll try to finish on a pirogue.
I can see the end of the tunnel now, i'm almost done with my trip !
The next internet point should be in Siem Reap, after Angkor.
EDIT March 4th :
The resting times are over, i've spent much more time in Chiang Mai than i had expected, and all the time i had things to do which gives me the impression of not having rested that much, but i know i will feel a big change physically when i get back on the bicycle. Today i'm taking a train to Phitsanulok instead of cycling there, since i've already covered the distance on the other way and my timing is quite tight.
From there, i plan to go south towards Lopburi, a town invaded by monkeys near Bangkok, and after that i'll head east in the direction of Cambodia.
Although i've been busy all the time, Chiang Mai was really enjoyable. I spent some time with my friend Alila, and the very friendly couple i had met on the road (Nat and Pattra), and i made new friends too in the guesthouse where i was staying. My bag is now lighter than ever and the roads ahead are flat, so i think it's going to be all good !
Yesterday i had a conversation with a guy who was following a meditation course, and he was saying that meditation teaches you patience, you learn to stay calm even when you are bothered by noises, or people, or anything else... I realised that cycling on long trips had some similarities with that. After such a long while on my bike and simply because i had no other choice, i've come to accept most of the difficulties a cyclist has to face : bad roads and uphill ones, cold temperatures, mosquitoes at night, the rain, the wind, looking on a map and seeing that the next big town is days away, etc.
Very often when i was cycling i told myself that the physical condition had almost no importance, it was all about patience. That doesn't mean i can now travel in any conditions without being bothered by any difficulty, but with no doubt i can accept them better.
Thanks again to everyone for the support !
EDIT February 29th :
I just put my photos on CD for backup in case my memory card brakes so i figured i would post a couple of them on the blog just to illustrate it a bit.
One was at 5008m in Tibet (the hardest day of my trip), and the other was in Sukhothai a few days ago. I won't tell you which one is which so you'll have to guess...
EDIT February 26th :
Early in the morning i left from Vientiane and covered the 20km seperating the town from the thai border with a beautiful rising sun at my side. The formalities were taken care of quite quickly. I then went passed the many tourists waiting for their buses, and rode over the friendship bridge over the Mekong, seperating Laos from Thailand. At the thai border, a friendly officer stamped my passport at the place i asked him to in order to save some pages for the following trips (they're really not all that nice) and i enter Thailand under a sun almost as bright as the smiles of the thai people.
I got on my way on a small road along the Mekong river and rediscovered what roads are all about ! Thailand is very develloped for a South-East asian country, and the roads are of very good quality, even the very small secondary ones. So far i've covered several hundreds of kilometers here and the only few and short parts of dirt road i had were actually like this because the old asphalt road had been destroyed and workers were busy making a brand new one. The signboards are, almost all the time, translated into english, making the navigation easier. In China, almost everything was written in chinese so in order to find my way, i would memorise the chinese words by trying to see them as drawings (which they are, initially). So for example, i would be following, for a few hundred kilometers, "garbage bin almost full + little house with a pointy hat on top", and i would know i would be on the right way. It was not long before i came across a Seven/Eleven, the 8th wonder of the world ! For those who don't know what they are, i'll put it simple : imagin a small shop where you can buy all the basic things you need (food, drinks, tootbrushes, shoelaces, maps, etc), open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a cash machine next to it, and located almost everywhere... It's nothing less than a traveller's paradise !
After 2 days, i decided i didn't feel like cycling all the way to Chiang Mai, since it was absolutely not on my way, it was far, and it had always been optional in my trip, so i went towards the town of Phitsanulok where i would be able to take a train over the last hundred kilometers. I arrived there late and was told at the station that the next train was only on the following morning, so i stayed in a hotel for the night and showed up at 7AM the next day, only to discover that because i had a bike, i had to wait until 8:40PM to take the express train, the only one i was allowed to put my bike in... I stayed there at the counter for a bit, not really knowing what to do, and then just hopped back on my bike and left towards Chiang Mai, i would cycle to it after all.
Since i had been adding hundreds of unnecessary kilometers to my trip during the last few days, i figured that a few dozens more wouldn't hurt too much so i made the detour to the ancient town of Sukhothai. The ruins reminded me a lot of the film Kickboxer with J.C. Van Damme and perhaps that this is where some scenes were actually shot. The place was packed with tourists, but it still was quite peaceful, making it enjoyable. Although i didn't stay very long, this little stop did a lot of good to me because by then, i had become obsessed with Chiang Mai for it was the place where several weeks earlier, i had decided to rest, so it was like i was programmed to reach it as soon as possible and i was cycling longer and harder than ever on my trip, covering an average of 140km every day, eating only one or two (big) meals, sleeping wherever i would be when the night came (in front of a temple, in a little hut in the middle of a field or on a highway service area). I was a bit bothered by the mosquitoes during the night, because i didn't have a tent or anything close to that, but i really enjoyed those moments in direct contact with the nature. Sometimes i could hear animals hunting in the forest and unusual birds singing in strange ways. Cycling, stopping, sleeping, getting up, cycling, etc. That was my rythme during the last several days, and before noon on the 24th, i was proud to enter Chiang Mai on my bicycle. My legs were really tired and my knees were becoming painful, so it was really about time to get some rest. It felt funny to reach a place that i had visited before, several months ago on my first trip to Thailand. It felt a little bit like coming home, but without the depressing aspect of it. I found my good friend Alila who recognised me very quickly, although my hair had grown a lot and my skin was very tanned and dirty. I also hooked up with some people i met on the way, a french guy and his thai wife (who speaks perfect french) who are travelling by car. I had first seen them just after passing into Thailand, and later on saw them again as they had by coincidence stopped in the same small town as me, so we had chatted a bit and they had helped me out by giving me a copy of their map. A few days later, they passed me on the road again and gave me a nice fresh beer. They told me they had decided to stop a bit in Chiang Mai so that's how we settled to meet up there when i would reach it.
