Day Fifty Eight: Eduardo’s Road To Fitness

I am without doubt one of the best when it comes to packing. It is a bold claim, yet one that I am confident in proclaiming, for I learnt how to pack in the third world. My skills are not restricted to squeezing an extra pair of shoes, filled with an iPod, mobile phone charger, inner tubes, tyre levers, and an energy bar – into a suitcase.  No, my third world skill also includes packing a vehicle, a car, a truck, a small van, or a kayak.

Anyone that has spent time travelling in China, India, Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia will no doubt have witnessed vehicle packing at its best.  You can keep your Halfords bungee straps.  You need rope to do the job properly.  Several large baskets are also useful if you are to take full advantage of rooftop space.

I was in a small town in China.  I was, by definition, ‘lost’ and yet was confident that my homing pigeon function would find me back in Chengdu in time for my flight the next day.

The previous thirty-six hours had been spent descending on my mountain bike from the highs of the Tibetan plateau, battering myself on the unmade track that ran alongside the Dadu River.  I had almost tumbled forty metres into the river, whilst trying to cross a treacherous rope bridge that spanned the roaring waters below. Upon hauling myself up onto the grassy cliff-top above the river, leaving sure death behind me on the bridge, I promptly fell asleep.  I was drained. I had nothing left and switched myself off.

I am not sure how long I had been sleeping there on the grass next to my bike when I was woken up by the man.  He was standing next to a battered army jeep.  He was offering me a lift.  I had no idea where he was going but he was pointing downhill so I dismantled my bike and stuffed it into the tiny boot.

He drove like a madman.  I was too tired to care.  Cracking my head on the side of the door frame kept me from falling asleep as he slid the jeep around the bends, sending rocks and sand off the edge of the track, falling hundreds of feet into the river below. He talked non-stope and offered me countless cigarettes, all of which I refused. This did nothing to stop him offering me another the next time he lit one up.

Eventually he stopped.  He explained through a series of complex mimes that he could not drive me into town.  I understood that it was a Gulag.  A place where foreigners were not welcome.  He zoomed off into the darkness, revving the engine through each gear.  That man needs a rally car I thought. I could not see the town, it was dark and I was standing on a pile of rocks.

I began to put my wheels onto my bike and discovered that the nut on the end of the quick release had fallen off and was now in the back of the jeep, which was being driven at warp speed off into the night.  I tilted my bike at an angle to prevent the quick release skewer from falling out and began to walk towards the town, periodically catching my shins on the pedals. I was exhausted.

I walked in the shadows aware of being watched by every person in town as I tried to locate a place to stay.  I found a local hostel occupied by drunken migrant workers.  I locked my bike to my bed and went back into the street to find something to eat.  I could barely keep my eyes open but was hungry and thirsty.

I found a man with a wheelbarrow selling watermelon, purchased a couple of slices and walked back to my hovel hostel eating it, juice dripping down my chin and running onto my shirt. Bliss.

At about two in the morning my stomach turned upside down. I rushed to the toilet to purge the poison that was causing me grief.  The toilets were located in a large rectangular room. It was tiled from floor to ceiling.  There were open holes in the floor, no cubicles and no toilet paper.  Several drunks were doing their best to empty their stomachs into their own holes in the floor.  I squatted and held my cycle shorts up off the floor in one hand and balanced with my free arm out-stretched.  There was nothing to hold onto and even if there had been, I would not have dared to touch it for fear of what disease I would contract in the process. I squinted in the darkness at the biomass of bugs that writhed in a desperate struggle on the wet floor in front of me.  This was not turning out to be the best of nights. I made a mental note to avoid eating cut watermelon in future and to purchase a whole one next time.

It was then that I decided that cycling the remaining distance to Chengdu was out of the question and that I would get a bus in the morning and put by bike on the roof.

It was at the bus station that I learnt the skills of third world packing.

I carried my bike, panniers and all up the ladder at the rear of the bus, onto the roof and surveyed the area.  Baskets were roped together in the middle of the roof, with small wooden boxes lining the outer edges of the rooftop space.  There was a narrow gap along the very edge of the roof leading to the front of the bus, where a large water drum was lashed to a railing.  I made my way carefully to the front and found a small space where I could lay my bike.  I began to remove the panniers and used my bungee cords to secure the bike to the railing.

I was sitting in the bus, still feeling rather fragile when a scrawny Chinese guy appeared.  His teeth were a dentist’s nightmare and his hair appeared to have been slicked back with cart grease.  He smiled, exposing his teeth. I was almost ill on the spot.  He was pointing at the roof and shaking his head and waving his hands indicating something was amiss.

I got out and climbed up the ladder.  There was an old man of at least 137 years of age moving my bike so that he could place a large basket in its place.  He had thrown my bungee cords off the roof onto the concrete below. I was not impressed.  We began to argue.  We grappled with each other.  It was like a scene from a movie with the good guy and the bad guy on the roof of a train fighting.  He was old and weak whilst I was just weak.  I won and he lost.  I locked my bike to the railing and tied it securely with a piece of surplus rope and returned to my seat.  It was occupied by another ancient passenger.  He was sitting on one of my panniers and was cutting his toenails with a pair of clippers.

With the old toenail-clipping guy ejected from my seat I settled down for the twelve-hour ride to Chengdu.  I had learnt my first lesson in third world packing.  Use rope.  Use a lock.  Never use a bungee cord and never underestimate what can be packed onto a rooftop.

Some years later I was in a small mountain village in Southern Spain and was sitting by the side of the road eating a hard-boiled egg. I watched a group of Moroccans pack an old Renault 4TL with all manner of objects, including numerous suitcases, a table, a child’s bicycle, several large urns, three rolled up carpets and two cages containing what appeared to be a goat and some wild fowl.  Once again they used rope rather bungee cords.  They packed all the largest items first and filled the spaces in between each item with items that fit perfectly into each narrow gap.

I thought about this whilst I packed my father in-laws Ford Focus on Sunday.  For a short while I was Moroccan and Chinese, all rolled into one.  I managed to pack two bicycles, eight pairs of wheels, six suit cases, several hundred pounds of free-weights, a barbell, an entire wardrobe of cycling clothing, a chest of drawers full of casual clothing, three bicycle helmets, a bag of food, a tool chest, eight cocktail glasses and my bike bag along with my new Cyfac bicycle frame into the car.

It was much easier than fitting a bike onto the roof of a bus in Sichuan.  I did not have to fight off a crazed Chinese man and was not suffering the ill effects having eaten a dodgy watermelon.

It was in fact a superb example of third world packing techniques, carried out in sunny Berkshire.


1 Comment

  1. Ok Ted this is hilarious. I love your writing. I would just like to ask why the cocktail glasses and were they that necessary?
    Going to send you a message on FB soon ~ keep an eye out.
    Keep writing it’s great.


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