Sitting in front of the gas station with my coffee, I use the wifi to plot my route. ‘m in a plce called Jinyang, 247km aay from Dexing which I left the day before. This means I should have another 250km before reaching Fuzhou. But looking at the map, I realize the only way to have an itinerary that short is to use the motorway again. Fair enough. I don’t mind.
Jinyang is a big place and it takes quite a bit of time to cycle through it. Once I’m done, my mission is to find a spot to sneak in on the toll road. I’ve gotten better at this and going out an underpass, I spot a nice staircase that takes me all the way to the expressway to Fuzhou. As I’m about to climb over the rail guard, I hear honking. I lift my head up and see a police car. I immediately retreat and climb down the stairs. This is harder than it looks. I’m not sure what to do next. Should I try again? I noticed a tunnel when I was about to climb the rail guard. Which means cameras. What if they see me and send another car? They could be pissed off at the foreigner who got caught once and didn’t care enough not to do it again. I spend a long time hesitating. I have no idea how long the detour will be. It’s still early, maybe I have time to make it even with the detour. It depends on the surface and the profile, as always. Okay I’ll try it. I’d rather not get in trouble with the cops on my last day in China.
What can I say about that detour? It was nice. Magnificent views of tea plantations. Short steep hills through lush vegetation. Quiet roads. Small villages. One long partially paved, hard climb in the heat of south China. A bit of a hike towards the top. Fraternizing with a local out on his mountain bike for the day. A nice slow day of bike touring. A detour I would have truly enjoyed if I had slept the night before and was in no rush to get somewhere. But all I could think of was “when am I going to get to Fuzhou?”
As night is about to fall, my average speed is below 20km/h and I get my first flat. It’s a slow leak so I decide to keep riding till the next town, which is not too far and looks big on the map. I stop every ten minutes or so to get some air in my tire. Once I get to town, I find a small repair shop and leave my bike there as I go get some food. Patching another tube is something I am not willing to do if I don’t have to. With my belly full and my tire fixed, I ride around town looking for an actual bike shop where I could buy a tube but none carries my size.
It’s dark and I am still far from Fuzhou. I have no idea if I’m gonna make it in time to get a hotel and get some rest before boarding the boat to Taiwan. If the road is flat and nice I might get there soon enough.
Of course as soon as I get out of town the road turns out to be shitty and there is a ton of climbing. I see the hours of sleep I was counting on being taken away from me one by one. At least the first part of the last stretch to Fuzhou is quiet. It’s slow but I’m by myself. The second part though turns out tu really suck. I find myself on a road that is still crap but also surrounded by trucks. At least it’s flat. Well for a bit. Then as I’m close to reach the end, I have to climb one last big hill.
I finally make it to Fuzhou. It’s late but I manage to grab some food real quick and most importantly, some wifi. I need to find the port where the boat to Taiwan leaves from. And that’s the final blow. Maweï, the suburb where the port is located, is 20km further. It is now 3am and that’s another hour of sleep taken away from me. I ride to Maweï as fast as I can. It’s close to 4am when I start looking for hotels.
Now you have to understand that the vast majority of hotels in China cater only to Chinese people. So finding a place to stay can be a lengthy process as there is no information available about which hotels will accommodate foreigners. I start roaming the streets, entering every hotel I see. After five or six rebutals, I do find one willing to let me a room. The price is rather steep though. Maybe something I would consider paying for a full night, but certainly not for 3 hours. I keep looking. To no avail. It’s 4:30am, in about an hour and a half McDonald’s will open its doors and I will be able to get some coffee. I decide to spend that time in my sleeping bag in the doorway of a public building. Mosquitoes keep me from sleeping but at least there’s an open restroom which allows me to clean myself a bit.
At 6am I grab a long breakfast at McDonald’s. I only have to get to the ferry and there I will finally get some sleep. At 8am, I show up at the port after much looking around. An old man at the desk tells me the boat won’t sail today due to the weather. Apparently the wind is too strong in the strait.
“Will the boat sail tomorrow?”
Now that’s helpful.
Okay so here I am. Last day on my visa. I am supposed to get out of China or face the consequences. Which can go from a fine to a few days in jail followed by a ten year ban. I’d rather avoid any of it, so I head to the police station hoping they can extend my visa to tomorrow, when “maybe” the ship will sail. For the random traveler, the Chinese police are usually kind and helpful. A lady officer happens to speak a bit of English which helps a lot. Unfortunately the only alternative they present me with is getting on a fast train to Shenzen and cross the border to Hong-Kong. No thank you. I’d rather get some sleep. Too bad about the overstay.
Miraculously the first hotel I walk in is fine with foreigners and rather cheap. Where was it last night when I needed it? I have no idea. I probably rode past it without seeing it. Not only are they fine with foreigners, they don’t mind an early check-in. And even though it’s only 9am, I get the keys to a room. The best part is, it has no windows, which is perfect if you wanna sleep 20 hours like I intend to. Needless to say going under the covers was pure bliss.
The next morning I show up at the dock well rested. “Is the boat sailing today?” “No. Bad weather”… Of course.
Well that sucks but I’m gonna have to fly. I check the nearest airports. A flight from Fuzhou is 300$. A flight from Wenzhou, 200km away from here is 100$. Even if I throw in the cost of the train and the taxi, that is twice as cheap. Alright let’s do that. First I need to pack my bike, otherwise I can’t board the train. But where do I find a bike box? I start riding around the train station, making wider and wider circles. It lasts for about an hour until I find a furniture shop. Great! They give me a box and I’m off to the station. I buy my ticket and start packing. I have 30 minutes to fit my bike into a nondescript cardboard box. That’s tight. But I can make it. I’m an expert at packing my bike last minute. Or at least so I think. Turns out I’m a bit presumptuous and when I show up at the dock the train has left a couple minutes ago. I’ll have to take the next and I’m already on a very tight schedule. I get food and drinks before boarding the train then roam around the station looking for wifi. Just my luck. Can’t find any. Which means I can’t buy that plane ticket. Okay, I’ll figure it out. Time to board the train. Maybe there’ll be wifi on board.
Of course there is no wifi on board. That would be too convenient. When I get to Wenzhou there is not a lot of time left to make it to the airport. I jump into a taxi and show him the ideogram on my phone. He immediately starts pushing the gas pedal. He’s frantic, insulting anyone who’s stupid enough to be in his way. I obviously do not understand a word he says but by the tone of it, it can’t be nice things. He drives like a madman to the airport and even though it’s a bit scary, I have to say I’m happy when we get there on time.
Now there’s wifi at the airport, but it’s too late to buy the ticket online because the plane leaves in less than an hour! I run across the airport to the ticket counter. “Can I buy a ticket to Taiwan?” Yes. “Can I pay by credit card?” No … I start running in the other direction where the ATM’s are. My first attempt at withdrawing money is unsuccessful. I try a different card. Jackpot! My hand full of money I run back to the ticket counter. There you go, miss. I’m the last one at the check-in. I drop my box and proceed to customs and immigration.
Now I have a secret weapon in case the officer is too displeased about my overstay. I asked a Chinese speaking friend in Paris to write a little text explaining my situation. I play the honesty card and apologize about my day of overstay while handing my passport. The officer looks at me and frowns. “Okay… But next time, careful.” “Oh for sure officer! For sure! Sorry again!”
I reach the gate and board the plane. I sit down, elated. I did it. I escaped from China.