Day 746 – CHINA (QINGHAI and GANSU): From Minhe to Lanzhou

Today’s distance / ???????: 75.3 miles / 121km
Average speed / ????: 9.5mph / 15.4km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 7h 53m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5834mi plus 377mi (?) / 9390km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 380m
Descent / ??: 605m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N36° 02′ 15.30″, E103° 50′ 58.60″

The longest distance for one day to date for me – a cool 121km. It was hard earned too; almost eight hours on the board!

As a result, there were alarmingly few photos taken today. The first five hours were skated in a groggy, tired daze, despite the good sleep last night, and the last three hours were skated through air that could be likened to the atmospheric equivalent of treacle.

Lanzhou hills cloaked in pollution (Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China)

My mum emailed me recently and informed me that according to New Zealand media reports, Olympic athletes are experiencing issues with the smog in Beijing. I am 2,000km away from Beijing, and it is still the worst pollution I have seen so far in China. Beijing must be horrid at the moment.

It was mostly downhill and smooth roads today, with a slight headwind. I pushed on and on, and found myself on the outskirts of Lanzhou before I had a chance to stop for the night. The original plan was to split the Minhe to Lanzhou leg into two days.

Marija Kozin had warned me that this stretch from Xining to Lanzhou would be a mess of industry. It wasn’t as bad as I had envisioned, but the pollution was terrible. Over the last few days I have developed a persistent cough, so I will be getting something to wear over my mouth for the onward 2,000km to Shanghai.

The trailer, despite the large crack in the base, survived all the way to central Lanzhou, in part helped by massive smooth cycle lanes leading into the city.

Now this is what I call a cycle lane (Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China)

I pushed on to an inn I had stayed at a few weeks ago on my way to Hong Kong, near the train station. I had been impressed by the friendly couple running the inn, and it was new and clean, and did not smell of cigarette ash. The older places can reek of it…over the years the smoke seeps into the walls themselves…

My feet at the end of the day bore testiment to the dark dusty route today.

Stripey feet from Keen sandals (Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China)

Day 745 – CHINA (QINGHAI): From Xining to Minhe

Today’s distance / ???????: 68.6 miles / 110km
Average speed / ????: 10.6mph / 17km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 28m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5759mi plus 377mi (?) / 9269km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 325m
Descent / ??: 725m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N36° 19′ 46.20″, E102° 48′ 11.10″

Glorious day. Just faaaantastic. Zoom zoom!

It was smooth all the way from Xining, following a river that flows into the Yellow River, all the way to the dirty old town of Minhe.

Beautiful river lock east of Xining, Qinghai Province, China

There were frequent short uphills on this section of China National Highway 109 where the road would climb over a bluff on the river’s edge, but I knew in the back of my mind that as I climbed them, the valley floor was also dropping, meaning more down than up!

I was surprised at one point to see a tree in the middle of the road. This must be one uber-old tree to stand in the way of Chinese progress so much that it was not mowed down during road construction. The tree is in slap bang in the middle of the lane.

Old tree preserved in the middle of the road on China National Highway 109 east of Xining, Qinghai Province, China

The industry of the day today in this region was agriculture. Garlic, to be exact.

Garlic, galic, and more garlic, west of Ledu on China National Highway 109, Qinghai Province, China

The stuff is grown in massive quantities here. Drying by the roadside, stacked high on three-wheeled vehicles, squashed on the road, the scent hanging in the air. I felt healthy and revitalised just by breathing the air here.

Garlic, galic, and more garlic, west of Ledu on China National Highway 109, Qinghai Province, China

At around 11am today, I was joined by a local boy of about 16 years old, on a bicycle. He greeted me with the standard ‘Hello, welcome to China!’. Here we go again, I thought…another smart kid who wants to speak English. I was even more concerned when he told me that he was cycling to Ledu, the next town, 16km away. All the way, with me.

It was a thorougly enjoyable experience however. He spoke very good English for his age, and gave me interesting insight into the area.

The garlic was in a recession since last year when it was affected, apparently causing it to be poisonous to humans (or something to that effect). Therefore prices this year are much lower than usual.

“Are people becoming poorer because of that?” I asked.

“Yes, for so long, they did not plant wheat or corn or raise pigs, because they could live off earnings from garlic. Now, they have no income, and no other food source that they can grow,” he replied. “It is a big problem.”

“Look at that corn,” he said pointing. “When my father was young, they could not grow corn here. Now the temperatures are higher, and they can grow it.”

