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Beastly Blog
Friday, 18 February 2005
Elephantitis in China!
Nee How! The past weeks have been another flurry of TV interviews, visits to tea houses, laying in bed recovering from heavy drinking sessions, nationality parks, cheap shopping, driving on more of China?s glorious rough roads with unbelievable scenery streaming past and passing tea plantations. A big thank you to our friends of Nelly for telling us that the accelerator cable is not just a Beast problem ? theirs snapped on their epic trip through Africa ? just before getting on a boat in Sudan. Have a look at their webpage - a href="">.

Kunming ? Simao ? Jinghong ? Xishuangbanna Elephant Reserve - Mengla ? Boten ? LAOS!

8th February 2005 ? 18th February 2005

From the fall of Burma to the Japanese in 1942 until the end of the second world war, the Allies strove to keep China supplied with material from India-by air over "the Hump," (the Himalayas) and overland via the Burma Road, which stretched 700 miles to the Chinese city of Kunming. As the Imperial Japanese Army swept across China and South Asia at the war's outset, closing all of China's seaports-more than 200,000 Chinese labourers embarked on a seemingly impossible task: to cut a seven-hundred-mile overland route from the southwest Chinese city of Kunming in China to Lashio in Burma - the Burma Road. With the fall of Burma in early 1942, the Burma Road was severed and it became the task of the newly arrived American General Stilwell to re-open it, while, at the same time, keeping China supplied by air-lift from India and simultaneously driving the Japanese out of Burma as the first step of the Allied offensive toward Japan. The Hump bar pays homage to the Flying Tigers, the Allied forces that battled over the Hump to supply China with arms. Michael Palin visited here during the filming of Himalayas .

Kunming was also the location of the Adriano?s new found fame! Adriano arranged to work with Save the Children to raise awareness for their fantastic work. Save the Children in China are not a registered charity yet so they work closely with local charities to help local kids. They had arranged a meeting with dinner to discuss what Adriano wanted to do. Adriano?s idea was to get the local street kids to paint the Beast for the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). He went to the People?s Square with the Beast and was inundated with kids who painted a beautiful big dragon and the map of China down the side of the Beast. A lot of fun was had by everyone involved and by the media. Adriano had invited China Daily as well as three local newspapers, a children?s programme from Yunnan TV, CCTV9 and the local television station.

The rest of our time in Kunming consisted of surfing the cheap DVD shops (6 Yuan for a new Oscar nominated film ? 30 pence), looking for cheap electrical goods, wondering the cosmopolitan city which is interwoven with the poverty and charm of old Kunming.

The drive from Kunming to Simao was 550km on fairly uneventful ?Super? highway but we worryingly watched the oil pressure drop from a normal 30lb/sq inch to 20 and alarmingly dropping to 10 with no indication of change in water or oil temperature. Now we may seem a little stupid but we had supposedly had an oil and oil filter change in Chelyabinsk and we were getting quite worried about the drop. Alexis?s dad stated that the drop in pressure might have been due to the change and that a thicker oil may be a better idea. We stopped for lunch and after a closer inspection of the oil filter we discovered that it was indeed the oil filter that we put on in the UK before we left. So laying down in the dust with chickens, pigs and small children running around, we changed the oil filter and the oil pressure returned to normal! Phew!

The drive south took us through little terracotta tile covered villages surrounded by mountains of beautifully manicured tea plantations. As we stare out over the windy roads, weaving through the countryside we see banana trees, papayas, rubber trees and paddy fields. As we entered southern Yunnan, we hit China?s tea plantation area. There were mountains shrouded in neat lines of tea trees that stretched as far as the eye could see.
There are about 250 wild Asian Elephants in China which cross over from Laos and Myanmar. More than 80 percent of China's wild Asian elephants can be found in the Xishuangbanna National Natural Reserve. Founded in 1987, the reserve includes five protected zones and covers a total area of 247,439 hectares. It is a stunning area with deciduous rainforest covering every inch. Besides Asian elephants, 20,200 people also live in 114 villages within the jurisdiction of the reserve. Another 144 villages are situated around the reserve grounds, home to more than 32,000 residents so there is the usual human pressure on these beautiful animals.

We wanted to stay in the reserve?s tree houses where there was a higher chance of seeing the elephants as they over looked the watering hole but they were all booked. So we opted to stay in the normal cabins with a dwindled hope of seeing them. We watched the show of the local population (the Jihuo people) performing their native dances. The Jihuo people only had first contact with the rest of China in the 1950s as they lived in remote slash and burn villages. After that we had some dinner and retired to our balcony to have some beers and slap some mosquitoes whilst looking over the reserve. We listened to the chirping and creaking surrounding us and were surprised when a security guard came to our cabin with a torch and started shining it behind us. We were over the moon when we realised that he was trying to deter an Asian Elephant from coming down to see us. With the knowledge that in the past few years, nine people have died and 49 have been injured by Asian elephants in the area, we stepped back and watched with admiration. This 8ft high beautiful Elephant stared back and patrolled up and down trying to escape the torch being shined into his eye by the security guard. He stayed for about 10 minutes before wandering off to go and munch on some bamboo further into the forest. We were so privileged as they don?t often go to that part of the reserve!
The following day we travelled up in the cable car to the top of the reserve passing over prisitine forest (except the compulsory plastic bottle and plastic bags dropped from above). Paths took us through the forest full of croaking frogs and chirping crickets. We completed our tour of the forest with an Elephant Show which we walked straight past with disgust but the other tourists were lining up to see. We travelled down from the reserve to Jinghong and we waited in Mengla sadly waiting to cross into Laos and away from China. It has been an extraordinary month passing through some of the most extreme terrain (and roads!), seeing the most amazing scenery, travelling almost 6000km and meeting some of the friendliest people on the planet. We liked China! We are now in Laos.. more details to follow!

External temperatures are hitting 30oC. The escape hatch on the Beast is off to stop the temperature creeping too much above 40oC. The shorts are on. The malaria tablets are being taken. It is a hard life travelling!

Chinese Notes:

- Chinese people are very social. All food is served for everyone to share and placed in the middle of the table. Card and Mahjong games are played at the side of the street. Promenading is very popular with people walk down the street together until late at night.
- There are very few fat Chinese. Their diet is very healthy with a lot of vegetables included in with meat and rice. There is relatively little MSG in the food in comparison to British Chinese food.
- The Chinese are an untidy race and will peel sunflower seeds and drop them on the floor in restaurants, they will clear their throats and spit on carpets in hotel rooms, there is litter all the way along the side of roads and they have no qualms about leaving rubbish on the floor in a national park or world heritage site.
- Chinese roads are atrocious. At present the government is investing millions of yuan in replacing roads so there are thousands of miles of unfinished roads. In the 1970s there were only 7000 miles of paved roads, so we are quite privileged to have driven across China for almost 6000 km with about 80% of the roads paved!
- Historically, if a Chinese lady farted in public she would commit suicide due to the embarrassment brought on her and her family.
- The staring has got worse the further down the country we have come even though there are more foreigners in the south. Once or twice we have walked down the road and the whole family has run out to the street to stand and gawp open mouthed at us!

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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