Decided to take today off. It's been hot, I've been tired, and I'm not really in a hurry, so why not... I'm really excited to be here in China, I'm still feeling that high from entering the country. That being said, I have never been so lost in my life. Besides from saying "Ne How" I don't know a single thing. Working on saying "thank you," might have that one down in a week or two... As you may have guessed there are basically no English speakers out here. The government does do a great job making sure all of the road signs are bilingual, only problem is that the two languages they choose use are Chinese and Uyger... Checking into the hotel last night took almost an hour, as we both tried to use internet translators, which often produced translations which were comically nonsensical. Ordering food is a bit of a problem. I don't really know what any of the names of the dishes are here, and even when I do try to pronounce one of them, people usually have no idea what I am talking about. I usually just walk into a restaurant, look at the menu and pick something at random which seems to be appropriately priced. Usually I'll point to something, the cook will go ohh ya the "yu fung quian wang shu" or whatever and, not wanting to embarrass myself, I'll just nod as if I know exactly what I'm about to get. If they don't have a menu, things get even more interesting...
Day 172Another day riding on the 4 lane expressway all day. It's the only road. I really love these stretches, one road, open desert, vast sections of undeveloped land. The conditions today couldn't have been better. Slightly downhill, well paved road, favorable wind, good weather. Add this with crazy days which don't get dark until after 11 pm, and I just kept going and going and going. Before I knew it I had blown past my targeted stop and cruised into Kuytun, over 180km on the day! My longest day so far, and by a decent margin at that. As luck would have it, I quickly found a cheap hotel which would accept me, and I even made some friends who wanted to practice their English while I was eating dinner.
|Saw a lot of this around Kuytun|
Compared to the Stans, China is huge. Even out in the middle of nowhere, there seems to be a lot more going on. People are everywhere, relatively speaking at least. There's still plenty of open space and distance between cities, I'm still in a decently sparse desert, but when you do get to a city, they're all seemingly huge. Urban interstates, train stations, malls, grocery stores, bike shops, 10 story apartment buildings; things which were rare occurrences and only found in the largest cities in the former Soviet countries were commonplace here. It was weeks between these type of cities in the Stans, and now I seemed go through one every day. The cities are so much denser here, that a street pattern on my map which would probably indicate a 20,000 person town in Kazakhstan, could be city with half a million people here. Case in point was tonight's stop, Shihezi. I was told I had an American friend of a friend here who worked at a university, but judging from my maps, I though there was no way this was the same Shihezi. Sure enough though, this was the spot. Met up with Tim and his other American friends living in a tall apartment building in this deceivingly large city. They all taught in the English department, which didn't surprise me... I ended up having the best timing ever, as Tim was hosting an end of the year party tonight with all of his students. The even had American liquor, and some other stuff which was really hard to find around here... It was awesome to hangout with these people from all over China. I had finally found people who spoke English! Haha. After the students left, Tim, the other teachers, and I all shot the shit. Great company, great night.
Day 174From here to Urumqi is about 140 km. I was debating trying to get there in one day, but was hanging out with Tim and his friends this morning and got a late start on the day. So Urumqi in two days... Down the road to Hutubi. The highway starts to get bigger as I approached the edge Urumqi metropolitan area, but that also means I have a nice side road to take today. Hutubi was the perfect place to stop for the night in almost every way. It was a small town, so traffic wasn't bad, but it was big enough to have grocery stores, and plenty of restaurants, street food and hotels. My stay would have been great, if it wasn't for this crazy government... Basically my entire afternoon went like this: walk up to a hotel, very nice owner, very nice hotel, dirt cheap prices. Ask if they have space, they say well yes we certainly do. Ask for a room, oh no sorry can't do that, government would shut me down if I let a foreigner stay here. I must have gone into over 20 hotels, same deal. Every. Single. Time. You can imagine how my delight in the government's competency to build such great road infrastructure soon gave way to anger towards their bullshit foreigner hotel policy. I eventually was able to verify that there was only one hotel in town that accepted foreigners, the Holiday Inn. Fuck, no way, sounds like there must have been some sort of corrupt deal that took place or something.
