From relief to boredom

I won't deny the fact that despite its great beauty, I felt relief when leaving Guizhou贵州. Afterall, it had been a very demanding physical beginning and that's the very reason why the body suffered more than usual and found difficulty in situations that had they happened at any other more advanced stage of a long trip would probably be a lot less strenuous. The province that followed, Guangxi, brought the relief that I had been yearning for during those last days of infinite climbs. However, those easier, flatter and more trafficked roads wouldn't take long to bring boredom.

Right after going into the new province the change happened almost immediately. There were no more climbs. I was now heading south-east following the very same winding green rivers that I had met days ago with the exception that now, the road was almost always flat. I kept riding through a continuum of Miao苗族and Dong 侗族 villages, but unlike Guizhou贵州, here these were found along the shores of the rivers instead of being scattered around intricate canyons of dramatically steep terraced mountains. In every village, I could see men crossing villagers in rafts made of bamboo, the very same bamboo rafts being used from centuries ago. In between so much sophistication and development, it is wonderful to see these traditional means of transportation still surviving.

As soon as the roads became easier I was able to start compensating for the distances that I hadn't been able to cycle during the previous 12 days. Now everything was easy and days went by faster and faster. I went from an average of 75km a day to more than 120km in less time and at a fraction of the tiredness by the end of the day. And the best of all was that the knee pain had now completely gone away. One of the greatest things about cycling in this northern part of the province was to cycle across the citric plantations, where for 40km everything around me was mandarin and orange plantations. There were sellers in improvised stalls sitting by the road every few dozen meters, they sold them at a ridiculously cheap price. It was harvest time and the fruits were incredibly sweet and juicy. There are very few things as pleasant as hydrating with juicy fruits. One day I almost exclusively hydrated myself eating mandarins, 3kg and oranges, 1kg. Fantastic!

 After three days I finally reached Yangshuo阳朔, one of China's epicenter of tourism. It was my second time there and the only reason why I was there again it was simply because it was on the way to my partially final destination. Arriving in the town of Yangshuo阳朔is a horrible experience, it's like diving into an ocean filled with hungry Great White sharks ready to tear apart every piece of you. Such are the devastating effects of mass tourism in a place that once upon a time had been incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, like in many other places, its beauty was also its curse. Inflated prices, traditional architecture hiding behind Mc Donald's and KFC's bright signs, Chinese people turned into vultures ready to strip you off every single penny you got on you, wanting to make you pay 3,4,5 times the original price of things, etc. After quite a long time living in China,

this makes me sick, it deeply affects my mood. At every single encounter with these people trying to rip me off, I found myself involved in arguments that probably led nowhere but I just couldn't help refraining from telling them in their own language that what they do is abuse and that not every foreigner that passes by that place is a stupid tourist that can be charged anything they want. What really pisses me off about this is not only how mass tourism intoxicates local people and distortions local traditions but rather the fact that these are the kind of Chinese people that most visitors to China coming on a short holiday are likely to encounter on their trip. They simply meet the worst people and this is one of the reasons why many people leave with the wrong and mostly erroneous impression of Chinese people in general. It's a real shame since most Chinese people are wonderful and would never ever try to rip you off. The good thing is that just only 6km away from the town there's a place where one can stay away from all the outrage and enjoy the wonders of the place, living in the many rural villages right in the middle of Yangshuo's 阳朔 iconic mountains. Right there, I chose to stay for a day and a half break before starting the final stretch to Guangzhou 广州。 With the exception of the tourist epicenters of Guilin桂林 and Yangshuo阳朔,Guangxi 广西 is a mostly poor and rural province. Thanks to its more forgiving terrain I was able to find places to camp a lot easier. The shores of the rivers are generally among my favorite places to camp, and along them I found plenty of quiet places where the silence of the bamboo forest blends with the thick fog lying low and the ferrymen quietly crossing from one village to the other, bringing the images that one is expecting to see in China, yet they are increasingly harder and harder to find.

Made in China

The rural and quiet sceneries of Guangxi广西quickly started to disappear as I was getting closer to the border with Guangdong广东and by the time I got there the pollution had already congested the sky completely and the first big industries started to appear. Guangdong广东is the factory of the planet. Take a look around you and look for all the things in your house that are MADE IN CHINA (perhaps this could be your entire house and everything that comes in it?) and probably all of them in their entirety or at least one or many of the components that make them have come out of this province. A province that ceaselessly manufactures everything 24/7, 365 days a year. I entered the province from the west following the Xi River西江and as the miles went by, the traffic increased dramatically and the road became congested with heavy load trucks carrying large containers. At the same time, running parallel to the road, the river also became congested with cargo ships carrying raw materials from port to port making their way to the Pacific ocean. All the natural beauty had either disappeared or been blocked by pollution and heavy traffic. On the other hand, as I said earlier, there are always good things that make up for the bad ones. Guangdong广东brought with it a progressively milder weather and the delicious food for which the province is famous. The food quality had been dropping since I left Sichuan四川. In both Guizhou贵州and Guangxi广西food wasn't really special but they also had their delicacies, and there was one particular that I kept seeing announced in restaurants all along the way.

