You are cycling for two hours. It’s humid. It’s sunny. You’re thirsty but the water in your bottle is almost at boiling temperature. Your tongue is sticking to your mouth. Someone opens their door, carrying two insulated cups, handing one of them to you – and it’s ice water!
That’s how I met M-G and I can’t help loving her straight away. I will use her shower, enjoy her air-con and later – sleep in her bed.
While I am doing the first two things mentioned above, her boyfriend cycles off to his family. In Korea, you live with your parents, until you get married. And before I do the third – M-G organizes dinner for me where I learn that she is a solo female traveller herself and both of them take me out to a night drinking with their friends. I get introduced to Sujo – which I like right away – and how you drink in Korea. You never take a sip on your own, you always go “yan” with all your friends and then everyone is drinking. And we “yan” a lot and of course I teach the “prost”.
That’s what I love about Couchsurfing. Not the “you get drunk part” but you meet people, you don’t sit in your hotel room alone but have fun, laugh and learn about different cultures, ways to life and views on live plus you get to play with their puppies if they have any. Without Couchsurfing I doubt I would have ever learned that there is a thing like a “kimchi-fridge”. A huge device that is providing the perfect temperature for Kimchi. I wouldn’t have walked the empty streets of Bucheon and never gone to M-Gs church. A catholic service which I enjoyed despite understanding anything as the atmosphere was a very open one.
I look down the road and spot them easily. Even from the distance I can tell the relief that’s spreading on Andrea’s face when he sees me waving. They didn’t find a host so Dong-Hyun offers them to take them to a camp-side. Since we already left the ferry station the two have now to find the way to the hidden restaurant where Dong-Hyun invited me for lunch, so slowly they are fighting their way up the steep road.
From that point, Dong-Hyun takes the lead across sidewalks through the older, narrower part of Incheon where there are no bicycle lanes yet. Something feels wrong – not the sidewalkpath but something else. I can’t put my finger on it, but something is… missing. Out of place. It somehow feels as if we are cycling through a deserted city but still there are people as well as cars everywhere. After a while I realize I am missing the sounds, the noise. Cars are turning, driving past – but the drivers aren’t honking. The cacophony of the trucks is not there. Maria and Andrea are noticing the same and we are smiling at each other appreciating the quietness We spot bicycle lanes when we ride across bridges and our smiles become even wider. By the time, Dong-Hyun suggests a rest, we are marveling at the beauty of the river in front and the bicycle lane – car-free of course – that’s in mint condition next to it. Even though there are camp sides all along, it’s possible to just camp anywhere you like and use one of the many, many public toilets along the way. Maria and Andrea decide to camp close to a small convenience area with a store, coffee place, restaurant and free wi-fi.
Maria, Andrea and I look at each other before doing the math. About 10 Euro per person to sleep in a four-bed-room on the ship instead of sharing a room full of sleeping mats with 50 people. As the ticket sellers sees us hesitating he offers that there won’t be a fourth person in the room. We get tempted but decide to still go with the cheapest option. How bad can it be? It’s just one night, 17 hours and all of us had spent nights under worth circumstances.
A couple of hours later I meet them on the ship. I have already settled in, watched the astonished face of the receptionist when she realized that this foreigner booked into the biggest room available (the dorms for 72 people seemed to be closed), and listened when she explained to me how to read the room and bed number and where to store my bike.
The air-conditioned room was spacious enough, we slept on pretty comfy bunk beds with curtains, lights and socket next to the windows. Money for the private room would have just been a waste. I text my arrival time to my first Korean host before I resign to sleeping a couple of hours while Maria and Andrea set off the explore the ship. It’s a quiet and relaxed journey.
The view in the morning is magnificent as we glide past numerous small islands.
Upon arriving we are the first to leave the ship and get onto the bus – with our bikes – and the staff is taking some of our bags as we make our way towards customs. We are unsure if they are trying to help us or if our bags are being taken to be searched and lose sight of them to be reunited at the compulsory scanner where all our bags have to go through.
On the other side I see a young man with a touring bike smiling – I am so relieved I don’t have to find the way to some hotel on my own with all this getting lost in Qingdao I had.
4 am, sneaking around Phil’s and Jennie’s apartment I am getting ready to go. Last night I cooked and packed myself a decent breakfast and lunch so I could get an early start to Qingdao and wouldn’t have to worry about food. And of course filled up my water bottles so I wouldn’t be totally dehydrated once I get into Qingdao.
120km, most of them flat and 10km with the ferry – I am confident of fitting some sightseeing in before my host Dai would come home from work at 6.30.
It’s so dark, I have to wear my head lamp for the start as I set off on the now quiet roads of Qingdao. As I don’t just want to follow the G-Road I take a detour along the beach where I watch the sunrise over breakfast together with a lot of people who camped at the beach for exactly this purpose.
