Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 15+16: Into the Desert

Day 15

I woke up around sunrise at the truckers hostel and after one last clear sighted look around the tiny rest stop village I set off for Ruoqiang and the Taklimakan Desert. I felt a bit better. My strength had mostly returned and my stomach was feeling alright.

The scenery and roads were much like the day before: Arid mountains far to my left and gravel ground everywhere. Sometimes there were little bushes and sometimes absolutely nothing. For most of China, my small 250cc motorcycle was more than enough. I went faster than most other people on the road and the winding or village roads didn't allow me to go much above 90 kmh or so. But now I started wishing I had a bigger motorcycle just so I could pass through these areas a bit quicker. I also hate being passed by other cars and the way most Chinese see motorcycles (as slow obstacles like pedestrians that need to be passed) and treat them its actually a bit safer to go as fast if not faster than others on the road.

I made roughly 600km that day. Mid afternoon I reached the end of the Tibetan Plateau and the long exciting decent into the desert basin. The monotony of the previous few days was finally broken by winding roads through canyons occasionally broken by stunning partial views of the basin below.

I pulled into Ruoqiang late in the afternoon feeling much better with greatly improved spirits.

Day 16

In the morning I took a look at my route and saw that there was a good long section of sand dune desert. Exciting! I've never seen sand dunes before. So I set off hoping to end the day in Bayingol. I reached the end of town and once I was out of the oasis and back into the desert the wind really picked up. It was blowing almost directly from my right side and

the bike naturally leaned over into the wind. I had never experienced this before so I wasn't exactly sure what to do. I pulled over and waited for a bit but soon I saw a chinese guy on a small motorcycle braving the gusts so I decided if he can do it I should be ok.

Soon I got to the bit of sand desert I was so excited about. The wind picked up and my visibility slowly diminished to about 500ft. I couldn't quite decide if this counted as a sand storm. Maybe a mild sand storm? But that was soon answered as my visibility was reduced to less than 100ft and sand. Definitely a moderate sand storm. I still figured they must get at least a little worse. Eventually the road turned so the wind was mostly at my back and then I passed through the sandy section and became more habitable. Once I reached the river and trees, villages started reappearing and it was smooth riding the rest of the way. On the positive side, the sandy wind has sand blasted the right side of my motorcycle perfectly clean. The left side was still covered in mud though.

When I got to the city,  I started looking for a place to stay but s
oon discovered this was one of those strange cities that only allowed foreigners to stay in four or five star hotels costing over 600yuan a night! This was completely impractical so after a few attempts at some cheaper looking hotels I tried to leave the city and find a camp site. BUT I couldn't find a way out of the damn city. My google maps were all wrong and the only way out seemed to be on an expressway which didn't allow motorcycles. It was getting late and I started to get a bit frustrated. Finally, after trying to check in to what looked to be a brothel, I found a decent three star hotel that with the help of a very helpful rich young guy was willing to ignore the "rules" for foreigners.

That night I decided to go look for some western food for my birthday dinner but there were no pizza places. I settled on KFC. As I left the hotel, I ran into my friend and told him my plan. He didn't really speak much english but was enthusiastic and tried hard to understand my signs and very poor chinese. He offered to drive me and when I told him it was my birthday (by singing the international happy birthday song) he paid. Things were turning around. While enjoying our chicken burgers a group of university students joined us and we ended up going out for a birthday beer. So in the end it turned out to be a pretty good birthday.

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