I woke up the morning after what I shall now remember as Puncture Day to find my front tyre flat. Again. I wanted to throw my bike into the nearby swamp. Instead, I pumped up the tyre enough to wheel it along and followed the directions of the hostel receptionist to a nearby Giant shop. The man at the shop spoke no English, and my Mandarin is limited to food items, so I made do with pointing at the main problems: the ever-deflating tyre, the missing chain ring bolt and a missing screw holding up my rear rack.
While the bicycle magician went over these things, and fine-tuning others, I sat there, feeling completely out of my depth, wondering what kind of idiot would head off on a journey where you’re completely dependent on a 2 wheel machine but knowing nothing about how it works. He worked on my bike for almost an hour. I starting thinking about how much this would all cost and hoping I had brought enough cash. Eventually, he stood up, pointed at my bike and gave me the thumbs up and a big grin, which I returned. Legend.
I bent down to pick up my wallet, only to hear him speak English for the first time. “No money! No money!”
Already emotional from the previous day’s events, this was almost too much. I could feel the tears that I had so successfully prevented the day before welling up. I said thank you about fifteen times, before hopping on my revived bicycle and peddling off.
A few days later, Guizhou kindness struck again.
I rode a bumpy and hilly 105km, reaching the city at around 6pm, far later than usual thanks to the endless climbing throughout the afternoon. As per usual, as I neared the city, it started to rain. I had imagined a small town, one where you ride down the few main streets and easily find a hotel within ten or so minutes. Instead, I rode into a city, with shops everywhere, delicious smells wafting out of endless eateries, but no hotels in sight. After asking a number of people, I finally located a hotel along one of the main streets. I knew by its shiny floors that it was going to be far out of my price range, and it was. I returned to roaming the streets in the rain and now darkness. I found another hotel, again too expensive. But an hour later I returned, telling myself that I have to sleep somewhere and I’ll make up for the costs in another town. Upon my return I was told that the rooms available an hour ago were now gone, using Google translate to tell me that there were no rooms in the city because of college exams.
Back out into the rain I went, feeling rather desperate. I was tired, having been on the road for 12 hours now, and I was wet, cold and hungry. I had been searching for a hotel for two hours by the time I stopped and asked yet again if there was one nearby. The two young guys I asked pointed in the direction I had come from, saying something I couldn’t understand. They held up an umbrella, to which I said thank you and pointed at my raincoat, indicating I was fine. No, that’s not what they meant. They popped up the umbrella and stepped out, gesturing that they would show me the hotel themselves. As we turned the corner ten minutes later, I realised that we had arrived back at the hotel I had just come from. I stopped, gesturing that it was full. Noting my slumping shoulders they grinned, gesturing down the road. A few turns later and we were at another hotel. This one did have rooms, but looked for a long time at my passport, clearly unsure if I was allowed to be there. Not to worry, one of my two friends got out his ID and handed it to the lady, giving my passport back to me. In seconds I was checked in. The two young guys helped me carry my bags up the endless stairs. One then passed his phone to me and I found myself talking to their friend, a young woman with excellent English. She asked me what else I needed help with, offering over and over again to help with anything that I might need. I assured her that I was now fine and asked her to please convey my immense gratitude to the two guys standing in front of me. One wrote the woman’s phone number down on a card, clearly telling me to call if I had any other problems. And then, with a cheerful wave, they were off. Just like that.