Refreshment

And one of the best things about China?

The soft drinks.

They’re the nicest I’ve found so far. And a thirsty cyclist is surely the best judge of these things. In Iran the roadside beverages tended to be malted beer substitutes – in fact nothing at all like beer, but very refreshing, and usually flavoured with something like peach or pineapple or chocolate. But they were so fizzy they gave me the hiccups. And in Pakistan all I could find were bottles of Pepsi and Mountain Dew, which were not only fizzy, but far too sweet, and even though they mathematically increased the amount of liquid in my body, didn’t make me feel remotely rehydrated.

In China every village, roadside cafe and petrol station has some kind of fridge, and that fridge is generously stocked with 500ml bottles of all sorts of wonderful stuff, for about 30p each. Much of it is tea- or juice-based, and it’s sweet, but not as stickily, cloyingly so as Pakistan’s offerings. And it’s non-fizzy. And simply delicious.

Gradually, as I ride further and further into the summer, I’ve lost all self-control where these drinks are concerned, and on the rare occasions when I come across them (sometimes only once a day when riding through the desert) I’ve been downing two, three, and sometimes even four in a row. I fear my budget will never recover, but I can’t stop.

This one is a particular favourite.

This one fortified me through a difficult afternoon in the Taklamakan.

This one’s another favourite, and far less sweet and sticky than it would be almost anywhere else in the world.

And I don’t know what’s in this one, but it tastes like it’s made of distilled jasmine flowers and moonbeams and poetry.

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