Sunday, 4 January 2015

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Stuck in a Border Town; Today: 135 km; Total: 3965 km

 July 14-15, 2014

Having very little money left for food or for a hotel if we had to, we had no choice but to push it to the border which was 145 km, again in the desert. We were lucky yesterday with the weather but today, right from the beginning, the sunshine was intense.

We left the camp at 7 without breakfast. After five minutes outside the village, we stopped to have "breakfast": coffee, stale bread, and a little bit of Chinese honey. After breakfast, I tried to keep pace with Fausto, but he was fast and strong. I fell behind with little money in my pocket, not even enough if I wanted to buy a bottle of water. I remembered the BBC documentary I was listening to the other day about an Indian peace activist group who walked from India to Moscow, Paris, London, and Washington for peace during the Cold War era with no money. I thought I should be able to survive for a day without money. After 50 km, I had half a bottle of water left. I saw a truck parked on the side of the road. The driver was inside, on the phone. I stopped and showed him my water bottle. Immediately, he hung up and gave me two small bottles of water. I thanked him and left. After five km, a young guy on his motorbike slowed down to take a close look at me and my bicycle. Then he stopped. I stopped too. After talking for a few minutes using gesture, I saw a bottle of juice in the back of his motor bike. I gestured if I could drink it. He gave it to me. It was peanut butter juice/milk. After taking pictures, he left.

After half hour, I arrived in a village where Fausto was waiting. We tried to withdraw money from an ATM, but it didn't work, so we kept riding to the next village/which was the last big village before the border, where there was no ATM. Hopeful, we kept riding to our last rope to hang on--the small village just before the border. Before we left, another truck driver gave me two small bottles of water, and I bought one with the only money I had. We left for the village near the border.

There was a hill to climb. I was alone when trying to get on the top of the hill in scorching sun. I could hear a truck trying to climb the hill behind me. The truck and I both got to the top of the hill almost at the same time when I saw a man in the passenger seat holding a pop out gesturing me if I would like to have it. I nodded and speeded up. I reached out to his stretched arm and got the bottle. Right away, I opened it while riding, raised the bottle to the guy to solute, and enjoyed the drink. I hope you understand the level of my appreciation for this random act of kindness.

Just before the village, there was a police checkpoint. They checked our passports and radioed our information to their HQ. It was when we got our biggest surprise: the Mongolian border would be closed for three days!

Great! We have no Chinese money, there is no ATM in this village, and we cannot change dollars. Mmm....

When the officer told us that the border would be open on 17th of July because of Mongolian Summer Festival, I took out my iPhone to check the date. The officer got my iPhone and went through all my personal photos--all of them. He sometimes would ask me who the girls in the photos were. I had read about this practice on some weblogs, so I tried to keep my cool, but inside, I was burning with a sense of anger because of my rights being violated. The other officer gave us two bottles of water though. We left for Tarkshken to spend T H R E E days.

In the first hotel we asked how much it would cost and if they would accept dollars. It cost Y137, but they wouldn't accept dollars. With a rough idea how much money we needed, we ventured in the town to find a bank. We found the only bank with an ATM, but it wouldn't accept our debit or Visa cards. Desperate, we talked to two guys who happened to be the bank clerks. We demanded either change our currency or find a way to use our cards. After ten minutes of gesturing, a lady showed up who could speak good English. Then she yelled at a driver of a pickup truck who happened to be entering the strip mall we were at. I think she asked her if he would change $100. Apparently, he would. We went to his grocery shop and got rich.

The hotel is the worst we have stayed at so far in China. It is very noisy, specially late at night. There is no air conditioning in the building, and the springs of the mattress hurt our back.

I needed Internet. Only in the last hours of the second night, when I begged the receptionist if I could use the Internet to check my email, did she say the word WIFI! And it only worked for a few hours. What is worse, a man came to our room when we had left the door ajar for some fresh air, and then said something in Chinese which I suspect it meant, "sorry". Of course it was an excuse. He was a thief. 

