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Day 35 - Updates in Yining
August 26th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

So here I am in the net cafe in Yining updating like crazy. Hope you enjoy the action.

From here I head towards Kazakhstan. I expect to be in Kazakhstan tomorrow. Lots of apprehension as I head into the real unknown. At least up till now I have been able to fudge my way using Chinese characters scribbled down on a note pad…

My next update will probably be from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. I will be there a few days to get my Tajikistan visa. I expect that will be in no more than two weeks.

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Day 34 - Empty camera case
August 25th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:74km
Time on bike / 走行時間:4h 27mm
Average speed / 平均速度:16.7km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1574km

A fitful sleep in the brick kiln due to flapping bats and scratching mice began a day that would end in me discovering that I no longer had a camera.

It was pretty much flat all the way to Yining from the kiln, so I took my time to take plenty of photos and video on the way.

I arrived in Yining at around 3pm, and headed for the center of town for lunch. While I sat eating nan bread and honeydew melon, a crowd of at least 20 people crowded around looking at the foreigner and his bike.

After lunch two Uighyr guys spent at least 45 minutes walking around with me to find a cheap place to stay. Most of the places we went to would not admit foreigners, and we were frequently told to go to the expensive hotels in the middle of town. We did find a reasonable place in the end, at 25RMB a night for my own room.

It was when I was sorting out my luggage when I discovered my camera was missing. Only the case remained. I usually attach the camera case to the bike on one of the panniers so that I have easy access to it while I am riding. Silly me, I had not been vigilant enough to remove the camera every time that I left the bike. I think that the camera was pinched while I was in one of the hotels asking about rooms. Gutted. It was a jolly good camera.

So the mission for today was to find a store that sold digital cameras. The net cafe people directed me to a camera store down the road that sold them, and an hour later I walked out with a Canon Powershot A540. They did not stock the Powershot A700 that was stolen, but the A540 seems to have most of the features of the A700, apart from the 6x zoom. The A540 has a 4x zoom. Also, the lense on the A540 is not as large as the A700. I’m not much of a cameraman, so I doubt I will tell the difference. Hopefully insurance will cover some of the cost.

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Day 33 - Fugitive on the run
August 24th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:124.64km
Time on bike / 走行時間:6h 57m
Average speed / 平均速度:18.3km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1519.9km

Woke at 6:30am for an early start to Yining, however the motel owners were not up, so I napped until 8am when I heard movement from inside the house. The owners give me a hearty breakfast of rice porrage (really yum and lasting energy for the day). Out of town by 9am, stop for watermelon at a watermelon patch at 10:30am and don’t get away until 11:30am. Wonderfully friendly Kazakh folks.

One of the many roadside watemelon stands, Xinjiang Province, China / どうろのよこのすいかはんばい

Very contrasting landscape today. On my left is a lush valley with a fast flowing river, on my right is desolate rocky hills. There were many fishermen along the river trying to sell me fish as I passed. Most of them kindly understood why I didn’t fancy carrying fish in my panniers.

Land of contrasts

Generally downhill and a tailwind all day, apart from some slow uphills halfway through. I was nervous buying watermelon in a town on the way for tea. I was half way through getting across the fact that I wanted a watermelon when I noticed a police officer eyeing me from about 700m away. The watermelon seller also noticed (they appeared to realise that this was a closed town), and just gave me the watermelon for free and told me to leave quick. Legendary.

I ate outside of town near a bridge, and seriously considered sleeping under it. In the end I gave up on that idea and ended up sleeping in an old disused brick firing kiln.

Cozy bed in a disused brick firing kiln - between Tuargun and Yining City, western China / レンガのトンネル窯が今日の寝どころ(トアルグンまちとイニング市のあいだ)

Cozy bed in a disused brick firing kiln - between Tuargun and Yining City, western China / レンガのトンネル窯が今日の寝どころ(トアルグンまちとイニング市のあいだ)

My 'motel' on the way to Yining City / ぼくのしゅくはく

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Day 32 - Arrested progress in Tuargun, 35km west of Xinyuan
August 23rd, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China, highlights

I slept like a log last night and was phsyched up to get my blog up to date. Tuargun doesn’t have much in the way of eateries, so I bought some tasteless mutton steamed buns and nan bread and ate some of those for breakfast. Man, how I miss a bowl of cornflakes with milk for breakfast…

I managed to upload a good lot of photos including descriptions before lunch, using a batch resizer recommended by Rob, a recumbent tricycle rider who is riding 25,000km around China at present.