Dog meat is a very common dish in all provinces of southern China. Curiously, it is also something that most Chinese people from the rest of China find disgusting and repulsive. It isn't actually weird to hear jokes about the southern Chinese, that apparently eat everything that walks, flies, swims and even creeps. But Guangdong 广东 food, bugs and little monsters aside, is mostly delicious and together with Sichuan四川are among my favorite in China and the world and great and delicious (and cheap) food constitutes one of the greatest pleasures of any cycle traveler. With Christmas just a few days ago, I was already approaching my partially final destination and my long-awaited meeting with Julia. It had become my main motivation since it is funny how our mind works. During the hard days, it yearns for gentler roads, in harsh weather, it yearns for milder weather, but when everything it has yearned for finally became real, that's when everything turns miserably boring! Since Guizhou贵州there hadn't been any other challenges other than bearing with an increasingly annoying traffic and all the noise and pollution that comes with it, breathing the gases coming out of the industries' chimneys and putting up with the monotony of the roads and bleak towns that pass by almost unnoticed. In the meanwhile, the only thing left was to push on the pedals, enjoy the music coming out of the headphones and letting myself go along the 175km of one factory after another that led me all the way until the doors of the massive megapolis of Guangzhou广州. If Guangdong广东is the factory of the world, its headquarters' offices are in广州(and in Shenzhen深圳) and it does take a huge metropolis to fit the tens of thousands of offices and distributors for the immense volume of products that this province spits out every day. I was finally at its door, riding along one of its many thick arteries, the sun was shining and I could see the city's skyline right across from me, not far away. I had only 11km left. Until there, I had cycled 2327km since I had left 25 days before. At that very moment the hub of the rear wheel collapse I was left in the middle of the highway with no other option than pushing. I couldn't complain really, after all was already there, I just had to patiently walk the rest of the way. But it wasn't more than a short walk because Guangzhou广州has it all, and after barely 3km I found a small bike shop where I was able to buy a brand new hub and the mechanic installed it for me. It ain't an easy task, It involves reconstructing the whole wheel and that's the task of an expert with several years of experience, it is actually an art to build a wheel from scratch. Two hours later, I left the store with my brand new hub and had to cross the city entirely from west to east before meeting Julia, who had been patiently waiting for me.

A well deserved rest and the preparations for a new beginning
The time to spend some true quality time resting had finally come and we used that time to organize things for ourjoint departure. We had two weeks to get things done before our flight to the Philippines and Guangzhou广州proved to be the perfect place to do everything. This megalopolis has grown in such a dramatic way that it is hardly recognizable for those of us who've been there more than ten years ago. What used to be rudimentary Chinese bicycles flooding the streets has now turned to luxury vehicles everywhere. Luxury residential buildings, aesthetically horrible, find their place among the traditional alleys of the city. The brand new CBD shows off office buildings designed by the top architecture studios from the US and Europe. A series of landmark institutional buildings, led by the City Opera designed by Zaha Hadid, intend to put the city on the global forefront of architecture. The Pearl River riviera has been exquisitely landscaped. Among all this, people, by the millions, run frantically back and forth around the city. The vibrancy of this city is overwhelming, it's noisy and chaotic but ostentatious and glamorous too. It doesn't come as a surprise that the average salary in the city is by far, the highest of all China. From here everything is distributed to find a place somewhere, anywhere in the rest of the planet. This is reflected by the thousands and thousands of stores, hundreds of wholesale and retail shopping malls that are jammed together around the different districts of the city. They sell everything to everybody and when I mean everything it means everything literally. It's simply fascinating. Bags of everything pile up until filling the very last bit of available space of every store. You don't only get to find full products themselves but the millions of parts that are components of others. Everything you can imagine. That little pearl or spangle that goes into this or that dress or shirt, that little ring from which this or that curtain hangs from, that little hook that goes into this or that accessory, that little bar that holds this or that, you can simply find EVERYTHING, at the forefront you can see the samples and at the back the piles and piles of bags containing the billions of pieces. It is so much that it's overwhelming.Tradition survives along the small streets and picturesque alleys of still-surviving old houses, but one can really feel it's the future happening right now, the money, ostentation, consumerism and an overall international flair. Thousands of foreigners either live here or come here for shopping goods for their own business back home and for them, as is the case in the more renowned Shanghai上海and Beijing北京and even more here I would dare to say, the city offers everything that has little to do with China itself.Irish bars, Italian restaurants, supermarkets stocked with a full catalog of international goods, the wineries that are now so popular among the new rich in China, etc.

 It was certainly a pretty interesting experience to see what has gone on in this city. The contrasts between the surviving past and the arguably exhuberance of its present luxury are fascinating from a social point of view. During our days there, Christmas and western New Year went by almost unnoticed, as it is the case in all China. Julia was finally able to put her whole equipment together and get ready for our departure.