Sunday, November 12, 2006
Silk Route Trip 2005 - China
6/6/05 Mon Jhinge, (China) some hot, some cold
We got to the border at 7.30am but KZ does not open her border until 9am. I waited and so did everybody until about 8.45am (10.45am China Time).
Since we came into KZ via an Army outpost in the mountains we did not have the correct paper work. In facts we found out that while our passports are ok, none of our bikes were registered as entering KZ. Logically, they can not leave, since they never got there. Is this a mess? Yes, Sir! So checking out of KZ took about 2 hours, some bribes took care of the discrepancies on our part. We left KZ at 11am (1pm China time).
Checking out our passports, filling out forms for all 16 bikes took until 2 pm China time and then it was their lunch hour. Well make that 2 hours for lunch. So now it is 4 pm.
Now we have to have all of our bikes x-rayed. Yes, x-rayed.
But…..we all left the border at 4.30 pm. China can be very efficient. The ride to Jhinge is 5 more hours and China does NOT allow individual riding. You must be in a Group.
One lead car in the front with flashing blinkers, one car in the back of the group with all the spare parts and some of our peoples luggage. The road led over a Pass 2500 Meters high. While the road was mostly good, some sections are still under construction. (China is building the longest Highway from East to West). In the mountains the road was over gravel patches, mixed with finished road sections. Once over the mountains (it is cold up there) we hit partially finished stretches of highway with slow, lumbering trucks all over the place. Mr. Yu (Sim), the Chinese guide, took the initiative and rode over the half finished sections of highway. We, of course, followed! He bluffed his way thru the guards. He prepared himself with a fake document, stamped (fake) with a large red chop and we got thru. Sneaky guy! We are a sight to behold. 16 bikes in column with a lead car blinking away and a backup truck as well. We are impressive and totally out of the ordinary here. We look important, VIP status; even so our bikes are dirty and our clothing shows the road, too. The bluff worked, nobody stopped us. Some guards along the way ‘ran’ to open up the barricades for us, the fake VIP.
We arrived at the Hotel in Jhinge at 8.30pm. Dinner was in a fake yurt and we went to bed at 11 pm. Noticed immediately that the food is now Chinese. We survived the Russian diet.
6/7/05 Tue Ueruemqi, China hot, desert
Gobi means sand & stone. Desert is to the left of me, desert is to the right of me. This section is a totally flat area, no shade anyplace. The temperature is 40 degrees C (100degrees F). 256 miles and thru construction sites of the new highway. Of course we cheated and rode on top of the partially finished highway in various stages of being finished. Mostly our riding was smooth but here and there it got really dicey. We were lucky nobody got hurt. In some sections we could NOT ride the partially finished highway and we had to actually ride THRU the construction. Down half finished concrete ramps. Around unfinished bridges, thru areas where they just poured concrete and along roads used only by construction truck with their huge tires, leaving us struggling with our bikes. It is not a great feeling riding along those trucks, dust all over and visibility down to zero; on bad roads, too. My front tire has a golf ball sized bubble in the left sidewall. It sure is not a great feeling riding on a damaged tire. It can pop at any moment. I talked to some guys on this tour and most wish they could get home. The trip is wearing, mentally and physically. We have 17 days to go. The heat is getting to me. It is hot and while I drink a lot I need to be aware of my mental outlook. I like cooler weather. Just imagine the people who did this on foot! Day in, day out! No modern conveniences! Now THAT must have been tough. On top of that they had to be dealing with ornery camels. They had to be dealing with the smells, the dust, the heat and the thirst, too.
What am I complaining about??????
6/8/05 Wed Ueruemqi Hot, desert
This is a modern, vibrant city. This is the most western city in China. Normally I don’t care for museums but here they show mummies found in the Tukla Makan and one man is 1.85cm tall. (6feet) has a beard and is European. He has a tattoo of a ram horn on each temple. A woman near by has a tattoo of small ram horns next to her nose, right under the eyes. The tattoos are clean, good looking tattoos, well executed and refined looking. Not just some marks but distinguished looking. The man has a pony tail, receding hair line and a hairy body. There are some textiles with the mummies and according to these textiles the year these people lived is the year 200 AD.
Now this is amazing! He is clearly a European, so what did they do here in China in the year 200 AD? The Tukla Makan is a very dry, sandy area with no rain for centuries. These mummies were found in that area. What did they do there? Were they part of a caravan that early in time? Were there more than those two? Are they Royalty? The clothing they wear looks expensive and exquisite. Not something one walks in when crossing the desert.
What was going on way back in 200 AD? Well, these mummies don’t talk, they are mum. Ha-Ha!