Garlic, galic, and more garlic, west of Ledu on China National Highway 109, Qinghai Province, China

He left me at Ledu to go to his father, and I continued on through the town, stopping for lunch at a beef noodle place. I was leaving the restaurant when I met Lemon Zhao (Lemon is his English name). He spends his 20 days holiday a year cycling. This year he is cycling to Xining from further east in China. Note the arm and leg covers, despite the heat. Perhaps I need to get some of those…I am being toasted here in the sun.

Met another traveler (Lemon ZHAO) in Ledu, Qinghai Province, China

From Ledu, it was down a narrow gorge that separates clear-air China from polluted China. As soon as I popped out of the end of this gorge, it was coal dust central.

New expressway clings to the hillside east of Xining, Qinghai Province, China

Approaching Minhe, I was skating past various factories of various descriptions, all apparently running on the horrible low-quality coal that is extracted from the hills around here. It is mostly coal dust, rather than coal chunks. Nothing like the shiny black rocks that we used to burn back in the day in Invercargill, New Zealand.

I pushed on to Minhe, arriving late at around 8pm, just before dark. I checked into a friendly inn run by an energetic family. The mother, in her excitement to have a real live foreigner stay at her inn could not stop giggling. Nor could her kids, who more or less took over my room as soon as I arrived.

Enthusiastic kids of inn owner in Minhe, Gansu Province, China

It was here that I realised that I had been far too compacent in checking for wear on the bottom of my trailer. The trailer is made from a carbon/kevlar composite, all held together with a hard epoxy resin. The trailer is an old Rollsrolls longboard deck, and is excellently well made. But the constant scraping on the road that it endures as a trailer has taken its toll, and I now have a lumping great crack in one of the major load-bearing locations on the bottom of the deck.

Not pretty - cracked Rollsrolls longboard deck in Minhe, Gansu Province, China Not pretty - cracked Rollsrolls longboard deck in Minhe, Gansu Province, China

I knew this was coming, but conveniently chose to do nothing about it. I should have reinforced this with fibreglass in Hong Kong when I had the resources and time available. Oh well, until I get to Lanzhou (two days away) wonderfully cheap quality cellotape will have to do. When I get home, I will remind myself “Never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape, never travel without duct tape…”

Extremely temporary cellotape fix for cracked Rollsrolls in Minhe, Gansu Province, China

Day 743 – CHINA (QINGHAI): Video update from the Qinghai Detour

Righto, to complement the recent batch of photos and stories, here is the action from the wee Qinghai Detour in technicolour! Watch it on Youtube here
(, or on Vimeo below.

I apologise for the dramatic start…I was watching Andromeda on the internet cafe’s internal movie server ( while I was editing the footage…

Compare this video with the last one from Xinjiang and Gansu. Such stark differences in environment!

Day 741 – CHINA (QINGHAI) – QINGHAI DETOUR PART IX: From Xihai to Xining

Today’s distance / ???????: 68 miles / 109km
Average speed / ????: 11.7mph / 18.8km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 48m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5690mi plus 377mi (?) / 9158km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 155m
Descent / ??: 895m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N36° 37′ 19.60″, E101° 47′ 02.60″

Scorching day. 109km. Beautiful. As I was lying in bed at 7am this morning, I was thinking that so long as I had a tailwind and downhill all day today, I’d be able to make it to Xining in one day. Downhill and tailwind it was! Awesome.

I left Xihai late. It was not until 10am that I got away. The attraction was this:

Nuclear Weapons Research Base Exhibition Hall in Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

The 1st Research Base of Nuclear Weapons China Exhibition Hall. I was fascinated by this, and had to have a look. I waited until the 9am opening time. I got away with not paying the 25RMB entrance fee, and just as well, because everything was in Chinese. It was not all that great, but curious all the same. It seems that there is more to this litte mysterious town of Xihai than meets the eye.

I escaped without any radiation poisoning, and made my way east, downhill.

Short fruit stop in Haiyuan paid off with delicious peaches. Eaten with a spoon, because I can’t be bothered peeling them, and I don’t have any water to wash them with.

When you don't want to peel the skin...delicious peaches east of Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

Stopped by a lake. Very nice.

Lake east of Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

Near a lake east of Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

Photo taken by passers by who had driven from Beijing to see Qinghai Lake. Took them 4 days of driving. I’ll take about two months to cover a similar distance.