Definitely not paying that much money, so time for Plan B, camping tonight. The reason I didn't want to camp for Plan A, was that there was no good places to do it around here. The entire area was developed with either buildings or small farm house plots; there were people everywhere. There's nothing worse than going to sleep knowing that someone might come knocking on your tent at anytime. Its unsafe, and also just really annoying. That's why my number one rule of stealth camping is, don't be seen. I was hoping that the one place I might find some area not frequented by people would be in the middle of the highway junction. So I bought some food and left town, out towards the freeway bypass road. While I was trying to figure out how to hop the fence into my "camping spot," I unfortunately met this homeless type person who wouldn't leave me alone. He wasn't really harassing me or anything, he just wouldn't leave. That was a problem, since I did not want him to see where I was camping (or even just that fact that I was camping). It took me a couple hours to shake him, and then I was finally able to sneak off to camp without anyone seeing me.
Today into Urumqi. With 3 million people, its not a huge mega-city, but its still the biggest thing I've seen since Istanbul. I am excited about that. My nice semi-rural secondary road turned into a 10 lane freeway as I approached, and I found myself suddenly competing with cars for lane space as they sped by at 140 kph. In town the traffic was so bad, that I was actually even having to stop and go on the bike to get through. Despite that though I made great time into town and was ecstatic to find an international hostel, because I knew the government would let me stay there... At the hostel, found a lot of other bikers, mostly doing domestic trips, but one French dude heading from Mongolia back to his house in France. Sweet.
Day off today and tomorrow, maybe a third day too, who knows... Urumqi is an interesting city. As with everything else out here, it has its roots as an old silk road post, but this place grew to be a major hub, despite its isolation. I mean this city is really out here, surrounded by endless deserts and mountains which separate it from the rest of the world. In fact, out of every city in Europe AND Asia, Urumqi is closest to Eurasia's Pole of Inaccessibility. You probably have no idea what that means, but the major take away is that its geographically quite disconnected from most major global centers. Anyway, enough of that...
Security here is intense. Metal detectors and guards at the entrance of every commercial center. You even have to go through security to get in the local city bus stations, and even in the parks! The Chinese government is definitely trying to crack down on all the unrest between the different minority groups, and the recent terrorist attacks.
As lame as this sounds, the Chinese really know how to fly their kites, I'm impressed. They have these huge kites and they fly them like 1000 feet up in the air. They even have this full body harness thing they wear with the rope wrapped around this bicycle wheel sized reel. Super legit. And I basically guarantee that will be the most I ever write about kites for the rest of my life...
I have discovered my new favorite restaurant. I mean that 100% literally. Not my favorite in China, or on the trip, or whatever. No. This is the best place to eat I have ever set foot in. If I was picking my last meal on death row, I want food from this place. Sorry In N Out. That being said, I have no idea what this place is called, nor do I really know how to pronounce most of the names of the dishes, but its my favorite place, unequivocally, hands down. Its Uyger cooks, who put a twist on some of the traditional Chinese staple dishes, amazing, and I don't think they have a single thing on the menu that costs over a buck. If anybody out there happens to be reading this and is heading to Urumqi, I'll send you directions, and then you can try it and be disappointed because I just hyped it up with ridiculously high expectations haha.
Out of Urumqi. One last stop to stock up on some food from my favorite restaurant, and I'm on the road again. The city disappears quite quickly and I have an uneasy feeling knowing that it will be a long time until I'm back in a large city. Tonight I found a pretty great spot to camp, right off of a river heading though a canyon. Camping site was nice and protected by the surrounding vegetation and all the debris left over from the nearby high-speed rail construction.
I wind out out of last night's canyon and I am met with open desert land. I have officially entered Turpan Prefecture, the hottest place in China. Although you wouldn't have guess that from today. Overcast, on the brink of raining, doesn't seem too bad for now. Turpan is also home to one of the lowest depressions in the world, and I had a nice steady downhill for several miles on my way into the town of, you guessed it, Turpan. Today was, by far, the fastest maintainable speed I've had on the bike. For several hours I had a nice downhill, a good road and a howling tailwind. No idea how fast I was actually going, but I was almost keeping up with the cars! That all changed though as the wind decided to change directions, then life sucked for a couple hours... Into town, met up with Tony, my first Chinese Couchsurfer. Interesting guy. A Han Chinese, from Eastern China, who became obsessed with Uyger culture and now refuses to live outside of the Xinjiang Uyger Autonomous Region. He runs a tourism company, which I went and checked out where he highlights local Uyger culture and sells local raisins, which are widely regarded in China to be the best raisins in the world. Tonight we met up with his friends, drank a lot of Bijo, and went out to a Uyger club. Really good time.