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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Switching pulling hands ever so often to battle the fatigue on my forearms, I made satisfactory progress up the often steep switchbacks.
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.
I finally arrived at the top at 7pm. One an a half hours before dark.
Clouds enveloped the heights, shrouding the prayer flag tower eerily.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
It was not until 2pm that I made it out of the monastery.
I continued skating west along Provincial Road 304, along the wide descending river plain.
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.
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!
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.
Despite the half-day off in O-po on the 26th, my head cold was not getting any better. I kept under wraps for two days in the small settlement of O-po, doing nothing much more than sleep and take the odd photo out of the two-storey window.
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.
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?
After this ‘surgery’ the butchering began. Began by skinning the animal.
Then gut the animal and carefully extract the blood for future use.
Take the carcass away to be sold, and keep all the innards for the family’s consumption.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today’s distance / ???????: 33.8 miles / 54.4km
Average speed / ????: 6.2mph / 10km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 26m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5457mi plus 377mi (?) / 8782km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 1,360m
Descent / ??: 125m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 00′ 37.60″, E100° 53′ 49.20″
Waking up with a mild head cold this morning, the start did not bode well for today’s gruelling climb. By the end of the day, I was ready to collapse.
The day was slow, all day. From Minlou, for the first 30km, I continued past fields of yellow flowers.
Farmers cheerfully pedalled their tricycles up the slope to tend to their fields.
Numerous bee keepers along the roadside braved the insects’ stings as they collected the fruit of their flying friends’ labour.
About 30 seconds after taking this photo, the inevitable happened. I was wearing my helmet, of course, but a bee found its way inside the helmet by way of one of the ventilation holes. I had had a hair cut the way before in Minlou. A nice and short number one. Bad idea.
This was sting number one. As a result, I was not able to wear my helmet. The padding would rub on the sting.
Only 30 minutes later, inevitable number two happened.
On this particular occasion, I more or less saw it happening. Bee hives are all along this stretch of Highway 227. The bees seem to have a predetermined flight path. There are trees all along the highway, and where ever there is a patch of bee hives, the bees will travel in fast moving swarms across the road between gaps in the trees. Anyone traveling along the highway must travel straight through the bees’ flight paths. The sting above happened in one such flight path.
After that I tied a small towel to my head to ward off any other stings. People travelling on bicycles and tractors would cover their heads with their jackets as they travelled. A veritable war zone.
Soon enough the bee keeper zone faded out as I climbed further up the pass. By altitude 2,800m, it was too high for the bee keepers. Green fields gave way to a narrow rocky gorge.
My legs and lungs were well and truly feeling the effects of a 20 day hiatus in skating. The altitude was playing havoc on me also. Every 100m or so I would have to stop to catch my breath. 2 months of flat skating across the low-altitude desert of Xinjiang, while mentally exhausting, does not shape one physically.
By the way, the rig got new wheels in Hong Kong. These are slightly smaller than my original wheels. They are 85mm wheels from a company called Seismic. 85mm Seismic Speed Vents, they are called. 79a is the hardness, which is slightly harder than my original wheels. My original wheels were 97mm, and 78a hardness. So far I don’t notice much difference between the wheels, except that I feel bumps more obviously with the new harder wheels.
I relegated the 97mm wheels to the trailer, and I noticed an immediate difference in the handling of the trailer. Much more stable, due to a slightly wider stance. They are also more likely to slide, rather than grip, which means that the trailer is less likely to tip on hard turns.
As I continued to climb into Qinghai Province, the Qinghai Tib*etan heritage began to appear.
Qinghai was once part of Tib*et, so the vast majority of minorities here are Tib*etan. The structure above is a Tib*etan Buddhist Temple.
The road continued upwards, passing more and more herds of yaks, with the seasonal Tib*etan residents living in their yak fur tents, looking more like some form of Dr. Who creature than a dwelling.
The roads continued to be ultra smooth up the pass.
However, despite the smooth surface, I found the going increasingly tough. I had hoped to make it to O-po by that night, however I was moving much slower than I had expected. Frequent stops were required as my lungs struggled with the altitude. I am not the strongest when it comes to acclimatisation. In Japan, I once climbed a 2,900m high mountain with Haidee Rich, and I was a mess, while she was absolutely fine. While at rest, every 30 seconds or so, I would have to take five or six deep, rapid breaths to ‘catch up’, after feeling like I was suffocating.
Today wasn’t as bad as that, but I could tell that my lungs were not getting enough oxygen to keep my body happy.
I was also running out of food. My head was still stuffed up with the head cold. As I glanced sideways, I felt dizzy. Ugh, just get me over this pass, I thought, as I pushed on.
At about 3,600m, I stopped to film myself slowly inching up the pass. As I was setting up my camera, three children from a tent not far off the road ran over. They were naturally enthralled with the foreigner on the skateboard, and apparently along with their parents, had seen me from far away struggling up the pass.
