We made good progress on pavement. 150 km (90ish miles) easy in one day, weaving through rolling hills and eventually dropping into the flat desert stretch that remained between us and the big city. Then came the oppresive heat. 42 C (107 F). Living in Alaska for 5 years has made me soft to this sort of heat....especially exercising in this sort of heat. So Andrew and I made the easy decision to stick out a thumb (metaphorical thumbs....Asian hitch hilking is more like waving a fire with an imaginary piece of cardboard). We sat on the side of the road, sweating, trying to find a truck or SUV heading in the same direction. We successfully flagged a few cars and truck, all of which spoke/yelled at us in Chinese and eventually drove away. One car we flagged rolled down their windows, handed us half a watermellon and drove away. Then we flagged a large bus, which stopped and waved us aboard. We loaded our bikes and found seats on a nice air conditioned bus. After about 10 minutes, a guy aproached us asking for money (at this point we were down to less than $30). We were hoping to hitch hike, maybe sharing our half watermelon with a truck driver. Instead, we found ourselves sitting on a bus that we couldn't pay for (watermelon in our laps).....to which we pulled out our remaining Chinese money and showed that we didn't have enough. We speculated being thrown off at the next stop. We went through multiple iterations of trying to make the hand gesture that we were good for it. We could hit the next ATM....or maybe pay using a credit card? The Chinese guy just looked at us with an extremely confused look (fairly typical for us in China). Andrew even pulled out a crisp 100 dollar bill, to which the guy was completely unimpressed. Somehow I finally got through to the guy using a mime of using an ATM and pulling out money in Urumqi. The guy gave a satisfactory nod of the head, and we continued to speculate being thrown off at the next stop, and every stop until we got close to the city. We were beat tired and passed shortly after we didn't get thrown off at the first few stops (watermelon dripping in our laps) and finally arrived in the big city towards sunset. I sat on the bus while Andrew ran around the bus station, hitting 3 ATM's before finally finding one that accepted foreign cards. We had arrived at the biggest city of the entire trip (3+ million people).
|Big City of Urumqi|
We took a day trip to Turpan, the second lowest place in the world (500ish ft below seat level) and one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world. Turpan is a desert oasis, one of the marvels of the ancient Silk Road trading routes, hydrated by ground water giving way to acres of vineyars, watermelon patches and trees in a seemingly uninhabitable desert nothing. An antrepologist wonderland, with the salty environment preserving tombs from BC and the largest minaret in China (constructed in 1777). An amazingly fertile desert oasis with a rich history.
|Emin Minaret, constructed in 1777, the largest in China.|
|Modern Mosque in Turpan|
So we decided to skip the desert oven and take a bus across the border to Kazakhstan; the 9th largest country in the world, the site of the first successful space launch and home of Borat. Kazakhstan has an interesting visa policy. They allow 15 days visa free, with the exception that anyone traveling overland must register withing 5 days of arriving in the country. Registration can only be completed in big cities, with the fine of $100 per day for each day that you don't register. So we are racing to get out of the country in 5 days. The bus ride and border crossing into Kazakhstan were complete junk shows, full of bribes, confusion, little-to-no sleep, asian's pushing their way through cues and the redeeming smiling faces. We have to make it to the border of Kyrgyzstan before the end of day 5, which is never music to a cyclist's ears. Luckily we are poised for the challenge and the promise of mountains and sleeping in tents makes the carrot seem that much closer to this horse's mouth. We should be in Kyrgyzstan in the next 2 days.....barring any proper push biking. Wish us luck.
|Uighur district in Urumqi|
|This is Volkan, the Turkish cyclist from the previous post. Really cool guy.|
|What a humbling language|
|Emin Minaret in background|