We are taking a day off here in Jinghe, about 250 km from the Kazakh border. On Thursday we only started out of Urumqi at about 11:00, once Leon had returned to the hostel with his new Chinese visa. Chris and I had time for a nice coffee, and to get organized after a full six days off. Our night had been broken by a 2:00 a.m. Skype call from Louise, who had the dishwasher repairman asking her to turn off the house water supply. She was poised to remove a panel with a crowbar, searching for a way of shutting off hot water only. The upshot of several calls is that the dishwasher is repaired with no damage to plumbing. Poor Louise. She has had a baptism-by-fire into house stewardship, and it reminded by of the Flanders and Swan song The Gas Man Cometh.
2009/04/30: Gravel Pit Camp 119 km
The road out of Urumqi was less than scenic, and I am frankly growing very tired of desert travel. Over these last three days we’ve had the snow-capped arm of the Tian Shan range to our left, growing slowly closer. In some places we can see a few more trees and bits of grass, giving us hope that we’ll soon be in more hospitable terrain, and then bleak sandy or stony landscape returns and the desert continues.
There are not many towns big enough to have accommodation. On our first night we camped at a gravel pit. Although this may sound less than aesthetic, it was really quite pleasant. A shepherd on a horse appeared in the morning.
2009/05/01: Marsh Camp 156 km
On the second night we tucked ourselves in among some reeds, quite close to habitation and barking dogs. We were so well hidden that I suggested sleeping on Thermarests and not bothering to put up tents. Rain is a non-issue here, and breaking camp would be quicker. In the end, we put up tents simply out of habit. Leon commented that my tent-less suggestion was “hard core,” whereas I think my motivation was basic laziness. I rethought the tent-less idea in the morning, however. As Chris and I packed up, we found we’d pitched our tent on top of an ENORMOUS arachnid. More likely it had burrowed under the tent floor during the night.
It’s body must have been 6 cm long, and I would not want to feel its mandibles on my bare toe. I would be even less happy to have it crawl near my face at night, if I were sleeping tent-less. (Note: We later identified as a camel spider.)
2009/05/02: Jinghe 158 km
On the third day, as well as receiving some insights into local cooking methods, a boy of about 10 was prepared to let us have turns on his articulated skate board, which Leon says is known appropriately as a “snake board” in Korea. Leon got swamped with photographers in that town, too, possible because he looks a bit like Indiana Jones in his new double-breasted shirt with his broad-brimmed hat under his helmet.
We later rode past a large herd of grazing camels, and stopped to stalk and photograph them.
We were pretty tired as we entered Jinghe. The local Russian and English teacher directed us to a hotel. This morning we found the bowls of cold sweet yoghurt, and ate two each plus some fruity pastries.
We’ll travel with Leon for a few more days, and then our paths will diverge as we need to do different visa stops; C & M to Almaty for a Uzbek visa and Leon to Bishkek for a Tajik one. We will likely converge again later for the Pamir highway.