Saturday, 11 May 2013

In Xining

The bullet points

  • We have taxied and bused to Xining in the Qinghai region of China.
  • Our week has been rubbish but is now fantastic!
  • Tomorrow we catch a train to Turpan in the Taklamakan Desert, then head for Kashi (Kashgar) two days later.

The fineprint

What a week it’s been! The predictably unpredictable weather as we cycled into higher
altitudes and increasingly remote areas eventually persuaded us to pack up the bikes
and opt for taxi and bus transport.

In the most unexpected remote town we stumbled across an English speaking Tibetan
named Yeshi Tsomo who just happened to have spent 2 months in Tauranga! Yeshi was
unbelievably generous to us, and as the snow continued to fall she organized a taxi to
get us out from SerQu to XiaWuZhen where we could link with a bus to the more major
city of Xining. Actually the taxi was supposed to take us to Yushu bus station but stopped
47km short, leaving us a bit baffled and stranded. Once again the locals came to the
rescue, sprinting out onto the main street to flag us down a bus.

From my parents’ time working in this area in 2005 I’d heard many a legend of the
sleeper bus journeys. Our experience was no exception…horrendously bad! Fortunately
my good health lasted the 18 trip before I fell victim to bad bugs on arrival in Xining.
Anna fared not so well. As the air in the bus filled thicker with nicotine smoke, the aisle
filled with cigarette buts, food scraps, spit and smelly shoes. I tried to remain calm
and accept the cultural differences, but 18 hours stuck on a small bus with a group of
chain smokers really stretched my positivity beyond breaking point. It also stretched
Anna’s stomach beyond breaking point. The exaggerated rolling and bouncing motion
of our upper level berths at the back of the bus, with occasional bigger bumps that sent
us flying to crash heads on the roof above, was not the ideal environment for a sick
gut. Luckily unlike NZ buses there are a few opening windows (that most passengers
insisted on closing!) on these Chinese sleeper buses. On reflection these are probably
more for the purpose of unloading stomach contents tidily than actually allowing fresh
air to enter. Whatever their purpose Anna made use of them several times. The dogs of
the Qinghai province will smell her scent on the left side bus wall for some time to come
as I suspect cleaning is not a regular activity in this bus industry! I cannot imagine how
bad this experience must have been for Anna, five days on she still avoids discussion or
looking at photos of the journey in order to avoid the gagging reflex it still brings up!

So, being the half of our team in semi-reasonable health on arrival in Xining, I swung
into full flight grabbing bags and bikes and checking through our belongings. But alas
my check system proved faulty. My gore-tex jacket, along with money, gloves, hat and
head-torch all remained warmly snuggled onboard, amongst the duvet that had been my
berth, as the bus rolled away and out of sight. So there we were, it was hard to feel any
warmth toward Xining, China, ourselves, or life in general at that moment.

To cut a long story short we got to a good hostel, we’ve stayed sick most of the week,
things were longing grim. BUT as the depths get deeper the highs must soon come,
and today we have had good things heaped upon us. Small things become such huge
victories. We have sent bikes to Kashi, with the legitimate China Railway Express this
time (fingers crossed they will arrive in one piece!). We have booked train tickets for the
next week to follow our bikes across the Taklamakan desert. We met Marc and Marion
Foggin, good friends from the organization Plateau Perspectives with whom my parents

worked. We have even enjoyed an unexpected holiday from foreign foods, eating chips
and burgers for lunch! Our health seems on the mend, for now at least, and we look
forward to tomorrow heading north on the train to experience the great deserts of the
Xinjiang region of China. Wooohoooo!


SerQu locals battle the snow falls.

Working hard through the storm to jam the bikes, ourselves, and theother passengers in to the taxi. The young fella on the right was such astar, our major helper!

A short break between storms and pot-holes.

More keen youngsters, enjoying our bikes in XiaWuZhen. This guys parents offered to buy our bikes for 500yuan each!


Smoke inhalation guard. Who knows what other germs are festering in the duvet!

As the journey rolls on the aisle fills.

With Marc and Marion Foggin, a wonderful time with special people.

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