Near a lake east of Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

Further down the road, I joined with China National Highway 109, the highway that goes all the way from Beijing to Lhasa (Tib*et). Anyone fancy skating that one? Someday perhaps…two 5,000m plus high passes, and many 4,000m plus passes…mmmmm.

China National Highway 109 from Beijing to Lhasa...someday...

After a while I got bored with the winding, twisting Highway 109, and snuck onto the new expressway. Straight and smooth, all the way down to Xining city, with an awesome tailwind.

Old China National Highway 109 and new expressway to Xining, Qinghai Province, China

Arriving in Xining at 4pm, I stopped in at an internet cafe and searched for a place to stay. I had heard that there were youth hostels here, and I soon found the Sunshine Pagoda International Youth Hostel. For 35RMB (3.5 Euro) for a dorm bed, I couldn’t go wrong. Nice place with lovely staff.

Day 740 – CHINA (QINGHAI) – QINGHAI DETOUR PART VIII: From Reshui to Xihai

Today’s distance / ???????: 57.4 miles / 92.4km
Average speed / ????: 8.5mph / 13.7km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 6h 45m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5623mi plus 377mi (?) / 9049km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 415m
Descent / ??: 855m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N36° 57′ 32.40″, E100° 53′ 52.40″

I realise that I forgot to describe the Chinese public baths in my last post yesterday.

In China, there are still many public baths where for a small fee (usually only 0.40 Euro), you can take a shower. Some are better than others, but in all cases, they are a great place to have a long hot shower.

Yesterday’s xizou (public bath) was a nicely set up business with tiled partitions. The actual shower room was open, with only waist-high partitions. Of course everyone is naked. Considering the Chinese obsesion with staring, I was naturally a little apprehensive when I saw this open-plan shower room. The previous xizou I had been to had private shower rooms.

There was only one other person in the room, and despite my initial reservations, we were able to have a perfectly cordial conversation. It was almost as if the nakedness was a leveler, where two people could connect without the symbols of status such as accessories and clothing. Too bad nakedness can’t disguise skin colour…

Anyway…had a great shower yesterday. That’s what I wanted to say.

So this morning, the road was still wet, the drizzle still falling. I packed up and hit the road, hoping for more consistent downhill today.

The downhill was not consistent, and I spent a good part of the day going up, it seemed. Only my end of day gain data told me otherwise.

All along this road were locals wandereing in their fields. After the rain of the past few days, wild mushrooms were popping up everywhere, it seemed.

Mushrooms for sale on roadside on Qinghai Highway 204, Qinghai Province, China

Many people had them out on the roadside for sale. I tried to ask how much they sell them for, but the owners of this modest little stand spoke very little Mandarin Chinese, only the local Tib*etan.

As usual, herds of yaks roamed the roadside along Qinghai Provincial road 204. Yaks are either very dumb, or very brave. They heed little to the horns of busses and trucks. They are also very inquisitive creatures. On one occasion I rolled slowly by a herd, and they began trotting after me with noses upturned sniffing the air.

Interestingly, the locals in this area do not seem to distinguish in name between cows and yaks. For both, they use the word nyu.

Qinghai Province Highway 204 east of Reshui, Qinghai Province, China

Unfortunately I did not get to get a good look a Qinghai Lake. To get to the lake would have meant a 50km detour. Not much in the whole scheme of things, I know, but believe it or not, the pressure of my visa is still in the back of my mind. Originally I was hoping to skate around the lake; a distance of about 750km. That will have to wait for another day.

The end of road 204 was at the intersection with China National Highway 315, which goes around Qinghai Lake. I turned eastward at the intersection, and began my eastward skate towards Xining, the capital of Qinghai.

First up was a minor pass of almost 3,500m.

Yet another 3,000m plus pass west of Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

This is where the true downhill began. Unadulterated wondrous downhill. It was a welcome change after all the climbing of the last week.

Just as I was approaching the town of Xihai, the most mysterious thing happened. It was only 6:45pm, but everything started to get dark all of a sudden. I put it down to dense cloud cover, but at 7pm, almost on the dot, everything went seriously dark. Then I remembered what a fellow room mate in O-po a week ago told me. Around this time, there would be an eclipse. I thought he was talking about an eclipse of the moon. But no, a full eclipse of the sun occured today. See the Wikipedia article about it here. Within a few minutes, light was restored and I was able to carry on to Xihai, kicking myself for not taking a time-lapse recording of the eclipise. Truely awe inspiring.

