Running On Empty

By Jane Mountain | January 25, 2014

8,984 km so far.

At some point today, we realised we’ve been on the road for 10 months. Though we’ve both done a lot of travelling in the past, this is by far the longest we’ve ever been without a place to call home.

Part of me is still longing for new adventures and fresh experiences, and part of me is getting more focussed on what happens next, where we settle down, and what I’ll do to make a living (eep!) when that happens.

It’s also the day we hit 8,888 km, and being in China, we thought we’d better document this good-luck number.

jane and stephen in china

Painfully bright sunshine at 8,888 km!

Though I still wasn’t feeling completely better, we opted to leave Boao this morning and head towards the beach. I knew once we made it there it would be a restful three days before we had to move again. With this spurring me on, I forced myself out of bed and onto the bike.

Rural Idyll

The one great thing about having almost 9,000 km under our belts is that cycling is pretty much the easiest thing in the world now. It doesn’t take any undue concentration or effort to propel ourselves from one place to another, as long as we don’t hit unexpected hills or wind, so I could manage it, even in my weakened state.

We rode along the main street of Boao, which is like Downtown Disneyland China, a sanitised and plasticised version of a real Chinese village street.

ivory in gift shop hainan china

No gift shop around here is complete without its own elephant tusk. Please give generously to WWF to stop this crap.

After the town proper, we had long kilometres of polished resort roads to ride through. We passed by several condo complexes that actually looked complete. One housing development could have been lifted straight out of Malibu, with its modern wood-and-glass houses, gazing out over the farmland.

Finally, the countryside enveloped us again. Fan-shaped palm trees and giant birds of paradise lined the quiet road. We could hear birds singing in the bushes (a rarity in other parts of China), and on occasion, a remarkable-looking avian specimen darted across our path.

View from a bridge, Hainan.

View from a bridge, Hainan.

Stray dogs roam everywhere here. Every time we see one, I urge it to run far away before it becomes tonight’s main course. We also shouted warnings to the little piggies we saw running through the forest. One group of black piglets on the side of the road were so adorable (think Babe as a goth), I wanted to take them with us.

Since being on the island, we’ve seen several unusual graveyards. They are filled with high mounds of earth, often topped by a tree branch or small rock.

Burial mounds on Hainan.

Burial mounds on Hainan.

There is usually a small carved headstone marking the grave, and for the more illustrious dead, a low wall curves around the mound.

Walled burial mound on Hainan.

Walled burial mound on Hainan.

One of these graveyards was right near our route, so we stopped off to have a look.

Next to the graveyard, we discovered something we haven’t seen since Italy – red bras hanging in the trees.

Red bra district, Hainan.

Red bra district, Hainan.

We’re not sure if these indicate to prospective clients that women are available at this spot, or if it’s just a great place to take off your bra and go free, but by the giant cup-size on display, we are guessing the former.

Weekend Luncheon

Lunch was a trial. The first place we went had lettuce as their sole vegetable, so we rode around the little town until we found another suitable place.

I wasn’t hungry at all, so I forced Stephen to make the decision of where to eat, which he hates doing. He found a packed restaurant and went into the kitchen to point at the things he wanted. He also specified no meat and no eggs, in pictures, writing, and language.

It all seemed completely clear until the boss lady, whose t-shirt aptly proclaimed that she is the Grande Dame, brought us a plate of green pepper with chicken. Well, we’d asked for the green pepper anyway. We sent that one back, and while they were picking the chicken off the plate, they brought us a plate of tomatoes with eggs. Half-right, once again. We didn’t feel we could reject another dish, so we gamely dug in.

These eggs, being from the chickens we see ranging all over the roads and back alleys, actually tasted great, even though we both found it a little weird to be eating them. We’re anticipating having to eat eggs in Southeast Asia, since there probably won’t be much other non-meat protein available, so I guess we’re getting some practice in.

I am still not really up for eating after my fun with food poisoning the other day, so the giant bowl of white rice that accompanied lunch was pretty much all I needed anyway.

Construction Destruction

It was a gorgeous ride, twisting through unknown backroads that were vague on our maps at best.

rice fields in hainan china

Rice fields, Hainan.

Stephen had cobbled together a route using Apple Maps, Google Satellite view, and Pocket Earth, so we were never quiet sure when our lovely little concrete path would end in god-knows-what impassable catastrophe.

And then, after about 80 km of good luck, the luck ran out. Our road changed abruptly from a pleasant path to a sandy, rutted, bumpy mess which was clearly under construction, if not now, at least some time in the past.

We were so close to where we wanted to be, we continued on, spirits buoyed by the occasional scooter that passed us, going in our direction. If the scooters are going that way, the road must lead somewhere.

It did. Right to a cavernous construction site.

