The first thing I realized coming from Xinjang to Gansu is that everything seems pretty ‘normal’. No more police controls on every corner, the petrol stations are not guarded like a military post anymore and the internet speeds up from crazy slow like in the modem days to just plain slow. After curing my angry stomach for two days in a hostel with an upright and fairly clean toilet and big amounts of tasty (and exotic) Chinese food I was back on the track and good to go. But before I kept on cycling I went to see my first Chinese tourist site, The Great Wall as the very western end of it was just around the corner in Jiayuguan. There’s a big castle that used to mark the end of the wall. The wall itself looked pretty run down and not as impressive as on the pictures from the famous eastern part near Beijing, more like the wall behind the garden of my parents. But then again what kind of threat can you expect out there in the middle of deserted nowhere.
I even got to sit down on top of the castle and play a song. I have to say in general it is not easy to find spots in China where you can actually record without being drowned by the noise of traffic, construction sites, advertisement loudspeakers or any other kind of loud machines. But the Great Wall seems to be bastion of calm.
I’ve noticed before that Google translate is very inaccurate when translating to Chinese and back, probably because of the censorship the AI doesn’t get enough data to improve the results, or maybe Chinese people see things just from a different angle. Anyways, you get to see a lot of funny translations wherever things are written in English.
There is chili laying out for drying everywhere. I was wondering, who’s going to eat all that chili, but there is hardly any dish in China without it. Chinese even have spicy breakfast and further south in Sichuan spiciness seems to be a kind of religion.
After all that desert I was really happy when some mountains showed up on the horizon, because desert gets monotonous after a while, I’ve seen more than enough desert for a while. These mountains lead up south to the Tibetan plateau, the eastern part of this plateau belongs to the Qinghai province making it possible to go there as a foreigner without a special permission. The way there is going up to high altitudes beyond 3000m and that is usually a bad idea in the end of October, I was a little bit scared. So, I had a day of rest in Zhangye, sleeping in a warm hostel bed, shopping around in the department for long underwear and made some promo for the release of a record I produced back in Berlin over a year ago. If you’re interested, you can find her stuff here: Amazon. iTunes. Spotify.
Anyways, eventually I left heading for the mountains with a huge amount of food. So much food that my bike was really heavy, making the climb even harder – stupid me.
Here’s my portable kitchen in action. I’ll not tell you what is cooking there because you would probably think that I’m not a very inventive cook but after a 100km climb almost everything tastes good, just add an extra spoon of salt and if it still tastes boring go for the chili.
The road is crossing to Qinghai Province as it climbs. It got noticeably colder and started snowing but as long as I kept moving it felt pretty alright. Snow and downhill must be a pain.
In this little town called Ebuzhen at 3400m I was hoping to get a room in a hotel to escape the cold for the night and I almost made it. Luckily the police officer waited until it was completely dark to show up in the hotel and kick me out. “No foreigners allowed!” Thankfully he called a friend who could give me a totally overpriced taxi ride to some mysterious hotel 200 kilometers away, and thankfully I didn’t have enough cash with me and said I would just cycle there. Thankfully the police guy bought the lie.
So, back on the road with temperatures below zero and in absolute darkness it was not easy to find a spot to pitch the tent. The fact that road in China are in general fenced didn’t help either. But what to do, I put up my tent next to the road hoping no truckdriver would decide for a wee at my spot and no policemen would come and tell me that foreigners are not allowed to camp next to the road. Man, that was such a cold night, even wearing all my clothes didn’t really help. This is on the
However, this policeman came in civil to find me on the road next day and gave me cookies and juice, probably to restore his karma. Well, I let others decide about karma matters but I didn’t say no to the cookies of course!
So, after a pretty uncomfortable night and the insight that making a fire in this thin air is not as easy as usual due to the lack of oxygen in the air it was a very nice ride between snow covered mountains and dried meadows with frozen puddles. Only very little traffic and groups of Yak hanging around everywhere making their scary face.
I played a song on one of the mountain passes that in my opinion fits very well.
This was the highest point of my trip so far, Chinese road engineers were so kind to build a tunnel and saved me the last 200m of climbing. However, I was very happy when I came out on the other end, driving habbits of Chinese truck drivers are let’s say risk friendly. I would at least recommend to switch on the lights if you want to overtake another fully loaded 40t truck downhill in a dark tunnel but who am I to judge.
One amazing side effect of cycling down from high altitudes is that you get to experience the pleasure of what is called blood doping. 3 days exercising over 3000m is aparently enough to increase the number of red blood cells so that when I came down to lower altitudes where the air has more oxygen I felt really energized. Or maybe it was just the sun, the warmer temperatures and the tailwind. Whatever it was, it felt like a reward and I truly deserved it.
Unfortunately that is exactly the point where the empty and deserted China ends and the densely populated China starts. Xining, the Capital of Qinghai felt surreal after the remote cycling in the mountains.
