Back in the saddle

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Sunday, December 9, 2007

After much faffing, I took another high-speed ferry from Macau to Shenzhen, where I managed to buy a ticket for the overnight bus to Nanning an hour before departure. An overnight bus ride in the 'developing' world is always a slightly worrying proposition, and my state of mind was not improved by the drivers taste in 'in-coach' movies. We kicked off 'movie night' with the French film 'Taxi', about a taxi driver who'd modified his car to drive it super-fast and found himself embroiled in an adventure; this inevitably involved a lot of very fast driving and skidding. This was followed by 'Transporter' , about a man who 'transports' things, in a flash car, by driving very fast and skidding a lot. Clearly the man with care of our lives for the next 12 hours was a bit of a boy-racer...

Having thus been rendered a nervous wreck, I settled in for the long, slow psychological torture that was to follow. At intimitant intervals, seemingly at random, something, somewhere on the bus would emit a long, invasive beeeeeeeeeeep. And then another one, or not. Sometimes there were three. It was essentially a highly annoying varient of the 'Chinese-water-torture', and made sleep first impossible, then a nightmare.

This night of woe was ended by a rude awakening at 5.30am. My complaint that they should park in a layby for an hour and arrive at dawn fell on deaf ears, and I had to get up and reclaim my belongings. With an hour to kill before the sun would rise, and 10RMB to my name, I spent the time drinking ghastly hot drinks from the bus station KFC and studying my map. 

The map-reading was, as it has been so many times in the past, a bit of a waste of time. On this occasion it was not entirely my fault that I rode 120km to get 70km out of Nanning; the mapmakers must accept some responsibility for their failure to write even the major town names in Chinese script as well as pinyin, leaving me knowing exactly where I wanted to go, but unable to read any of the signs to get there. Also their 'creative' attitude to cartography, which involved using different colours and thicknesses of lines and fonts as the mood took them, with no discernable reference to the reality on the ground.

The early start, long day, circuitous route, overcast weather, incessant headwind and my shocking degeneration in fitness over one month notwithstanding, it was fantastic to be back in the saddle. Once out of Nanning I was riding country roads all day. Strawberries were being picked in the fields and sold at the roadside. Sweet, fresh strawberries in December! At one point I was overtaken by a family on a motorcycle, (I just re-read that sentence. When did 'a family on a motorcycle' cease to be a surprising event?). The father knew enough English for a brief chat. When I later passed them parked-up on the roadside, they flagged me down to share their fruit. Oranges and strange sweet-potato-looking things which they assured me were fruit, and turned out to be delicious- like a crisp, sugary pear.
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