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August 13th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China

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Distance: about 60km

 Got away from Heavenly Lake late at 11am, and already the tourists were there in their hoards. I couldn’t believe that there was a like band playing cheesey pop music at a very loud volume at such a beautiful otherwise tranquil place. Are us humans that addicted to loud gaudy stimulus? It defeats me.

 Today’s camp spot was amongst the dry hills between Heavenly Lake and Urumqi. So quiet and still.

Desert campsite (somewhere between Urumqi and Heavenly Lake) / 烏魯木斉と天池の間

To get out of view of the road, I had to cycle about 1km into the hills on hard clay and foliage that included some nasty thorns. I am impressed with the tyres I am using though (the indestructible Schwalbe Marathon Plus). I counted 81 thorns in my tyres as I took them out (55 front, 26 back), but none caused a puncture.

Big meaty thorns cannot hurt these tyres! / このタイヤ、強いよ!これでもパンクなし (烏魯木斉と天池の間)

Big meaty thorns cannot hurt these tyres!/ このタイヤ、強いよ!これでもパンクなし(烏魯木斉と天池の間)

The dry hills were teeming with life.

Hey little fella (North of Urumqi) / おう、あなた!ちっちゃいな(烏魯木斉と天池の間)

Big beauty in small things (North of Urumqi) / 小さなもの、壮大な美しさ(烏魯木斉と天池の間)

Distance: about 60km

 Got away from Heavenly Lake late at 11am, and already the tourists were there in their hoards. I couldn’t believe that there was a like band playing cheesey pop music at a very loud volume at such a beautiful otherwise tranquil place. Are us humans that addicted to loud gaudy stimulus? It defeats me.

 Today’s camp spot was amongst the dry hills between Heavenly Lake and Urumqi. So quiet and still.

Desert campsite (somewhere between Urumqi and Heavenly Lake) / 烏魯木斉と天池の間

To get out of view of the road, I had to cycle about 1km into the hills on hard clay and foliage that included some nasty thorns. I am impressed with the tyres I am using though. I counted 81 thorns in my tyres as I took them out (55 front, 26 back), but none caused a puncture.

Big meaty thorns cannot hurt these tyres! / このタイヤ、強いよ!これでもパンクなし (烏魯木斉と天池の間)

Big meaty thorns cannot hurt these tyres!/ このタイヤ、強いよ!これでもパンクなし(烏魯木斉と天池の間)

The dry hills were teeming with life.

Hey little fella (North of Urumqi) / おう、あなた!ちっちゃいな(烏魯木斉と天池の間)

Big beauty in small things (North of Urumqi) / 小さなもの、壮大な美しさ(烏魯木斉と天池の間)

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August 12th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China

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Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:104km
Time on bike / 走行時間:7h 46m
Average speed / 平均速度:13.4km/h
Total distance to date / 現在までの積算距離:761.4km
Altitude gain: 1300m 

English Summary: Big day with big rewards including free dinner and a beaut spot to camp on some Kazakh’s land. The ride from Urumqi to Heavenly Lake is a killer, but very worth it. Plan to arrive late to avoid the crowds. I arrived just before dark (9:30pm). Needed to get out of the city while waiting for my Kyrgyz visa.

中国にはすっごい景色がありました!天池というところにありました!ほら!

Now we're talking - Heavenly Lake western China / 天池、最高

旅館をでたのは朝7:30でした。月曜日にキルギスのビザを取りにまた烏魯木斉に戻らないといけないけど、2日間その町にいたくない。という思いをこめて烏魯木斉の北にある天池へ向かいました。距離は烏魯木斉から110km。標高は2000mなので、烏魯木斉から下がって、また登ったら、合計1300mを登らないといけませんでした。1日でつくかつかないかという条件でした。

写真でわかりますが、1日でなんとか着きました。夕暮れ直前の9:30に着きました。しかし、今日の主役は天池ではなくて、途中で出逢ったカザフスタンの人々でした。烏魯木斉に多いウィーグル族がほとんどいなくて、天池から流れる川の側でユルトで住む人たちは在中国カザフ族です。とにかくやさしい人々です。

あるハプニングですが、7時ごろに腹が減りました。減るもんですから。おなかが減ると自然と食べるところを探し始めます。私が探し出したのはユルトのそばの食処っぽい台所でした。

<ここでポロはありますか。>と私が聞きました。

<あァ、ありますよ。ここで食べてください!>と台所のお姉さんが。

おいしいポロ飯を食べたあと、お財布を出して、<いくらですか>と私が聞いたら、

<いいえ、要らないよ!要らない!>と。

へ?

