I say goodbye to Florence on 12.02. in Xuwen, after we cycled about 13 km from Hai’an Ferry Port to Xuwen – much later in the evening than expected, but the rush to the ferries was enormous and buying a ticket complicated, at least for me as a foreigner. The quiet crossing took one and a half hours, but no ship was available for the early afternoon, and even the 5:00 p.m. ferry left the port more than an hour late. The waiting people in their cars in the huge harbor area, who actually had their respective ticket with a confirmed date, sometimes waited half the day, as Florence had inquired of a family. So we were lucky that we were able to pass the bikes on all queues. Nevertheless, we had to wait a little while directly at the ship until we were allowed on the deck with the wheels and allowed to park between two lorries.
I leave Xuwen the next morning in cloudy skies and mild 23° C with also a slight northeast wind. It is almost too cool after the much higher temperatures of the last days in Hainan. I leave the busy main road to the north already at the next intersection, take a detour first in an easterly direction along the high dam of a water reservoir, to come on a branch line out of the city. Many different long-distance bus routes take their starting point in Xuwen and run to various cities in Guangdong, as well as the neighboring provinces, and now in the early morning many seem to start. I have to take care several times with such a bus on the roadside, while driving by, on the somewhat disoriented people who are just about to load suitcases and scurry around.
Just as little as e.g. a bus turning on the road does not pay attention to the traffic, the passengers make it even less.
After a few kilometers, I turn into a branch line, which is only used by a few cars and small trucks. I dive straight into the rural Guangdong, which is at least here at its southern tip very much influenced by agriculture. No large areas in monoculture but alternate plantations of e.g. Bananas, sugar cane, pineapple, lettuce, sometimes pumpkin. In between are smaller and larger villages, where the sugarcane is currently being collected centrally. Harvested by hand on the fields, mini-trucks transport them to these collection points, from where they are then transported to the next sugar mill with big trucks. Two of them (mills) I see during the day.
The first sugar mill I see on the edge of Tiaofeng, in the center of which I get a nice portion of chard very similar vegetables with tofu and rice from a friendly cook, relatively late at noon. Sometimes it can be that easy. The simpler and more open the kitchen, the easier I can show what I would like to eat, because without the help of Florence, I now have much more problems articulating myself. I drove about 60 km until then, 35 km will be added later, with now less and less cloudy skies and perhaps 26° C, which later still increase a bit after the sun finally comes through the clouds.
After a few kilometers out of this town, a vehicle behind me is honking – which is not unusual – but does not overtake. But instead it is rolling on the left next to me, the side window open. As I turn to see why the dark car is not passing by, a young woman abruptly holds out a half liter bottle of water. I look a bit dumbfounded, but grab and take the offered bottle, although my own bottles are quite well filled. I shout something like ‘谢谢’ as the car gets faster and disappears from my view immediately after the next turn.
I stop and stow the bottle, must grin inside. Recently I had something like that about a year ago, when I was cycling in Malaysia, and back then it was an isotonic drink, not just plain water, but I do not want to be so petty.
The landscape is a bit rippled and offers different shades of green by the different and ever-changing nature of the vegetation, often a narrow strip of young eucalyptus trees defines an agricultural area, but eventually the sugar cane is dominant. For the sometimes in terraces created salad and vegetable areas at the edge of small villages, there is a branched system of narrow, concrete irrigation channels. Again, the necessary field work is apparently done by hand.
The area becomes ever flatter farther north. I come closer to the coast again and the meandering Nandu River and a few kilometers from the town of Leigao, in the distance on a secluded elevation, a huge radome is to see. The dark green hardly stands out from the environment. The nearest major military port is also not very far away, but I can’t get there until the next day. In the area of Nandu River, the road runs about three kilometers on a dam, although the coast is still more than two kilometers away. As in Hainan many basins are created for fish farming, but apparently not all are currently in use, because I often see the ventilation not in operation.
On a larger flat area between the river and the foothills of the city of Leizhou, there are paddy fields between some villages that have now been harvested and where water buffalo graze cattle that evidently enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Entering Leizhou, I come to a farm road that leads into a neighborhood with narrow streets, lots of old buildings and lots of small shops and street vendors. All of a sudden, I find myself in the hustle and bustle of another big city, arranging myself at the first traffic light in the crowd of waiting two-wheelers and try not to miss the already pre-booked hotel.
The City Comfort Inn offers a breakfast buffet in its small restaurant in the morning, so I do not have to go out and find something to eat. Rice porridge, roasted tomatoes with some scrambled eggs, sweet potato, broccoli and sweet pastries; unfortunately there is no coffee.
I let myself a bit more time with the onward journey, since today I do not have much more than 60 km in my plan. Nevertheless, the day will be exhausting, as I drive mainly in a northeasterly direction and mostly against the wind.
The traffic is as hectic as yesterday in the late afternoon. To get out of Leizhou, I first have to go back to the center, always nice in the wide side lane, where the local buses stop and where people drive with their e-moped in virtually all directions, not just straight ahead in the intended direction of travel. That’s how I have to be careful. At the post office at the main intersection, I drop a few postcards and then take the main road in an easterly direction, past a lake in the middle of the city, on whose forecourt a surprising number of people stroll and where children play. After about 4 km I turn off into a narrow side street and roll through the buildings behind the main road.
House next to house, of simple concrete mostly, sometimes also built of bricks and in different sizes. After about 500m there are market stalls on the right and left side of the street. Very small stalls, the fruits or vegetables often lying on the floor on a small tarpaulin. Meat lies uncooled on sturdy wooden tables, which also serve as cutting pad or as a work bench.
When I stop briefly, I am looked at in disbelief. Shortly behind this by-road, I’m already out of the city and roll along rice fields, as I did yesterday in the afternoon. Somewhere, a farmer with his small mud tractor is in the process of plowing in the remains after the harvest, as long as one can speak of it on the muddy ground.
The quiet by-road soon leads to a better developed highway, and this runs after a short time parallel to the heavily used S373, crosses it twice, until it ends abruptly at a bridge over a narrow river. When the S373 was built, it probably did use the old route at this point, but until then rebuilt in parallel. This detail was not visible on the map and the parallel guidance continues several hundred yards after. But from this point I have to go back first, then change to the expressway, change back to the other road at the next opportunity, and repeat this game again later.
At the next river crossing, about 12 kilometers further, the S373 then heads east and I follow this road. Soon I recognize the proximity to the overseas port of Yanjiang by the many industrial facilities near the road. A huge chemical plant is threatening and exudes unpleasant odors and sounds that I do not want to stay long.