We have had a very mountainous day of driving. We have been expecting the big mountain crossing day to be tomorrow, so if today was just a warm up we are in for something special tomorrow. We headed West fron Ya'an and were immediately on a smallish road and climbing up harpin bends. We managed to get ahead of a line of trucks and had a lovely drive up a quite good road, stopping to buy bananas and some rather disappointing toffee coated crab apples on a stick. I tried to explain to some bystanders where we had come from and to my horror the dirt on the road had been so bad that the map on the side of the car was completely brown and illegible. They helped clear some of the names with their fingers and find Ya'an. Apart from the crab apples our stop was a tactical error as we allowed all the slow trucks to pass us and spent the next 20 minutes overtaking them again along a road that waas getting increasingly worse.
For large stretches there was no surface on the road apart from crudely dumped rocks that were formed into ridges by the trucks. At one landslip they were clearing a huge mound with a digger and we waited until we had a clear passage. The valley was very steep on both sides and we follwed a white river in the bottom and houses and terraced fields clinging to the sides. It was cloudy to begin with and then foggy as we climbed, but at the top of the first 2400m high pass we came out above the clouds and on the other side of the mountain it was sunny.
We stopped for lunch in a small town and ate our sandwiches beside the river before sitting at a cafe to have very fresh green tea and a shoe shine.
In the afternoon the road got atrocious with rough rocks, shallow fords and deep ruts. The car managed supremely well and we rode over everything, but nearly ran out of petrol when there was yet another high climb and 60 miles since the last petrol station.
We arrived in Xichang which is the centre of the Chinese space programme, but have not seen a real rocket yet.