Travelling of all descriptions requires a little faith, but none as much as cycle touring, or rather, I should say, travelling with a bicycle as we try to navigate buses, trains and pedestrian only areas in foreign countries. I had forgotten just how ridiculous travelling with a bicycle becomes, until yesterday…
We set off from Pak Kok, our home in Lamma Island, Hong Kong, at 7.35am, only five minutes behind our target time of 7.30. Our bikes were fully loaded, and we wobbled out of the gate and on our way. It wasn’t long, perhaps 300m, before we were both off our bikes again and pushing our bikes up the ridiculously steep hill between us and the ferry to Central. We mounted our steeds at the the top of he hill and wiggled our way down the other side, doing our best not to crash into any walls, pushchairs or people on the way.
We arrived in Central having manouvred our bikes onto and off the ferry and turned up to our bs stop an hour and a half before the bus was due. We had planned this, so that we had time to dismantle our bikes and pack them away into boxes if needed, but apparently this is not a common event, and we seemed to cause some confusion.
Instead, the ticket lady took our tickets, scribbled out the original time and rewrote a new one, for in 5 minutes time! We were left frantically unpacking our panniers and removing wheels in order to get our bicycles into the luggage compartment while the bus, which had simply pulled up on the side of the busy road, announced his frustration with loud blares of the horn.
Luckily he didn’t drive off without us, and soon we were on our way! It was exciting and suddnely felt like all this time planning and preparing was coming to life.
We made it to the border, where we reassembled our bicycles and reloaded them with all twelve of our bags laden with gear (some necessary…some definitely less so). We then cycled off to the queues of cars, fully expecing that, as we were on our own kind of vehicle, that this would be the best place for us tto cross.
It turns out that bicycles count as pedestrians at this border crossing, and we were redirected by a friendly policemand to the narrow lines designed to filter people in a snakelike fashion through the border control. Each corner seemed to get tighter, and progressivly more awkward, until finally another kind official spotted us and opened the barrier to a special, wide lane… well, wide until it got to the Customs Counter, where suddenly it was narrower than ever and we were left pulling and pushing our bikes through while the border control looked on in some bemusement. Once through, we were waved past the x-ray machine without so much as a glance at what we might be carrying on our bikes (thank goodness) and were suddenly in mainland China! It felt great, and we exchanged a happy high-five as we left the gates.
We were continuing our journey to Guangzhou by bus, and it wasn’t long until we found the CTS ladies, and were given places on the next bus…
Once again, the bus was due in five minutes, but this time we were competing for luggage space with an entire busload of people in front of us. Arron watched with horror as the bus pulled up and hundreds of suitcases were thrown in with no regard for how. With only minutes left before the bus was due to leave, and with both the smiling CTS ladies and the bus driver looking over our shoulders, thoroughly entertained by our antics, we set about trying to squeeze everything in. I rushed back and forth carrying and then squashing in our hundreds of bags while Arron cleared a space for the bikes and stacked them on top of one another. There were many clunks and rattles as we wrestled our bikes in and finaly, after hurriedly unscrewing various extra bits and pieces, we manged to get them in, and the door closed.
Just before the bus pulled away, one of the CTS ladies jumped on and said something to us, which we couldn’t understand and pointed out of the windo…sure enough, we had left two big cardboard boxes one the footpath. Our best laid plans to carefully pack away our bikes in these protective boxes were gone. Instead they were crammed in amongst every other piece of luggage, half dismantled and with no protection whatsoever. Luckily I am not yet attached enough to my bike to worry too much, and instead took the attitude of, ‘Well…if they can’t survive a bus journey, they might not survive what we have in store for them anyway…’
Thankfully they did survive and they are now in the care of the China Railway Goods Services. With surprising ease, we managed to collect our train tickets yesterday (although I did almost accidentally cancel them first…wrong counter!) and today, when we took the bicycles, along with our tickets to the Goods Services counter next to the station itself, we were helped by various people to wrap up all our luggage and leave our bicycles with them, in the faith and hope that they will arrive in Turpan at the same time as us on Friday morning…
Because we are starting our cycle journey from the west of China, in Turpan, there have been so many things this week that have been out of our control, so many people and places and transport services that we have had to rely on. It could still all go wrong, after all, anything can happen in China, but so far, even though so much of it makes no sense, somehow, everything has worked out better than expected. Let’s just hope we see our bikes again on Friday!!!