Hello to all from Hanoi, Vietnam,
Since Mary and I last wrote from Guilin, China much has happened, not all on the road.
On our return from sending our last update we went to a meeting of all the riders where we learnt that TK&A was going to be out of money unless we all chose to provide the organizer with $US 3000/ person to get us from Singapore to the USA. They claim that the $US8,000,000 they received from the group (conservative estimate) would not allow the trip to continue. To say this was a down meeting would be an understatement.
The meeting adjourned with the understanding we would organize a committee to investigate options that the riders could submit and to facilitate a meeting in a few days time when we would be in Longshang.
Guillin to Longshang 94km
Following a lousy breakfast and another morning of pouring rain it was load into our private sag vehicle and head into town for a brief shopping spree before heading off for the day's trip. The roads were extremely poor. The roads were so poor that the riders choosing to ride were sagged the last 12km of mud.
We arrived in town to find out we were four to a room (only a select lucky few) and the town had little to recommend it unless of course you liked poor karaoke music, music we listened to every night as it was two floors beneath our room, the Chinese make lousy singers!! But get "A" for effort.
The following day was a layover day so we had our private tour guide escort us to a minority village. China is made up of 50+ minority tribes and we had a chance to visit with the Yan people. This was a unique experience and we ate their food, drank their tea (hmm) sang their folk songs and generally got a flavor for how they live day to day. To say they have a tough life would be an understatement. We had a great time and hope we left them with a good feel for the westerners who are taking the time to visit their villages. They use the methane from the cattle dung as a means of cooking and lighting, a very neat concept, nothing is wasted.
That evening we had another meeting with the group and it became clear that the majority of people would not continue as the ballot showed 155 not going on, 23 saying they would and a couple who were on the fence. We were supposed to investigate options but in light of the fact the organizer gave out a sheet of paper with the options he was willing to entertain already listed made the meeting a non event. The meeting adjourned with the intention of having another meeting in Nanning where the organizer would provide answers to the most common questions and options.
Longshang to Ringan, 142km
This mornings breakfast was even worse than the previous days but one must eat if one is to pedal the mileage we had to cover today. This turned into a very difficult ride with a number of riders falling on slippery roads and much, much, much climbing. This was a banner day for TK&A as there was no water at checkpoint on what was a very difficult and hot day, not good. Since we had arranged our own support vehicle we had stocked it with water and were able to adequately meet our fluid requirements.
The group was housed in 4 different hotels and they varied from poor to extremely poor. We once again lucked in and had a room beneath the karaoke and disco. Nothing like a little, read a lot of, foot stomping and poor yet loud singing to soothe ones weary soul and induce a peaceful nights sleep.
Ringan to Lauchou,
No mileage today as the organizers learned that the first 53km's were under construction and not rideable so to their credit they bussed everyone the first 53km. We boarded our private bus, along with the other 17 contributors, and did our own route. This took us to a village off the beaten path where no one had seen a westerner, let alone 19 of them dressed in spandex. We made for an interesting tourist attraction when we showed up in the market square in the midst of the market crowd. One of the locals decided to practice her English and it seemed like the selling stopped and everyone crowded around. This was truly a unique experience, one we would not exchange for riding a bicycle.
Following the town we had a flat tire on the bike truck, and ended up having a ferry ride, an interesting ride in itself before being dumped onto a road that was rocky, bumpy and very very dirty. By the time we connected up to the main road we decided to bus the rest of the day.
The hotel we stayed at was the best so far in China and we were treated to a western meal, Mary got to use a knife and fork the first in many days, just when she was getting good at not dropping her food in her lap.
Lanchou to Binyang, 172km
After a western breakfast it was off for 120km of a very long ride on highways lined with smiling waving locals and pollution to cause even the strong of heart to want to seek medical care after a days breathing the thick air.
The hotels were so bad and the town so lousy that our tour guide encouraged us to all get on the bus and drive ahead to Nanning our next nights stay. We made the decision early and were surprised when the organizer decided it was a good idea and loaded everyone on buses. The hotels were rat visited, some had interesting bugs, no hot water and in general were some of the worst we have seen to date. One of our riders was even accosted by a local somewhat under the weather.
While on route we stopped for dinner and to give you and idea of the prices for food 21 of us ate a great dinner, drank beer and coke's all for the exorbitant price of $US 2.70 makes one wonder what TK&A is paying for food that is marginal at best, especially in light of the fact we get no water or beverage with the meal unless we are willing to pay, a sore point with many.
Nanning layover day,
The hotel in Nanning was to say the least spectacular, while only 2 years old, it shows the signs of poor maintenance and a general lack of preventive maintenance. Cannot complain, hot water, good food and NO KARAOKE!!!!!
Can you believe it McDonalds is in Nanning and Mary, and just about every Odyssey rider, visited the place.
After a days sightseeing we returned to the hotel to find out our passports were still not back, we would be staying another day and the meeting was cancelled till the following evening.
The next day we visited the museum and walked around the town before returning for supper and the meeting we were all anxious to get underway.
The meeting started off with us all be encouraged to set up our video's and tape recorders and get another beer to get us in the mood. We were presented with a document outlining fuel cost increases since 1998 and little in the way of information was relayed, as he wants to seek legal counsel before making any statements. The long and the short of the meeting is he is going on with or without the majority of the group, as he is bound and bent on arriving in Burbank and calling the trip a success. One rider has started a fund raising campaign to allow those who cannot afford the extra costs to apply for a grant or a loan.
The information provided regards fuel cost while valid in isolation does not address the financial situation the group finds itself facing. The majority of the group is extremely bitter about the use of the funds and most are now finding options to keep them in Asia but not with TK&A, and others like Mary and I heading home. This is not a good ending to this year.
We will keep you posted as more meetings are planned before we hit Singapore.
One rider (who has ridden every mile) summed up the situation when he asked the question "If I show up at the airport in Singapore and have not given you $3000 will you throw me off the trip"? The answer was "yes" In essence those not paying are being ejected from the trip.
What do we say about China?
A great country 10 years away from being world class. People who are friendly, helpful and extremely gracious. Hard working, industrious and very poor. Scenery to die for, some roads that are good others extremely poor. It has the resemblance of one big construction site.
Nannnig to Hanoi, Vietnam,
This was to be a day from hell as it started with a 4+ hour bus ride over lousy roads to the border, a 3 hour border crossing where we schlepped our belongings through 300 meters of no mans land, loading onto the buses for another bus ride over even worse roads but this time for about 6 hours. By the time we reached the hotel at 9:30PM we were one sorry sight. The hotel was ok but had obviously been closed up for awhile as our room was damp, musty and had no hot water.
TK&A did a wonderful job with the bikes as many were damaged with the worst being a break boss on the front fork sheared off, we had damage all cosmetic and some mechanical but fixable.
We will let you know how Vietnam is at a later date but on first blush it looks like it is going to be a neat place.
Goodbye for now from Hanoi,
Dave & Mary