I've been resting for a bit, and buying things i need for the rest of the trip. I drink many banana shakes and eat the greatest meals. I'll stay a few more days i think before getting back on the road, as i'm not in a real hurry to leave from Thailand.
The next big destinaton will be the temples of Angkor, in Cambodia and i'm really looking forward to it. There's one little thing i want to do there that has been in my mind for a long while, but i'll speak about it later, i just hope i can manage to do it.
EDIT February 18th :
I just arrived this morning in Vientiane, capital of Laos and tomorrow i'll cross the friendship bridge leading me into my beloved Thailand.
Unfortunately, i was very disappointed by Laos... I said earlier that the people in Laos were very welcoming but this is only true with villagers. Just like in China or Tibet, the children often run after me, laughing all the way, when i pass by them on my bike and people say hello or wave with a big smile on their face, but i've found most of the shopkeepers or restaurant owners to be very dishonest, and they don't smile much either.
Prices are very high in Laos, compared to countries like Thailand or China, but still they try to rip me off all the time by asking sometimes as much as 3 times the real price ! Bargaining may be a normal thing in Asia, but this is different. Here, if you bargain or threaten to leave without buying anything, they look at you as if they were thinking "damn tourist, i couldn't get away with it this time...". It never ends with big smiles and everyone happy like in Thailand for example. This makes me feel uncomfortable to the point where i just don't buy anything else than what is strictly necessary, as i hate to be seen as a wandering cash-machine.
Laos is becoming more and more touristic and i think that some people have started to understand that many tourists are quite wealthy, so they try to shake the money tree to get a hold of as much as they can, but i think that at the end, it will do a lot of harm to them when tourists will start passing the word, especially because Laos does not have anything that nearby countries don't have either (no monuments as incredible as in Cambodia, no scenery as good as in Thailand, etc.).
Perhaps a few years ago, it could be a good destination for one to refresh his mind, away from the busy touristic machine that Thailand is, but now i really don't see what qualities it has left : if i want to feel transported far away, i'll go back to Yunnan where nothing was adapted to me as a foreigner, and if i want the many comforts of a touristic place, i'll just go to Thailand. Laos is in between these 2 types of places and doesn't really fit anywhere, too touristic to really be "pure", and not enough to be really comfortable.
If you add to that the fact that the food is not so good then you'll understand why i'm impatient to start cycling in Thailand.
Of course it's not all bad and i'm sure that if i had left the main Luang Prabang - Vientiane axis, i would have probably found some really enjoyable remote places, but tourism is slowly creeping all over the country and i don't know how long these places will keep their authenticity.
I did have some good moments, like yesterday night when i spoke over an hour with a very nice and smart young Lao girl who was working in the family shop (yeah she was one of the few cool shopkeepers i met on my way) and who told me the real prices of things, or 2 nights ago when i was invited by some villagers to dinner and to stay for the night, but these good moments couldn't change the fact that i felt like i was escaping towards Thailand instead of cycling through Laos.
I'm happy though that when i was in Luang Prabang (the first touristic town since the beginning of my trip, what a shock !) i managed to find the house where my grand parents were living a long time ago, when they were fighting for the independence of Laos. There is still a little bit of french influence in Laos, especially here in Vientiane where i can buy french bread and see a few Citroen 2cv cars, just like the one i have at home !
Yesterday, i met Gael and Elena, 2 really nice cyclists that had been traveling for a very long time and still had a long distance ahead of them. They were on a big trip around Eurasia and Gael, who was french, spoke to me highly about some countries often wrongfully considered as dodgy and that i've been really wanting to discover, like Pakistan. I asked him what he thought about Laos and he simply answered "nothing exceptional so far..." and agreed with me about the high exagerated prices.
Tomorrow i'll be off towards Chiang Mai, about 500km to the North-West. I'll follow the Mekong upstream on the Thai side and will cross one of my last difficult mountain passes. After a few days of rest in Chiang Mai i'll head again in the right direction towards Cambodia and South-Vietnam, my final destination. I could actually do it from here, which would be much quicker, but back in Tibet, Chiang Mai was seen as my promised land, with all the good food, massages and warm temperatures i could dream of, and although i'm traveling in good conditions here, i still want to fulfill this old fantasy.
There's so much more to talk about, but i want to go for a walk now, bye bye everyone, and many sunny thoughts to all !
EDIT February 12th : Leg 1 (Tibet + China) COMPLETED !!!