それでわかりました。ここは食処ではなくて、普通の家庭でした。カザフ族の優しさに感動しながら天池へ向かいました。

Um, camels? / 本物のラクダた!

そして夜ご飯を食べて、天池に近づいたところ、人が向こうから馬に乗ってやって来ているではないか。どうも仕事から帰って来ている様子。しかし僕を見かけたら、

<おオ!You speak English? I speak little English.>と明らかに酔払っているように向こうが大声で言う 。

と僕が。

<この紐をもちなさい!カザフ馬、とっても強い。その強さみせてやる!>と言われたら紐が私のほうへほうり投げられた。紐をつかむとそのカザフ人が馬を動かし、結局3kmほどの上り坂僕を引っ張りました。とても陽気なヤツでした。ちょっと酒臭かったが。

そして天池は間違えなくきれいです。上りが相当きつかったですけど、ニュージーランドの景色を上回りそうな美しさでした。

IMG_0451

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August 11th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China,planning/prep

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Lynley asked why it is that I took a train across China rather than biking across. I think this is a very good question and it deserves a good answer.

Actually it is quite easy. I need to get through Tajikistan before winter.

I am planning on cycling the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. This is a road that at parts follows the border between Tajikistan and Afganistan. It is also a road that for its majority is at an altitude of over 3500m, and has passes at 4600m. To do this in late autumn or early winter would be rather dangerous. Therefore unfortunately I could not afford to take up to two months to get across China on my bike.

Maybe next time. ;)

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August 11th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China

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I have uploaded some photos directly to my server from the last few days. They are all very large photos, so beware…

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August 11th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China,website

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Well people, sorry for the lack of photos. The Great Firewall of China is blocking access to flickr.com, the site that I use to organize, resize, and store my photos online. Does anyone know of a way of getting around this?

Urumqi is dry dry dry. Already have in my possesion my Kazakhstan visa, and I go to pick my Kyrgyz visa up on Monday avo. After that it’s over the Tianshan mountain range to take some photos of a friend’s dad’s hometown. There is a big fat 4500m pass in the way though, so it may take a week or so to get there.

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August 9th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China

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Where do I start?

So I lug all my gear down the stairs to the platform after being guided through the labarynth of accessways of Beijing West Station by a first-class use only porter, to find myself at the very back of the train. 18 carriages and a very sore shoulder later I arrive at my carriage. Carriage number seventeen. Over the 45 hours it would take to get to Urumqi, row 22 of carriage number seventeen would become my world.

I got onto the train 1 hour before it was due to leave, so I was the first of the row 22ers to arrive. It is always a good idea to get on the train early in the hard seat section, or you may find your baggage put somewhere you can’t keep an eye on it rather than above your seat.

About 20 minutes later three men, one in his 20′s, one in his 30′s and one who appeard to be in his 60′s arrived at row 22. I didn’t notice it right away, but they were speaking a language that was not at all like Chinese, and they had a demeanour about them that seemed to ooze a mix of pride and joviality. The older fellow was wearing a square-ish embroidered hat that only covered the top of his head and did not suggest any practability when it came to keeping the sun of his head or face.

The first conversation the four of us tried to have failed terribly, and the situation only improved once I got out my pen, paper, and life saving ‘Picture Talk’ booklet. The first exchange of culture was when we discussed what meat I eat in New Zealand (even after I drew a simple world map, they were still not sure what or where New Zealand was). They pointed to the picture of a cow, sheep and chicken. Yes, yes, yes, I said. They also pointed to the pig Yes, I said. That was received with an expression of jovial disapproval. So next I pointed to the pig and I was replied with a great flurry of waving of hands and ‘no, no, no’ in a strong Arabic kind of accent. They were all laughing as if to say ‘of course not! What are you talking about?!’

Around this time, more and more of these mystery people piled onto the train. The lucky ones who got tickets with seats shooed the ones without out of their seats. ‘Who are these people?’ I was thinking when I heard in perfect English ‘Hello, where are you from?’ It was Behtiyor, a university student from Beijing who also happened to be one of these people who did not look at all Asian. ‘More importantly, where are you people from?’ I asked. Behtiyor proceeded to explain that they were the Uyghur people of western China. So what nationality are you? We are Chinese…

I could not get over how very confusing the situation was. Some of these people could not read Chinese, however they were second or third generation Uyghur living in China. They piled onto the train carrying platic bags full of round flat bread, some with mutton peices on top. The women were wearing head scarfs. All very confusing…

The train started moving. I had a twinge of ‘there’s no going back now’ feeling. The first day of scenery was dense population. Fertile land growing all kinds of crops including corn, rice, apples, oranges. Big cities and smaller villages crammed into very small space. Rather than the scenery, the more interesting thing was the interraction of the Uyghur people. A truely jovial lot which included Jilal, a 23 year old chap who had broken his wrist during his trip to Beijing and spent most of the 45 hours on the train with his arm held in the air to alleviate the pain of the fracture. This was however the only indication that it was sore. He was not only jovial but also very vocal. His favourite pastime (apart from eating, by the looks of his rotund belly) was singing Uyghur folk songs and getting in heated coversations with other (Chinese) passengers.

