The following day it was time to be on our way again. Buck was still feeling the effects of the flu, but we needed three days on the road to get back in time. Before leaving we managed to fit in one more tourist sight – the pagoda on the peer that is featured on the Tsingdao beer label – and then we were once more on the road.
Getting out of Qingdao without using the highway was a bit of a challenge. Again, there was so much new road that the GPS had a bit of a nervous breakdown. Then once we thought we were in the clear we hit around 20km of really bad roads. Let me paint the scene for you (without, of course, any embellishment on my part): Giant, cow-sized potholes – let’s just call them the potholes of death – that made riding at any speed completely impossible, inevitably paired with the reliably impatient 4 x 4 drivers tailgating and honking at us every 5 seconds trying to make us swerve into the potholes of death so that they didn’t have to, topped off with giant trucks thundering past and actually succeeding in making us swerve into the potholes of death. I believe now you have an accurate impression.
On the upside, trusty ‘Mafan’ held up incredibly well! We were both very relieved and slightly surprised once we reached the end of those atrocious roads and nothing had dropped off or caught fire. Unfortunately, because it had been such slow going, we only made around 130 km and had to stay the night in the charm-less town of Pingdu. Riding down the main road at sundown was rather disconcerting. The roads were very much empty – apart from the odd grizzly guy leaning against a building, spitting – everything was covered in a layer of dust and more than half of the businesses were boarded up. We managed to find the least dodgy looking hotel in the area, which wasn’t saying much as the front desk seemed to be just as sketched out at having Westerners stay there, as we were at the prospect of actually stay there (I don’t think they had a license for foreigners). So we made the best of it and got an early night in preparation for the final leg of the journey back home.
Day 6 was spent mostly on the road again, making up for some lost time. The scenery was nicer than the day before, and we were thankful that the roads were back to normal. We managed to make it to Huanghua, a city close to Tianjin before sundown, and checked into a very nice hotel for the bargain rate of 300rmb. Being on a bit of a budget, it was the most we’d spent on accommodation that trip, but it was worth it. The staff were super friendly and seemed to be quite excited to have some foreigners staying, hurriedly informing us that they could make us coffee! (Presumably they don’t get many requests for coffee, and of course, being foreigners we must like the stuff!) They seemed genuinely pleased to have us there, and were asking a lot of questions about why and how we were traveling. It was a lovely experience after a long day, and a great treat to wake up well rested in a soft bed the next day!
The final day of riding went by fairly without incident. After a hearty breakfast – the staff were so pleased we’d braved the Chinese style buffet (which unbeknownst to them was actually the best breakfast spread we’d come across so far) that they brought us toast, fried eggs and coffee – we said our farewells and hit the road with optimistic smiles on our faces. We had to navigate around Tianjin, a major city just south of Beijing, but thankfully it wasn’t as difficult the second time around. Once we actually reached the 6th ring road there was a noticeable difference in how people were driving. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they were driving well, but Beijing drivers really are better than anywhere else I’ve experienced in China so far. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the 2008 Olympics and the general ongoing push to become more “civilized” (that’s not me being condescending, there really are signs everywhere telling people to act more civilized, create civilized environments etc.).
Whatever the reasons, I never thought I’d say so, but it was great to be riding in Beijing again!