Xihai itself is a mysterious place, for other reasons. It seems to be a brand new city, that should be full and bustling with people, but isn’t. I couldn’t figure out what people do for a living there. There are row upon row of small stores, restaurants, shops…but there seem to be far too many for the apparent population.

Com*munist Party emblims are everywhere, including a massive statue of the late Chairman Mao.

Late President Mao in Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

A weird place indeed…with a rather disproportionate amount of police.

Mysterious city of Xihai, Qinghai Province, China

Hang on, I’ve just now done a web search for Xihai, and it looks like it is a bit of a tourist attraction. Can’t figure out why…

Day 739 – CHINA (QINGHAI) – QINGHAI DETOUR PART VII: From the middle of nowhere to Reshui

Today’s distance / ???????: 41.1 miles / 66.2km
Average speed / ????: 7.3mph / 11.7km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 59m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5565mi plus 377mi (?) / 8957km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 795m
Descent / ??: 950m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N37° 35′ 36.00″, E100° 25′ 55.80″

After packing everything up in a hurry, I realised I had nothing to eat for breakfast. This lack of food plus tough road conditions and lack of sleep made for a gruelling start to the day.

Dodgy road 204 towards Reshui, Qinghai Province, China

Overall, I was going downhill, but it was not the continuous downhill that I had envisioned. The road continued on a rolling hilly plateau for most of the morning, and by lunchtime I had climbed almost as much as I had descended.

At 11am after 40km, I arrived at a small settlement where I could buy lunch. I ordered my Qinghai favourite. Thick, clear rice noodles in a hearty beef soup with mushrooms and vegetables. I have been enjoying this soupy goodness at least twice a day for the last few days. This great bowl of wonder rejuventaed me to no end.

Another big pass awaited past the settlement where I ate lunch. This one 3,870m. This one I had no excuse to walk up, so with plenty of breaks I skated the whole way up on the smooth pavement.

Another big pass on Qinghai Province Highway 204 towards Reshui, Qinghai Province, China

Thankfully, there were no more rolling hills for me the rest of the way to the coal mining town of Reshui. A light rain was falling as I sped into town. Black muck flicked up onto my clothes. By the time I arrived at the travel inn where I stayed the night, I was a glorious black mess.

I do still carry the splash guards that Longboard Larry supplied me along with the skateboard I am using, but so far I haven’t been bothered to put them on again…

Day 738 – CHINA (QINGHAI) – QINGHAI DETOUR PART VI: From Chiling to middle of nowhere

Today’s distance / ???????: 18.6 miles / 29.9km
Average speed / ????: 5.2mph / 8.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 3h 35m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5524mi plus 377mi (?) / 8891km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 1455m
Descent / ??: 500m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N37° 56′ 31.50″, E100° 19′ 54.50″

Note that the distance for today is only skateboarding distance. I walked at least 15km in addition to that!

It was not until I was 1 hour into my ride today, when I stopped in at a road construction headquarters to warm up and have a bite to eat, that I found out that not only about 20km of the road up ahead was unpaved, but there was a lumping great 4,190m high pass to cross. Perfect. That’s the stuff a good adventure is made of, if you ask me.

On the paved section, it was tough going. Chiling is at about 2,800m, and the paved section of Provincial Road 204 heading directly south to Qinghai Lake continued until about 3,500m. Below is the demise of the pavement.

Unskateable Qinghai Province road 204 south of Chiling, Qinghai Province, China (towards 4,190m pass)

Had the weather been fine, and the road dry, the smooth parts of the dirt road may well have been skate-able. It was not fine, and the road was wet, with a fine misty rain falling, and the road was spongy. There was nothing for it but to pull my gear by hand and walk. With my skateboard strapped to my trailer, I hauled the whole setup like a suitcase…just the same…except in no way similar.

Hauling my gear by hand up 4,190m pass near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China (Qinghai Highway 204)

Switching pulling hands ever so often to battle the fatigue on my forearms, I made satisfactory progress up the often steep switchbacks.

Tough roads up 4,190m pass near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China (Qinghai Highway 204)

It was cold. I was wearing all my clothes. Every stitch of clothing I had in my pack I was wearing. This kept me warm enough so long as I was moving. Stopping for any period of time, and I would cool down. My inner layers were wet from sweat, and my legs were drenched, due to the terrible cheap non-breathable waterproof pants I was wearing.