“I am completely out of steam,” I told Stephen. “So am I,” he admitted, “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling.”

Of course, there was no option but to press on.

A little exploration led us to a narrow paved path that looked like it was once part of a golf course.

Following it a little way led us past part of the site where workers were blasting into the rocky ground (yes, this did make me a little nervous) and out onto a low bluff that looked out over the most gorgeous beach we’ve seen since Croatia. Golden sands curved away into the distance, and the sound of waves hitting the shore calmed me almost instantly.

If only we had our camping equipment, we would have found our home for the night.

Off Course, Recalibrating

Our path finally ended in a dry, sandy meadow and I held the bikes while Stephen went exploring on foot to see if there was a way through. I could see cars driving along the road we wanted less than a kilometre in the distance, so I was optimistic.

Our road is just over there, near Shimei Bay, Hainan.

Our road is just over there, near Shimei Bay, Hainan.

Stephen came back and told me that it looked like we could “probably” make it through. Not the most excellent news, but if it meant not going back, I was OK with it.

We made our way across the meadow, carried our bikes through about 15 feet of construction rubble, and arrived at the back of one of the hotel buildings currently being built. A worker came out of the onsite housing and pointed us back the way we didn’t want to go, but we were hoping he just meant we had to go around the building.

At this point, let me express my gratitude for our awesome Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires, which can roll through a field of discarded construction nails without so much as flinching.

After a twisty turning route through the construction site, we arrived back on tarmac.

Our route through the construction site. Note the lack of roads on the map.

Our route through the construction site. Note the lack of roads on the map.

The first thing we faced was a giant hill, zig-zagging up about 200 feet. Sigh. A bowl of white rice is probably not quite enough for this kind of day.

Down the hill we were back into another resort area, this one mostly finished and populated with the occasional tourist. Stephen broke it to me that he still wasn’t sure this road would go through, so when we passed Le Meridien, I swore that if we hit another dead end, we were going back to spend the night.

Stephen’s note: Which made me start wishing the road would end abruptly and we’d be forced into a night of luxury.

A brand new cobbled road led us to a giant marina, which housed only a few boats. The sun was setting, and we briefly discussed breaking into a boat for the night. However, the alternative of ending up in Chinese jail didn’t appeal to either one of us.

Empty Shack

Past the marina, we knew we would either find a country road or have to take the freeway, where bikes are verboten. Luckily, a tiny dark road led alongside the freeway, past villages and the occasional vehicle. Having not gotten explicit directions or coordinates for our destination, we had no idea where we would need to get off this road in order to find it.

I was just starting to pray for some kind of mystical sign when the road ended abruptly in a pile of a dirt, flashing lights, and a huge sign with an arrow pointing to the left. I guess prayer works, after all.

A few minutes later, just as it was getting fully dark, we rolled up to the Riyue Bay Surf Club, where we had planned to spend the night. It was Saturday evening, but the surf shop was closed up, and no one seemed to be around. Well, not no one. There were people running the restaurant, who seemed totally unconcerned with helping us, and a large group down on the beach dancing to amplified music.

Stephen explored the building and the beach. He found the dorms, but all the lights were off and no one was home, even though there were signs of habitation.

Hmmm, OK. Fine.

After the day we’d had, I wasn’t really in the mood for waiting around on the off-chance someone would show up, so we headed to the overpriced hotel just down the street. I decided a hot shower and a night of luxury would be OK, seeing as I was still sick.

As we checked in, a gang of children ran up and down the stairs and halls around us, screaming like a troop of rabid monkeys. The parents seemed completely absent, the hotel staff completely oblivious.

The 21st Century Hotel was clearly built in the 80s, when the 21st Century still seemed a long way off. Our room was damp, the bathroom floor a filthy pool of water with no discernible drain, the walls covered in mildew, and the wood veneer peeling off the furniture. The bed was a classic rock-hard slab, and just feet away from our window, cars and trucks zoomed by on the freeway.

Meanwhile, the children in the hallway, off their heads on sugar cane, continued to howl.

Not exactly the peaceful beach retreat I had in mind. Whatever, at least it’s a place to sleep.

So we did, dreaming of a room in Le Meridien all night long.  

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  1. Comment by Kevin

    Kevin November 24, 2016 at 10:39 am

    “Definitely”. I’m not convinced but am impressed at your gutsiness.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 30, 2016 at 4:10 am

      Hey Kevin,
      I’m not sure it’s all that gutsy in the scheme of things. There are lots of people all over the world doing far braver things that travelling in China – which is actually one of the safest countries we’ve been to!

  2. Comment by David B.

    David B. January 28, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    THIS is the kind of day you look for when you leave on a multi-year adventure, no?… ;-)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane January 30, 2014 at 1:04 am


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