I’m a sucker for scooters and just motorcycles in general, I really am. I mean, what cooler feeling is there than whipping down a scenic stretch of beach road, wind in your hair, smell of the ocean in your nostrils and the heat of the sun beating down on your skin without any UV barrier? They are convenient, cheap to run and most of all, you look like a friggin badass – well, you feel like it anyhow.
Before I continue to narrate my tale of deaux-wheeled death defiance, I feel I should set the scene a little…
Yangshuo – the definitive Chinese mountain town. It has everything you may come to expect from many of the mountain towns we encounter in the West, except, well, that odd uniqueness that only China can provide.
Cosy looking wooden buildings, crowds of warmly dressed tourists and, of course, a backdrop of rolling mountainscape that takes your breath away with every upward glance. However, the wooden buildings are of a very distinct Chinese architectural type, the (predominantly Asian) crowds are warmly dressed in puffy bomber jackets – y’know, the kind that were the rage back in the 90’s – and the mountains are not your regular snow capped spectacles, these are hundreds of individual limestone karsts, topped with rich greenery. Like I said, China unique (Chunique).
Now that the mood has been set, let’s continue to the part where the ship hits the iceberg (metaphorically speaking).
It was a pretty drull day, sunshine minimal but warm enough to warrant a pair of shorts and flippy-floppys. We decided after a few super lazy days spent at the No Kidd Inn hostel in Yangshuo that it was time to get out and see a little of what this Chinese tourist trap had to offer.
It was decided that we would make our way to Xingping and attempt the arduous trek up Laozhai Hill, which was supposed to guarantee the best views in the whole area.
We were given a choice, take the tourist bus like your average gawking daytripper or hire a motorcycle like a raging king-of-awesome… a no-brainier really, the two-wheeler it was!
Now, for anybody who has ever hired a bike in Asia, agree with me when I mention the sigh of relief that comes with a contract-less rental. Some will take your money, pass over some sketchy looking paperwork that might as well be handwritten on bog roll and get you to sign…and some will just take your money and hand you keys. Your average Joe would assume that the first would be the safer option as it seems more legit but c’mon, you’re in Asia, a contract here is as good as that pointless sheet of advertising that underlays your tray at McDonalds. Generally, a signed contract is their way of fooling the common man into believing that they have the legal upper-hand when they start angrily prodding around the bike, claiming that you wrecked it in the few hours that you had it away from their view. So, for the sake of a good old fashioned ‘rent, wreck and run’, a straight-up cash swap for keys is usually your best option.
Anyways, ¥150 (25 USD / 20 GBP) later and we have a sweet little scooter.
Now, I know that I tricked y’all before into believing that the disaster-piece was coming up, but I promise it’s almost here.
We arrived at the tourist-hell that was Xingping, a place where they would literally chase a speeding bike down the street to get you to stop and look at the tat they are hawking on their makeshift stall. I parked our little hog on the base of the hill and we began our one-hour ascent to the peak.
Our leg-straining agony was totally justified when we reached the peak and were rewarded with this…
After an awe-stricken hour of gazing over our surroundings, we headed back down, saddled up and set off back to Yangshuo…
OK here it comes, captain is yelling “Iceburg! Dead ahead!”
We were stuck behind this huge lorry carrying what looked like a huge pile of dirt and rocks, with pieces of his cargo falling into the road. This was quickly becoming a hazard and I decided to take action by attempting an overtake.
I edged out and blared my horn, warning him I was going to overtake, but he edged out in front of me, obscuring my view of the road ahead. I retreated back to the middle of the lane, then attempted to edge out again. Horn blaring, I prepared to overtake, but once again, he decided to play a high speed game of Simon Says and edged out with me.
Retreating again, I sat behind this bohemoth of the road for five more minutes, constantly being sprayed with his rocky baggage.
It was at this point, I noticed an opening on the inside of the lane.
My initial thought process was that if he maintained his position in the middle of the road and I kicked my bike up to 60, I’d clear his obstruction and be free from being blinded by his unprotected cargo.
I thought no more, put foot where mouth is and put pedal to metal…
…then he edged back out to the side of the road.
Two choices crossed my mind in the split seconds that I had to react before we were to become yet another tourist death in an already tainted land: turn and hope that there is nothing in our path, eventually coming to a slow and steady stop, or slam on those breaks and leave the lumbering bully to pass whilst also hoping I keep my balance.
I chose the latter, but my hope of maintained balance was thwarted by an uneven surface and lack of tyre-grip on dirt surfaces.
