“What, two girls alone?! Cycling through China?” Not quite believing all the negative comments, we set off on our trip optimistic but still expecting the worst. Contrary to all warnings, China topped our expectations and provided us with a super start into our “Buy No Rhino” Cycle Tour.
We (two German-South African sisters from Cape Town) are cycling from Hong Kong to Singapore in a bid to raise awareness about rhino poaching in Southern Africa. 6.000km – 7 months – 7 countries. Ok, one country down so far.
End of April our trip kicked off in Hong Kong, where we had the great opportunity to visit four schools with the Rhino Art Project. Thanks to the engaged, enthusiastic kids for the wonderful time we had with them. From Hong Kong Island we took the ferry over to the colorful, entertaining casino capital Macau and then cycled across the border into China mainland. We were heading west along the coastline towards Vietnam.
Amazing how quickly we adapted to the completely different everyday life. After four days we had already found a new day rhythm and the body quickly acclimatized to the heat, humidity and increased exercise. Interesting to notice that it was the arms and shoulders – not the legs – which hurt at the beginning. With filled front panniers the bike is quiet heavy to steer.
The quality of the roads surprised us. The conditions were good, many wide lanes, smooth concrete surfaces and often scooter and bicycle lanes are provided in the cities. Occasionally the tertiary roads did offer bumpy and dusty off-road experiences. Also long stretches of road construction had to be mastered, which meant evading the heavy machines at work.
Traffic was manageable. Although the roads are extremely busy – loads of buses, tractors, scooters, three-wheelers and trucks – we never once saw road rage. Hooting is part of the normal road communication. Coming from behind, trucks and buses will honk wildly. This is a friendly warning of their approach. At the beginning this was unnerving, as we thought they wanted to push us off the road! Every time we would flinch, cringing in fright. After getting used to this local habit, we actually appreciated it.
Food is high on the priority list of Chinese people. They eat warm meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all being cooked, stir-fried or steamed – even the lettuce. Open-air restaurants are found all over and therefore made our life easy.
The people we met on our way have been very accommodating and kind, patiently putting up with the language barriers. Our limited Chinese was the source of lots of laughter and amusement on their side.
Regarding safety, we never had to worry about ourselves or our belongings. Coming from South Africa, we actually got really slack, leaving our bikes with all the panniers outside the restaurants, while we took our lunch break. The bikes were never touched. Very refreshing!
Internet is highly controlled. Pages like Google, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and lots more are all banned. In addition nearly all programs where a login is required, like email, and many informational pages are blocked…quite frustrating.
We found the Chinese attitude towards nature disappointing. Clearly the focus is on the economy and making as much money as quickly as possible without any considerations. There seems to be no awareness at all of the destruction of habitat for animals. Protection of wildlife appears to be an unknown concept. The sheer volume of shark fins for sale was shocking. Furthermore we noticed that there is a high and often totally unnecessary use of plastic bags and other plastic packaging. These are usually thrown onto the pavement. A considerable amount of this plastic is probably swept into rivers and ultimately ends up in the oceans.
Since we did not know how to assess the political situation, we thought it wiser to keep a low profile about our project. We did not visit schools (except in Hong Kong), but did talk to many people on our way, distributing our “Buy No Rhino” bumper stickers. Their comments reflected that the sale of rhino horn is illegal nowadays, apart from the fact that it was too expensive to buy.
Meanwhile we have arrived safely in Vietnam and have already seen some beautiful landscapes.
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