No photos are allowed in this museum. (See National Geographic article)
The city bazaar is just a city shopping street. I bought 3 knifes because they will make good gifts. ($18, $18, $13). I also bought a pendant that is unusual and was found in the Tukla Makan. ($37). I could not find it in me to buy a silk carpet. The best price I can get seems to be $ 2500, - for a medium sized carpet. After I spend $ on 4 wool carpets I am carpeted out. I spend too much money on this trip for carpets. I had a foot massage along with Frank and David Ow. It took the gal 1 hour to massage my feet and the price was $ 10.-.
The girls worked hard but I feel no difference at all.
6/9/05 Thu Turfan super hot
This is an oasis city but the weather is still HOT. With 2 air conditioners running full speed, my curtains drawn closed to keep it dark the room temp was still 37 C when I walked in. Outside, in the shade, when I do nothing, I sweat. After 3 hours of the AC running it’s still 85 F in my room. Now imagine our ride today in full gear, going thru roads with so many potholes that I NEVER got out of 2nd gear. I had to learn to shift without using the clutch, letting go of the handlebar or moving it could have been disastrous. How did the caravans do this? No water to boot. Nothing, Nada! Gobi means rocks and sand and it’s the right name. The stuff they use to put down train tracks on the very first layer in road building is what this here looks like. Going on forever, as far as one can see. Nothing but rocks and sand; dirty sand. All I see is gray sand and endless rocks. No vegetations of any kind. Hot rocks as far as I can see, going on and on. Mountains of rocks are visible in the far distance but mostly flat ground with small canyons and depressions in them. One can not walk in a straight line but must always walk around moon craters and jagged holes. The holes or craters or canyons are between 8 to 15 feet deep and………did I tell you its hot? This is Turfan, an oasis in the Gobi. The city itself is a city with streets, traffic lights and people but it’s an oasis. A modern one, but it’s an oasis. All around us is the deadly Gobi.
6/19/05 Fri Turfan hot desert
Jiao-he is on the register of the UNESCO. An ancient ruin from 108 BC made entirely of mud. The city was built on a platform between 2 rivers. This area was an oasis in 108 BC and still is an oasis today. The area around this city is still used today as living space, but the actual city of Jiao-he is just ruins. This is hot climate, no rain; only about 10cm (4”) of rain a year. Amazing that clay structures could last this long, right? The walls are just clay; no straw is used as binder, no binders of any kind. Sun baked bricks are used in some areas but one can see that the city was mostly made by just using wet mud. Build a wall by using mud, let it dry and voila, you have a house wall. Everything was done by hand. I can still see where the roof posts sat. Globs upon globs of wet mud, let to dry in the sun add up to be a wall and living quarters.
The city had North and South gates, watchtowers, cemeteries, wells, etc. It was a large city for it’s time, right here in the middle of the Gobi. According to the digging done around here, the city lasted at least 300 years. Today, no house is left standing, just ruins but clearly an amazing accomplishment of human endurance.
The key, of course, is water. China has 3 amazing building or structural projects from ancient times. We all know the ‘Great Wall” but there is also the huge canal system in the East of China that connects all the major rivers and allowed for transport via water ways. All dug by hand and there are so many canals that it is awe inspiring.
The 3rd awesome construction site is right here in Turfan and the next town of Hami. I am talking about underground water channels. There are many of them. All of them are dug by hand. Like moles digging underground. Ancient, hand dug tunnels that run up to the snow covered mountains of the Tien-Shan range. 5000 KM (3500 miles) of digging underground. Dug by hand and pitched so that the water runs ‘gently’ down the slope towards the town of Turfan. In between, of course underground as well, are huge reservoirs that hold water in reserve for hard times. Everything dug by hand. 5000 KM! All these underground waterways add up to be 5000KM. Amazing!
Every so often an ‘air hole’ or well tapped into the supply line of the water. Being practical, people build houses right over these ‘air holes’ because the cool air of the cold water brought natural air conditioning to their house. These are ancient swamp coolers. Chinese are very smart and very, very practical.
6/11/05 Sat Turfan Hot, desert
Buddha caves! Flaming mountains! It is hot, 104 F in the shade. Not one bit of vegetation, Rocks mostly with sand in between. Near this spot here the highest temp on earth has been recorded as 84 degrees Celsius (200F). Water is the holy thing. Yet I see it being squandered, too. It flows freely in man made rivers or in wild rivers. Naturally at those spots were you have water you have plants. The ‘free’ water is used to mostly grow grapes. Since the population believes in Islam they make raisins from those grapes, not wine. Wine is not the issue. I tasted some wine that some folks made but it was an awful tasting fluid. They have no idea about wine, raisins are grown here. They know about that. The raisins tasted great!