Yep, i'm in Laos since this morning ! How good it feels to be in a new country ! The town from where i posted the last message was not Mengla like i thought, i later realised that all the signs along the highway were wrong and the distances indicated were completely contradictory. Anyhow, i got back on my nice little unfinished highway, and reached some really unfinished parts. I passed over bridges with holes everywhere and no barriers, and through long silent pitch black creepy tunnels. My progress was still fine until i entered THE tunnel... It was 1km long and the first 500 meters were not worse than in other tunnels, but the workers were still digging the next 500. They were cool and let me pass through when i told them that i could carry my bike if needed, but i never imagined it would be like that. At this point, it was basically a hole in the mountain, with no cement or asphalt, and nothing to prevent the tunnel from collapsing. Water was dripping from everywhere like rain and the ground was a deep mud swamp. The general humidity level was as high as in the jungles of Brasil ! The lighting was not the best either, with only a few spotlights every here and there. I had to climb over construction materials and pipes and rocks, or pull my feet and bicycle out of the mud at every step. I even came accross a sort of bulldozer busy digging the mountain, that stopped working for a moment so that i could pass. I can't believe the workers let me pass through this place, it would NEVER happen in France ! They were just smiling and saying hello, and i was having the time of my life, the place reminded me of the mine chase scene in Indiana Jones and the temple of doom, it was really cool !
Not long after that, as i was back on the highway, i met 2 cyclists who were going in the opposite direction, a chinese and an american. We had a chat, they were just on a weekend trip to the border with Laos, so they knew about the road that was ahead of them, since they had passed on it on their way towards the border. As we were speaking, Loren (the american) looked down at my muddy feet and said : "oh, you've been through THE tunnel too ?". He pointed to his feet and i could see dried mud on his shoes, which made us both laugh. These 2 guys were really nice, and after chatting some more about roads and trips and countries, we exchanged emails and went on our way.
2 hours later, i passed Mengla (the town i thought i had stayed in the previous night) and stopped 20km further in a village, searching for a place to sleep. I was invited by some people and spent a good night with a little puppy all cuddled up against me.
This morning, i reached the border point where some very serious chinese officers checked my passport and finally let me pass through. I then entered into Laos, and not 5 minutes later, i bumped into another cyclist, from Belgium this time. He had been travelling for 3 years in south east asia ! We spoke for a long while and exchanged many tips about the countries we had visited. I gave him some firecrackers, for the dogs, and he told me all about the nice roads and the uninteresting ones, he seemed to have cycled them all ! He convinced me to keep on going South in Laos, instead of turning right away towards Thailand. I have to say i was feeling a bit sad about making one step into Laos and the next out of it, without seeing anything.
So when 20km later, i reached the point where i should have turned towards Thailand, i just went straight towards Luang Prabang, which is at more or less 2 days from where i am now. Now that i'm out of China, all the places seem so close to each other, and even with this change of plans, i'll be out of Laos quite soon ! I'll still go to Chiang Mai in Thailand, so this will cost me a few more days of cycling since it forces me to go back North-West for a bit instead of directly going South-East, but i really think it's worth it.
Laos is really cool so far, and the people are extremely welcoming.
However, i've seen several foreigners and many things are written in english for the tourists, and it's going to get worse as i go towards Thailand, so i hope it won't bother me too much, after a month without seeing a single foreigner and having to guess what was written in chinese everywhere, i was getting used to being in places that do nothing to make things easy to understand for foreigners. I'm so happy to be on good roads, with no big uphill riding that takes ages to pass. I have a big smile on my face when i start the day, and it's still there when i close my eyes to sleep. The trip is now a great pleasure and really seems so easy compared to the parts in Tibet and North Yunnan.
I can't wait to be tomorrow and to discover more about this beautiful country !
EDIT February 10th :
Well, i'm back on the road again, but with a new bicycle this time, and i am truely rediscovering what cycling is all about ! The new bike is faster, lighter, it doesn't have hard gear handles that need to be switched with 2 hands, it has 2 brakes that both work, it has a back wheel that stays perfectly straight under my weight, it's silent (so i can hear the noises, as i cycle of the nature or of the farmers working in their fields), and it doesn't have all these friction points in different parts that were slowing me down considerably. I feel like i'm hovering smoothly over the road, and today i covered over 90km easily (although i had 18km straight of uphill road) whereas i had the hardest time doing 70km with Stan. I just hope it'll last over the many days that remain ahead. I'm thinking of calling him Mugen, like a character in Samurai Champloo, a japanese anime. Mugen is an unpredictable samurai who fights in a very aggressive way and is dressed in red (the color of my new bike). I need an aggressive bike, ready to conquer any kind of road, and there's also written "warrior" on the bike so the name fits very well.
I gave Stan to a chinese guy who helped me with several things, including buying the new bike and sending some stuff home.
Now that i'm in much warmer areas, i could get rid of some gear for the cold and i feel great with a lighter bag. There aren't any snowy mountains around me anymore, just very green hills covered with beautiful terrass fields and people in tshirt or short sleeve shirts and straw hats. The weather is fantastic and so is the road, so i really think i'll be going fast in the following days, finally !
EDIT February 2nd :
I'll start by saying something that i forgot to mention in my previous post : after Deqen i finally reached the point where i could use the map i still have so i'm not going blindfolded anymore, and it's a true relief !
Almost one month already that i've started this trip, i'm completely losing track of time, to the point where i really have to make an effort to remember where i was and what happened a few days ago...