After the normal questions, the inevitable came. “Come and stay at our place tonight! You are tired. You can sleep here tonight, and carry on tomorrow.”
Many of you are no doubt thinking that anyone would be thrilled to be invited to stay with a traditional Tib*etan family in their tent. At that very point in time, I wasn’t I just wanted rest. I felt like I had no energy to entertain a family. An entertain it is, inevitably, when you are invited in. Energy is required to communicate. Energy is required to force down strange and unfamiliar foods. I did not feel like I had the energy.
“I’m sorry, but my friend is waiting for me in O-po,” I lied.
“Well, at least come and have some yoghurt,” the eldest child of about 15 said. She said the magic word. The last time I had yak yoghurt was in Tajikstan, and it was a magic experience. The stuff is awesome.
The youngest child, pictured below coveting the longboard, was happy. I detached the trailer from the skateboard, and he took control of the longboard and happily transported it across the grass to their tent.
Upon arrival at the tent, I was ushered in and fed a large bowl of yak yoghurt. It tasted even better than I remembered it. A good tablespoon of sugar on top. Wonderful stuff. It rejuvenated me to no end.
Later on I gave my camera to the kids to take photo of things with. Below are some of the pics they took of their environment.
The little gopher/hamster/rodent creature was one of thousands on the fertile grassy steppe up there. They are literally everywhere, and will run in and out of the tent.
In the family’s stock, they had yaks and sheep. “How much do you sell a sheep for?” I asked.
“A lamb will sell for 300RMB (30 Euro), while a full grown sheep will sell for 500 RMB (50 Euro),” the father replied. “We would sell a fully grown yak for 6,000RMB (600 Euro).”
Later in the evening, three men arrived on motorcycles and talked to the father. I overheard the father say “forty thousand”. After they had left, I asked what was fourty thousand.
“The youngest sheep dog there,” he said pointing. “40,000RMB for him. He is from an excellent line.”
That’s 4,000 Euro for a sheep dog. In China. That’s a lot of money in China.
After some gentle persuasion, I was convinced to stay the night. It was getting late, and I no longer had any desire to continue over the pass.
As per my expectations however, dinner was a struggle. Despite the fact that many may consider me a hardened international traveller, I am still soft as anything when it comes to spicy food. Tonight’s dinner was noodles in an impossibly spicy soup. The whole family had downed two bowls of the stuff before I had even finished one bowl.
Of course, to refuse a refill would be impolite, and I was still hungry, so I nibbled away at the second bowl until I had finally finished that one too. A big bowl of yak yoghurt would be great right now, I thought, but unfortunately none appeared, my mouth and lips burning.
As if on cue, at 9pm, a light rain began. My gear was still outside, so we rushed to take it over to the sleeping tent. This was the cue for everyone to hit the hay. I was glad…as much as I enjoyed talking with the family, the fatigue of skating all day was still a reality. I was out to it as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Today’s distance / ???????: 43.2 miles / 69.5km
Average speed / ????: 8.1mph / 13km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 20m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5423mi plus 377mi (?) / 8728km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 820m
Descent / ??: 45m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 26′ 05.00″, E100° 48′ 47.40″
“Just get out. Get out on the road.”
My mind was telling me that I was well rested after 20 days of no skating. My mind likes to tell me lies like that when it’s keen to get moving.
The reality was that I was unfit after 20 days of no skating. I was knackered after getting to Minlou.
My mind pushed me on however. Past the numerous watermelon stands lining China National Highway 227. Constantly uphill.
I knew that in the distance somewhere there was a 3,800m high pass that would take me to the capital of Qinghai Province, Xining. I was tired of the flat lands that I had endured across Xinjiang, and I wanted to add a decent high pass to my journey by skateboard. Every good long distance tour has a decent 3,000m plus high pass in there somewhere. I’ll be darned if I finish this trip without a decent pass under my belt.
Compared with a month ago in Gansu, wheat fields here are ready to be harvested.
Harvesting here is done by machine, with the left overs stacked high.
It was hot today, despite the altitude. By the end of the day I was at over 2,000m. Despite this, I was in shorts and t-shirt.
A welcome diversion to the heat and uphill was a solar-cooker production yard. These simple but very effective devices are used to boil water.
The workers told me that they sell for between 150RMB and 200RMB (about 20 Euro) each. It takes five days to complete one, and they can produce 100 per month. With the abundance of strong sunlight here, these devices are in popular demand. No wonder, considering the cheap price. What a great alternative energy source.
One of the workers took me inside a compound where they kept the completed solar devices. I rummaged inside my pocket for a piece of paper to test the heat output.
“Hang on a minute,” the worker said.