We had lunch at a local family. It is 2 pm now. Naturally we had raisins and bread along with Hami melons.
This was the starter course and we are waiting for the main meal.
The best melons in China come from the next town, Hami. Water and the desert heat create a unique melon that is famous throughout China.
We are still waiting for lunch, it is hot, and we are outside.
I just learned the lady of the house is making noodles; ONE noodle at the time.
Already we waited for an hour now, we ate all the bread, ate all the melons.
It really is hot even so we are sitting in the shade under grape vines, it is HOT!
I walked to one of those hand made tunnels and put my feet in the water, the water is cold. It feels good.
I am not kidding; the lady of the house makes the Noodles one at the time.
It is a local delicacy. She has to make noodles for 20 people; ONE noodle at the time.
Hurray, we just ate. It is 4 pm and we had ONE bowl of noodles, each.
Bau-la! (Means I am full, I ate enough, thank you)
The temperature is 38 C (100F) in the shade.
Nice folks, friendly, clean, orderly. We said our good-bye and thank you, smiling.
What can one do? Their customs are slower than our own, they have time. It also seems they do not feel the heat that much. They live in the hottest place in China, they love the heat.
In the afternoon I visited the local market. One can buy anything here. I even saw a dentist office in the market. Frank loved it (he is a dentist) and took some pictures to show people in the U.S. of what NOT to do. Rick bought 2 hand-axes for $2.30.
They were hand-forged and looked great. Helge is walking around looking for a gift for Karen but……..while they have a lot of stuff here, it is mostly just that, stuff.
6/12/05 Sun Hami hot, desert
The road was straight forward. There is only one road to take and it is in good condition. We made good time. From 7.30am to 2pm feels like short trip. It was a short trip. Yes, it was hot and I sweated a lot but all is ok. I feel rumbling in my intestines, though. Is it the water? My stomach is ok; it is my intestines that are giving me a woozy feeling. Thank god I can control the bathroom situation. The only bathrooms on the road are below human standards. Desert or not, a shovel full of dirt on top of it would go a long way. Don’t look too close. Yes the people here have computers; TV, etc but still live from day to day. And the bathrooms are a disgrace. There is just no reason to live like that. Not only is it not sanitary, it is really below a human standard.
I just walked to a market near the hotel. It is amazing how disorderly it looked. How smelly it was. Meat just hanging on hooks with flies buzzing about, fish heads on the walk, entrails dripping off the table, rotten vegetables strewn about. Really messy looking and even so I know they will clean it up tonight, why does it have to look like that when people are around. How difficult would it be to hang a net around the meat, throw the fish stuff into a bucket and do the same with the veggies? I know one can not do anything about the smell but keep it orderly. Well, I am in China. I can not change all of China; I can not even change the people in this market. I, for sure, can not change 1.2 billion Chinese and their way of living.
The hotel is very nice and modern. Situated off the street, near a park with a nice lake it makes a good impression. Everything looks brand new. Please overlook the crooked electrical outlets; please don’t look too close at anything.
Miles on bike: 30064
6/13/05 Mon Dunhuang Hot desert
The globeriders group buried a t-shirt today. Someplace, in the desert, marked with a waypoint so the next group can find it 2 years from now. Good hunting!
We had a mild sand storm today. It makes it difficult to see the road ahead of you. The sand hurts when it is blown at you. It even goes thru my riding suit because it is so fine and the wind so strong. I put on a clean shirt this morning, now it is dirty from the dust and sand being blown about. Because of the side wind everybody rode sideways on their motorcycle. A strange picture to see, on a straight away, the man in front of you is leaning way over to keep the bike going straight. The roads are relatively good. A pothole here and there but that was it today, no worry about the road condition. It was just the wind blowing and whipping us around and sandblasting us and our bikes. My bubble on the front tire is NOT getting bigger and even so I rode my bike up to 80miles/hr nothing has changed on the tire. That is very good! In addition I shift now without using the clutch, so that will help with my 6th gear. So far no further problems to report with my shifting. I still have to learn and remember to do it right every time, but I am getting the hang of it.
The hotel in Dunhuang is on the outskirts of town. A very large, impressive looking emperor styled ‘hunting’ lodge. There is nothing to do here. A nice looking place but we are parked away from the action of town. I mean who wants to take a walk in the desert?
