2009/03/31: Yongdeng 119 km
Our visas were ready as we left Lanzhou, and we headed back out of town on a now-familiar route. We stopped for lunch at the place where we’d spent a stressed hour removing chain-rings two days earlier, which allowed us to make happier contact with the kind people who’d provided tools and rags. The hotel in Yongdeng had no heat and the room was chilly, but we piled on clothing like the cheerful staff.
2009/04/01: Gulang 112 km
Throughout this loess country we have seen long greenhouses with back and end walls made of rammed earth. The fronts are covered in PVC supported by arcs of bamboo, and matting is rolled down over the plastic for added insulation as required. Through the plastic, we can see lush green growth. Leaving YangDeng, we saw especially large areas of these greenhouses.
Climbing gradually since leaving town, we could see the snowy Qinlian mountain range to our left. The sharp white peaks rise starkly from the brown loess plateau, reminding me of the view of the Rockies from SW Alberta. We climbed to a pass to 2,960 m, passing patches of snow by the last river. There was a stupa, a pagoda, and a structure covered in Tibetan prayer flags at the top of the pass. The sweeping gradual descent into Gulang left us chilly. The river we were following northeastward is one that we believe disappears into the Gobi desert.
We decided to have supper in our hotel’s dining room. As we entered, the only other patrons were what turned out to be a business threesome, a Han Chinese man and woman, plus a Mongolian man who had drunk rather a lot of baijiu and who insisted we sit with them. They had far too much food, and ordered even more for us. None of them could speak English, and their Chinese was way beyond my level, but with maps and a few photos we told out story, and with much contextual guessing we found out a bit about them. We believe they were three colleagues in some sort of travel business, and that the Mongolian fellow was from the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, shown on our map as an expanse of sand that is almost devoid of roads. He may have been involved with air travel, as his business card had an airplane on it. Our jolly friend not only paid the dinner bill, but pulled out 200 Yuan ($40) and presented it to Chris, who was quite taken aback. We have read of cyclists being handed money, but weren’t quite ready for this at the dinner table. It was made clear by the two Han Chinese colleagues that we had no choice but to accept the cash. We responded as best we could with Canadian pins and Vancouver post card thank you notes, but it was clear we were not to upstage our host.
Despite almost no language in common, our new friend wanted to know our room number, and appeared shortly after dinner with another gift of pears, bananas, and bottled water. He offered Chris a cigarette (as many do) and when Chris declined, our visitor proceeded to smoke in our room. We responded to his gift of supplies for the road by giving him a chocolate bar, which are not as easy to come by in rural China as you might think. He seemed pleased. We showed him family photos on our computer. He also insisted that we give him our cell phone number, although we had no idea how we’d ever communicate on the phone. Today, when we turned on the cell phone, we found six messages from the same number, likely our Mongolian friend.
2009/04/02: Wuwei 59 km (odometer passes 5,000 km)
Leaving Gulang, we rode beside gullied brown ridges that stood out against blue sky. We covered a slightly downhill 59 km quickly. Motorcycles passed us carrying resigned-looking live sheep, or sometimes dead sheep, or sometimes sheep pelts with the still-attached hooves dangling down. The fellows carrying pelts are calling out, selling their wares. There are also motorcycles and bicycles carrying piles of what looks like fox pelts. We are at a lovely new hotel in Wuwei. We suspect there’ll be nothing like this for weeks to come, and washing will be done from a plastic basin.
Thoughts on passing the 5,000 km mark:
We can do it! Yes we can! Soon we’ll be in Kyrgyzstan!
Thank you to nephew Daniel for creating a cheer for us.