This section from Yiwu 易武 to Jinghong 景洪 is the forty-seventh and last instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Pretty good 米线 mixian for brekky. Love the condiments and the early morning light on the wall texture.
Pretty good 米线 mixian for brekky. Love the condiments and the early morning light on the wall texture.

After yesteday’s absolute system failure, I cannot believe to be awake by 7 am already. Yes I hit the sheets pretty early, but I didn’t think I’d be able to stand until much, much later. Yet here I am, packing up my stuff and getting ready to ride all the way to Jinghong, a ride of no less than 130km. I remember the road pretty well, and I believe it’ll be a walk in the park, but then, well, on wheels.

Not prepared to repeat yesterday’s mistake, I go get a massive bowl of mixian befre I go at the local market. I recognise yesterday’s restaurant owner and she promptly buys me a couple of sticky rice cakes that hit the spot. The mixian, too, is surprisingly delicious.

Another view of the Yiwu old town
Another view of the Yiwu old town

Before I go, I pay a little visit to Yiwu’s old town, the reason I’d actually toiled my way up here in the first place. Yiwu, nestled in the folds of an impressive mountain is one of the original tea-plantations. According to some research, first mutations that split off the tea trea from another tree species took place here in Pu’er prefecture in Yunnan. No wonder Yiwu became one of the starting points of the famous Ancient Tea Horse trade route to Tibet, Bengal and Burma.

Yiwu must’ve been a tiny place, and it still is. Its “old town”, completely devoid of tourists or attempts to attract tourism, is hiding behind up a side-alley off Yiwu’s main road. When you go through the gate that purports to harbour a middle school, you get a little bowl with even more dilapidated houses, many of which have become fertile ground for all kinds of flora.

Same alley, different side
Same alley, different side

Hundred years ago, tea leaves were harvested here on the misty Yunnan hillsides. They were then dried and compressed into tea bricks, and loaded on merchants’ and their horses’ backs, and walked on foot to distant lands. Wealthy tea bosses got all the money.

Tea is still produced here today, growing in long rows of square-ish tea bushes, but the transport has of course been modernised. What has not been entirely modernised, is labour. Hired hands still live in makeshift shanty towns around the place to make the tea companies rich for a few pennies a day.

This is what it's all about: tea!
This is what it’s all about: tea!

I don’t walk around all of the old town because I left my bicycle parked outside. I don’t believe there are any thieves here, but I’d still hate it if someone pilfered the laptop from my bags while I saunter about. I commence the chilly descent on the north-west face to Menglun.

It’s a long descent, and not entirely uncompromising. Every now and then, I find myself putting my now rubbery legs to the test of a small but painful climb. I stop regularly to feed on snacks and drink energy drinks. Yup, I believe they’re fully justified today.

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Reaching Menglun is harder than I thought, and there are way more climbs than I thought I remembered. But I finally pull in, almost miss the tiny town in my enthusiasm and have to backtrack a little to get lunch. Lunch comes in the form of claypot rice with some peas and yunnan ham. Not bad, but the ratio of rice to the other ingredients is a bit low, and some other customers complain about the high price of 10 yuan.

I remembered the ride from Menglun to Jinghong as being a rather nice one. But today it looks like I was mistaken. There’s loads of traffic, even though most of the new year tourists should be safely back behind their desks in smelly places such as Chengdu and Kunming. It’s hot and the undulating road is relentless. A flat tyre at about 20 km before my goal further delays me an hour or so.

Here she is again, mother of rivers, through a nice screen of palm trees
Here she is again, mother of rivers, through a nice screen of palm trees

A nasty piece of glass has found its way into my well-worn rear tyre and has broken in two pieces, one of which found its way into my inner tube, the other sticking out precariously. Turns out the tube of vulcanising glue I brought was entirely empty and I’m lucky to have brought a spare tube. When I fit the wheel back in, the rear disc starts dragging again, and so on and so on. I’m bloody annoyed with the passing traffic that deems it necessary to honk at my shambles.

To make matters worse, the final 15-or-so kilometres are horrible. I thought the roadworks, caused by the construction of a new second-tier road to Menghan, would have been over after 3 years, but they only seem to expand. Added into the mix are asshole drivers who take pleasure in passing you, horns blaring, just before the dusty section and thus leaving a very dusty piece of Sander behind.

The less nice part of the road: a new second-tier road to Menghan is being constructed, tearing up anything that's good about the old road.
The less nice part of the road: a new second-tier road to Menghan is being constructed, tearing up anything that’s good about the old road.

I’m happy to roll into Jinghong, drink a few celebratory beers at Meimei’s and check into the nice 80 RMB/night Doudou hotel a few doors down. I’ll stay a few days here recovering and then take a bus home to Kunming. With nearly 3300 km on the clock, it’s been nice and I’ve grown tired of riding around in the heat. Thus I conclude this year’s “Slap the Belgian” tour. Thank you for reading!

View from Jinghong bridge
View from Jinghong bridge

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