And desert it is all around us. 100F temp with desert to the left and desert to the right. From the roof of the hotel one can see the beginning of the Tukla Makan, an even deadlier place if that is possible. Sand dunes going on forever; soft sand piled high and drifting, swallowing everything that gets into it. You can get into to it, but you will not come out. This area is deadly! Still want to take a walk?
So this is a waiting hotel, waiting for the evening to come, contemplating and just hanging out. No place to go, all one can do it wait. Our motorcycles are in front looking great and we sit inside the cooled down hotel waiting. The outside does not look inviting. We are all resting up for tomorrow.
6/14/05 Tue Dunhuang desert in early morning 36C (100F)
Our visit to the ‘Mogao’ grottoes was an organized ‘tourist factory’ outing. I doubt that the monks had perfectly rectangular doors with air louvers and locks. Each cave of theirs numbered neatly above the entrance? This is way too touristy for me. I sat on the bench and waited to the group to finish the ‘guided’ tour from a man who’s English I could not understand. Same is true with the hired local guide. I have no idea what is talked about. It’s ‘chinglish’. We visited an ‘approved’ jade cup factory; another tourist trap. The same cup bought in the local market is half the price of the best price anyone can get from this ‘approved’ place. Organized tourism has arrived to the Gobi, to Dunhuang. I do not like to be the tourist cow that is being milked.
Today is David Ow’s 60th birthday; waypoint in his life because he can retire now.
At 8pm we rode camels thru the sands of the Tukla Makan, just the edge of it. I also climbed ONE dune that had wooden steps laid out by the locals. Only the last 20 meters or so was without any support. I was breathing so hard I almost gave up climbing this hill. While I was climbing I thought of how useless this whole exercise is because I knew that there are 1000 more hills like this to climb, all of them sand and some even higher and steeper. Coming to the tip of this one dune I saw what I instinctively knew and confirmed to myself that this is just one hill, the beginning to the end if you keep on going. These deadly dunes keep on going from here until the beginning of the Himalaya Mountains; 1200 miles of sand dunes. This is the deadliest desert in the world called Tukla Makan. (You can get in but you will not come out)
6/15/05 Wed Jiayuguan cloudy, windy
The short road to Jiayuguan is under construction but so it the long road. We took the long road today and it was dusty, dusty, and dusty. Trucks coming at you are almost invisible in the dust cloud. Trucks ahead of you are too slow to ride behind and it’s not safe to be riding that slow on these dirt roads. The road consists of gravel, sand, dirt all in one. You MUST pass the truck in front of you if you want to survive. Of course all this riding deep within a dust cloud, without visibility. This is very, very dangerous, extremely dangerous riding. Nobody can see. The trucks don’t see you; you don’t see the road surface. Huge truck tires next to you. If you fall; if you make a mistake; if you go down you can get killed very easily. It is like riding blindly into your destiny. This road is best if you can see the dirt in front of you so you can anticipate the surface conditions, so you can avoid the big holes and/or sandy spots that will bog you down. I was lucky, I made it thru. One time my front tire caught in a soft spot but I remembered “gas” and it did get me out of it. A true ‘oh shit’ moment. Frank was not so lucky. He is ok, but his bike needs plastic surgery. Some pieces fell off and he lost his windshield. His helmet took a beating, too. I helped him glue the visor on his helmet and while shaken he is ok. That is the main thing. It could have been a lot worse, given the way the road was and the way the traffic flowed. Thank God we all made it thru ok. Helge was real nervous and I saw he was elated when everybody got thru the bad sections without major damage. Sure, Frank’s pride is hurt, I know how he feels. I fell last year a few times and I felt like a failure but he will get over it. Sometimes it is just dumb luck, nothing else. I could have gone down and so could everybody. Luck does play some role in riding a motor cycle.
Frank has to forgive ‘himself’ that is all that counts.
The road was not that bad, just all the traffic on it made the road extremely dusty and without visibility treacherous. Well, it’s over and all arrived ok. A few scratches here and there on some folks and bikes but all are well. We arrived in Jiayuguan.
When we got to the Hotel we saw that Jay Yanick had lost his left Zega bag, it fell off.
He did not notice it, nor did anyone else. All his stuff and all his gifts he bought for his wife and kids are gone. We do not know where it was lost but gone it is. Surely this is a big loss for Jay. Roger had a flat tire and David Ow took a slight spill but it’s over, all riders are OK.
We are out of the Gobi.
6/16/05 Thu Jiayuguan Hot desert
I woke up at 5am and at 6am I was cleaning my bike. If I don’t clean it I will be dusty and dirty within seconds after I sit on the bike. The bike is so dirty that, just standing near it, one gets dirty hands or and dirty clothing. I checked all my screws and checked the tire pressure and all is ok. The bubble on the front tire is unchanged. I am lucky. While riding, and especially thru those bad areas, I do think about the front tire once in a while. It hangs over me. The bike takes a huge beating riding these roads so imagine what the tires have to endure. Just four more days of riding, the tire should hold up ok.
