Thursday, July 23: Heavenly Lake, Xinjiang, China
8:00 We hardly need a golf cart to take us about 2 minutes down the hill so we walk from the yurt to the main bus station and save about 20 cents per person. I don’t want to be too hard on Heavenly Lake so let’s just say that it’s not my type of place. About 50,000 Chinese tourists per day would probably disagree.
10:44 We leave the parking lot at Heavenly Lake and set out on a 530 km drive to Korla. If it were up to me, we would have been on the road at the crack of dawn and settled down in Korla well before noon. That’s not my call, however. There may be valid reasons for driving in the heat of the afternoon, although I can’t think of one.
11:33 We approach the gritty industrial city of Urumqi. I’d love to stop and check it out but I’m obviously the only one who feels this way. There are no speakers disguised as rocks lining the sidewalks of Urumqi. Hell, there are no sidewalks in much of Urumqi.
12:00 I’ve lost count of how many coal-fired plants we’ve passed today. Factories and unfinished housing blocks number in the hundreds though.
12:05 We pass a new residential development that consists of 50 to 100 concrete towers, each about 20 storeys high. Windows have yet to be installed and aside from a few security guards, I don’t see any workers on site. I ask our guide why the development is on hold. His response is laughable: “The workers are inside doing the plumbing and electrical work.”
12:47 We stop at a gas station where I buy a terrycloth towel. I haven’t owned a towel since last August when I left mine in a hostel in Hollywood, California. As I stand in the line to pay I peer over the shoulder of another customer and see that he’s swiping through photos of Ferraris on a large and very expensive Samsung phone. It’s not hard to look over this guy’s shoulder as he appears to be about four years of age.
13:55 The temperature in the truck is well above 40C. Opening the windows seems counter-productive as the breeze is so hot and dry.
16:50 We have climbed 700 meters in elevation in last 45 minutes but Xara (our truck) has handled the 5% grade with ease. She may be slow but she’s still chugging along while dozens of overheated cars line the shoulders. This weather is pretty tough on cars and sheep alike.
18:30 Another police stop. These guys want to see our passports. Everything is in order and we’re on our way within 10 minutes.
19:50. We arrive in Korla and check into the Golden Leaf Hotel. It’s the equivalent of a Best Western but a double room goes for about $30.
20:50 Jason asks how we like the hotel’s “new” dining room. He explains that it has just been renovated and tonight is their grand re-opening. There are no other customers. There’s also no cold beer. Thankfully they don’t seem to mind when one of our guys fetches a case of cold beer from the store across the street.