Friday, July 17: near Zhanye, Gansu, China
8:05 Taking down the tent seems to be a bit of a chore so I check the altitude on my phone and am surprised to learn we’re only at 1790 m above sea level. I thought it would be higher.
8:18 We say goodbye to the Great Wall. The photos from here aren’t great as there are so many power lines and belching smokestacks on the horizon. The coal fired plants are here for a while but China should really think about burying the power lines that run directly in front of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
12:35 We stop for lunch at a market and pick up the ingredients for tonight’s camp dinner. Duncan appears to have a second thoughts on chicken once he sees the live chickens staring at him from a cage. Eventually we order two to go. The others leave the shop before the cleaver falls but I stick around for the action. It is swift and I would imagine painless. The shopkeeper then puts the chickens into something that looks like an industrial washing machine. Feathers fly out a vent at the bottom of a rotating drum and 30 seconds later two perfectly plucked chickens are on the chopping block. She quoted us 100 yuan for two chickens but after plucking, eviscerating and weighing, the price drops to 74 yuan. We’re dealing with an honest chicken plucker!
15:20 We’re back at the truck and ready to move on. The fort experience wasn’t as bad as I anticipated yet it wasn’t what I’d call an authentic historical experience either. I was most interested in a series of before and after photos showing the amount of deterioration between the early 1900s and 2005, and the restoration that was done in 2006. There are no western toilets but at least the squat toilets are clean and plentiful. I pose for a number of photos with Chinese tourists. Not everyone on the truck is keen to pose for 20, 50 or 100 photos but I’m accustomed to being in the spotlight after 15 years of television work at Woodbine and Mohawk Racetracks. To be perfectly honest, I kind of like the attention.
15:45 We stop at another section of the wall that has been fully restored. This is just not my thing so I have a beer at the bottom while James, Kirk and Heather scramble to the top. It’s about 40C when they return.
19:00 Rodney’s Middle Eastern Chicken with steamed vegetables is really good. After dinner I head to a far hill to get cell service. Tesla has just announced an upgrade to the 85D. It’s not the announcement I was dreaming of (a friendly takeover by Apple, perhaps) but I’m sure the stock will go up a buck or two tomorrow. If it climbs $4 it will trigger a “sell order” and I will take most of my money off the table. I still love the company but I’m not comfortable with the current valuation. I’ll definitely get back in after any serious correction.
July 18: near Jiayuguan, Gansu, China
7:30 The tent is down and I have tied into a big plate of Helen’s “eggy bread.” Ironically, my mom’s name was Helen and a favourite Saturday morning breakfast at our house was called “eggy bread.” After all these years I still thought it was my mom’s invention.
8:30 We set out for a 370 km drive to Dunhuang. This should take about six hours. Fingers crossed.
10:09 We pass a dozen or more wind turbines. Okay, I’m joking. We pass a dozen or more wind FARMS. Each farm contains up to 1000 turbines. When it’s complete, the Gansu wind Farm Project is expected t be the largest in the World. The bill to date is 120 billion yuan or about $18 billion. According to Wikipedia, new turbines are being erected at the rate of 36 per day. Yes, per DAY. That’s probably correct given the number of trucks carrying turbine components that we pass every day.
11:00 We pass under an elevated expressway in the middle of nowher. I have no idea why it has to be elevated but it is. While Toronto grapples with the issue of tearing down or replacing a few kilometres of the Gardiner Expressway, China is building overhead roads all over the country. This one is about 20 km long and doesn’t appear to link anything! We’re on the edge of the Gobi Desert and there really isn’t much out here!
12:21 We come across camels lounging on the road. This is a first for this trip. I’m sure we’ll see thousands more by the time we reach Istanbul.
12:56 Another toll booth in the middle of nowhere and another argument whether we are driving a bus or a truck. They want to charge us the toll for a truck but the vehicle is registered in China as a bus. We have this argument several times each day but eventually they always agree that the registration says “bus” so we get the preferred rate.
13:35 We arrive at the Ancient Path Hostel in the oasis town of Dunhuang. The lobby at our very basic hotel is nice and cool. It’s about 20C inside and at least 35C outside. Tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be even hotter. I wander down to the oasis but decide to return early tomorrow morning when it may be cooler and less crowded.
19:00 The eight of us walk about 1 km to the Silk Road Hotel (a new five star monstrosity) where we enjoy drinks and steaks on the rooftop terrace. The view of the nearby sand dunes is amazing even if there are a few buildings in the way. It’s not the best steak I’ve ever had but it’s the best steak I’ve had in China. It’s also the first steak I’ve had in China.