Breakfast is at 8 am and what a poor breakfast it was. I thought I could live off breakfast but one boiled egg and 1 slice of toast is not enough for me and will not last me all day. At 9 am we had a tour of the most Western part of the Great Wall. The fort on this spot was built in 1372 and then again in 1980. A Chinese Tourist Factory, along with archery and camel pictures. It is now 1.30 pm and am having a cup of black tea. Some dried raisins and dried Hami melon, I call this lunch. I have a date at 3 pm with Helge to see how he adjusts valves.
The front valves are the exhaust valves. (Big 30mm) shims.
Naturally the back valves are the intake valves and use the 15mm shims. To do this job one needs a strong flashlight to see the ‘OT’ the line UNDER the OT must be in the center of the looking hole. The hole is on the right side of bike.
Intake valves come out then watch out and look for OT.
Use 4th gear to move rear wheel.
It is better to have the valves adjusted too loose. Never adjust too tight.
Remove sparkplugs before doing anything to the valves. Of course remove left and right
I think I can do this. Do it slowly, learn and do it again, do it carefully. I can do this.
6/17/05 Fri Wuwei cloudy, some rain, cool
Horns are blaring outside. I am on the 9th floor facing an Avenue. A female voice-recording talks already for hours, non-stop. Besides the Hotel is a shopping street full of people. They might not have seen Westerners before. All stare at us, even forgetting to say:” Hello” which every Chinese knows and says all the time when they see us.
I hear loud ‘church bells’ chime every ½ hour from a clock opposite my window. The chime is nice and slow with vibrations I can feel going thru my body. Wailing police cars add to the noise level. That is the rest I get after 9 hours sitting on the seat of my bike dodging China traffic. I run a slight fever and feel sluggish. I had to visit the ‘bathroom’ 5 times today already. One time was in the desert behind a restaurant against a little wall. Someone was there before me, flies all over. My stool is like water. I ate what I could but I need more than soup, peanuts and cooked bak choi. The breakfast was a China version of a “Western” breakfast; consisting of sweet toast, hard boiled egg and ‘coffee’ or tea. I have been eating the same breakfast now for 11 days, every morning the same food. My intestines were ok yesterday but today everything cramps up. No, normally I do not have these problems, but this time it got me good. The Chinese must be very healthy people.
The markets, the food and the water are filthy and yet do not seem to affect the average person. I wrote before that we left the Gobi. That was not true. Between cities is still waste land. Lots of land with nothing growing can be seen. Around noon today we entered China, the old China. We drove thru a gate in the old clay wall, part of the great wall. This wall is still standing, made from clay and nothing else; falling apart but still there. It looks rather drab and not so impressive here but it is ‘the’ great wall.
We got stuck today in a huge traffic jam. In order to go forward we had to ride though pure sand for a while. Not a nice experience. The GS is just too heavy for sand. Everybody made it thru but it was very iffy lots of times. Of course trucks and cars tried to use our road and it was pandemonium. 3 more riding days left.
6/18/05 Sat LAN Zhou sunny, mild
It is never over until it is over. Today’s last 50 km were construction again. The riding suit I just washed is dusty, filthy again. A shower sure feels good. The area we traveled in from Wuwei to Lan Zhou has some pretty landscape sections. It is idyllic scenery. Wooden hanging bridges over wide, wild rivers. Boys are swimming nude in the muddy waters. Notice the fields of corn and blue flowers. It’s a large mix of clay landscape and greenery. China sure has enough clay; it has lots and lots of clay. The rivers here are full of dissolved clay and the water looks murky, yellowish tinted. Hence the word ‘yellow’ river. Since the houses in the villages are made from this clay, too they blend perfectly into the landscape, it feels natural.
Of course everything is dusty and dirty but it feels ok, it is part of nature.
Lan Zhou, a city of 3 million is full of wide streets, honking cars and pollution. The pollution is so bad that, even so it’s sunny; I can NOT see the mountains in the distance. I am on the 22nd floor and all I can see is a metropolitan area. The city is full of offices, stores and traffic. On the outskirts I passed smoke stacks belching out from old chemical plants or from old Oil refineries. In that area I could see just about 3 city blocks. I am glad the hotel is not near those smoke stacks and that smog. While I see patches of greenery what is missing here are trees. Yes, they have a few trees but I have not seen any ‘forest’.