I figured with all the photos uploaded, it was time to take a break before getting back into the daily posts after lunch. The internet cafe owners recommended a place just over the road for good noodles (noodles again). So I nipped over and ordered a big bowl. As I was waiting, a police officer wandered over from the police station next door. Can I have a look at your passport? I handed it over and he took a few moments to flick through it. Without handing it back, he called someone on his cell phone and I caught the words ‘foreigner’ and ‘doesn’t have’. It was at this moment that I began thinking that comething could be amiss with the situation.

A few moments later two more police officers arrive, and my passport gets handed around some more. They ask for my ‘travel permit’. “Um, what is a travel permit?” I ask.

This is greeted with air sucked through teeth and general silence. “Is there a problem?” I ask.

“Yes.” the officer across from me says.

They scribble down in Chinese characters the characters for “foreigner” and “closed area”. By this time I have figured out that I am in one of those infamous “closed to foreigners” areas that I have read about in other travel blogs. How the hang are you supposed to know? I had no issues in Houxia or Balguntay…

They take my passport, and tell me to come to the police station after I have finished my noodles. From here, I’ll write from my diary:

2pm: Currently sitting in police holding room with a guard carving at his desk with a razor blade. I understand that a translator will not be available until 4pm, so I need to wait here. What will happen? Bad idea to go to that restaurant next to the police station for lunch. But I had no idea, so no need to be hard on myself. It would be nice to know the implications of the situation…

3pm-ish: Have been asked some questions such as how much did I earn a month in Japan, when am I leaving this town.

3:30pm: China Unicom guy arrives, he can speak English. Doesn’t appear to be the interpreter though. Just a curious local. Officers trying to ride my bike. I hope they don’t break it. Passport passed about, even to non-police people.

4:15pm: Translator has arrived, a local English teacher. It appears that I know more Chinese that she does English. We move to the ‘questioning room’ and I am formally asked questions that I have already answered informally in the holding room. Large table with pale blue checked table cloth. I am at the head of the table, translator and her cousin who speaks very good English are on my left, officer and pleb on my right. The atmosphere is jovial with a hint of the officer trying to make things seem formal.

5:30pm: I sign and fingerprint my statement. It basically goes that I am in China on holiday, I have been to these places on these dates, and I am in a closed town without a permit. I am told that I must go to Xinyuan, a city 35km away, tonight. I am not allowed to stay here. Once in Xinyuan, I must go to the police station and register there. Am told all towns between here and Yining are closed and I cannot stop there, even to buy things. Am also told that I need to pay a 500RMB fine for breaking the law. I physically do not have 500RMB on me, so it is agreed that I can pay US$60 and 20RMB.

6:40pm: Have been waiting here in the pale blue checkered table cloth room since 5:30pm. Apparently the official bill/receipt for the fine needs to be driven from Xinyuan in order for me to pay the fine. I cannot leave and receive my passport until I pay the fine.

6:50pm: It is now too late for me to go to Xinyuan tonight. I can stay the night here.

7pm: Still waiting. Very hungry

8pm: Still waiting. Apparently this police station only yesterday received indepth training about the law concerning closed towns. According to the translator, if I had been in this town only a few days earlier, I may not have had any issues.

8:30pm: Finally bill arrives, I pay the fine. I cannot leave however, because there are problems with the computer to process the bill.

8:38pm: Finally get the OK to leave, however am called back just as I am leaving the building because I need to re-sign and fingerprint my statement that has been rewritten because some sentences did not fit the protocol for fomat of the statement.

So after more than six hours ‘under arrest’, I guess, I can leave, have dinner, and return to my motel.

I arrive back to the motel and am greeted by the owner who is almost in tears. He explains that he has to pay a fine of 500RMB and do community service for allowing a foreigner to stay at his motel. This is not a rich family. I almost break down crying right there, and am gutted that I have caused this much damage for his finances. It is obvious that 500RMB is a big blow to him. I offer him US$50 (about 400RMB) in cash to help compensate. At first he does not accept, but later accepts to take the cash.