After leaving from the small village where i last posted some news, the road (though still a dirt road) became easier to ride and by the end of the day, i was out of it and had done a small distance along my beloved asphalt road. On the way, my front brake lever broke off and since the back brake was out of service, i unmounted the back brake lever and turned it upside down to use it as a front brake lever. The weather was ok but i still hadn't seen a blue sky since a long time and i was missing it. I stopped for the night in a small hotel next to a bridge that made me cross the Mekong for the first time since i left Deqen.
There, i made friends with the owner's very young daughter that kept on following me everywhere and speaking to me in chinese. I couldn't understand a word so i just answered in french, which made her laugh a lot. Together we made some water balloons that we threw in the street.
The following day was a very rainy day, but with the rising temperatures, it didn't bother me that much, and the road was good so it was not a bad day, until the road turned into 2 roads, both going to my destination but the first one was a dirt road, and the other one was an asphalt one, but longer and going through a pass in the mountain. Since it was raining, i figured the first one would be a mud hell, so i went for the second and besides, the pass, on the map, was no further than 10km so it didn't seem so bad. On the way up i had a flat tire but i couldn't find the hole, so i just switched the inner tube with the new replacement one that i had.
I didn't have time to reach the pass before the night and i was invited for the night by a man and his wife and when i left the next morning, they were still asleep so i couldn't say "thank you" and "goodbye".
Now as i said, the pass was to be reached after 10km of uphill cycling, except that in reality, it was 25km, and the road was covered in the thickest snow i've had so far (it's strange that the more i go down in altitude, the more snow i get !) making my progress extremely slow and difficult.
I stopped at the only house in the area to ask the people to fill my bottle of water, which they did just before inviting me to join them for lunch, which i happily did since i hadn't had a breakfast.
After passing a few cars stuck in the snow, i made it to the top in the beginning of the afternoon and enjoyed 10km of downhill pleasure (yes, on this side it was 10km, what a rip off !).
The scenery had now changed considerably since Tibet. I was now entering an area covered in vegetation : banana trees, huge bamboos, all kinds of funny looking plants and even cactus ! I was also rewarded for my efforts by 30km of a nice flat easy road, the first since i started my trip. It must have been a dangerous road, as over a portion of about 15 meters, i saw a truck that had fallen on the river bank, a completely wrecked bus, and a police car with a wheel trapped in a ditch.
In the village where i stayed for the night, i stopped a barber shop to get my beard shaved and what a bad idea ! I have quite a stiff beard and when i shave it, i always need a lot of shaving cream and plenty of care, but the girl who shaved it for me used none of these, and with the finesse of a lumberjack, she just moved her razorblade all around my face until i was half dead in the chair... I'll think about it twice next time i need to shave and perhaps i'll go home with the longest beard i've ever had...
Just after that, 2 little girls came to me and in a very basic english, asked me tons of questions :
_Where you from, what you do here ?
_France, i'm travelling on my bicycle.
_I started in Tibet.
_I'm going to Laos.
They even followed me to my hotel to get my home address and write to me but they had a very hard time reading it !
The next morning (today), i realised i was very close to Baoshan and figured i would be there in the afternoon, but after 20km, i had a flat tire, so i stopped and repaired, but as i was inflating, the valve of the inner tube popped out (damn chinese junk). I was very angry that so close to Baoshan, i had yet another problem, as if Stan couldn't make a little effort... I mounted the old tube i had, the one with the unfindable hole and inflated it. Of course, after five minutes it was flat again so i pushed the bike to the next village, 6km further, where an old man brought out his toolbox and helped me to repair, under the fascinated eyes of a dozen children. Together we finally found the microscopic hole and i gave him a few yuans for the help. He invited me to eat something, but i kindly refused, i had some road ahead of me.
I ended up again along a bad muddy dirt road before reaching a better one that took me to Baoshan. It's the biggest place i've been to in weeks and it feels funny, i see people in mobile phone or electronic equipement shops and with my dirty clothes, my bandana on my head and my mind full of adventure memories, i feel so far from this world. I still haven't seen a foreigner since Yushu, a few weeks ago.
I found a nice bike shop but tomorrow, a guy will take me to another one. I'll buy a new bike and give Stan to someone, i'm not sad about it at all as he's been giving me a great deal of trouble, and besides, he's in a horrible state from wheels to brake lever and he couldn't have gone much further.
He was a brave shit bike, but i still have a long way to go and i need some more reliable stuff.
The road from now on will often pass over mountains so i hope it won't slow me down too much. I'm quite happy to see on my map that i've done quite a lot of progress lately and in about 2 weeks from now, i shouldn't be very far from Laos.
EDIT January 29th :
There's been a slight change of plans : as i was leaving from my hotel in Deqen, i was advised not to take the road to Zhongdian, as i was told that the pass was innaccessible because of heavy snowing. I then studied my map and decided to follow the road going along the Mekong, the one i had previously decided to avoid because it doesn't go through any town, only villages, and i was worried not to be able to repair my bicycle in case of problem. But since Stan was doing ok, i felt i could take the chance.
At noon, i left from Deqen and after a few curves and ups and downs of the road, i started losing some altitude and hooked up with my old pal the Mekong, and all three of us (the Mekong, Stan, and me of course) started going full South on a good quality road.
They day went well, although i had to be careful for falling stones which is very common around here. At some point, some men even had to blow up a big rock that was blocking the road and although the first explosion (which echoed all over the mountains for a few seconds) wasn't enough, it didn't bother me as i picked up my bike and walked over the pile of blasted rocks and continued on my way. I covered about 85km before stopping for the night.