I know they do not grow in the desert but the ‘woods’ are needed badly. They would take care of some of the pollution and block the winds and keep the dust in place. Looking out of my hotel window I see the barren hills of barren clay. Lan Zhou should plant trees, some trees. But then Lan Zhou should do a lot of things, put me in charge! Here I go again, trying to change China. Still, let me be the dictator of Lan Zhou! Careful what you wish for, Hans.
I got a haircut today 10 Yuan ($1.25)
6/19/05 Sun Lan Zhou hot, muggy
We visited today a replica of the waterwheels that were used to water the land. Huge wooden wheels that pumped water out of the Yangtze to water the hill side and also to drive mills that ground the grains. I understand that there were hundreds of those wheels all along the Yangtze River, continuously pumping away and watering the land. (Remember my trees? Use these wheels to water my trees, please)
Well I say a little of Chinese engineering, old engineering, could help here.
I took a ride across the Yangtze on a raft held up by sheep skins. About 12 sheep skins were blown up and tied together under a bamboo frame. It had enough buoyancy for 5 people. We drifted about a mile down river before we arrived on the other side. The current is pretty strong and the water is loaded with silt, yellow looking clay. They did give this river the right name when the Europeans called it ‘yellow’ river. Yangtze just means Main River. The water stank, though. Stank of urine and God knows what else floats in it. How can one tell what is in this river? The water is so murky it defies the term water.
A gondola ride took us up to white pagoda mountain. An attempt was made here to have a green belt and some trees have been planted. I don’t know how successful this will be. Irrigation is in place but too many people are about, stamping on the roots, standing on everything. The ground was so dry it seemed they forgot to turn on the water for days already. Or is it the water straight out of the river with all the pollutant in it that is being use to water those poor plants. The soil is pure clay. Are Arborvitaes the best plants for this kind of soil? One can have all these ideas but nobody is going to change all of China at the most basic level. These are just observations by me and mean little if nothing at all.
I ate a fruit I never saw before and I don’t know the name. Now, how is this for news?
6/20/05 Mon Pingliang cloudy, cool
Miles on bike: 31371
Nice road over terrain no cars can drive “IF” it would not be for these China National Roads. This road is in pretty good condition, too. Some constructions, even a few tunnels but not bad. The area is all clay which the people have terraced into fields. Very, very steep cliffs and mesas give the landscape a unique picture.
How did the caravans find their way thru this labyrinth of canyons? Everything is clay, all is clay. The fields are clay but so is the cliff the fields hang on. The canyons, everything is clay. Just on the flat spots, on the terraces, on the flat top of the mesa one can see green. That is were people plant. How do they get up there? How to they weed? I rode too fast to really look at it.
At the hotel at night Roger gave the locals rides on his bike. Everybody wanted to get a ride. He rode around the hotel with kids, grandmother, old men and teenagers. John lit some fire works but the hotel did not like that, too much noise, too much commotion. The mood is giddy. Just one more stop over town towards Xian. Tomorrow is the last riding day.
6/21/05 Tue Xian (shian) hot, muggy 42C (104F)
We left the town of Pingliang and the road was uneventful. At the border of Ganzu Province we left ‘melody’ and the 2 drivers behind. We received 2 new cars, 2 new drivers and a new tour guide. I did not tip ‘melody’ or the drivers. Her English was so bad that Mr. Yu (Sim) had to give the tours. Why tip incompetence? Why tip the drivers? What did they do for me? Did they not get paid by GobeRiders? I felt ok in NOT tipping.
On the border to the next Province Ms Allen and Ms Murray waited for their husbands.
They rode in with the new cars to surprise their husbands; they just arrived in China and were meeting our group ‘on the road’ so to speak.
Ms Allen warned us of the bad roads ahead, of the terrible construction coming up. She said the roads are so bad that she fears for our well being.
Well, Ms Allen, you just have no idea where we had been and what we experienced. Nevertheless I kept on the lookout for the bad roads and for the terrible construction but I never found them. Sure we had some holes and ripped up roads but nothing to worry about. The tunnel however was a good warning. Long, very dark, cars in them without lights on, bad road surface and so full of smoke and exhaust fumes that it was impossible to see anything. Lucky for me that I could follow a tail light, I would not have wanted to be in the lead. Frank’s face, after coming out of the tunnel looked like and inverted raccoon; black with white around the eyes, where his glasses had been. How any one could build a tunnel like this! But here I go again, trying to tell them how to build a tunnel.
At the hotel it is now time to pack, repack and prepare for tomorrows loading of the container that will take all of our bikes via rail to Shanghai.