Walking was strangely refreshing. The slow pace made me appreciate even more the surroundings.

I was offered many rides up the hill, none of which I accepted. By hook or by crook I’ll make it to the top of this pass on my own, I stubbornly insisted.

Army folk stop for a pic on way up 4,190m pass near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China (Qinghai Highway 204)

I finally arrived at the top at 7pm. One an a half hours before dark.

At the top of 4,190m pass on Qinghai Highway 204 near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

Clouds enveloped the heights, shrouding the prayer flag tower eerily.

At the top of 4,190m pass on Qinghai Highway 204 near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

At the top of 4,190m pass on Qinghai Highway 204 near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China At the top of 4,190m pass on Qinghai Highway 204 near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

The ride down the other side of the pass included less vertical descent than I had expected. While the road up from Chiling was about 60km of pure uphill, the descent was onto somewhat of a plateau, only descending about 500m, compared with the steep 1,500m ascent from Chiling. The road was still unpaved and soggy for about 10km of the descent, however gravity kept me rolling over the rough surface. Jolly good fun.

On my way down unpaved Qinghai Highway 204 4,190m pass towards Reshui, Qinghai Province, China

I could have kissed the pavement when it resumed. With no town in sight however, and it getting dark, I began to formulate my strategy for camping for the night. By 9:30pm, well after dark, I realised that I would have to camp.

I was still at 3,750m, it was still drizzling slightly, and it was still cold. I was still damp from sweat. Not a good combination when the overnight low could easily drop below freezing.

I pulled off the road, and with no other choice, set my tent fly up. Remember, I sent my tent and sleeping bag ahead of me to Shanghai, thinking I would never need them in the summer heat of China.

I managed to set the tent fly up, using pocket knives, skate tools, bungee cords, and a wire fence. With the fly edges touching the ground, most of the breeze was cut off.

Chilly campspot on way to Reshui on Qinghai Highway 204 in Qinghai Province, China

Despite the fact that I was wearing every stitch of clothing I owned, I still had one more trick up my sleeve. I never leave home without a foil emergency blanket, and tonight it well and truly came to the rescue. I crawled under the fly – it was no higher than 30cm off the ground – wrapped myself up in the emergency blanket, and assumed the foetal position.

I was warm enough for the first hour, but I knew in the back of my mind that I would gradually lose body heat as my metabolism slowed. In particular I could feel a chill coming from my legs. The non-breathable rain pants were not letting my thermal leggings and trousers to dry out with my body heat. My upper body, despite me wearing my water-proof jacket, dried out completely overnight, thanks to the breathable material of the jacket. This is where a breathable material comes in the most use. No breathable waterproof material will be breathable enough to keep you dry during intense activity, but when you stop, that’s when it proves its worth.

Despite my chilly legs, my core temperature remained enough that I did not shiver. I dozed on and off until 4am, when I became aware of the cooler temperature of the early morning. Sneaky cold drafts made their way through openings in the emergency blanket, stabbing me with their icy fingers.

My hips were hurting from keeping the same foetal position all night, despite the soft Thermarest mat, but I dared not turn over, with fear of disrupting the delicate equilibrium I had created with the emergency blanket wrapped tightly around me.

I waited until the sky had become light before cracking open my personal microcosm of warmth. The low clouds overnight had kept off any freezing temperatures, and all I found on the inside of the tent fly was condensation, not ice.

I packed up hastily, trying to keep moving to warm myself up….

(continued on Day 739)

Day 737 – CHINA (QINGHAI) – QINGHAI DETOUR PART V: From O-po to Chiling

Today’s distance / ???????: 44.4 miles / 71.4km
Average speed / ????: 9.5mph / 15.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 40m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5506mi plus 377mi (?) / 8861km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 400m
Descent / ??: 885m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 10′ 26.10″, E100° 14′ 53.90″

Today I had two choices. The road forks at O-po. To the direct south, Highway 227 continues directly on to Xining, 200km away. To the west, there is a longer detour of nearly twice that distance, 380km, along Qinghai Provincial Roads 304 and 204. Highway 227 to the south I know is paved all the way. I also know that there is a 3,800m high pass in there somewhere.

The longer detour however is not so certain. Most people say that it is all paved, and the highest pass is 3,400m.

