Oct. 6th-7th; 17,496km-18,035km; Jiuzhaigou-Honghuan-Guanyinqiao
Our road out from the park and back to the G213 took us past the Jiuzhaigou entrance for the 3rd time in 2 days (I hate backtracking, but whadya gunna do?). Funny how much easier it was to get through at 9:30am vs. 6am or 7pm.
The road that we took out of the park made for some really nice riding, well paved, nice scenery and lots of mountain curves. This is obviously the more used road to get to the park as it was in much better condition than the approach we took from the north west. That also meant that it was a bit more crowded too.
Jiabo Ancient Town
On our way out we passed a really interesting “ancient town” called the “Jiabo Ancient Town”. The buildings were tall rectangular shaped stone constructions. Interspersed stone towers throughout the village along with the stone materials gave these buildings a distinctly castle feel to them. Half of the town had been restored both as a tourist town but also into what looked like some residences/vacation homes. Some of the stone walls had been pulled out and replaced with large wall to ceiling glass walls. We also visited the unrestored half of the town as well and had a hard time deciding how old the town and style might actually be because some of the materials, despite the state of disrepair, looked quite new including the cement inbetween the stones and the timber used in the window frames and floor supports.
This will definitely require some more in-depth research, but in the meantime, here some pictures we took of the town:
Decision Time: Sure Thing Or The Unknown
Didn’t take us too long to get back to the G213 but when we did we had a decision to make: south to Chengdu or back north on the G213 to take a westerly loop in the direction of Tibet. It was a pretty safe bet that the road west, as it got closer to Tibet would get higher again, probably colder, and high probability of getting more remote too. However, we had a big date coming up on our calendar: October 17th would be the start of the CIMA motorcycle exhibition in Chongqing, the biggest such event in Asia. We would be participating in the event with our partner, CFMOTO and so wanted to make sure we got there in time. The only problem though was that we were essentially 2 days away from Chongqing but over a week and a half from the event.
Not wanting to be waiting around Chongqing for a week before the exhibition started, we opted to go north and explore the Sichuan-Tibet Highway(s), 川藏公路. We asked some locals at the intersection what the road was like and found that at least for the next couple days the road was brand new and we shouldn’t have any problems.
To take a look at what our options looked like and where we ended up going, you can take a look at the interactive GPS Track on our homepage or at the Command Center, where you can zoom in on the area around Chengdu (make sure to clear your cache to get the most recent GPS track). Around 250km north of the capital of Sichuan province, we turned north on the G213 and then west on the S302. This would take us to another road back south to meet up with the G317 which we could take east back to the G213 or farther out west towards Tibet. From the G317 there were then a couple of places where we could move south again and switch to another East-West national road, the G318, to take back towards Chengdu. The last North-South road we could take before going into Tibet (which, as foreigners, we weren’t allowed to enter without a guide), was the S217.
Beautiful Roads And No More Tourists
The local’s description of the S302 was pretty spot on. We had great roads as we entered a grassland area very reminiscent of Tibet. Thankfully, we had just entered the end of the holidays and so, even though there were still lots of home-stays and horseback riding stations setup along the plains for tourists, the roads were more or less devoid of any other drivers.
We stayed the night at a home-stay at the edge of a town, Hongyuan, where we got a Tibetan style little cabin to ourselves. We tried some of the local dishes, most notably a yak sausage, which unfortunately was not that good at all. Tough skin around the meat made it almost impossible to chew through resulting in a giant mess of minced mystery yak meat all over our plate. Well, we are on this trip to try new things!
Continuing the Adventure
Well we continued our way down through the plains the next day and got to our second intersection where we had to make our next decision. We opted to go west instead of east towards Chengdu. The roads had gotten more mountainous again. This area of Sichuan, similar to around Jiuzhaigou, is filled with rivers, streams, and tributaries. A huge contrast with many of the places we’d been through thus far. This meant that the roads are always paralleling some river or another. If you don’t ride motorcycles, it’s hard to describe how fun this can be.
The best area was through the Suoma River Grand Canyon scenic area up to Maerkang (马尔康). Definitely a must ride for any bikers that find themselves in the area. After Maerkang the roads were a little bit less well maintained with warped dips in the road making our pace a little slower, but the ride was still enjoyable.
Black Hawk Down In The Sichuan Countryside
We ended our day in a newish looking tourist town (it was near a Buddhist monastary) called Guanyinqiao. When we got there, from the entrance of the little motel we were checking into, I heard some American voices coming from the home appliances store next door. I peaked my head in and saw they were playing a movie on the display TVs: Black Hawk Down. With all of my gear still on, I got completely sucked in. This was clear to the shop owner who brought over a couple of tiny plastic stools to sit on. Amy soon came over too after checking us in and we were sitting there for the next hour and a half until the movie had finished. We were only interrupted twice, once when I ran around the corner to buy a beer to enjoy with the movie and the other time when some locals came round looking at washing machines to furnish their new apartment with. Sometimes, when you’ve been in the middle of nowhere for so long, it’s the little things…