Xi’an – China
I packed up my kit, threw a leg over my bike and headed off to Xi’an on my own. Fearghal had a sore knee so opted to take a few extra days rest in Nanyang and would meet me in Xi’an. I had a late start so I pedalled as fast as possible, trying to ensure that I made good headway. It was pretty hot going though and before long I was back to the usual excessive sweating. I passed fruit vendors by the side of the road and was in the process of deciding what I wanted when I passed a few lads eating a tasty looking watermelon. They must have seen the envy in my eyes, as they waved me over and shared it with me, not letting me go until I had eaten 3 big chunks of the juicy and particularly flavoursome fruit.
I made my way out of the maze of muddy tracks that led out of the rice field where I had camped, the heavy rain turning the mud into a thick brown gunge. The entire day was spent plodding through the lashing rain, and by the time I stopped for the day, I was soaked to the bone. It was as if I had jumped into a lake. I wanted to dry out my tent (as the fly sheet doesn’t take kindly to being left wet and rolled up in humid conditions) so I found a half built house, snuck in the back way, and pitched my tent on the concrete floor.
The following day, the road pointed upwards, the first real climbs since leaving the Andes, and wound alongside brown rivers and steep, tree covered mountains. I stopped for lunch and ordered a bowl of noodles and promptly a bowl of what looked like tomato soup came out. Confused, I gestured to the waitress, but she was already bring me out a bowl of the biggest noodles I have ever seen. They were as wide as sheets of lasagne but about a metre long. I was instructed to drag the colossal noodles into the soup and slurp them up, with face hanging just over the bowl. A family of diners watched as I clumsily gobbled down my noodles, and it seems that I was a source of amusment for them as they invited me to have lunch with them, the exact words being “we will be very happy together”. Twelve of us sat down and I watched as plate after plate of food came out, and I had to stop myself from salivating in front of my hosts. I provided them with some clownish action, when I inadvertantly munched down on a thumb sized chunk of ginger, thinking that it was a potato that accompanied the chili chicken dish (which must have been laced with at least 200 whole red chillis, hot!).
I stopped a little further up the road to let the food in my full belly settle, and within moments about 15 Chinese men approached me, or rather my bike, and proceeded to fiddle with my gears, disc brakes and SPD (clip in) pedals with great intrest. I like to think that they approved of my equipment choice.
There was a long and quite steep climb on the morning before arriving in Xian and when I got to the top of the pass there was a tunnel through the rock face. There were signs saying no bikes allowed, but after climbing all morning I wasn’t about to go back, so I headed in anyway. When I entered the tunnel I couldn’t see the end which was quite unnerving. It was really horrible in there, the buses and trucks made a shrill thundering echo as they raced past, and the carbon monoxide that had built up made breathing difficult, made me light headed and left me with a splitting headache. After a good 10 minutes in the 3.5km long tunnel, I finally saw a pinprick of light coming from the end and to my delight, I popped out the end and into a long downhill, breathing in huge gulps of fresh air as I descended down the beautiful rocky valley.
The road picked up a beautiful clear mountain river and since I hadn’t washed for 4 days and was smelling a bit musty, I jumped into the fast flowing river for a wash. I was hardly going again, when a Chinese guy stopped his car beside me and handed me out a few bottles of water, gave me a thumbs up, then went on his way. I was nearing Xian, rolling nicely, when a guy on a motorbike passed me and much to my amusement he had a couple of goats lashed onto the back! I stepped hard on the pedals trying to catch him for a closer photo, but with a bit of a headwind, I topped out at 40km/hr and he gradually slipped away. After about 2 minutes, with my thighs burning, I gave up the chase. Luckily though, he stopped a little further up the road and I managed to get a good gawp at the goats, who actually seemed to be pretty content, munching on a few green leaves.
I got to the outskirts of Xian and being mapless, I had no idea where to go, I had an address of a hostel but that was it. With a population of 7 million people (more than the whole of Ireland), Xi’an is pretty massive and I ended up cycling 15km from the outskirts to the old town in the centre. It took a good hour of city cycling, duelling with buses, cars and pedestrians before I finally made it to the beautiful old town walls, ready for a few days chilling out.