However, the next day was very different, it was one of those days when you'd want to pull the covers back over your face and sleep until the next day... I woke up with the feeling that i hadn't slept all night (although i had slept quite well), it was snowing outside and i had an empty stomach (my last meal was on the previous morning)...
What started as a shit day continued as a shit day. With the temperatures rising over zero, the snow became rain and it rained all day, soaking me to the bone, and i didn't have a real meal before the end of the day.
I managed to cover 65km on that day which i presently see as a miracle. I stopped a bit before the night and slept in a cheap hotel (like all the hotels i sleep in) with some of my wet clothes in order to dry them during the night (i only have one set of clothes, in order to travel light).
At this point, i'd like to say a word about hotels. Since i started, none of the hotels i stayed in had any heating, and since the windows are always very thin, it's nearly inside the same temperature as outside. They are mostly not equipped with a shower or even a sink which is vey annoying when it comes to washing myself or brushing my teeth (before Deqen, my last shower was in Chamdo, where i bought my bike !). And the toilet is usually just a whole in the ground where people come and go next to you as you take a shit. However, adapting to this is really the least of my problems, compared to the cycling.
The following day was much better, the sky was still grey and i even had some rain every now and then but nothing dramatic and i used this chance to make as much progress as possible, and by the end of the day, i had done about 100km. When the good asphalt road turned into a dirt road, just half an hour before i stopped for the night, i thought that it would be for just a hundred meters or so, like it had been several times before, but i was informed later on by a girl speaking a bit of english, in a small village, that it would be like this for the next 80km...Here we go again...
I was invited into a small house, just out of this same village by a man and his wife. They gave me some simple but healthy food and i went to bed in a room on the side. It was a strange wooden house as it seemed unfinished since one of my walls was half open to the outside and the door that also lead outside was built in such a way that it could only stay open. However, the temperatures here were much warmer than in my polar tibetan mountains, and i spent a great night on a bed made of boards and straw.
This morning i went back on my way only to discover that the road, which had been more or less flat, suddenly started going high up, and with the raining that had been going on, it was nothing more that a muddy trail that i had to push my bike through. I did something between 30 and 40km today but they were intense as this road is the worse i've had so far. I arrived in a village that very surprisingly has an internet connection, and tomorrow i'll be back on my way, hoping to have good weather and to soon reach a road in better condition.
In a few days, i should reach Baoshan (at about the same latitude as Dali), a big city where i can hope to equip my bike with better materials for the long way that still lies ahead.
The people of Yunnan are very nice and helpful but sometimes they show absolutely no expression whatsoever when i smile or say hello to them, as if they were shocked to see a foreigner in such untouristic areas. I'm also very happy that when they look at me, i don't see "$" in their eyes, and they never try to rip me off. As an example, when in Deqen, i had found some Snickers in a shop which are a great snack for the cycling, i paid them a price that was a bit expensive but since they were hard to find, i figured it was ok and i then asked directions to a bigger shop, 200 meters further down the street. Once there, i was surprised to see the owner of the first shop come to me and hand me some money, he had made a mistake and had asked me too much money for the Snickers. I thanked him for his honnesty, as he could have said nothing and kept the money.
I'm off to get some rest for the night, and a good chinese dinner (much better than the tibetan meats that look like roadkills...). I hope to have tonight one of these funny dreams i've been having lately : yesterday i dreamed i was strangling a chicken that would never die, and a few nights before, i was dancing on stage with Michael Jackson to some freaky music !
Good night everyone !
EDIT january 25th :
"When you reach the top of a mountain, keep on climbing" Tibetan saying.
Unfortunately, the road i left on was a dirt road in very bad condition, which forced me to go very slowly. However it was slightly going downhill which was of some help until late in the afternoon, when it started going steeply uphill towards a pass. It wasn't long before it became covered in thick snow, forcing me to slowly push the bicycle to the pass (it's not like i wasn't used to this by now). As i didn't have time to reach the pass before dark, i camped in a building that seemed to be there exactly for people like me, who didn't have time to reach the pass before night time. There, i witnessed a beautiful thing : as i was looking at the horizon, i saw a huge red moon slowly coming out from behind the mountains in the distance just like the sun in the morning, it was truely a beautiful sight, and although i took several pictures, i feel that none of them will do justice to what i saw. The sunset was not bad either, although i could only partly see it from where i was. For some reason, it made me want to fly, in a plane or with some other device. One day i think i'll give it a try.
I spent quite a cold night, with very little sleep, and i was very happy when the new day started, as i could get back on my way.
I reached the pass before noon, and after taking a look at the beautiful snow covered summits all around me, i started my way down on the other side. I was still on a dirt road but now i was going down, so i wasn't going to argue. The view was great, as i could see many small villages on two mountains facing eachother, with the Mekong racing wildly in between them. I finally reached the very well decorated town of Yanjing (the last one before Yunnan !) where i unfortunately didn't manage to find an internet connection. However, i was for the first time since a few weeks under 3000m of altitude and the temperatures were much nicer. On the next day, i continued towards the next town on my dirt road.
By then i had made my peace with the difficult conditions. I was going very slowly (on my lowest gear the whole time) but it didn't matter anymore. If the road went uphill, then i would go uphill, and that was it. I wasn't hoping for anything, so i couldn't be disappointed. And anyway, it couldn't be really worse...
