7,999 km so far.
A man is shouting right in Stephen’s face.
He is yelling and yelling, a relentless noise that we would rather not have to deal with. We are at the ferry dock, and it’s clear that he wants Stephen to buy the crumpled up, obviously used ferry ticket he has pulled from his pocket. We refuse in as many ways as we can think of, pointing to the ferry which is mercifully approaching, telling him we’ll buy our ticket on the boat, as we did on the last Chinese ferry we took.
Confusion Is All Around
A crowd gathers. Everyone is amused by what is happening, but no one gives us a sign either way, to indicate that we should pay this man, or ignore him. Usually, when the crowd pretends nothing significant is happening, it’s a sure sign that the person in question is up to no good.
No one else buys a ticket from him, or shows us their ticket, or points to tell us where to get a ticket. There is no ticket office, and the one guy in uniform is studiously ignoring what is happening. One other passenger, who also has a bicycle, waves his hand at us as if to tell us not to pay the man, but other than that, we just have to trust our instincts.
The tout is curiously persistent, not taking no for an answer, not leaving our sides until we push past him onto the ferry.
A uniformed man on the ferry shows us where to put our bikes. As we are stowing them, the yelling man arrives behind us. Stephen gestures to the uniformed man to ask how much. ¥20, he replies, via hand signals, give it to that man there.
Yes, the yelling man. The man with no official garb whatsoever. The guy who only had that one crumpled up ticket.
That’s the ferry official?
We are completely confused. How are you supposed to avoid a scam if the scammers and the officials are indistinguishable? We’re also a little embarrassed, wondering what the talk back on the dock will be about the crazy foreigners who wouldn’t pay for their ferry ticket.
On the ferry we chat with two perfectly calm men, who manage to have a whole conversation with us, without once yelling. We discover one of them has been to Canada, and that he is 43 years old. We tell them where we’ve been and that we’ve been riding our bikes and taking busses. It’s all very pleasant. When I start taking pictures, our new friend high-tails it, but not before I snap this blurry shot of him.
When we disembark on the other side, having officially crossed the Yangtze yet again, there is a line of cars and trucks waiting for the ferry. A uniformed ticket seller, with an official money satchel and a whole pad of brand new tickets, is attending to them in an orderly fashion.
Confusion has become our natural state of mind in China.
You Can’t Beat A Retreat
Apart from the stressful ticket-buying incident, today’s ride is one of the nicest we’ve done in China.
The first part, out of Honghu, a town we were happy to see the back of, took us along the levee between the river and the town. The road was quiet and almost devoid of traffic, with views to the right over the Yangtze and to the left over a strip of farmland and a row of large well-kept houses. People and water buffalo were everywhere, hard at work tending their plots.
After the ferry, we battled a brisk wind into the town of Chibi, where we’d arranged to meet a driver from the Fine Yoga Retreat, to take us we-know-not-where in the wilderness.
He’d brought a minivan for us and we managed to load my bike inside. Then he and Stephen hoisted Stephen’s bike on top, strapping it securely enough that even Stephen was happy with it.
As we wound our way out of town, we both agreed that we’d have had trouble finding the place on our own. This is off the beaten track even for us, and we can just imagine the driving directions which would have had us “turn right at the chicken” and then “right again at the tall patch of bamboo”.
Not knowing what to expect from the retreat, we were both blown away when we pulled onto the grounds. There are several gorgeous hotel buildings overlooking a lake and completely surrounded by a dense bamboo forest.
When we were told we wouldn’t be staying in the main buildings, but in a bamboo hut up the mountainside, we were absolutely gobsmacked.
Three men grabbed all of our bags and hauled them up the steep staircase, refusing to let us help even though I tried several times. I know how much those bags weigh!
After the hectic riding we’ve had in China, it is such a relief to be here on the peaceful mountainside, listening to the wind whisper through bamboo.
The kindness of the people we meet will never stop astounding us.
Sherri and Andy, we can’t think of enough ways to thank you!
Soundtrack: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, B.R.M.C. | Gorillaz, Gorillaz | Jane’s iPod on Shuffle ♥