Tuesday, August 7
Today was a busy travel day.
The temperature was 18 C ( 65 F ) when we left Juizhaigou, it dropped down to 13 C ( 55 C ) at the highest point in the mountains ( 3300 m ; 11000 ft ) and it was 31 C ( 88 F ) by the time we reached Chengdu.
There are basically two routes for driving from Juizhaigou to Chengdu. We could have re-traced part of our route into Juizhaigou, but we chose to take the route we hadn't travelled, even though it was slightly longer. It is only a 450 km ( 270 miles ) but it takes about 7 - 10 hours of driving depending on the road conditions and the traffic. We left at 6:30 so that we could beat the traffic going in to the Juizhaigou National Park but we mis-calculated again. When we reached the entrance area, it was backed up and everyone was playing ' chicken ' with each other, in order to get ahead. People were blocking incoming traffic by passing cars that would not let them back into their lane.
We slowly made our way past the entrance but it took a long time to gain any speed weaving through the roads up into the mountains behind numerous buses, trucks and maniac car drivers who would pass around corners while honking at every one to get them out of their way. The chaos is hard to describe. It was similar to driving in the cities. You need to take several sedatives ( or beer ), get into a taxi in a large city and then watch the chaos unfold into a symphony of near-misses to truly experience Chinese traffic. And yet, I have not seen an accident.
After a few hours we started to make good progress and then we were stopped at a strategically located traffic check by the police. We were pulled over with a lot of other people who apparently had gone faster than 60 kph ( 37 mph ). In China, a policeman will not pull you over if he is in his car and you are speeding and therefore people will pass police cars regularly. Instead, China has mounted cameras at various locations that take a picture of your license plate and then the speeding ticket is sent to the owner of the vehicle. However, sometimes, the police set up an office where they pull you over to give you a ticket and collect the money, as was the case this time. It didn't take Jeremy long to talk himself out of a ticket by using his charm ( and by pretending to be a dumb foreigner ). The police just told him to slow down.
We continued down the road, enjoying the scenery of the river and the mountains. When we were almost in Wenchaun, a short section of the new road had been totally destroyed and we had to drive very slowly through the bumpy gravel until we reached the pavement.
When we reached Wenchuan we could still see evidence of the destruction caused by the massive earthquate in May of 2008, however, much of the area had been rebuilt and it was very modern and beautiful.
Most of the road passed alongside or through mountains and there were several locations were rock slides had blocked part of the road. Steel fences with guy-wires have been set up at several locations to catch the rocks and keep them from falling on the road, however, it was evident that this was only partially successful. Many fences were damaged from rock slides.
At one point we spotted a section of the ' tea horse ' route on the side of the mountains so I took a picture. This route was used 1300 years ago, during the Qing dynasty when the Chinese traded tea for horses. Looking at the trail it is a wonder that the horses survived the trip along the narrow path, well above the river below.
When we reached the final tunnel that would bring us onto the expressway to Chengdu, it was closed for maintenance and we had to make a long trip around the city to get back to where we would meet the expressway. Unfortunately, the road closure had stopped all traffic and we sat still for about 30 minutes before the we slowly crawled forward. Driving around the winding roads along the mountains was further hampered by people scrambling all over the road, filling the passing lane in an attempt to pass everyone else and get ahead of them. This caused further delays as they blocked oncoming traffic. I drove for an hour during this stretch and it was an interesting experience to say the least. I am not as good as Jeremy and Nicole at playing ' chicken ' with people who start forcing their way into my lane. We lost a couple of hours due to the detour but we eventually reached our hotel in Chengdu at 7 pm.
We were tired and hungry so we checked into our hotel and went out for supper. I am convinced that one of Nicole's objectives during this trip is to see if she can find a food that I will not eat. So far she has not succeeded. We supplemented our rice noodle soup in the back streets of Chengdu with some " street meat " purchased from a street vendor who cooked a spicy meal of beef and ' today's challenge ' of pigs intestines which were quite tasty.
We haven't decided what we are going to see tomorrow yet. Stay tuned!