Saturday, 16 June 2007

On the way to Qinghai province...

Beautiful Garze.

BBQ dinner.

Drying yak shit for fire.

Our campspot.

The pass.

Monastery & prayer flags.

Fighting? Playing?

06-07/06/07 Manigange
We hoped Manigange will have hot water. We were disappointed. The whole village (=Tibetan town) didn't have even running water.
Our attempt to reach the "big town" and its seductions, by a long cycling day, was not worth it. We should have camped even 10 km before town, ride through it the next day, see what it's worth and continue. It wasn't the last time we did this mistake.
We took the best shitty hotel in town. It had toilets in our floor, but words cannot describe...
We planned on leaving the following day, on our 220km quest, for a hot shower (obviously, non there), but Gal woke up with a terrible headache (probably due to the 1 bear we shared. Alcohol in this altitude is not good for us), so we stayed the day.
We enjoyed doing laundry and washing ourselves in the freezing river.

Washing in the river.


08/06/07 Bummer...
We left Manigange, back on the small S217 road.
Our map showed a pass (4600m) 29 km away from town. We planned on passing it and camping on the way down. The first 20km were easy, a slow climb. As we started the climb to the pass (only 8km away) we heard the familiar sound of Ramis' back wheel inner spoke break.
Of coarse, it started to rain, but not heavily, only annoyingly. We unloaded the gear on the side of the road, took out our tools and started fighting with the cassette (it's the 3'rd broken spoke from the cassette side!). We tried by ourselves, with o luck. We asked help from locals, who gave us a screwdriver and replaced Gal in helping Rami fight the cassette screw, again with no luck. Even worse, our improvised cassette-opener broke! And then started a loop of fighting the cassette and then fixing the tool. Ramis' fingers were bleeding all over, from the aggressive movements over the sharp cassette.
After almost 2 hours, we, and the many Tibetans who tried helping, gave up.
We were sure there is no bicycle mechanic in that shit-hole, Manigange, but Gal didn't want to hitch the 200km forward, to Seixu (a bigger town, smaller shit-hole), and miss riding up in the mountains.
A truck passed by. We stopped it (Rami jumped in front of it). The driver asked for 50 Yuan for the 20km back to Manigange. Gal didn't want his "help", him being a jerk, but Rami, due to the late hour, negotiated down to 30 Yuan. The 20km back were quick and bumpy. We were worried about the bicycle. We were dropped off at the entrance to town, near a motorcycle garage. The driver was very annoying, but a few local helped us unpack from the truck, giving us a better filling.
We started working on the bike. The mechanic tools helped us a lot. Instead of the cassette opener we tied a cable to a piece of chain, catching it tightly (thanks to Ehud Dahari improvisation). The mechanic had a matching Allen wrench for the cassette and it finally opened. What a relief!
We quickly replaced the spoke, fined tuned the 'wobbly' wheel, packed our gear, thanked the smiling mechanic and fought the storm, the 500m to our usual hotel.
They were surprised seeing us at the hotel, but gave us a warm welcome and our old room (with the old shits). Gal took care of Ramis' hands, we ate well and were back where we started.

09/06/07 The escape from Manigange

The morning routine passed quickly; we were determined to leave!
Gal enjoyed her usual tasteful dumpling soup, we packed, and were on our way at 09:30.
Yesterdays' 22km passed quickly, but felt like in slow motion: crossing the river, this turn, that milestone, the lake, the dogs. We remembered it all! We wanted to hitch those 22km, but, just when one wants a truck, there was nothing on this no-where road.
We finally reached the km 22. We saw the spot where Rami heroically fought the cassette till blood was spilled. We resumed yesterdays' climb. The first few km were quite easy. Then we took a turn and saw the pass (the prayer flags) high above. We saw the road zigzagging all around the mountain and we spotted two tiny trucks, just coming down from the pass. The were driving slowly, hinting that the road was not paved.
After passing quite a few passes, we've build some experience in estimating the time to reach the top, when seeing the pass far away. Some passes you can see from far away, even 10 km ahead, taking over 2-3 hours, when conditions are good. Some passes take you by surprise, where you climb and climb, take a turn and the pass is in front of you. What's better? We still don't know what's worse!
So, we continued climbing slowly. A km later the paved part ended and the pace slowed down. We still had 9 km to go.
3 km from the pass, ~4,500m it started to rain. We quickly hid under our plastic cover. The time was 14:15. At 14:30 the rain turned to hail. At 14:45 it strted to snow, heavily. Big flakes filled the mountains all around. We were sitting on the side of the road, every now and then peeking, freezing, but enjoying the snow.
At around 16:00 the storm went away, revieling blue sky. We were back fighting the last 3km, enjoying the fresh snow all around us.
P.S. The road on the other side was worse, filling our bicycles with fresh mud, which will stay with us for more 2 weeks.

Fresh snow.

Almost there...

The pass.