Repacking was easier than I thought. Helmet, boots, tools, undershirts, rain suit is being left with the bike and will be shipped to Seattle. It will save me packing room on my luggage when I pick up the bike in August.
Frank and I went at 8pm to the Xian School of Music to hear a US High School band play in China. All the band members are in our hotel, too and we felt they needed cheering and support. How wrong I was. The place was crowded with Chinese and they cheered for one more song after another. It was a great school band from Albuquerque, NM. The ‘Golden Eagle Band’
6/22/05 Wed Xian hot, muggy 42C (107F)
Up early, at 4am, to get to the container yard and check on things and bikes before packing them into the container. We started packing at 6.30am. I am glad I now have some experience in packing and/or unpacking bikes from last year. No problems unscrewing the gas tank, propping it up to remove one terminal from the battery and in general getting the bike ready for shipment. It was hot and muggy especially inside the container. I was glad we started early because now at 5 pm it would have been unbearable. Every bike had to be supported by pieces of wood. Left and right of each tire (4 pieces), plus one piece each one in front of front tire, one in back of back tire, had to be nailed to the floor of the container by hand. Then each bike had to be strapped down using BMW straps we saved for that purpose. All springs and shocks compressed while tying down the bikes. Total bikes to be packed = 16. Each piece of wood had to be hammered down using at least 4 nails per piece of wood. Only one guy could nail in the confined space between the bikes. The container is hot and dark, flashlights only. The noise of the hammering inside the metal box is like being inside a drum. Helge did most of the work. We all took turns helping him out. Some people were recruited to just fan the packing crew using flat card board boxes as fans. At exactly Noon we were done and the door to the container was sealed. 6 hours to pack 16 bikes and the panniers, too.
We hung the panniers up on hooks above the bikes, tied down with BMW straps, too.
A lot of work but it had to be done; we could not have packed more efficient and/or better.
At 2.30pm we had a tour of the museum, but……I am done going to museums. I just need a break from museums for a while. I left the group and took a taxi back to the Hotel, along with Frank and Jim R. Farewell dinner is tonight at 7.30pm.
Pingliang miles on bike 31371
Trip to Xian (estimate) 200
31571 on bike
Minus miles at start of trip 22566
9005 total miles for this Silk Road trip.
6/23/05 Thu Xian muggy, hot 108F
Slow breakfast (we are going nowhere, we don’ have bikes). At 9am a tour of a factory that makes copies of the clay statues found from the Qian dynasty. Yes, they will ship them to the US for $ 800 a piece. Life-sized figures one can stand next to the living room door. I did NOT buy one.
Then the tour of the museum; did I say I am done with museums; 4 large halls covering the ‘armies’ of China’s first emperor Qian. A smart guy he must have been this first emperor ‘Qian’. He standardized money, made money the medium of trade and had all measurements coordinated and standardized as well. Even roads had to be build to his way of thinking and all roads had to be the same width. They were made wide so that he could ride thru them with 2 or more carriages, side by side. The year was 200 +- AD.
At the time Rome was in power in Europe.
Xian at the time had 9 million inhabitations. Today Xian is a city of more then 30 Million people. The weather was so hot that we decided to forgo any more museums and just poked around the air conditioned Hotel. Today Frank was the first to leave for the U.S. He left the Hotel at 1.30 pm, bon voyage, Frank! The group is splitting up. We have this sweet, sour feeling among us. The group was a good group and we grew with each other and we grew closer together.
6/24/05 Fri Chongqing hot, muggy, 104 F
We left the Hotel at 10am for the flight to Chongqing at 1.30pm. Xian is large, Chongqing is bigger. 31 Million People live here. The town of Chongqing is very hilly and very modern. The only town in China without bicycles, the hills would not allow you to peddle and get anyplace. It is too hilly; it looks a little like San Francisco. Chongqing will be at the NW part of the lake when the 3 Gorges Dam project is finished. Years ago Chongqing had constant and huge traffic problems. Today, no problems at all; a colossal amount of building has taken place to eliminate that problem. Very large apartment buildings have been built, and built in large amounts. Roads were turned into highways. Whole neighborhoods were moved. About 10 Million people are replaced by the 3 Gorges dam project; a lot of them were moved to Chongqing. All this is an incomprehensible scale of organization and projects. All do be done at once. All to be finished before the waters rise above the villages on the shore of the Yangtze today.
Chongqing temperature in August can hit 120F and in the winter a mild 40F. The food in the area is spicy and a unique thing I saw was the ‘stick soldiers’. These men are for hire; they carry anything for you. Up and down the hilly terrain. You can hire them for just one job or forever, as you wish. Everything is carried with bamboo poles across their shoulder. If something is too heavy they will use 2 or more stick-men to carry it. I saw it in action, it worked.
