2009/05/04: Kazakh Tent at Pass 124 km
We had a quiet day off in Jinghe, sleeping late and updating our respective blogs. While we ate skewers of meat that evening, a herd of sheep was driven past us on the street, and later a loaded camel led by a horseman passed our tables at a fast trot. Except for ours, heads barely turned.
We knew we were in for a big climb to a pass and that food would be less easily available, so we stopped for several meals during the earlier part of the day. At a gas station food stop, a van load of Chinese emerged from their van to inspect us like an alien species, and to laugh uproariously among themselves at our strangeness. No attempt from them at communication or exchange (despite my efforts); simply behaviour towards us that feels to me like crass and inappropriate derision. This isn’t the first such interaction we’ve experienced. Leon laughed sarcastically back at them, and I joined him. Chris says that to laugh like this is simply the Chinese reaction to anything they don’t quite comprehend, but Leon questions whether laughing apparently AT someone can be polite in any culture. It has grated on my nerves many times.
I have found travelling with Leon has allowed me to express some of the mounting frustration I have felt with rural Han Chinese culture, and have found this a useful release after travelling with the endlessly patient and forever forgiving Chris. Leon has a blog called Go West on Crazy Guy on a Bike. He writes insightfully and without feeling the need to remain forever politically correct. Thank you Leon!
I am slow up hills, and Chris was waiting for me. Leon was waiting near the top as we arrived. He had been invited into a Kazakh family’s wall tent, and was waiting for our agreement before accepting. It was 8:00 p.m., and we were wet, cold, and tired. When father and five year old son returned from seeing to animals, a price was set for food and lodgings. We warmed ourselves by the stove, ate bowls of stew and drank tea around the low table with parents and child. We played with Alralee, the five year old, and conversed with the parents. The father spoke some Mandarin. We understood they also have sixteen-year-old son who is studying elsewhere, and father had two older brothers in Kazakhstan. Pillows and heavy blankets were handed out and we settled on the sleeping platform.
2009/05/05: Huocheng 95 km
After a breakfast of bread, honey and tea, we bade our farewells and were off through the pass. Near the lake, we saw tidy rows of yurts beside a parking lot. The entrance and toilet buildings could have been transported from a BC Provincial Parks campground. This was probably the “yurt stay” place that Carsten mentioned to us. We were glad we’d accepted the Kazakh family’s offer. Leon later commented that the yurt stay place was likely run by Han Chinese. The road turned to a muddy mess of construction. Further along, children were being hoisted onto Kazakh horses by their parents, to be led around the parking lot and circling the bus they arrived in. Leon had pedalled by in disgust.
A little more uphill and we began a 60 km winding descent through a green forested landscape that could have been from the Swiss Alps. Horses and brown, black, and white sheep replaced cows, though. I would have bought some of the honey that was for sale, but the smallest container weighed a kilogram – a bit much for a cyclist.
Arriving in Huocheng, we found a reasonably priced room for three. We washed muddy bikes, ate, checked email, and slept.