Bruised, battered, beat, and burned: it was time to ride again. Rising early, but not too early, we shuffled out of the hotel into the morning Yunnan sunshine while attempting to stretch and regain full flexibility in our aching muscles. A futile action perhaps, but we still had almost half the trip or around 64km/40mi of cycling around Erhai Lake to go, so it was necessary to do what we could.
Fortunately, we had reason to linger in the small village of Wase, where we spent the night recovering, as it happened to be time for the once weekly village market. The folk living up in the mountains journey down into the “big city” once a week in the early morning to hawk their fruits and vegetables and pick up essentials to take back to their distant dwellings. It gave us an excuse to leave the bikes locked up and immobile for just a little bit longer. We filled up on fresh and very cheap local fruits, but were missing just one essential thing – coffee. There was none in the village. We could only dream of the barrage of cafes in Dali.
Surprisingly, our un-caffeinated bodies somehow managed to work after hopping onto the bikes. As sore and sorry as we were, once we started pedaling, we managed to survive on animalistic instincts, living from rotation to rotation, aches slowly fading away into the background with each metre traveled. The gorgeous views and fresh mountain air worked wonders as well.
We limped along, facing tough climbs, but were always rewarded with a view of the entire lake, civilization splayed out along the opposite shore and the mountains looming in the background with thick cloud cover crashing down like ocean waves.
We fell into a trance like state with countless tedious uphill battles followed by the ecstasy of downhill cruising. I usually didn’t bother to stop pedaling no matter the vertical inclination, up or down, I was cycling my legs off; velocity is a hell of a drug. The sense of time tends to fade away when locked into a repetitive state of altitudinal changes. The only thing that managed to break up the monotonous state of affairs was a lone dog who chased behind us for a few kilometers, tongue hanging out and legs moving at max speed until, he too, was left behind like one of the countless cannabis plants lining the lake, swinging in the heavy breeze. It was at this point that I needed to get a selfie with said plants. A picture of oneself hugging a giant 8-foot tall pot plant is a great conversation starter when looking through vacation photos.
Eventually, we coasted down the final hill on the east side of Erhai lake and settled into a very welcome, long, flat stretch of road that cruised towards the airport before veering off to follow the path hugging the lake that passed through the new town of Xiaguan aka new Dali. It was time for food.
Right alongside the lake, street vendors had impressively large woks frying an even more impressive array of fresh seafood. They laughed as the oil sizzled and sputtered, telling us we had good timing indeed as the local officials made their inspection a day earlier so the portable seafood stands had to scram, but now, as the moment had passed, they were open for business once again. No matter that the government building was easily visible from where the vendors were set up, as long as it wasn’t the official inspection day, they were ready to cook.
We sat in the tiny plastic chairs ubiquitous to the Chinese street food scene, with a view of the lake, and relaxed over fresh seafood, tiny crabs on a skewer, crayfish, lobsters, fish and crabs in fried batter, and whole fish directly out of the lake from local fisherman with thick cut French fries and cold Dali beer to top it all off. It was a gloriously greasy way to gain some energy for the final leg of the trip ahead.
Fortunately, the final leg of the trip was very easy. With bellies full of seafood and brews we needed smooth sailing. Back on the western side of the lake, the roads were all newly paved and flat, cutting through the modern new town of Dali and then running parallel alongside the lake. It’s definitely not as interesting as the twisty, mountainous east side, but it’s way less demanding and the perfect end of a trip. I was pretty ecstatic when passing underneath the blue highway sign that proclaimed AncientCity (sic) of Dali 8km.
We cruised back into town, got a spectacularly cheap hostel room at the very funky fresh Dali Hump Guesthouse, dropped off our stuff, then went out to return the bicycles and get our deposits back. Mission accomplished. We used the rest of the day as well as the next to recharge, laze around, look at art and sip on coffee while reading books. After that, we were ready for the overnight sleeper train up north to cooler climates and even more impressive mountains. Next stop, Lijiang!
Come back to The Chairman’s Bao soon to learn more about Lijiang, home to the Naxi people and an absolutely stunning UNESCO Heritage Site. There’ll be no more bikes for a while. Whew!