After giving him the cash, I begin wondering why on earth they did not tell me that this is a closed town? I had dinner and a beer with the internet cafe owner, and even chatted with a local court worker in English. Surely they know that the town they live in is closed to foreigners. I don’t have the courage to ask him tonight, however in the morning the next day I asked, and he said of course he did not know. “You didn’t know, I didn’t know, and yet we must pay a fine”. He made a few gestures that described his feelings towards the local authority…

Expensive bit of paper - my 500RMB fine receipt for being in a closed town (Tuargun) in China / 値段のたかい紙 - がいこくじんが非開放地区にはいって、とまってしまったら、ばっきんとして500げんをはらわないといけない

So it was a very expensive day. I leave very early tomorrow morning and head for Yining City. No stopping in towns for 200km.

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Still alive
August 22nd, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

Now we’re talking! Highlights of the last few days:

  • 4200m pass
  • Two 3000m plus passes (both not on the map I have)
  • 170km of rough, rough, mostly uphill in first gear roads
  • Getting really, really hungry and really really sick of Chinese instant noodles
  • Amazing people, amazing generosity
  • Amazing, amazing scenery
  • Cruizing through Mike C’s dad’s birthplace

Hopefully I will have photos up for you tomorrow, and will try to get through all your very supportive comments! They are very appreciated!

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Day 31 - From just outside of Narat to Tuargun Town
August 22nd, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:79.17km
Time on bike / 走行時間:4h 04m
Average speed / 平均速度:19.4km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1392.2km

Woke late at 9:30am after being woken in the night by cows sniffing at the tent and dogs barking. I’m sure I was ripped off by having to pay 20RMB for a spot to camp on a farmer’s land, considering the place I’m staying in now only costs 10RMB a night. As I pushed my bike up the very steep driveway out of the field I was staying in, an old guy on a horse watched on. Once I was up on the road, he told me that I should get a horse. That way I could climb mountains much steeper than that! Yeah, good on ya mate.

Yurts coming into Narat, western China / カザフ族のユルト - ナラット町付近

Until mid afternoon today I had a strong gusty tailwind that helped me keep the pace up down the valley. I zoom into Narat and head down a side street to where some locals were drying wheat by the roadside. They were all very interested to hear that my friend’s father had been raised in Narat, but was now living in New Zealand. The most common question was ‘How on earth did his family manage that?!’. Seeing how most of these people live, I began wondering the same thing.

Narat, western China / ナラット町(中国)

I spent about two hours with the locals chatting and cleaning my bike. They insisted I have lunch there, so I was treated to my favourite (not) spicy noodles for lunch again.

I was pushed by the wind downhill to Alatube, where I stopped for watermelon. Many more Kazakh and Uighyr peoples here than in Narat. So I ask around to see if anyone knows of any Chernishovs living in the area (Mike Chernishov’s dad was born in Alatube). A couple of people appear to know of someone with that last name, so lead me to a house down a few side streets. They leave me as soon as we arrive, so I walk through the open gates into the courtyard.

Nihao! I say loudly. Or at least intend to say loudly. Instead it ends up being a mutter. An old Chinese guy of at least 80 years old comes out of one of the doors, and is surprised but curious to see a bearded foreigner in his courtyard.

“I am a New Zealander. Is your name Chernishov?” I ask.

“You’re a New Zealander?! Welcome to my home!” he says, and then calls his daughter.

The three of us spend about 30 minutes to ascertain why I am standing in their courtyard and the fact that no, they are not Chernishovs. I am offered watermelon, which I had to refuse due to the fact I had just devoured a whole one just 30 minutes prior. They wish me luck for finding a Chernishov, and I carry on out of Alatube, convinced that there are no longer any Chernishovs in Alatube.

Closed doors in Aratube (Alatudo) western China

Quiet streets in Aratube (Alatudo) western China

Mike or Gurian, do you know if there are any Chernishovs left in Narat or Alatube? I guess I should have asked this question sooner!