Sleeping on a carriage that only has seats requires a great deal of innovation. This was by no means an exception at row 22. Comradieary (can someone tell me of the spelling of that word?) and cooperation between passengers came into play the most at these times. I was happy to be able to provide my rolled up tent as a pillow for the 60 year old and 30 year old fellows for their makeshift bed on the floor under the seats. With these two on the floor, this meant that in a set of six seats (two rows of three facing each other), there was now room for two people to rest their heads on the middle table, and two to lie down on the remaining seats with their legs hanging in the isle. The latter two are comfy enough, but are woken often when a person needs to get down the isle to go to the loo.

On the first night, I was lying down on the seats with my legs hanging down in the isle. I got no sleep. No, really, I got no sleep. On the second night, I had my head on the table. I slept like a baby. But I’m sure that’s only because I was so exhausted that I would have slept on a bed of nails in a spider infested closet with no worries.

I’m really not sure what people do to keep themselves entertained on such a long journey in a confined space. As for me, I was reveling in the sheer joy of being surrounded by people that were not Asian. Not that I have anything against Asian races, but I guess I just enjoyed the diversity for a change. The language I was surrounded with was so different from any language I had experienced before that just to be in amongst it was sheer joy.

One incident stands out as especially moving. Row 22 was engaged in its usual jovial ranting and raving with the occassional translation from Behtiyor when all of a sudden Behtiyor says ‘I need your help to do my salad.’

‘OK, no problem, I have nothing else to do.’ I replied.

I was still sitting, waiting for something to happen. The other guy on the row of three had already stood, so when Behtiyor indicated that I should also stand, he presently produced a rectangular cloth with a cow skin pattern on it and proceded to lay this down on the row of three seats, and kneel at the end of it. It was at this time that I figured I must have heard something wrong. First, there were no fresh vegetables to be seen. Nor was there any chopping board or knife. There was not going to be any salad made tonight.

Behtiyor’s salad making lasted about 15 minutes and included outstreched arms, some quiet chanting and lots of head to the ground bottom in the air movements. I was to learn later that this is a sarat, a five-times-daily prayer session that all devout Muslims take part in. According to Behtiyor, he thinks that maybe 98 percent of all Uyghur people are Muslim.

The last day of the train journey was the most interesting scenery-wise. I woke up to a moon-scape of stony desert with massive jagged rock mountain ranges in the distance that seemed to simply burst through the desert floor and up into the sky. From what I could see, there were no foothills to speak of. Just desert and mountain. I was filled with a desire to be out of the train and walking on the stony ground. In places the ground would become greener, and the sights though the window reminded me of the Canterbury plains in New Zealand with the Southern Alps in the distance.

Arrival in Urumqi was at 3:15pm, but for some reason it felt like noon. The sun was high in the sky, and I could feel my head burning in the direct sunlight. I asked Behtiyor about this and he explained that even though Urumqi is 3700km away from Beijng, it still officially uses Beijing time. The local unofficial time was indeed noon.

I was grateful again to have Behtiyor with me at the baggage claim counter to get my bike and two panniers that I had checked in at Beijing West Station. According to the woman at the window, the bike had not yet arrived in Urumqi and that I would have to wait until 7pm that evening to receive it. I explained that this could not possibly be the case, as one of the train conductors had asked me when I was on the train whether ‘that strange bike in the baggage carriage’ was mine. Also. I had the receipt for the VIP service I had paid for in order to have my bike removed from the train without delay. After Behtiyor explained this to the microphone in the window glass, we were told by the microphone above to wait for 15 minutes. We had barely sat down when the bike was wheeled out to were we sat. Apart from being very dusty, the bike was in good condition with no damage. I was once again glad to be reunited with it.

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August 6th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China

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Get me out of this crazy city.

It took 30 minutes to bike from Bejing Station to Beijing West station today, but in that 30 minutes my face had collected enough black grime to make a serviet dirty when I wiped my face with it. Very dirty city is this Beijing.