Actually it could, and it did become worse. Since the temperatures had risen, the snow became rain, and the dirt of the road gradually turned into mud covered with ponds. I was lucky it was a light rain, and the mud, although it slowed me down a little more, wasn't deep enough for my wheels to sink into it. After a little while, i became comfortable with the situation and started singing and whistling as i went, like i do when everything's fine.
When i reached the small village with a police checkpoint limiting the access to Tibet, the guard in the station was quite surprised to see me come out of Tibet, but now that i was in Yunnan, the problem had solved itself, so after a few seconds of just standing there looking at me pass by, he calmly went back to his chair. As i kept on cycling through the village, i could see some people tiptoeing across the street, around the ponds and over the mud while i road nonchalantly directly through them, whistling as i went, what a pleasure !
I later passed a military checkpoint this time, but the guard couldn't care less about my presence in Tibet, and he even showed a big smile and a friendly "nihao" (hello) as he opened the gate for me.
It was starting to get dark and i thought about sleeping in a mine i passed in front of, but i saw a village a bit higher and i decided to check it out. As i was pushing my bike along the small path leading to it, i noticed an old woman and a young girl walking together. I went to them and said hello, with my sweetest smile, and asked if there was a place to stay for the night. The old woman immediately smiled back and said yes and invited me to follow her. I thought that it was funny that even in such small villages, they could have hotels, but little did i know that i was not going to be a customer but a guest, and as i type these lines, i am still very impressed that some people can welcome a complete stranger into their home without a second of hesitation. Imagin if some very dirty, bearded chinese guy came to your place and asked for a place to stay, would you smile to him and invite him in ? I know i wouldn't !
Two funny girls, that seemed to have come out of a cartoon, took care of me. They prepared a simple meal with eggs and rice (exactly what i would have asked for if questioned) which was deicious. Although i only spoke a few words in chinese, and they only spoke a bit of english, we managed to have a conversation, with the help of a lot of sign language. They were always smiling and laughing and moving in funny ways, and they made my evening truely delightful. We then went to watch a show on tv that must have been very funny as the whole family was laughing all the time, and i then went to bed in a room i shared with a little mouse that was busy chewing on something all night long.
I woke up with the sun and proceeded to wash my face and brush my teeth with the family, in front of the house, with my eyes set on the snowy summits right in front of me, still in their nightrobe of fog... What a perfect and refreshing way to start a day !
The 2 girls had to go to Deqen (where i was headed) and offered a lift but i kindly refused, and after thanking them as warmly as i could, i left.
After a few kilometers, the road went up, towards what i hope to be my last high pass. I was happily surprised to find out, after half of the way, that the road turned back to an asphalt one, and i was amazed how smooth and nice it felt, after nearly 200km of a chaotic dirt road. I have to say that Stan (i won't call him "Super" anymore) did really well with his new back wheel, and although he hasn't lost his habit of moaning all the time, he didn't cause me any problem, which i am very satisfied about.
Along this good road, and although i was climbing for hours as slow as a turtle towards the pass, i was having a good time, reflecting about tons of things. The previous challenges had made this one look easy and, with a lot of patience but without any problem, i reached the top. By then, i could see i was in a more touristic place, as the pass had nothing to do with the others i had seen. Here, not only could i see the traditional prayer flags, but there were also lodges, restaurants, shops, and tourists of course (all chinese) that looked at me in a strange way as i passed in front of them on my squeaking bike. I didn't stay there and soon reached Deqen where i am now.
Tomorrow, i'll get back on my way. Since i lost my maps, i don't really know what's ahead, but i think there is a town called Zongdhian 200km from here, we'll see about that. Now that i'm out of Tibet, the conditions are gradually becoming better, and cycling is turning again into a pleasure. I think that from now on, i'll be making quicker progress, at least i hope so !
More news when i reach the next town, whenever that is...
EDIT january 21st :
About 5km after i left Zogang, the road became a dirt road and started going uphill towards the 5008m pass. Very soon, i felt i couldn't ride the bike anymore and started pushing it. After a few hours, i was travelling on a snow and sometimes ice covered road, surrounded by beautiful high mountains. My progress was extremely slow, so i just stopped thinking about distances and time and switched my mind to autopilot : i'd reach the pass, sooner or later. The more i climbed, the more the altitude affected me, i was constantly out of breath, dizzy and sleepy, but i could not stop to rest too much as i absolutely had to reach the pass before night time (no one lives so high, except wild yaks, so i could not count on some warm shelter if i didn't make it).
My watch is equiped with an altimeter, and i could see the progress made, however, it was not set accurately so i could not really tell when i would reach the 5008m and as the watch indicated 5000m, i could still not see the pass, just the road ahead going higher and higher, as far as the eye could see. With the exhaustion (i only had a noodle soup and a few sweets in my stomach), i was starting to become really impatient, where was this damn pass ?