China must have an enormous building industry and they are building stuff everywhere. There seems to be no limit and it seems that quantity counts. Sometimes you ride through huge newly build town that are almost empty. As a friend told me, China has a population of 1.3 billion but has housing to acommodate 3 billion people. I guess in China different rules apply but then again who in Europe wouldn’t want to be a millionaire and who would really know what to spent a million for. In this case I can recommend to invest into the real estate market. This ghost town is between Xining an Lanzhou.
Some road engineers proved that they can fit two highways into here and still make it look like a valley with a river. A third highway had to be tunneled through the mountain on the right though.
I made a selfie in a tunnel that was under construction – insane! And check out this beard!!
There seems to be no limit in manpower. I counted, here’s 24 people cleaning the fence in the middle of the road. I don’t know if these things are ever cleaned in Berlin.
Another piece of excellent work
After Xining the road leads back to Gansu and to Lanzhou, the capital of that province. I filmed a little bit while cycling into the city if you’re interested how it looks like from the cyclist point of view.
Lanzhou is nicer than it looks like, they have a market where I found all kind of weired stuff and I think Lanzhou must be one of the last outpost of the muslim world, I haven’t seen a mosque since.
I have to admit I haven’t been playing for people a lot since leaving Xinjiang, most of all because first there wasn’t so many people around and as further as I got into the more crowded areas I realized that a lot of people here are hopeless smartphone junkies and I’m getting a bit picky if the people are too much on their phones. It’s just unsatisfying if people just want to have their 20 seconds for an instagram/wechat or whatever post. It happened a few times that people started watching the beginning of the song again on their smartphone while I was still in the middle of the song. I hate to say it but that’s sick. You get a pretty good feeling for it who’s really interested and who’s just craving for the sensation of having the tall (yes, 1.80m seems to be extraordenary) stranger on their phone. These three guys were pretty cool though, they even cycled home to bring a phone so they could type something in it and translate it to english. And I played a few songs while we were sitting near the yellow river.
I have to say something about the communication in China. My mandarin isn’t really worth mentioning especially the pronunciation is still a mystery to me. I’ve been to other countries where I didn’t speak the language but in general it was always possible to communicate. China is different, you find people with extremely low communication skills. Maybe because there’s not many foreigners coming especially to the rural areas of China and the only people that don’t speak Chinese are babies. So, you’re at times you’re treated like a baby. If some random guy comes to me on the road and asks something I don’t understand and I say in my few words mandarin that I don’t speak Chinese he would maybe look a bit strange and then ask the same question again, just a bit louder. And if I’m signalling that I don’t understand he would reduce the sentence to the few essential words and say them again just even louder and of course I still don’t understand, this goes on, louder and louder. So, I end up standing on the road with a stranger who’s screaming words at me that I don’t understand – that feels weird. Seems like the concept of sign language hasn’t reached everyone in China yet. When people realized that screaming won’t help it often happened that they would write the words down in Chinese and show them to you. But how big is the chance that you can’t speak and understand Chinese but are able to read (and then understand it)?
After Lanzhou I was promised warmer temperatures by some friends who were cycling about 1000km ahead of me. But first I had to pass a long and busy road. On 400km they where building a motorway next to the main road but not bit by bit – all the way at once. It was let’s say not so much fun with all the trucks and all the dirt but in China you get used to it.
This slope they clearly built to show off, they even built a platform on top of it with little shop to make sure everyone stops and takes a picture. Good job!
The cyclists worst nightmare is the three wheeled scooter aka tuk-tuk (just the electric ones don’t make any tuk-tuk sound of course). Preferably slow moving and unpredictable in behaviour. Especially the ones with a motor like to go at cyclists’ speed and blow out so much fumes that if you have one of them somewhere in front of you, you better take a break and wait until the black clouds have disappeared. Sometimes the electric ones give a good slip-stream but in general I try to keep away from them, the drivers are just too reckless and they absolutely don’t give a shit about anything.
The weather fell back into bad habits and left me camp in snow one night. I somehow thought that the layer of snow would give some isolation like in an iglu. That is total nonsense, it was as cold as it looked and it was a nightmare to pack the frozen tent.
Chinese people love to take pictures, it happens all the time that you are asked by some stranger on the street to take a picture with him. This was in a restaurant in southern Gansu where I was the only customer (which happened often too) and the entire staff -12 people – gathered and just stared at me while eating – and taking pictures of me while eating. This happened all the time in restaurants and if you don’t start eating straight away or don’t eat from all the plates at once or not in the way they want you to eat they will start pointing at the food to make sure you don’t forget that you’re supposed to eat – I can’t help it but if I’m being stared at by a group of people while I’m eating I feel like an animal in the zoo. Here I got them to take a picture of me with the chef, I tried to get the whole staff on the picture but they were surprisingly shy all of a sudden – interesting.
This is only 250km after camping in snow. It is a big relief to sleep without a hat. The worst thing about camping in the cold is the cold nose at night, I haven’t found a solution for this problem yet.
This was the last town before leaving Gansu, next province is Sichuan and theye it seems to be cloudy all the time.