Worker Bees, Killer Wasps

By Stephen Ewashkiw | October 27, 2013

6,905 km so far.

We pushed off early today, leaving behind the dull, grey town of Foping. They have tried to liven things up by putting LEDs on their bridges, but it does little to hide the factories on the edge of town. I think this was especially evident in contrast to the tranquil beauty of the mountains which surround it.

About 12 km out of town we began a big 10 km climb up and over the last of the Qinling Mountains. We had mapped the elevation and were expecting the final few kilometres to be quite extreme.

To our joy and amazement a brand new tunnel is just being finished, and this cut off the worst of the ascent.

Inside the brand new tunnel south of Foping.

Inside the brand new tunnel south of Foping.

Fortunately for our lungs, the 3 km tunnel was empty save for workers and a few scooters.

The Other Side Of The Mountain

On the other side of the tunnel the sun was out and it wasn’t nearly a cold as yesterday’s mountain descent. It wasn’t nearly as long a downhill either and involved several short uphill climbs which helped stave off too much numbness.

On one of these climbs we passed a house where shiitake mushrooms had been laid out to dry. Several family members were around and it was then I noticed they were farming shiitakes. We stopped for a few photos of their amazing set-up high in the mountains.

shiitake mushrooms growing in china

Rows of shiitakes on the roadside, near Foping.

They had row upon row, tent upon tent, of wet logs injected with shiitake spores, being kept at just the right humidity to grow beautiful mushrooms. Two bulk buyers even stopped while we were there to buy a large bag from the family. How I wished we were cooking our own food. These would have made an incredible addition to any meal.

And then we rode on. Through more beautiful, quiet mountainous scenery.

Up into the mountains, one switchback at a time, near Foping.

Up into the mountains, one switchback at a time, near Foping.

The mountains really are stunning here, and the haze which limits our view only adds to the drama of the peaks and valleys.

Strangers In A Strange Land

We stopped for lunch in a town called Jinshui, which has had the misfortune of having the G5, the main freeway in these parts, built right over it. Here the freeway runs from the edge of one mountain to another, soaring high above Jinshui on the valley floor.

The town is small, but was filled with people out enjoying some Sunday shopping and socialising.

For lunch we found a vegetarian restaurant, just by chance. As we were about to explain that we didn’t eat meat, we realised that everyone was eating big bowls of homemade flat noodles in soupy sauce with persimmon, tofu, spring onions, potatoes, and chilli. It was delicious.

We walked through town after lunch, and it was immediately clear they didn’t get many foreign tourists. Kids started following us, running around us, saying “hello”, and everyone (OK not everyone, but honestly almost everyone) stared at us. We are pretty sure calls went out to come down to the main street to see the strangers.

A Hive Of Activity

The main street was amazing. It was a bit Wild West, with shop front after shop front lined up right at the street’s edge.

Men gathered under the satellite dishes, Jinshui.

Men gathered under the satellite dishes, Jinshui.

It was crowded with people of all ages and sizes, men and women pulling wheeled wooden carts, people selling fruits and vegetables, others sitting around low card tables, and children running up and down.

Cart without a horse, Jinshui, Shaanxi Province.

Cart without a horse, Jinshui, Shaanxi Province.

There were fortune tellers, body workers, approximately 8 hair dressers, machinists machining, and a couple of people selling individual false teeth.

One of them had a pair of pliers stuck in a woman’s mouth. We weren’t sure if he was pulling a tooth, or fitting a new one.

Jinshui is a market town, so everything was for sale: large hunks of pig meat, several kinds of fresh tofu, live carp in giant steel bowls, all kinds of mushrooms, leopard print and neon chainsaws (really!), next to several kinds of scythes. It was incredible.

Kitten shoe for sale in Jinshui.

Kitten shoe for sale in Jinshui.

I saw a couple of killer wasps in town as we wandered around, but they didn’t seem to be bothering anyone, and so I didn’t pay it much attention. Then, as we were climbing (and climbing) out of town, Jane spotted a hive off in the distance in a tree. It was quite far away, but still clear, and clearly massive.

Oh crap.

Not long after that we saw one much closer to us. Too close, in fact, or we would have stopped for a photo. It was easily bigger than a basketball, probably close to the size of a Swiss ball, and home to who knows how many killer wasps.

Great photoshop skills employed on this killer wasp warning poster, Foping.

Great photoshop skills employed on this killer wasp warning poster, Foping.

We rode up the mountain as quickly as we could, but being on heavy touring bikes this isn’t very fast. I am happy to report that we have yet to be attacked by killer wasps.

Police Protection

Outside the town of Longting there is a temple that holds the tomb of Cai Lun, who was the inventor of modern day paper. We decided not to go inside, but instead talked to the girls who were working the temple ticket office.

The conversation was a bit more stimulating than normal, as one of them spoke English quite well. As is usual for us now, they asked if they could have their photos taken with us. So, everyone whipped out their smartphone and we posed for several shots.

Thorn amongst the roses, Longting, Shaanxi Province.

Thorn amongst the roses, Longting, Shaanxi Province.

We had discussed staying in Yangxian, not far from Cai Lun’s tomb, but when we got there it too closely resembled the countless small working villages we have passed with machinery, dirt, and noise. We decided to push on another 21 km to Chenggu, where we knew at least one other cycle tourist had managed to find accommodation. This ended up making today our longest ride yet (if memory serves) at 118 km.

The outskirts of Chenggu were depressing. Several cement factories gave way to the Chenngu Chemical Company (complete with several pipes venting steam right next to the road) which gave way to the Chengdu Chengyuan Compound Chemical Fertilizer Factory, a massive factory sitting right on the edge of town.

It was dark by the time we rolled into town, so any haze from the factories was lost in the night, which is probably just as well. Today was the first time we have had the police involved when checking in to a hotel. This was actually something I was expecting would happen every night. The officer was very nice, if not used to doing all the paperwork required for foreigners. He even stored our bikes in his office.

At dinner the owner of the restaurant spoke a little English, and also had a phrase book he used to communicate with us. He prepared three delicious vegan dishes for us, and came back to make sure it was to our satisfaction. He then asked if we could pose for some photos after dinner, which we did, of course. This included photos with his two children, and with him, inside the restaurant and outside. It was quite a to do, but he enjoyed it and we didn’t mind.

We constantly joke that people must think we are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, what with the celeb treatment we receive everywhere we go.

When we got back from dinner our doorbell rang (yes, our room has a doorbell) and it was the police officer who had done our paperwork earlier. He had come up for a game of charades. OK, not really, but that is what ended up happening. He had something he wanted to tell us, but the hotel doesn’t have WiFi, so we couldn’t use a translation app. He resorted to drawing pictures to tell us what he wanted.

Jane’s note: He was pretty good at this and probably always wins at Pictionary.

It actually worked out very well, and we found out he needed our passports until morning, wanted to know when we would be leaving, where we would be going, and how we would get there. I was quite proud of all three of us for figuring it all out. I was also quite relieved that he wasn’t telling us we had to go to the police station, change hotels, or take a bus out of town – as all three have happened to other cycle tourists before us.

Soundtrack: Common Prayer, Frame The River | Calexico, Spiritoso  

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  1. Comment by michael moldofsky

    michael moldofsky November 2, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    a fav post for me – so many cool and unique things like the tunnel and the mushroom family

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 2, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Thanks MM. It was a tough day of mountain climbing but so absolutely worth the effort. Effort is effective.

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