We knew when we signed up for China that the driving schedule was going to be ridiculous – but even at day 5 we were already starting to feel jaded, mostly by the shape of our arses in the face of having done nothing but sit in the car all day and eat dumplings. But it wasn’t just that the days were long and the distances huge; the driving was ludicrously stressful.

I’m tempted to say that this isn’t a racist commentary, because it’s based on fact: Chinese drivers are without exception, the most selfish, irratic, idiotic, crazy suicidal knobsacks in the world. All of them should be rounded up and slapped repeatedly with the mud flaps of their puncy medium sized SUVs. No matter what the road type, they drive as though they’ve just been told they’ve got 5 mins to live and they’re paralysed from the eyebrows down. They pull the most outlandish, life-risking overtaking manoeuvres, they don’t use their mirrors, indicators or look in any other direction than (zombie like) straight ahead, they do EVERY dangerous move imaginable, at any speed, with any risk involved to ensure that at whatever cost, they get in front FIRST. They pull out in front of you without looking, they overtake and then don’t move back into their lane until they can see the whites in the eyes of the oncoming driver OR they overtake you and then slow down immediately to take a photo. They reverse down the expressway with no lights on when they miss their exit, or just drive down multi-lane highways in the wrong direction, they throw their rubbish out their windows and they practically crush their cars to avoid letting you in in traffic. Lanes mean nothing to them, they drive wherever they want on the road, regardless of how many other cars they’re meant to be sharing the road with. DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON ROUNDABOUTS. So yeah, driving was stressful. Even for passengers.

Ahem.

Dali lies in the foothills of the massive Cangshan (green mountain) range; but we knew our tight schedule didn’t give us anything fun like trekking. So, to make the most of Dali’s slow pace and enchanting scenery, we got up early (crack of 8.30) seized the hostel’s most average looking bikes, and cycled through the southern gate of the ancient city, past the working fields of corn and eggplants and down to Erhai Lake (Ear Lake).

The lake was shrowded in mist and boats were ferrying people out to the more remote villages across the way. We stopped and hung out with some fishermen on the pier as they sat on their stools, ignoring their rods and chuffing on their cigarettes next to the ‘no fishing’ sign. Then we pedalled around Caicun village, where the houses were crammed in maze-like narrow lanes, painted white and greyish-blue in the traditional Bai style. The smiley locals in Dali really stood out – especially the Yi minority women who were all dressed in blue, with navy velvet waistcoat jackets and colourful headscarfs selling fruit and vegetables on the streetside, often with a baby strapped to their back. We missed some of the more touristy stuff like the 3 Pagodas in order to plough on to our next destination, Tiger Leaping Gorge. Our goal was to get somewhere close by to camp so that we could do a hike the next day. Despite having two GPSs we missed a turn off and ended up down a skinny, dusty village laneway with a random 3 wheeled farming vehicle (RFV) clambering towards us at speed. To make matters worse, at a crucial ‘lets not crash’ moment, a wasp flew into Joe’s shorts and stung him on his leg and hand. Expletives abounded. He hadn’t seen it and was certain he’d been bitten by a spider, and the crowd we drew when we pulled over to ‘sort him out’ were immediately fascinated as he started applying the antivenom kit to the bites. Even I thought that was a bit nuts. It clearly was. He took his shorts off and a wasp fell out. High drama, but atleast we didn’t crash into a RFV…

Back on crumby, pot-holed national roads again, we joined the wacky races around a series of switchbacks and roadworks, and finally found a dirt track down to the Golden Sands River, our 2nd ‘bush’ campsite for China.