Later on, I will have to cancel my attempts to follow the coast as there are road works going on. Nonetheless I leave the G-road shortly after to climb some hills in the hinterland past small villages. It’s more exhausting than the levelled G-road, but I enjoy it much more. 100km of that would surely get my morals down.
I just keep cycling only stopping to nibble a bit on my food or buy an ice tea so around lunch time I get to Huangdao’s ferry port. The cycling gets harder, as I am in a city AND have to climb. So I can’t just cycle up and enjoy the down hill but have to stop all the time for traffic lights.
Anyway – I am almost there at the ferry port. I will have a rest waiting for the ferry, enjoy the ferry ride and the last bit in Qingdao. Right? No. I start getting a wary feeling as I am turning into the port area. It’s just too empty. And a dirt road. No cars. No people. A locked up building that maybe used to be a ticket selling point. Rain is starting slightly when someone asked where I want to go.
I make myself understood and finally hand him my phone. He types in the name of the correct ferry port and I brave myself for another 20km of cycling.
I detour, then I share the road with nothing but trucks with shipping containers. I am out of water soon but no stores. Dehydrated – again -, exhausted – very – I arrive at the correct ferry port, double-check with the guy that’s selling beverages while purchasing a bottle of iced water and finding out where to buy the ticket.
Most times in China I would find English signs like “Ticket counter” even though I am in areas where hardly ever any foreigner gets too. But not here. I can’t find the signs and the hut the helpful vendor pointed to are deserted. I ask a bus driver who points back towards the vendor. I doubt him, gesture that they send me here. But he says “go go” and is very reassuring. Slowly I cycle back, checking everything in between if that might be the place. But no. I ask the vendor and other passengers, point to the word for “ferry ticket” and they point…. back to where they send me before.
I mentioned my state, right? I am tired. I am exhausted. I am way to hot. I am still dehydrated. I cycled 20k more than planned.
So, in this state, I sit down on a bench. I think about crying. I take a deep breath. And I remember what a foreigner, that doesn’t speak Chinese does, in a situation like this: I call a friend that speaks Chinese! My dear friend Huan picks up the phone, explains my situation to the vendor, who explains it to the other passengers, a father that’s waiting with his wife and kid says “follow me!” and I am so relieved I don’t know how I can thank Huan for solving this for me.
The father walks me back to the hut where I stood before. By now, a couple of trucks are waiting too and three women that get way to excited about seeing a foreigner. The father feels a bit embarrassed while I endure the process of picture-taking, trying to smile politely.
An eternity later the ticket seller shows up and a few minutes later I am on the ferry to Qingdao, sitting exhausted on one of the chairs, resting…
I get spotted again, and the picture-taking gets taken to a whole new level. A woman makes her daughter – somewhere between 6 and 8 – pose next to me without asking me at all. I never said no so far but I really appreciate if people start communicating with me before they take a pic and I never had people posing without getting in touch with me first. It’s really not hard to ask for a pic – you just have to hold up your phone and make eye-contact. Anyway, this woman wasn’t having any of that, I was too exhausted to do anything so I just played along eventually. One pic doesn’t take that long, right?
Right. But her daughter wasn’t posing enough. Wasn’t being sexy enough. Didn’t have her t-shirt in a sexy enough way. And she had another daughter. So she had to get pics of her and both of them, all the time scolding them and I was too defenseless and bewildered to do anything about that. Then, she had to have her pic taken with me… It just went on and on.
My day ended at 7pm. I fought myself through rush hour to Dai’s nice and spotless apartment where I could re-hydrate and eat a yummy, vegetarian dinner. I was actually excited about meeting Andrea and Maria, two cyclists that were going to take the same ferry as me in the morning. But I just passed out at about 8pm and didn’t notice anything until the next morning…
With four hours of dozing and four hours of sleeping in my sticky tent I am back on the road. I feel battered right from the start.
It’s less than 40km to Jennie’s and Phil’s and I am glad it’s not one k more than that.
When I start riding, my camp site was at the edge of a small village – if I had gone further, I would have had to pass the village before camp. It’s flat at the start but Rizhao is hilly, it’s getting hot and I think, I am pretty dehydrated as I drag myself up the hill to my hosts place. Counting every km, ever 100m to be honest. Part of me thinks about stopping to get more water, but the other part of me just wants to keep going so I will get there.
I finally make it, Jennie is offering me their biggest glass, pointing to their water supply. When I finally stop drinking, I stagger towards the shower, just to fall asleep after. At this moment, I am very glad that I am staying with two cyclists who totally understand my needs and supply me with delicious food for lunch.
I enjoy a very lazy day and when they come home from work we talk, share stories, drinks and we agree on my staying one more night so I will go to Qingdao in one lap, rather than two with camping in between.