Month: June 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Desert temperatures

I knew we would have some hot days and here they are: passing the Gobi desert from Langzhou to Turpan. Our first desert camp is next to the Great wall with several other ‘types’ of camps to follow. After a couple of days in camp we would spend a night in a hotel, then camp again. The landscape is mostly flat-ish, some hils and each day we cycle approximately 140 km with now and then some strong head winds (due to the Gobi desert heating up). And with high temperatures each day! Cycling through desert land is great. Although you don’t expect to see much, there is much to see along the road, small and big.

Looking around when cycling through a desert is somehow different. The landscape is often flat, there are no shops, people or houses nor are there trees or farmland. Instead there are dry rivers, long empty roads, lots of winds, lots of sun as well, telegraph lines, GSM towers (I know this sounds weird, but they are located along the road), road signs, trucks, empty beer bottle, road workers or a mosque in a small village. And sometimes there are some animals like camels or corn crickets. Most gas stations are used to buy an iced tea. There was this one gas station with air conditioning and a chair right under it! Really really nice!

Cycling through a desert is also different because there are no ‘natural’ stops; not even a gas station. So it happens that I’m cycling 60 or 70 km before making a stop. And in this heat, that’s a long ride. There is no shade, no places to relax, so the best thing to do is to keep pedaling. Thanks to Nate or Ingrid we have a lunch somewhere around 75 km. Lunches are great and with a canopy there is shade! Fresh fruit and we’re able to make our own sandwiches. My favorite is still tuna salad with tomato, cucumber and a little bit of ketchup. Egg salad is great as well! Lunch at 09:30 AM usually takes 20 minutes before I’m off again. I try to reach camp before it’s too hot to cycle and when leaving at 06:30 AM I arrive usually before 14:00 PM in camp. There is soup and after setting up my tent I usually hang out a bit or listen to music.

After dinner I usually go for a walk. On our second desert camp there was this impressive mountain close by. The thing with mountains is that I usually wanna see what’s there to see from the top, and because I knew that it might be a bit dangerous, I notified Paul that I was climbing that mountain. It was easier than I thought it would be, but then again, there was a ‘mountain-behind-the-mountain-and-one-on-the-other-side’. So it turned out to be quite a walk ;-). Between the first and second mountain I met Chris who also went for a walk. With the hard wind it was great to walk through this area! The views were magnificent! From the top I could see that there were approximately 25 wild (?) camels walking close to camp. And since I was planning to sleep in the open, for the first time without a tent, which was actually a bit exciting.

In my view there are different kinds of deserts with a mix of sand, rocks, hills, with or without small bushes. The environment changes not that often and the roads are long. And all a sudden there is life in the middle of nowhere. Water can change the surroundings completely! On the road to Turpan (hottest town in China) the surroundings change and there are many and many vineyards. And then there are all these strange storage buildings. It seems that these vineyards are used to produce raisins rather than wine. And these structures are used to let the grapes dry. It’s an unexpected thing to realize since I always eat them and never thought about where they came from.

So cycling through desert land is still exciting, and hot. And the good thing is that there is much more to come! The next 11 days I’ll be traveling to Kashgar, along the Taklamakan desert. More sand, more long roads, more beautiful stars at night and more iced tea at gas stations!

A beautiful cycling day in China

This was a great and beautiful day!

The daily riders briefing: 148 km, climbing slowly all day.

Leaving town, the road is closed for traffic due to a big marathon (30,000+ runners): no cars, buses or trucks, and completely free for the group of Silk Road riders. Approximately 15 kilometers through the city on bicycles, riding at the middle of the streets! Sightseeing at its best! Soon after these easy going 15 km the group splits into smaller groups, most riders teaming with a person usually riding in the same pace. Candice and I usually ride together and since we haven’t seen each other on the rest day, we soon were catching up. Before we know it we were already at the lunch place, halfway through the 148 kilometer trek. Ingrid made a great lunch: spicy meat with grated carrot and cabbage, sesame oil and vinegar, sliced tomatoes and cucumber (which is always tasty and crispy) and a little mustard! Ingrid had also fresh mangos! Delicious!

I bought an orange juice and an iced tea for lunch, which I’d probably drank a little too quickly. When we drove away my stomach felt like one large water bottle so we rode the first kilometer easy. When we saw a little temple through an open door, we decided to make a stop and have a look. We parked our bicycles inside and had a sit under a large bell. That helped a lot. The temple was incredibly beautiful and well maintained, or just new, and a woman invited us for a walk around the complex. Gorgeous colors! Beautiful drawings and carvings, great Buddha images and sculptures, impressive prayer wheels, very nice painting.

Buddhism is something I’m interested in, but I have actually never studied it in detail. Nevertheless, based on gestures of the woman, and according tradition, we bowed and kneeled three times before Buddha. That was somehow a special moment!

Candice and I often ride together, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes there is a photo moment, toilet stop or a nice view. Then we’re one or more kilometers apart. We have the same interests, good conversations, the same pace and share the way we want to experience China by bicycle. She’s a great Silk-Road-cycle-friend! Today, somewhere along the trek, Candice was approximately one kilometer behind me and I had just taken a picture of some old men playing chess. A minute later, I didn’t see Candice anymore so I slowed down a bit. After another minute she was still not within sight and after 5 minutes I decided to go back. Accidents happen and I was a bit concerned, but when I met Mun Yew she said that Candice was playing chess with the old men! And indeed, she wanted to take a picture and could not refuse the invitation for playing a game. We watched the game for half an hour or so while drinking a cola, when one of the old men invited us at his place. Such an invitation is obviously great! After about 15 minutes we arrived at the house of the old man (sorry, I didn’t really catch his name). His wife was waiting for him and you could see she was somewhat surprised that her husband was accompanied by two foreigners. She made a cup of tea for us and we got a slice of cake and a piece of turnip (?). The “cake” was more a piece of very dry bread and difficult to eat, but the people were just so super friendly. I wish we could have talked more than we did; not knowing the Chinese language makes it quite difficult to communicate.