Just out of Alatube I am crossing a bridge when I notice three guys in the muddy river below splashing about. It’s hot, and I need to cool off, so I jump off my bike and join them. I can now say that I have been in a muddy river in western China naked with three Kazakh men (also naked). It was a great chance to wash my clothes and body after almost a week without a wash. My now clean clothes dry within a matter of minutes in the dry heat.

Three Kazakhs and a New Zealander - Alatube (Alatudo), western China

Further down the road about six local kids leading their goats through the fields stop to talk and look at the bike as I am eating noodles and nan bread for tea. They are all on bicycles, so ride with me for some way once I get on my way. Really a very friendly bunch of peoples in this area.

Local biker boys - Alatube (Alatudo), western China

I arrive in Tuargun town at around 9:30pm, and am intending on riding through to find a campspot on the other side of town when I spot an internet cafe. According to the owner, it has only been open 5 months, and is a roaring sucess because it is the only one in the district. So I decided to stay two nights here to get the website all updated.

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Day 30 - From an unexpected pass to just out of Narat
August 21st, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:123.96km
Time on bike / 走行時間:8h 09m
Average speed / 平均速度:15.2km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1313km

English summary: Ate raw instant noodles again for breakfast. Perfect weather, spent most of morning on dirt tracks next to the main road because they were smoother. Another big 3100m pass that was not expected, afterwards dropped into a beautiful lush valley with clear water stream, horses grazing. Made a mad dash for Narat at 8pm with 60km to go. Didn’t make it, but had fun dodging big potholes in the halflight of the evening. Overcharged for a spot to camp on someone’s land.



Dry ground between Balguntay and Narat, western China / 乾燥している土地 - バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)




Another unexpected pass between Balguntay and Narat, western China - this one 3100m / 期待していなかった峠第2目(こいつが3100m) - バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)


Log cabins with grass roofs near Narat, western China / ログキャビン - ナラット町付近





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Day 29 - Where did that one come from?
August 20th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

 Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:64.63km
Time on bike / 走行時間:5h 24m
Average speed / 平均速度:11.9km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1189km

Well, I guess I was going to have to cross this pass, even if I did have a more detailed map, but it would have been nice to have known about it before time! The bad road continued up and over the pass that did not exist.

Unexpected pass between Balguntay and Narat, western China / 期待していなかった峠 - バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)

Height of unexpected pass between Balguntay and Narat, western China / 期待していなかった峠の標高 - バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)

From my diary:

Freaking noodles again for breakfast. Need to get some rolled oats or something for breakfasts. Don’t care about the weight. Cold, two pairs of woollen socks to avoid cold toes. Crawl up to open fields, and I am certain I am at the top of the pass. Meet a group of eight motorbikers while I am pumping up my tyres in preparation for the downhill that would not apear until two hours later.

I was very happy to find a store near the top of the pass that stocked biscuits and pears. A great change after a few days of only noodles. The road I was on today was really half built. Those going this way in another two years time may find a beautiful sealed road. I would thoroughly recommend it, when it is sealed.

Lunch is instant noodles. I tried to mash them into a paste so that I could just gulp them down, but I had no luck. The same plain noodles that I have to chew. Ugh. The road after lunch continues to be very bad. Many potholes and rough tracks for detours where they are building bridges.

Road works between between Balguntay and Narat, western China / 僕が走っていた道路は建設中でした - バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)

The scenery however is magnificent. MASSIVE steppe with huge mountains on either side of the huge valley. A town I stop in at dinner time has a store with rice, so I am very happy to order a double helping. I can’t believe it when the owner refuses to let me pay.

Camel train between Balguntay and Narat, western China / ラクダの列- バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)

Camp site is in the middle of the massive steppe. Beautiful quietness.

Massive skies between Balguntay and Narat, western China / 壮大な空 - バルグンタイ町とナラット町の間(中国)

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Day 28 - From just outside Balguntay to 32 kilometers from there
August 19th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China

 Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:32km
Time on bike / 走行時間:4h 12m
Average speed / 平均速度:7.6km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1124km

English summary: Still hacked off with China. Loud tooting Chinese drivers, unreasonable Chinese military…but there are some nice Chinese people. A road construction gang insisted that I join them for lunch. It was the same spicy noodles that I had eaten for the last five days, but hey, it was free and the company was appreciated.




