Thursday, July 9: Xi’an, China
8:00 Dragoman sells the Silk Road trip from Beijing to Istanbul as six individual trips and today is the first day of Leg 2: Xi’an to Kashgar. Although we will eventually have 22 passengers, there are only eight of us on the truck as of this morning:
Heather – Geologist – Australia
Kirk – Civil Engineer – Australia
James – Civil Servant – UK
Rodney – Chef / Entrepreneur – Australia
Mike – Lazy Blogger – Canada
Jason – Guide / Interpreter – China
Helen – Dragoman Driver – UK
Duncan – Dragoman Driver – New Zealand
9:00 We’re fighting traffic on our way out of Xi’an. There’s no evidence around here that the Chinese stock market has been in free-fall for a month. There are hundreds of construction cranes in this city alone and most of the sites are crawling with workers and equipment. Unlike some other cities, projects don’t appear to be put on hold here.
14:00 It’s been a long and uneventful drive bit we arrive in the town of Pingliang at the base of Mount Kongtong, one of the holiest mountains in Chinese Taoism. We check into the Hanting Hotel which at first inspection appears to be quite nice. At least there’s a porcelain toilet aha actually flushes; I have yet to check the shower temperature.
19:00 I feast on lamb skewers, spicy flatbread and beer. It’s safe and tasty street food that won’t cause any issues on a drive day tomorrow.
Friday, July 10: Pingliang, China
8:00 We take the truck out to the mountain and a cable car to the top. Yes, I think we’re all getting a bit soft. It’s going to be another day of posing for photos with strangers.
11:00 A Chinese woman of about 30 approaches me for a photo. After several poses (her making peace sign, me making peace sign, both of us staring into space, her looking into my eyes, etc.) she turns and says to me: “You are semi.” I wait for her to finish the sentence but she says no more and appears to be waiting for me to answer. I tell that I don’t understand. Semi-WHAT She then repeats herself, saying “You are seem” with a strong emphasis on the “you”. Again I tell her that I don’t understand. She thinks for a few seconds and then says, “Oh, sorry. You are semi-CRAZY!” I admit that I am indeed. After all, I’m still standing there point for a dozen photos with a complete stranger.
3:00 Rodney and I venture out of the hotel in search of beer. I use my powers of deduction to find a noodle joint where we cough, tip our hands to our mouths, and say the word pijou (beer) while hugging ourselves and acting cold. This is one way to order beer in China. It’s not particularly effective, but it’s one way. The owner points to a restaurant down the street that is apparently experimenting with the crazy idea of selling noodles AND beer.
3:30 We find the experimental noodle joint. There are four beers in their self-serve fridge. They are cold. They don’t last long.
8:00 More street food for dinner. You can’t go wrong with lamb skewers and spicy flatbread. At least the street vendors drink beer and they aren’t opposed to selling a few bottles of it.
Saturday, July 11: Pingliang, China
7:00 We’re on the truck and ready for what should be a good drive. The road from Lanzhou to Xiahe is now paved so there shouldn’t be detours or delays, we were told. Never trust anyone with traffic directions or road reports in China. What they didn’t say was that the section from Pingliang to Xiahe is under construction with numerous detours. In total we will drive 530 km today.
1:30 We arrive in Lanzhou. Because the Chinese have spared no expense when it comes to bridges, tunnels, elevated highways and stone retaining walls, the road through the mountain was straight and flat and we make good time. We received an equal mix of stares and friendly waves as we passed through dozens of small Muslim towns. Much of the land has been terraced and farmers tend their crops even during the hot afternoon. At one point we passed a man leading a bull by a rope. The bull was spooked by the truck and broke into a very fast jog. The little old man held onto the rope and followed the bull through the ditch and into a field. I assume that the bull is his prized possession and possibly his source of income, so he held on tight.
1:40 We arrive in Xiahe and check into the Overseas Tibetan Hotel which is on the main drag, about 500 metres from the famous Labrang Monastery. It’s not a bad spot but it definitely has some quirks. Pink bed sheets are spread over all the carpets, presumably to protect them from guests tracking mud through the place. The pink sheets are changed every morning. I don’t really get it.
3:00 It looks like rain but I take an umbrella and go for a wander. We have a free day and evening and will go to the Monastery together in the morning.