Mud :-(

11/06/07 Head wind
After it rained heavily all night (surprise-surprise), we woke up at 08:00, peeked out through the vestible and saw blue sky!
Getting out of bed was easy and so was packing and preparing for taking off. We also jumped on the opportunity to wash ourselves in the ice-cold river, after 7 days with no shower. We took off towards the pass of the day.
We started cycling towards frightening clouds which were closing on us quickly. We were sure it's the usual storm with strong winds then rain, changing to hail, and an hour later - blue sky.
We hid under our plastic cover, but the rain didn't come. Only constant strong winds carrying thin hail. After a few minutes, seeing the whole valley is in a cloud, we decided to continue. Since then, around 10:00, till we reached Xiazha (20:00) the wind blew strong at our face. No matter how the road twisted (inside the valley) we suffered from extremely strong head wind. The pass, not a tough climb, became intolerable! especially the last unpaved 3 km. Even Rami was pushing his bike. The following downhill was even worse. One expects, after a 4,500m pass, to zoom down for at least 10 km, the reward, after a tough climb. But, instead, we had to pedal down! The valley we reached with its river was almost flat! We were fighting the wind the whole 30km.
What a terrible day!
We still had the dilemma of where to sleep. Camping, 3'rd night in a row, would have been fine, except for the terrible wind and the freezing cold (no wood for fire at this altitude).
A local motorcycle-monk told us to go sleep in Xiazha, the coming village (with the strong winds, it wasn't coming so fast), so we headed there.
On the one hand, a 'warm' room, possibly with a lamp, would be nice. On the other hand, if there is no hotel (we are talking about a very small village), being late, finding a camp spot, will be no fun at all. The communication with the Tibetans is far from "straight forward". When we really need their help, they totally understand us, but in the small things, like finding a place to sleep and eat, at 20:00, cold and wet, after cycling "the big mountain", they are a bit slow.
At the improvised gas-station, 1km from town, they told us there is no hotel!
We finally reached the tiny village, a few shops and restaurants on the main road and - a hotel! We took their best room (2 beds, a locked window, a lamp and many pictures of Lamas and the Dali-Lama!!!).
We had fantastic food (surprisingly) in 'the' hole-in-the-wall of town (recommended by a kid) and went to sleep at 23:00, after 'tearing' the town.

Morning coffee.

Climbing again.

Another pass behind us.

The Yalong dam.

Throwing prayers to the wind on the pass.

The pass.

30 km of bad road.

Camping with the yaks.

Gal in the toilets.

Gals favorite yak.

14/06/07 Bigger bummer...
We started the day with another 15km of yesterdays' unpaved road.
The 15km to the pass (the border between Sichuan province and Qinghai province) was paved and not steep. We cycled easily till 2.5km from the pass. Then, traditionally, came the storm. We barely manged to wear all our clothes and hide under our plastic cover, when it started snowing heavily for half an hour. Even the local nomads, staring at us ran for shelter. We quickly reached the pass as the sun reappeared. We rested at the pass, eating and enjoying the beautiful views to the Qinghai side.
As we started our 21km descend (800m), Rami felt something is wrong in his back wheel. Very quickly we saw that the rim was cracked.

Bummer! Bummer!

We slowly descended (Gal insisted on cycling down slowly, not to hitch a ride), debating what to do, where to do it and how.
We finally reached the highway (G214), which we'll be taking north-east to Xining, the capital.
It was 19:00, so we stayed at the "junction village", Xiewu, at the shitty hotel.
While getting comfortable in our room, we heard a knock on the door. A young English-speaking Tibetan offered his help. He joined us for a simple, standard, freshly made Tibetan noodle-soup with yak meat (not as tender as chewing old bread, but Rami built a taste for it). After, we were invited to his house. His brother joined us, telling us about his "good years" in Dharamsala, India (center of refugee Buddhists) and the conversation became very political, giving us taste of reality about Tibetan oppression by the Chinese government.
We were spoiled with excellent food and a friendly hospitality and a lot of food for thought.
The next morning, after 2 hours of trying to hitch to Yushu, the "big" town, 50km south, with all our stuff, we decided to leave our stuff in the shitty hotel and take only Ramis' back wheel.
It took us an hour to find what we thought was an appropriate used rim. It took us 2 more hours to figure out that our hub has 32 holes, while the "new" rim has 36 (after dismantling the wheel, of coarse),another hour to rebuild and balance it.
We accepted Nils' generous offer to shower in his hotel room, after 11 days without a shower.
Thanks Nil!
The following day, we caught a bus to Xining, going 4 hours in the snow, with our highest pass, 5,100m.

Dryed yak shit.

Prayer notes, all over the mountain.

The pass - Qinghai-Sichuan border.

Down to Xiewu.
(One broken Rim).

Trying to build a wheel at Yushu (oops... 36 holes).

On the way to Xining.

16/06/07 Xining
The bus dropped us somewhere in the big city at 01:00. Everything closed, dark and raining. We were surprised to see taxis. We hoped we are near the "long-distance bus station" (near the train station), for orientation and easily exiting the city, if needed. We are not used to be dropped without knowing where we are.
We didn't know what to expect of Xining (1.9 million), after being so long in rural areas. Our last big city, Kunming (1.5 million), was more than 2 months away.
We were pointed to a hotel and in less than a minute the bus and everybody left.
We were all alone...
We went to the hotel, but for some reason they didn't accept us. The next hotel was a whore house. The third was expensive, but we took it.
We enjoyed the buzz of the big city and its Muslim atmosphere and food (cheep and excellent Shishkebabs everywhere). It reminded us of south Tel-Aviv.
We had few and bad choices for Ramis' wheel. The mechanic in the Giant bicycle shop built the wheel from a new rim and Ramis' old hub. He should have payed us for practicing on our wheel.
We didn't manage to extend our visa, nor to send a CD with pictures back home (censorship).
After 3 days we headed on, taking another bus, 500km west.

The shity Giant bike shop.

Big city life.