In the end however, there is not much argument about which road to take. From the direction of Highway 227, there is a constant stream of jeeps and cars. From the direction of Provincial Road 304, there is nothing but the occasional motorbike with a warmly wrapped up Tib*etan in traditional clothing gripping the handlebars.

Provincial Road 304 it is.

It begins with a rough start…literally.

Loving the minor road 304 from Erbou to Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

The dirt road is smooth however, and a slight downhill and tailwind aids progress on the slightly spongy surface.

After 5km of dirt, the pavement resumes with only occasional road works. The pavement is not as smooth as Highway 227, Provincial Road 304 being mostly moderate chipseal.

Province Road 304 in Qinghai Province, China Yaks are my constant companions in Qinghai Province (304 road from Erlou), China

I am in my element however. How long have I put up with busy roads?! My original intent when leaving Japan was to get off the beaten track. Ever since I got onto this skateboard, I have been well and truely on the beaten track. For the first time in well over a year, I feel back in the environment I love the best. Away from it all. An environment where the road is the intruder. An environment where the environment itself holds dominance, not human influence.

Winged falcon on Highway 304 near Erlou, Qinghai Province, China

Towards noon, I spied an interesting looking structure surrounded by some low-lying buildings. Upon closer inspection, it was the Arou Tib*etan Buddhist Monastery. I rolled up for a closer look, and soon became the center of attention.

The monks of the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

The younger monks were naturally very interested in the longboard. I waited in suspense for one of them to get their robe caught in the wheels, but thankfully they escaped their test-rides unscathed.

Tibetan Buddhist Monk tries out the skateboard at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China Tibetan Buddhist Monk tries out the skateboard at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

“How old do you have to be to become a monk?” I asked one of the monks who could speak Chinese.

“Ten years old, and you can become a monk,” he replied.

As we were chatting, a few of the monks had their mobile phones out, taking photos of us talking.

I was given a tour of the fantastic monastery. Photos do much more justice than my words ever could.

Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Hanging cloth in Tibetan Buddhist Temple near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Prayer wheels in Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

The monastery’s claim to fame is the world’s largest (Guinness Record for 8 years running) yak fur tent. The whole thing is made from woven yak fur.

Guinness World Record largest tent made from yak wool at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China Guinness World Record largest tent made from yak wool at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

World's largest (Guinness Record) yak fur tent in Arou Buddhist Temple, Arou, Qinghai Province, China

Guinness World Record largest tent made from yak wool at the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

It was not until 2pm that I made it out of the monastery.

The monks of the Arou Buddhist Temple in Arou, Qinghai Province, China

I continued skating west along Provincial Road 304, along the wide descending river plain.

Open river plain on the way to Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

About 10km out of Chiling, my destination for the day, it began raining. The smart thing would have been to put on my waterproof trousers. I kept skating.

Wet roads near Chiling, Qinghai Province, China

The road into Chiling was gritty and covered in a fine silt that was flicked up onto my clothing. I arrived in the city a sodden dirty mess, but stoked with a great adventurous day!

Rain near Chiling on Provincial Highway 304, Qinghai Province, China

Arrival in Chiling did not spell the end of adventure however. After checking out a few cheap hotels, I finally found one that gave me a room for 30RMB (3 Euro). It was a small family business, and they were delightful.

“You came from O-po today?! That is so far. Look at you, you’re all dirty and wet. You can pay once you’ve got all cleaned up. Here is your room…”

In the evening I visited the local internet cafe to upload photos. I was there two hours before two police officers arrived.

“Can we speak to you a second, please sir?” they asked in Chinese.

At this juncture, I should have just played the “I can’t speak Chinese” card. However, the day was going great, and I wanted to be friendly.

“Sure, just let me gather my things,” I replied in Chinese.

I followed them to their car just outside the internet cafe.

“Where are you from?” they began.

“Where are you staying?” they asked.

It was here that I knew I was ruined.

I told them that I was staying at a place up the road. No, I can’t remember the name.

“You can show us the way,” one of the officers said.

There was no way out, so I directed them to the small, clean family-run travel inn. We parked outside, and after just one look at the outside of the inn, they said “you cannot stay here, we will show you to another hotel.”

This was all I needed. I cracked. I got annoyed.

“This is rediculous! The place is just fine. It is clean and new, the staff are helpful! All my gear is there, I am comfortable. It is 9pm, and it will take time to go to another hotel. Plus, I have been on the road for 2 years. I cannot afford to stay at expensive hotels!” I said very firmly.

“How much can you afford?” they asked.