It was getting late, and i was worried that i would'nt get to the pass in time, but about 1 hour before dusk, i finally reached it, to my greatest relief. The view over the nearby snowy summits was fantastic. I quickly took a few pictures and started the way down towards some shelter for the night. I was still on a bumpy dirt road that prevented me from going as fast as i would have liked to, and SuperStan was suffering a lot and moaning louder than usual. After a while, i realised with great horror that both of my maps had disappeared, they had fallen off after i had left the pass. I emmediately stopped, dropped my bag and bike on the spot and walked back up the road looking for them, but the pass was now quite far and the night was coming at great speed. I figured that with the strong wind up there, they could by now be in Mexico, so i turned around and returned to my bag and bicycle. I was very angry at myself for losing them like this, especially because as i left the pass, i told myself i should be careful not to lose my maps, with the torn plastic cover...
In the morning, i continued my way down the mountain, but SuperStan's back wheel broke, and although i spent an hour attempting to repair it, it didn't change anything... I was forced to hitchhike again to the next town... I was picked up by the truck of a friendly tibetan and his wife and very young daughter. They put me in the back with my stuff as there was no more room at the front. So there i was, bouncing around in the back of this truck on this bumpy road that turned out to be the most beautiful i've seen during this trip. Again, i was very sad not to be able to ride my bike on this road, as i felt i had deserved it after so many efforts... It was not fair that a stupid mechanical problem had taken this reward away from me. I was very angry at SuperStan. "Super" my ass...
The road took us along a very narrow high mountain road, over incredibly steep cliffs dominating a lagoonish green wild river, 200 meters below. The mountains were sometimes brown or red or green and the shadows of the small clouds in the bright blue sky covered them with moving tattoos. Every turn of the road offered a new show : sometimes a small village surrounded with green terrass gardens, at other moments an isolated little house or a lonely stupa on the edge of a cliff. I couldn't take pictures as i was holding tight in order not to be tossed all over, so i filled my mind as much as i could with these beautiful sights.
EDIT january 19th :
My original plan was to follow the Mekong river as close as possible from it's source and through Tibet and Yunnan, and perhaps more. However, after carefully studying my maps this afternoon, i noticed that the road i intended to take at some point and that follows the Mekong very closely goes through very isolated areas for hundreds of kilometers. As i don't feel safe with the bicycle i have, to follow such a road, i decided to take another one that's parallel to it and that goes through some towns where i can get my bike repaired if i need and where i can most probably find an internet connection to give some news. The Mekong will still be some sort of guideline for me to follow more or less, but i've abandonned the idea to stay close to it at all costs. This will allow me to visit, among others, the town of Dali that seems really interesting.
I really miss my good bike that i left in France, which is so reliable and comfortable, compared to this chinese peace of crap that's falling appart as i travel with it and that hurts my back and my ass. Tomorrow should be interesting, with a pass at 5000m. But after that, the road will start to go down more and more to bring me to more comfortable altitudes. I will not be done with the mountains though, as Yunnan is covered with them.
EDIT january 18th :
I stopped for the night in a village and went in circles, hoping to get invited somewhere. Suddenly, a dozen of kids circled me on the road and pulled me in what seemed to be a school. Many people were already inside and i was greeted like the star of a show (i must say that since i arrived in Xining, i have not seen more than 1 foreigner, so for the locals, it must be an event.). They seemed to have some kind of party going on, and i was given food and alcohol, and people were talking to me on all sides, i didn't know where to look. I was then invited to dance to a traditional music, which i did so as not to offend them. By then i was quite sure i would be invited to stay over for the night, but suddenly, some kids led me outside to some sort of hotel and left me there. The whole thing took place in no more than 15 minutes and i was a bit confused, i felt like i had just been through a tornado. One kid did pull out of nowhere a pedal to replace the one i had broken, which was a cool thing.
EDIT january 14th :
EDIT january 12th :
EDIT january 10th :
No Mekong source after all... I arrived in Dzato (a very small town close to the source) after a rough bus ride through beautiful wild scenery, and got in contact with a man who could guide me to the source. Unfortunately, he was asking for a lot of money and although he seemed very experienced and turned out to be a very nice man, i wasn't even sure he wanted to take me to the real source. From all the accounts i've studied, the source is only accessible by horse but this man was claiming that it could be reached by 4x4. From what i understood, it is very difficult to access it in the winter and maybe that's why he felt it might be better to take me to a closer secondary source.
I did not want to waste money without being sure to reach the real source, and anyway, considering the time of the year, and my lack of experience, i wouldn't have been able to treck from it until the nearest village like i intended to in the first place (unless i had paid big money to be accompanied by a professional guide, which is beyond my financial possibilities).
My cycling will start from here (Yushu) tomorrow morning. This starting point is quite far from the source and in all honesty, i could have at least taken my bike to Dzato in order to start from a closer point, but as i said earlier, the bike is proper shit (just 1 gear, weak materials, bent wheels, nearly unexistant brakes... etc.) and i fear that it wouldn't take the 800km to Chamdo (where i hope to find a better bicycle). By starting from Yushu, it reduces the distance to 500 or 600km, which is a little bit better. Because of this, i have a feeling of having cheated and i'm not really proud of myself, but if the bike brakes on the way, i don't want to waste time walking such long distances. I still have a long way to go and i want to get moving. From this point however, i'll do my best not to cheat by using motorised vehicles or skipping planned checkpoints.
The way to Chamdo is a nice neat road, but i intend to take a shortcut along a horsepath where i should cross the way of tibetan nomad herders. This path is also closer to the Mekong river than the normal road thus making it a better choice.
Before that, i should reach a town called Nangqen where i might be able to give some news.