Anyway, I will start from the beginning…

The day started with a 4:50am wake up. Then it was off to Beijing Station to wade through the crowds in order to try to get a train ticket to Urumqi. I was told that the only tickets left were for third class hard seats. At first I refused, and walked away to ponder any other options including flying to Urumqi. But in the end price won out. I paid the 375RMB for my non-reclining seat on the three day train ride. Flying would have cost me 2150RMB…

With my ticket in hand I headed back to the hotel where Mr. Lim was still sleeping. I presently hit the hay until 9am.

After loading the bike up, Mr. Lim and I headed out to make our way to Beijing West Station. Before going our separate ways (him by bus and me by bike), we had breakfast that included rice porrage and steamed buns. Very solid breakfast for only 8RMB for the two of us.

The plan was to meet Mr. Lim at Beijing West Station, however I think that both of us were not aware of the sheer scale of the place. There was no way I was going to find him in the masses of people. So I made my own way to the lugguage sending office. The procedure is fairly straight forward including simply filing in the freight sheet. It does help if you can understand some Chinese characters though. I would imagine however that anyone who did not know any Chinese at all would also get on OK. Very friendly bunch at the office. I paid an extra 30RMB (290RMB in total) to have the bike put on my train, rather than have the bike sent on a separate freight train that could possibly take up to five days to arrive at Urumqi.

Some observations while sitting here in the waiting room:
The Chinese people in this waiting room have a short wick. Toddlers don’t wear nappies. They wear pants with an open crotch. This means that when they squat down everything just hangs out…

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August 6th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories

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I’ve got the ticket to Urumqi in far west China. The only tickets were hard seats. That is, a non-reclining seat for 62 hours. This will be a doozy. Will update again in Urumqi with photos and diary of the last few days of action. That will be in three days or so.

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August 5th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories

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Yes, I be in Beijing. Full details to follow, including a full run down on the crazy adventures over the last few days, but for now, I am in Beijing after a 15 hour train ride (hard seats) and trying to find a train ticket to Urumqi. The info I have at present is that they are all sold out for the rest of the month, however I have a few more leads to look into tomorrow.

Trying to stay cool, Rob.

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August 5th, 2006 | categorizilation: all categories,China

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Today’s Distance / 今日の走行距離:10km
Time on bike / 走行時間:30m

English Summary: Arrived Beijing Station at 1:30pm after spending a night on a hard seat. Had an English speaking student called Tim beside me though, so this helped with conversation with others around me. Thank you Tim! Mr. Lim was on the same train so once again helped greatly with getting my bike from the station. Mr. Lim also found a place for us to stay the night. Really cheap at 25RMB a night. Only problem was that no foreigners allowed. Ended up staying at a 280RMB a night place in a twin room. Single room was the same price, so I paid the bill, considering that Mr. Lim could have stayed somewhere for 25RMB if he was on his own.

午後1:30に北京駅に到着しました。朝から隣の席に座っていた、英語の上手い24歳のTimさん(中国人)と話していた。その会話で、硬座の辛さが少し小減された。列車に乗って10時間目を迎えたら、僕の自転車のシートが恋しくなっていました。自転車自体はいまだに心配でしたが。ちゃんと今日着くのか。別の列車で行っているのであれば、自転車との再会のくる日までにしばらく時間がかかるかもしれませんと・・・

北京駅に着いたのは午後1:30でした。またMr. Limが荷物の手伝いをしてくれました。「ロバートとであって幸せ!」とMr. Limが何回良いながら調子よく一番重いかばんを持ち歩いてくれた。

駅から出てまず最初の仕事は泊まるところを探すことでした。Mr. Limが一泊25元しかしない旅館を探してくれたが、それとあと4箇所は全部中国人のみ。外国人は泊まっては行けないと。結局外国人がとまれるホテルのツイン室をさがしました。値段は255元で、最初の旅館との値段の差はなんと230元でした。安いが、ありえません。シングル室とツイン室の値段が一緒だし、僕にとって230元はそんなに高くないので、僕が部屋代を25元引いて払いました。Mr. Liが一人だったら25元でほかのところにとまれたから。

次の仕事は自転車の受け取り。受け取り場所は駅の裏のところで歩いて20分のところにありました。Mr. Limが一緒に来てくれて窓口の人との交渉をしてくれたが、自転車がちゃんと出てくるまでかなりの緊張。しかし結局もんだいありませんでした。幸せな再会でした。ホテルへ戻る途中で駅の前を通る必要があって、とにかく大騒ぎを起こしました。一回止まったが、それは大間違いでした。一瞬で30人が僕の周りを囲みました。別に怖い雰囲気ではなかったが、30人に囲まれたことがありますか。結構緊張するものです。

早く人の少ないところに行きたい。

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