He went behind a building and came back a moment later with a large piece of cardboard. He laid it atop the protruding ring in the middle of one of the mirrors, and adjusted the angle of the mirror.
Within a few seconds, the intensely directed light on the cardboard was causing the cardboard to smoke. Within a minute, a dark black hole had been burned in the center of the cardboard. It was impossible to keep one’s hand in the focal point of the light for more than a second. Such intense heat.
“Have some watermelon with us!” the worker said.
The other two workers had come to watch, and we all went inside their kitchen and quickly devoured a sweet watermelon. As usual, I was forced to each much more than I could handle…but when it comes to watermelon, I’m not complaining. And yes, I am sunburnt.
After the refreshing watermelon, I made my way on again towards Minlou. Ever gradual uphill.
In Hong Kong I bought some new shoes. Concerned that the summer heat would be unbearable in my thick padded skate shoes, I have changed to sandal-like shoes by shoe company Keen.
I much prefer these to the skateshoes. They are more comfortable, and the breeze across my feet is a welcome change!
I arrived in the small town of Minlou at around 7pm. I checked into a cheap hotel (4 Euro) and enjoyed the cool air through my open window. The altitude here is about 2,300m, so the night air is much cooler than in Zhangye.
As I was sitting in the internet cafe waiting for this batch of photos to upload, I managed to polish off about 1kg (2 Jin) of lychees. Lychees are well and truly in season here now, and I am loving it. I see on that Wikipedia link there that by consuming 1kg of lychees, I also consumed 1,200% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C. Rich in Vitamin C, they are.
Back in Zhangye now. Very jaded after far too long on trains, and a 20-day visa mission in Hong Kong.
But I am stoked to be back, and am keen to get back on the road. 2,500km of smooth blacktop await, along with a nice 3,800m high pass to start the action off in the next couple of days.
From Hong Kong I got the train to the massive city of Guangzhou. At Guangzhou central train station, the only ticket I would be able to get direct to Lanzhou was a hard seat, four days later. Many, many people are travelling at this time of year.
I decided to get a ticket to Shian, a city about 750km east of Lanzhou. I could still only get a hard seat ticket, and had to wait a day in Guangzhou. The prospect of 30 hours on a hard seat did not appeal, but I had no choice. My visa time is precious. I only have a 30 day visa, so with the allowed extensions, that’s only 90 days in the country.
So with ticket in hand after a 2 hour wait in line at the train station, I went out to find myself a cheap hotel. That would be harder than I expected.
For some reason, the plethora of cheap inns that one usually finds near train stations does not seem to exist in Guangzhou. After 30 minutes of walking around, one of the hotel hawker ladies saw me and offered me a room at a ‘nearby hotel’ for 120RMB. I said I was looking for something no more than 60RMB.
She scratched her head and reluctantly decided to lead me to a dingy apartment block with dark holes for rooms. 60RMB would get me a ‘room’ literally not much bigger than the dimensions of the bed itself, with no windows.
Guangzhou is hot by the way. Muggy. 120% humidity. I was shown that room after lugging all my gear up 5 stories of stairs. I told her that the room was worth no more than 30RMB. She got offended. I left in search of an internet cafe where I knew that I could pay 15RMB and spend the night dozing there.
I slept little that night (19th of July), and little the following night too, in the same internet cafe. I could have paid 120RMB (12 Euro) for a room at a nice hotel, but I was being stubborn out of principle. Dumb.
The train ride from Guangzhou to Shian was horrid. I am sitting here in Zhangye, and my behind still hurts. I slept little in the 30 hours it took to get to Shian. Cattle Class as I have heard it referred to, the hard seat class is overcrowded to say the least. Ugh.
I arrived in Shian on the 21st of July, and went straight to the ticket counter to try to get a train onwards to Zhangye. The only ticket left for Shian to Zhangye was a soft sleeper ticket for a train leaving 10am the next day. At 384RMB for the 12 hour train ride, it was more than three times the price of the 116RMB hard seat ticket for the 30 hour train ride from Guangzhou to Shian. But I was not about to argue. Soft sleeper it was.
So here I am. Back in Zhangye. I arrived at 1am in the morning last night. I skated the 10km into town from the train station in the dark, once again marvelling at the wondrous smooth roads of China. Checked into a random inn, slept little because of cigarette smoke filtering through the walls from the next room.
For those who missed the interview on TV3 national TV in New Zealand, here’s the online link:
By the way, thanks to Lee for pointing out that yesterday was the two year anniversary of the 14degrees Journey. I left Japan on the 22nd of July 2006. How time flies!
Sorry, this is really really last minute, but for those readers who are in New Zealand, check me out on Campbell LIVE tonight (Wednesday 16th July) at 7pm on TV3. Spoke to John via satellite today at the Associated Press Office in Hong Kong.
Also, a story about my journey appeared in the South China Morning Post yesterday. Read it here.