We left Xi'An some days ago. The first 3 days were not particularly great in terms of weather. After the wonderful weather we enjoyed in Xi'An it was rainy, grey in grey and above all cold. This was not the start of our tour we had imagined. We had to give ourselves a real push to get on our bikes and drive off. We leave the megacity on our bikes as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Soon we reach the countryside, it looks like a big garden to us. Tree plantations alternate with wheat fields. Every little spot is used to grow vegetables. Whenever possible we try to take side roads that lead us through small villages. Being long-nose foreigners we are looked at everywhere we pass. Of course, we are curious as well, we look back at the people, at the the inner courtyards of the houses. The color red is omnipresent. Red symbolizes life and happiness. It also stands for warmth, fame and strength. Therefore it is not surprising that red lanterns hang over almost every house entrance and the entrance gates are dark red. Often a red cloth hangs in front of the entrance door as well. Along the main road countless small shops are lining up, some sell household goods, shoes or clothes, but most of all we see small grocery stores. The selection is very basic to what we are used to in our supermarkets, but you will always find what you need. What we usually are looking for are some cookies and fruits which we eat during the day and instant meals e.g. noodles for the case that we have to camp.
We spend the first night in Zhouzhi. It is pouring rain when we enter the city. The hotel signs are only written in Chinese, it’s a bit of a challenge for us. Thank God we have a voucher written in Chinese, so nothing should go wrong. I show it to a man who has a small shop near the hotel and ask for the direction. With his hand he points to the opposite side of the road. As if that were not enough, he asks me to follow him. Markus stays with the bikes. We go to the 7th floor of the building he has shown to me. There is actually the reception. The Assistant shows me a room and I confirm that it's okay for me. So we go back downstairs, get the bicycles, put them in the elevator and go back to the 7th floor. Only when I show her my voucher again she informs me that we are in the wrong hotel! We decide on the spot to stay anyway. In this weather we have no desire for further exploration of the city. Lesson learned for the next time. First do all the paperwork and check in before doing anything else. The only bad thing of the hotel was the entertainment. On the 11th floor local people were singing karaoke until late into the night.
The next day we experience a little highlight in the evening in Mei, our next destination. We walk along the “main” street looking for a restaurant. We quickly find what we are looking for, as one small restaurant follows the other. How good it smells everywhere. We stop at a place where most people are already eating and look at the offer. There is a large selection of vegetables displayed in the showcase, it looks delicious! Before we can change our mind and go for another restaurant, the "landlady" is already standing next to us, asking what we would like to eat. It’s not difficult at all to take our decision: lots of vegetables for me, a large plate of noodle for the two of us and Markus goes for grilled meat kebabs of different kind. We take a seat at a table with some locals who are already busy drinking their liquor. The guests are staring at us, probably wondering what we are doing here. But it doesn't take long before Markus is offered his first cup of liquor. With our google translator we start to talk to them. The landlady joins us as well, we chat about our journey, she shows me pictures of her family, tells me where she lives. It's really cozy among the local population. And the food is delicious. We leave the restaurant in time, because we want to be fit for the next day's stage.
The following afternoon we reach the next city of 3.7 million inhabitants. The day's stage is rather short, the speedometer shows only 50km. So we have time to do some sightseeing in Baoji. We focus on a sight, a monument that lies on a hill overlooking the city. From up here we have a wonderful view over the whole city, the river and the mountains. But to get up there we first have to climb 1000 stairs! We take it sporty! After all, we don't want to train our muscles too one-sidedly. As expected, we have sore muscles the next morning!
We are already leaving the lowlands and approaching the hills and mountains. The Qinling mountain range, which separates northern and southern China, will give us some altitude meters in the near future. We've already got the first altitude meters behind us. Then we enter a big valley following a river, on the left and right hand mountain tops rise. What a great view after passing all these big cities! Unfortunately the road does not run nicely along the river. The journey is more comparable to driving along the Côte D'Azur, up and down, up and down. We take it easy and every once in a while we take some breaks. On the way we meet a young Chinese cyclist who is riding to the West of China as well. He tells us that he rides over 140km a day. Wow, we can't keep up, at least that's what we think. But then we find out that he's no faster than we are, as we meet him several times that day. Finally we manage 107km on this day. Not bad!
The first week of cycling ends with a 60km excursion to the Maijishan Grottoes. Here you can find some of the most famous Buddhist stonemasonry works on the Silk Road. 221 grottos have been carved into the rock walls, which contain over 7800 sculptures. These works were created between 386 and 581 AD. Bridges connect most of these caves. Very impressive is the 15.7m high Buddha and the tw Bodhisattvas on the mountain, which are made of clay. How this stonemasonry work could be done is still unclear today, considering the cliff of this mountain. Visiting these footbridges is a bit dizzying, but the visit was in any case worthwhile!
We look forward to the journey back to Maiji. We have tailwind and it should go downhill. But the way back to the hotel becomes more difficult than expected. First of all we are surprised by a heavy thunderstorm. Due to the heavy rain the road gets muddy, dirty and slippery. It is difficult to ride the bike. All the mud and dirt gets stuck in the wheels, in the breaks, just everywhere. You should have seen our bikes…Moreover we couldn’t really enjoy the downhill ride.