You are never alone in China, I realised this as soon as we started driving. There are just so many people. Everywhere. Even on a long stretch of expressway, there’s always life in eyeshot – whether its a scattering of brick huts near a cornfield, or some guy who’s jumped the barrier to take his goats for a walk.

Perhaps I am more aware of it because I come from a country that is also massive. But I’m use to driving huge distances without seeing even evidence of people back in Oz – on the road to Uluru there were 250-300km stretches with nothing but rotting cow carcasses to keep you company.  But in China, even when you think you’re remote, there’s always an old wooden man in a dusty old sportscoat, riding a rusted bicycle, with a cigarette in his mouth. Whenever i saw this old man, I always wondered what roles he'd played in his lifetime throughout the communist takeover to the cultural revolution, because he always looked like he'd seen alot. I wish I'd asked, but on the other hand, i doubt he'd've understood me.

When we left our little campsite, we had 230km from the previous day to make up, plus our itinerised day of driving ahead of us. We never wanted to see another national road again. It was the first of several scenic, death-defying yet fairly uneventful days of driving in China, and unfortunately the only thing I can remember is my first REALLY bad toilet experience. I am mentally scarred by the outdoor hovel at the back of the vegie garden, where 1 metre high walls separated my squatting decency from my neighbour’s, where the plumming was a  shallow, downflowing channel to the next cubicle, and mess abounded across every surface. It was the most disgusting thing I have ever experienced. But as I was to find out later, just the way the loos are in China. From then on I had to go to the toilet before a meal instead of after it, or risk losing my guts. Traumatised.

We arrived in the ancient walled city of Dali as the sun was setting, had delicious dumpling soup for dinner and wandered around the cobbled, lantern-lit streets.