22 November 2011
We'd heard in Kunming that the stretch of road after Daheishan was unsurfaced and uphill. Asking in Daheishan confirmed this. We decided to hop a bus to Jiangcheng, the regional centre, after which the road was said to improve. We located the bus station Monday evening, and were told to show up early to ensure there was space on the bus for our bikes. At about 8am, we rocked up, to be in good time for the 9:10am bus. A flurry of phone calls later, and we're told the 8am bus is waiting for us up on the main road. Back up the hill, the driver helps us put bikes and bags inside the bus - a bonus, as this is much better for the bikes than the roof rack. We head off for the 60km or so to Jiangcheng, and immediately the road turns to moonscape. Mud, rocks, dust, landslides. We cross a sinuous reservoir. There's some sections of sealed road, but around half the trip is on smash.
As we descend towards Jiangcheng, we see tea trees for the first time, arraigned in contour hugging echelons. We've been through sugar cane, rice and banana growing areas. Now tea. Pu'er, the regional capital to the west, takes its name from a type of tea. Yep, not the other way round - Pu'er is also known as Simao, which was its official name until a few years back.
We get an early lunch in Jiangcheng, in which we arrive around 10:30am. Restaurant and hotel signs are in four languages - Lao, Vietnamese, Chinese and English. We sit on the street in the sun; it's coming out hot.
The road is indeed good. The best surface of the trip so far. While this makes going smooth, the ride is still far from easy, thanks to a liberal sprinkling of climbs, the first of which is right out of the gate. After the days we've had in the high mountains, we're getting depleted, but it seems the terrain is not yet ready to let us off the hook.
We pass close to the Lao border today - it's some 10 to 12km south of our route. We also skirt the edge of Yunnan's southernmost Xishuangbanna region, which is a Dai minority governed prefecture. We see a few moody and drab Dai houses huddled together across a banana plantation from us.
After 55km we reach the turn off for Zhengdong, and we realise that this shiny new road has been taking us on a slightly longer route than the old road would have done. However, I'll take a few kilometres extra in exchange for smooth tarmac, ta muchly.
In Zhengdong, we clarify the new road's route and rejoin it to crack out the last 17km to Kangping. I slam out a big pull on the front but eventually fall apart as a late day series of ups and downs proves too much for me. We pull off the new road into Kangping on a cobblestone track. Finding a hotel goes smoothly and we sit down in the lobby for a pile of snacks.
Kangping obviously used to derive a good slice of its wealth from being positioned on the old road. Now set back from the new road, and with the old road in poor shape, will it fare so well? This starts me thinking about the role corruption might play in the road routing process.
72km, 18.1km/h, 3hr59min, cumulative elevation gain 1450m, 626km.