One of the many road gangs working hard to fix up the really, really bad road between Balguntay and Narat, western China / 道路を作る友達 - バルグンタイ町へ向かって(中国)

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Day 27 - Base of Shenri Daban Pass to just out of Balguntay
August 18th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories, China, highlights

 Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:84.55km
Time on bike / 走行時間:5h 19m
Average speed / 平均速度:15.8km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:1090.8km

It is official. The Chinese need to introduce another national law that requires all babies born to be given chill pills. Maybe then China will be a much more chilled out place. Skip to the bottom of this post if you want to find out why I am really hacked off right now.

The day started well with a 900m vertical metre climb up the face of a mountain. It was cold with snow on the ground and in places on the road. Just before the zig zags began there was a small gathering of yurts where I was invited in for milky tea and stale bread for breakfast. This was a welcome change from noodles.

Early morning sunshine towards Shenli Daban Pass, western China / 早朝の日射し - シェンリダバン峠へ向かって

Yurt at the base of Shenli Daban Pass, western China / カザフ族のユルト - シェンリダバン峠へ向かって

I had frozen gear cables and brake cables, so I only had one gear and front brakes that locked up at will. Lucky for me, for the first three hours of the day I only needed one gear (the easiest), and going up hill I rarely needed the brakes.

Um, no, really, it was really, really steep - Shenli Daban Pass, western China / ほんんんっとうにきつかったとです - シェンリダバン峠(天山山脈、中国)

I was secretly stoked at how well my body was coping with the altitude at the top. That was what I was most worried about when considering going this way over to Narat. I had heard many bad things about altitude sickness, and I wasn’t too keen to experience it. However even after being photographed numerous times at the top by rich fourwheel driving Chinese people, I was still feeling fine.

Who said recumbents can't climb hills? Shenli Daban Pass, western China / リカンベントは坂、問題ない - シェンリダバン峠(天山山脈、中国)

Now, those of you that thought that perhaps my brakes and gears would thaw out once I got going, please think again. No thawing action for me until about half way down the other side. This gave for a much more slow decent than I had hoped for, but the road was bad enough that any great speed would not have been possible anyway.

Massive ruts coming down from Shenli Daban Pass, western China. And my brakes were frozen. / シェンリダバン峠から降りて、道路が悪化する - シェンリダバン峠(天山山脈、中国)

I took one hour out for lunch at 3500m, and after being given a watermelon by a passing truck (man, that was a good watermelon), I was on my way with brakes and gears all in order. The valley opened up into massive steppe with horsemen driving unsaddled horses down the hills. The road continued to be unsealed, however it was in good enough condition to squeeze up to 45km/h out of the bike (yes, I was wearing my helmet!).

Wide valley after Shenli Daban Pass, western China / 広い谷 - シェンリダバン峠から降りて(天山山脈、中国)

The downhill lasted all day, however the road conditions did not. For the last two hours or so of riding I was riding on pot holes with bits of road interspersed between them. The bike handles the bumps well however, and loose gravel, while scary, is fine as long as you keep a light grip on the steering. Letting the bike go where it wants (to a degree) is the key to keeping it (and you) upright.

So that brings me to what is putting a fire in my bottom tonight. I am currently sitting in my tent that I put up in the dark amongst houses in a small town. I had originally put the tent up in a nice field next to a river after getting the permission of the owner and two uniformed army soldiers. However, at about 9:30pm (20 minutes before dark), four army bigwig-looking fellas stroll up and start asking lots of probing questions about where I had come from, where I plan on going, where is your passport, where is your official itinerary…

It appears that I had pitched my tent too close to a very small army base. “For our safety” we would like for you to move your tent one kilometre away up stream. I didn’t have much option but to pack all my gear up and leave. So there I was fuming as I biked along trying to find another spot to camp in the dark.

I’m a New Zealander, for goodness sake! What on earth could the threat be from me? I guess all foreigners are suspicious until proven otherwise. Or just suspicious full stop. So there we go. If you see an army base in China, just keep biking. If you can see it from your tent, you are a spy.

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