“20RMB, and no more,” I replied.

“OK, we will find you a good hotel for 20RMB,” they replied.

No way that would be happening I thought, but I had to go with it. We dashed into the travel inn and removed all my gear, me none too happy about it, and the owners of the travel inn also giving the police an earful about how they should not harass their guests.

The police took me to one hotel, and sure enough, it was 100RMB a night.

“100RMB?” the young officers asked incredulously. Obviously they were not expecting it to be this much.

One of the officers made a phone call on his cell phone. “Hello sir,” I overheard him say. I did not catch all of the conversation, but did hear the words “two years travel, needs cheap place to stay, New Zealand”.

It appears that their boss was understanding towards my plight, and told the younger officers to take me back to the original inn. I continued to show my displeasure at being uprooted and driven around the town, and they left me at the original inn, them apologising profusely.

What a palava.

Day 734 – CHINA (QINGHAI) – QINGHAI DETOUR PART III: From O-po Pass to O-po

Today’s distance / ???????: 4.6 miles / 7.5km
Average speed / ????: 6.4mph / 10.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 43 minutes
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5462mi plus 377mi (?) / 8790km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 185m
Descent / ??: 315m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N37° 58′ 07.70″, E100° 56′ 03.30″

The day began with death.

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The father of the household said last night that they would be slaughtering a sheep tomorrow morning, and that I should stay to eat some of it with them. I was surprised to wake in the morning with muffled grunts coming from outside the tent. Rousing myself, I see a still sheep on its back on the grass. Motionless. With rope tied tightly around its nose and mouth.

“In New Zealand, we would cut its throat,” I said, gesturing to the sheep’s throat.

“That is not the Buddhist way,” the father replied.

He then proceeded to cut a small hole just below the sheep’s rib cage. Putting his hand into the sheep via the hole, up to his fore-arm, he seemed to be searching for something. A few moments later he removed his hand. I’m still not sure what he was doing. Checking that the sheep was dead?

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

After this ‘surgery’ the butchering began. Began by skinning the animal.

Skinning a sheep near O-po, Qinghai Province, China

Then gut the animal and carefully extract the blood for future use.

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Take the carcass away to be sold, and keep all the innards for the family’s consumption.

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Including the head. The head was an interesting one. You see, the mission was to break the jaw away from the cranium. This proved harder than normal, and even with two people yanking on the dismembered head, it took some serious pulling to get the jaw to part with the head.

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The two girls, both around 15 years old, were not perturbed at all with all the blood and guts. They made me recall the girlstudents from the outdoor education camp that I worked at in Switzerland. The commotion that this activity would have caused amongst that lot would have been incredible.

Even cleaning out the colossal stomach was no issue.

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Now, the intestines were an interesting part of the process. I knew that intestines are often used as ‘containers’ for sausages. I never considered however the fact that they come out of the animal full of poo. That is, before you use them, you’ve got to clean all the poo out.

It’s a rather labour intensive undertaking. Squeeze out most of the poo, and then flush the intestine out with water. Blow into the intestine to get the water through…

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

Nothing on the animal was wasted. The entire innards was minced and stuffed into sausages. The lungs, the liver, kidneys, the blood, the fat… Flavouring was salt, spring onion, and curry powder.

Butchering a sheep Tibetan style near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The sausages were all cooked together in a big pot on the stove. The stove burned dry yak poo, which is in a much larger abundance than wood in this area.

The sausages were palatable. The blood and fat sausage was far too rare for my liking, although the more well done sections were passable. The lung and meat sausage was the best of the tough menu, and unfortunately the white sausage consisting of flour and white fat just did not do it for me.

All this protein and fat was enough to energise me for the short skate to O-po. After a quick group photo, thanks, and a farewell I was off.

Tibetan family near Erbou, Qinghai Province, China

The push up to the summit of the pass was a short but steep one. I was still feeling under the weather, my sinuses stuffed up. My first pass over 3,500m on the board, I was happy. Pushed the entire way, no walking (plenty of stops, mind you!). Stoked.

I skateboarded up Erbou Pass (3,685m), Qinghai Province, China

The descent into O-po town was quick. Despite it only being 12 noon, I decided that I would take the rest of the day off. It was at least 70km to the next town, and I didn’t have it in me to push on today.

For the first time here in O-po, I noticed Tib*etan writing on signs.

Tibetan and Chinese lettering on sign in Erbou, Qinghai Province, China