As with all of these situations, if you aren’t already blacked out, the whole scenario plays out in Matrix-style super slo-mo.
As the bike flipped, I came flying over the handlebars, flipping full 360 in the air while Liz, who was once my patient passenger, came soaring after me. I landed, hands and knees to the ground, but the velocity of the fall caused my arms and legs to buckle, allowing my head to smash to the ground and my entire right side to meet the rocky concrete. I skidded across the ground for about 10 feet, feeling every piece of skin I had wrapped round my forearm and leg becoming detached, coating the dark grey road in wet claret and peachy flesh.
I finally came to a stop, adrenaline and shock prohibiting my ability to feel the obvious amount of pain I was supposed to be in. I reached up and felt my helmet, which was split completely down the middle and now about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
I look over to Liz, bloodied and gasping for breath, I picked her up to her feet.
We look around and realise that we are surrounded by locals, chatting indecipherably and pushing past each other to have a peek at what had got everybody so hyped.
A man approaches as he begins inspecting our wounds and talking at us like we are supposed to understand his every word. I look over to the road ahead and realise that the truck that had caused such injury had pulled over and was now empty.
The man who so sympathetically prodding at our wounds and trying to make conversation with us was our attempted killer!
He waved us over and in a pantomime of hand motions, communicated that he wanted us to follow him.
Now, in shadier parts of the world (not pointing fingers, *cough* The Middle East *splutter*), I would assume that he is leading us to a dark alley where he can finish the job. But we were in China, a place where people are too impossibly sweet to ever feel threatened by.
We followed him to an open-fronted old building, walls lined with dusty wooden benches and shelves of unlabelled bottles. After seeing people sat with gory head wounds and laid up on the dirty floor with IV drips trailing from their arm to what looked like a sandwich bag filled with clear liquid, it was clear that we were in a very poor medical centre.
The second we (two white-as-white westerners) walked through the hole in the wall where a door should have been, the clearly agonised locals were deserted and we became instant priority.
Within seconds we were sat on stools, three Chinese folk in casual clothes rushing around the room, grabbing the aforementioned bottles off the shelf soaking our wounds with the liquids contained inside.
Confused and in shock, Liz was shown to a bed which was neighbouring a very sick-looking older gentleman, who after taking one look at her wounds, sparked up a cigarette and began exhaling the toxic smoke in our general direction.
Through the thick smoke that now several patients were producing, I could see that the entire hole in the wall where a window should be was blocked with people, all desperate to catch a glimpse of the white aliens who crash landed in their once sleepy little village. Those fortunate to have picture phones were snapping away and probably dreaming of the temporary glory that they will receive when the next show and tell opportunity arises.
A rambling local continues to talk directly to me as I just shrug and nod in language-barred bemusement. As he continues hand gestures and what can only be presumed as a a retelling of the crash, Liz lies next to me writhing in pain as a teenager in a hoodie applies a strange red liquid to her open, dirty wounds. They had just pulled a stone the size of a peanut out her elbow which had left a deep opening, pouring with blood. I assure her that it’s not that bad and to not look at her injuries while the fella next to us continues to bang on about something that we are clearly not understanding, and he is not understanding that we are not understanding!
We ignore the growing crowds and the ever-thickening clouds of cigarette smoke until we feel steady enough to limp back to the bike.
Then it hits us, are we expected to pay for this medical treatment? If so, how much? What if we don’t have the cash they ask for? Will they hold us to ransom?
Then I stop, take a deep breath, remember how unthreatened I am by Chinese people and the slight possibility that the doctor knows some Bruce Lee, one-inch punch kung-fu and suggest that we attempt an Irish exit.
We grab our stuff, thank the staff with our broken Chinese and back-up out of the door, leaving behind puddles of blood and three medical staff who wish that they didn’t give such a shit about two white tourists who had a whoopsie on their wheeley-bike!
We returned to the bike, still wearing our gashed helmets and carefully took back to the road, becoming mere ghosts in the distance to a village that will forever have a story to tell.
One more problem remained, we had to return the bike and peace-out without getting stopped and held at knifepoint demanding…oh wait, their Chinese…no need to worry!
So we pulled up outside the hostel – bike missing a wing mirror and gaining a fair few scratches – grabbed our bags, dropped the keys on the reception desk, waved bloody hands at the hotel staff, turned to show our torn and dirty clothes then made a mad dash to the bus station.
We said goodbye to No Kidd Inn, farewell to Yangshuo and an almost certain bye-bye to Joey ever adopting a motorcycle as a Trampmobile!
However one fact still remained, I was still a total badass for the day!