This city is the car city of China. Ford, Suzuki and Isuzu have plants here. In addition 5 brands of Motorcycles are manufactured here. I heard it is for export only. To places like Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, etc. I did not see any motorcycles on the roads. Either the roads are too hilly, or they are forbidden or they sold every single one of their bikes to the other countries. You pick what you would like to believe.
We had a good guide for this city, his name was Barry. His English was very good. Yet, he did not get a tip from any of us. He ‘guided’ us to places that would pay him a commission if and when we bought something. He wanted us to go to the Chinese Opera but omitted to tell us that the admission is $ 15. - Per head. For dinner he suggested a great restaurant, a hot pot restaurant….with an up change of $ 12.50 per person. Remember we already paid for dinner in our fee for the trip. He was so greedy and so blatant that we got rid of him fast. Good riddance, go and sucker somebody else, Barry!
I slept on the boat like boat people do in China. Yes, I slept ‘ON’ the Yangtze, just like all the other boatpeople.
6/25/05 Sat the yellow river, on the boat “Yangtze Star” cloudy, mild, and muggy.
I bunked with Sterling Noren. I am up at 6am looking around the ship. Breakfast is at 8am. The pace is slow and the ship is going down-river at a good clip. I imagine that all that I see now will be under water, soon. Many buildings, factories, roads etc look abandoned already. Yet the fields are still green with corn, bananas and whatever they planted. It is hard to take a picture of the effect the dam will have. Bridges are already new and are elevated. Some new construction of housing is going on the tip of the mountains. Preparations are going on for the rise of the water level which is inevitable and will arrive soon. Will the final height of the water level be in 2008? Or will it be 2010? Nobody I ask can answer that question. Will all this work be correct, will all this moving around and building the dam work and will it help China? Again, nobody knows for sure.
I just ride the river, drifting along like a rubber ball, coming up with all these questions in my head.
In the afternoon we had a stop and visited a Buddhist “Hell” temple complex;
Buddhist temples that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and have been re-build by the Chinese Government. 600 steep stairs led to those temples and we had to climb them in hot, humid weather. It was Hell already just climbing all those stairs. The interpretations of hell seem comical to me but I saw people pray on top of the mountain. Folks were praying devoutly for help and guidance, protection and forgiveness. It seems an active place even so a lot of tourists were visiting the place. Of course you could buy forgiveness on paper and burn it, etc. You could buy tokens to take home and protect you, give donations for good luck in the future, and on and on. If you did not believe in the religion it was a government run tourist factory.
Coming back to the boat we ran the gauntlet of vendors, beggars and sellers of stuff.
Dinner was at 8pm with a ‘show’ performance of dancing cooks, singing cleaning maids and acrobatic porters. I felt like I was watching a bad high school performance.
6/26/05 Sun just on river, Yangtze River hot, muggy 30C
6.30am wake up call (free coffee in bar)
7.00am Qutang Gorge (8Km long)
8.20am Wu Gorge (44Km long)
12.30pm Shennong Stream excursion
16.30pm return to ship
16.00pm to 17.00 Happy Hour (20% off) today’s special
Margaritas, Gorges Sunrise, Angel Kiss ($3. -)
18.30pm Captain’s Farewell
20.00pm five step ship lock
21.00pm “Bandits” DVD on TV – Dubbed –
We left this ship (Yangtze Star) to take a smaller ship thru a canyon to still smaller boats that were paddled and/or pulled upstream and then we flowed back down thru some mild rapids to the beginning again. Why?
What else do or can you do on a river? The landscape is impressive; I took lots of pictures. Tonight we went thru the locks of the 3 Gorges dam.
6/27/05 Mon Shanghai hot, muggy
After a long day of guides, museums, dam pictures, tours, bus trips, lunch etc. finally arrived in Shanghai. THIS IS A HUGE CITY.
This is the end of the trip. There is nothing else to write. I saw the dam, see the pictures.
Guide in Shanghai is useless expect that she picked us up at the airport and got us to the Hotel, ok. What more do I want?
We met David Ow and John LaChapelle at the Peace Hotel (totally renovated rooms).
Walked up and down Nanjing Lu and the contrast to the Chinese villages we experienced in the last 3 weeks, the poverty we saw, the dirt and the bathrooms is comparable to Versailles and the day before the storm of the Bastille. It is almost black and white.
I know Nanjing Lu is not China, never will be China. So what are they aiming for?