Their living room, basically their whole house, is approximately 6 by 6 meters, and contains a wooden stove with two burners, a dresser a desk, a bench and a very large hard bed. With gestures we found out that these people have a son who lives in Langzhou. The old man looked carefully at the post card I brought with me of the Netherlands. He recognizes some pictures, like a goat and with some gestures that one of the old buildings in Amsterdam is a house. But how do you explain ‘cheese’? Cheese is something that you can eat, and that’s OK. He finds a covered wagon with a horse in front very interesting. We try to explain that we are traveling by bicycle from Shanghai to Kashgar. We are not trying to explain that our actual goal is Istanbul since we noticed that many people find that hard to imagine. We get a warm goodbye as we head back towards Tianzhou on our bicycles. What a great friendly people! It is without doubt one of my best experiences in China!

At the moment we hit the main road again, we run into Nate. He is very surprised to see us because normally he never sees us at the back of the group. He is ‘sweeping’ and securing no one is left behind. We drive some time together and at one point Candice heads in front of us. Her music gives her some extra speed and the distance between us increases until she is out of sight. Nate and I talk quietly and peddling easy. With 30 kilometers left, we arrived in a village with a temple on a hill. We are in for a break and park our bikes down the hill. What immediately strikes is something you can’t ignore: a local music concert organized by and for about 80 people. I can tell you that you would never hear this on the radio. We walked around and look from above the hill over the city. It is interesting to see how China can combine ancient culture with a less beautiful, modern society. With a little head wind and a few small drops of rain, we arrive at our Tibetan hotel in Tianzhu.

Tianzhu is a town in the southwestern corner of Gansu province and is home to a large ethnic Tibetan population. Whether it is due the autonomic regions own authority or not, Tianzhu is a clean and somehow idyllic mountain-like city. The hotel is situated just off the road and has a great shower and a super firm mattress. What more could you want? The hotel also has restaurant and it’s my first experience with the famous Yak. Its meat is actually quite good. Nice and firm!

After dinner I have a walk with Nate and Ingrid, looking for typical old Chinese-man sunglasses! The ones you see many old men wearing. It is real glass and heavy on the nose! But it’s great! On a square, we see a group of people ball room dancing and of course the usual sight: a group of women dancing and doing light gymnastics. Two young girls offer Ingrid a homemade bracelet to her surprise, really great! I climb on a large rock with a lot of children and in the shortest time they are hanging over me. We’re taking some pictures and show them. They laugh and get even wilder. It is funny to see that all the girls get around Ingrid, and all the boys around Nate and me. There are some English words here and there, but mainly it’s laughing and giggling.

In the lobby had a nice conversation with Chris, and then my battery was empty. Time to go to bed. What a great day it was!

 

Xian – another highlight

Xian is absolutely one of the silk roads highlights! It is the capital of the Shaanxi province and one of the oldest cities in China with more than 3,100 years of history. Xian has more than 8 million inhabitants and is home of the famous Terracotta Army.

After a 122 km journey with just a few climbs in the morning, we arrived in Xian metropolitan area. Although it’s a big city, cycling through it is easy. Traffic is relaxed and the flagging is properly done. After cycling most of the day on my own, I met Candice at a busy intersection. Together we find our way, the last 10 km to the hotel, which was a bit confusing at the end. Apparently there was extra flagging for the support vehicles, which was a dead end for us… anyway, after reaching the hotel, we checked into our rooms and went for McDonalds, just around the corner! Ice cream for Candice, milkshake for Jan 😉

I went for a walk through the old Muslim quarters, and found myself walking in very narrow streets with a lot of people, ‘restaurants’, and al kind of stuff for sale. Really interesting to see what people eat, drink or otherwise consume. My favorite was the ‘egg-kebab-stick’. Or maybe the ‘sticky-rise-with-sugar-dessert-stick’. Ah, and I found the bicycle bell I was looking for. It’s like an old traditional bell, with two bells, producing a great ring-ring-ring-ring sound! My roommate Pascal says I put too much stuff on my bike, but it is good fun! The old Muslim quarter is a great place to walk around, relax, look at all what’s for sale, eat a little bit here and there. Perfect ending of a nice Silk Route day.

Although it was a rest day, I had to get up early. Zaibi has organized a tour to the Terracotta Army. This collection of terracotta sculptures was discovered by a group of farmers when they were digging a water well in the spring of 1974.

The warrior and horse sculptures are a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

It’s a one hour drive from the hotel and we get there around 08:30AM being one of the first. A Chinese tour guide, he ‘working name is Simon’, led us to the first and largest pit. Impressive! To me it seems a pretty weird idea to create terracotta warriors for the afterlife. But then again: different times, different ideas. And these terracotta warriors were made more than 2000 years ago. Although there are many warriors and I can imagine that it was a lot of work to create these, the size of the hall makes the sculptures themselves rather small. Even more due to the distance from where I’m able look at the sculptures.

Still, walking around the three pits, the terracotta warriors are impressive! It gives a really nice insight on China’s history. This has always been, and still is, a very proud nation which has created impressive things, including this terracotta army.  And although there are many sculptures still buried in the ground and restoration will take a long time before completed, this was absolutely one of my highlights so far!

 

The afternoon is spend in bicycle cleaning, laundry and again a McDonalds Milkshake 😉

What a great city Xian is!

 

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