EDIT january 7th :
I am now in Jyekundo (aka Yushu). I took a bus from Xining and travelled the 800km in the night. The bus was full of very nice tibetans and it was a nice ride but a bit exhausting because of the altitude of the roads (over 4500m at some points) and the cold (the windows were covered with frost from the inside !!). On the way, we past a bus that had fallen on the side of the road, but i don't know if anyone was injured.
I arrived in Yushu (3700m) with a big headache but i'm now feeling much better and it's a good thing, because tomorrow i'm heading to the source of the Mekong river (5200m), i hope my body will take it well.
Tibetans are very friendly people, always smiling and willing to communicate. I regret very much not to have brought a conversation dictionnary in order to chat with them... It's interesting to be in this town, Yushu is a very small town surrounded by mountains, and is filled with tibetans in traditional outfits. The aren't many foreigners who come here, and people look at me with a lot of curiosity.
I'm lucky to have met a very nice english-speaking tibetan (one of the only english-speaking persons in the entire town) who has helped me out with numerous things, including finding a guide for the source of the Mekong.
The trip should take 5 days, first by car, and then on horses when we'll run out of road. The weather is particularly warm considering the time of the year, but we are still expecting some temperatures between -20C to -30C.
After that, i'll be on my way towards Tibet on what has to be the crappiest bicycle i ever sat my ass on. I hope it'll take the 500 or 600 km to Chamdo, where i can buy a better one.
More news when i get back here in Yushu, on the 12th or 13th.
I've arrived in Chengdu after 2 flights, and tomorrow i'll have a final flight to Xining. The weather here is very warm considering the time of the year, but i'm not in the mountains yet so it's going to get a bit chilly in the following days, as i get closer to the Himalayas.
Here's my plan (roughly) : I intend to take a bus from Xining to Jyekundo and from there, i'll give myself a few days to find a guide who can take me to the source of the Mekong river (5200m). It's in a very isolated area and without even a gps or a camping stove, and considering the time of the year, i don't want to take the risk of going there alone and getting lost.
If after a few days, i still haven't found a guide, i'll buy a bike and start heading south towards Tibet, hoping that i'll manage to dodge the military checkpoints and enter without a proper travel permit.
Just walking around in the streets of Chengdu and feeling the atmosphere has boosted my motivation. Finally this trip is becoming a reality, and it smells good, i can't wait to taste it !
I should be able to find an internet spot in Jyekundo so i'll post some news then, provided the internet works properly and allows me to connect to my blog (which has been a pain in the ass today).
I hope everyone had a great new year celebration, and that 2008 brings your dreams to reality.
Bye bye (just for now) !
It's been a while since i posted any news about me, but it doesn't mean that nothing has been going on, au contraire...
First off, as it's been announced on the Parkourgenerations website, i've officially joined the team. I had been involved for a little while with them professionally, and much longer as a friend (i've known some of them since my earliest Parkour days). I was recently in London during a week in order to train and work with them, and to take part in the "Rendez-vous : part 2" event.
I'll most likely move to London in 2008 to become a Parkour teacher. The great vibe among the team is something i had been searching for since a long time and this is the main reason that motivated me to join them.
I'm feeling very good with my Parkour at the moment. Although i know i could never compete with many traceurs out there, i feel in shape physically, and, most of all, mentally. Since several months, i found a balance in my mind that i had been looking for since i started Parkour, some sort of lightness of the mind that i was desperately in need of. I now see new obstacles as little treats that i devour with the greatest appetite, and not big intimidating walls like i used to.
A lot of stress has been blown away from my head, and truely, i feel like i'm just starting now to discover how delightful Parkour can be.
On my return to France, i had the pleasure of being accompanied by Blane who trained with me during a few days in Tours. We had a really great time and i hope to train again with him soon !
Appart from that, i'm still deeply interested in travels, and i've recently bought a car, a french 1976 Citroen 2cv (my favourite car !!) which i put back in shape (with a lot of help). Don't judge it by its frail appearance, it's a legendary car regarding its durability. I've already got tons of parkour travelling ideas for it with other traceurs, for when the good weather will be back.
But right now, my main concern is my next project. I'm kicking off 2008 with a trip i'll be starting on the 3rd of January : i'm going to Xining (Qinghai province, west China) and from there i'll take a bus to go about 800km south. The first leg of my trip will truely start there, as i plan to travel by bicycle through Tibet and Yunnan (a chinese province south of Tibet), close to the Mekong river. It's winter and at this altitude (over 4000m), the weather, along with several other factors i will speak about later, will not offer the best travelling conditions, but i've been planning this trip for a long time now, and i was always delaying it for multiple reasons, until i ran out of patience and finally decided i wouldn't wait any longer, so January it will be.
I'll just have to adapt to what i find, and perhaps change my plans when i get there, we'll see how things work out. I only have a one-way ticket which means that i will come home when i consider my trip done.
If i don't turn into a snowman, i'll try to post here some updates about my trip, although some places i intend to travel through will very unlikely offer an internet connection (or even electricity). And also, i won't have a cell phone with me, so anyone wanting to contact me should do it by email.
To the people who invited me to take part in very interesting projects and that i had to turn down because of this always delayed trip, i'm very sorry, but i'll try to make up for it when i get back.
Thanks to all the people who support me, merry christmas, and a great exciting happy new year to everyone !