The Guy Who Gave me a Drink

Where We Got Stuck

The Menu of a Restaurant

The Ocean View from our Hotel

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Longest Ride; Today: 215 km; Total: 3830 km

July 13, 2014

At 7 am China time (5 am real time), we were on the lonely, desert road. There was no wind at the beginning, so we were doing fast. The only thing ahead, according to the map, was a short side road meeting this road 90 km away, where we expected to see some sort of town or village. Not having eaten enough for the past couple of days had made me really weak. After 50 km riding nonstop, I had no energy left to move on, but I had to keep going. I remembered that I had had some dried dates in my bags. I stopped and put them in my pocket. Every time I had a pang of hunger or no energy, I would put a few of them in my mouth and dampen them with a sip of water.

After 90 km, we reached the short road we had seen on the map. Yes... There was a 500-meter dirt road but for the trucks to load big boulders from a mine. However, there were some tents and a cafe. I went to the cafe to get some water. The woman showed me a sticker of "Nexus Expedition" on the wall in his kitchen. That meant Dimitri, the French cyclist we had met on our way in Kyrgyzstan was there. We decided to stay there and eat lunch knowing that the next town is 140 km away. We ate some noodles with vegetable and some chunks of meat. After an hour we were on the road again, not knowing where or when to stop.

We were very lucky because the sun was not scorching today. There was a thin layer of cloud blocking the burning, blinding sun. The wind was also not a head wind except for 15 km in the morning. So we kept riding and riding because, there was nowhere to stop, and we wanted to get out of this desert as soon as possible.

At about 7 pm and covering 215 km, the longest ride I have ever done in a day, we reached a village on a river side. We had to camp there, but the challenge was the fact that all the wooded areas were protected by barbed wires. We could not camp near a tree. There was only one opening, but there were some young men swimming in the river near the opening, so we could not go in.  We waited and waited. We went up and down the road, we lingered some time pretending everything except any indication of camping there until we found a moment when there was nobody around and we sneaked in.

The camping spot was horrible, swarms of biting mosquitoes covered us immediately. We used our sprays, but it could not stop them from biting. We had only half hour of sun light, so we had to be quick and discreet. We pitched up our tents, made instant noodle, and tried to sleep.

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Riding in Camel Land; Today: 70 km; Total: 3615 km

July 12, 2014

After struggling with diarrhea all night, I woke up to feel hungry, which was a very good sign. We went to the restaurant of the hotel and ate as much as we could. I was hungry alright, but I could eat not very much.

We started at 9:15 in somewhat scorching sun. After two km of riding in the city trying to get out as soon as possible, two cops in a car stopped us. They asked questions in Chinese. I repeated the word, "English" again and again, but they would also repeat their questions in Chinese. I gave them a copy of my passport. One of them took a photo of my passport using his personal cell phone!! After 15 minutes or so, an English-speaking woman was called. She asked for our original passport and some general information, such as where we were going and all. After a few minutes, we were on our way.

Slowly, the landscape changed into desert, no trees, no water, no nothing. We rode nonstop, knowing that soon, we wouldn't be able to continue because of the heat. So, after 71 km and another passport control, we arrived at a row of two-storey buildings on the side of the road. We bought more water to get ready for the road, but the heat was unbearable and there were no trees or town in the next 80 km. surprisingly, there was a hotel there. Well, there were rooms on the second floor of the building. After eating some rice and vegetables, we checked in. We will leave tomorrow very very early to beat the heat. I was feeling better, but I still was very weak. When I looked in the mirror the other day with my t-shirt off, I was scared at how much weight I had lost. I look like people in concentration camps in WWII. I sure need to eat better.


Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Poisoning; Today: 20 km; Total: 3545 km

July 11, 2014

Last night... Well, last night, I ate just a little of my dinner, which tasted horrible by the way, hoping to get my appetite back later at night, but, wishful thinking, not only did I not touch my food, I started feeling sick, a combination of vomiting, and intense diarrhea. I was up most of the night, and in the morning, I was very weak. I had lost my appetite too. I could not eat anything for breakfast except that I forced myself to push down some bread and honey with tea.

There was a town just 20 km on our way, so we found a nice hotel and decided to rest for a day. An hour after checking in, there were Police officers at our door asking us to go to another hotel because the one we were staying at did not have a certificate to host foreigners. So, we packed again, and went downstairs. To our surprise, the hotel receptionists, a guy and a lady, drove us to another hotel, which was even much better (4 stars) with the same price. In fact, we had checked the price of this hotel before, but it had been double what we were asked to pay now! But, because the Police took us there, they had to give us the same price as the first hotel.  

Anyways, we checked in again and I stayed in bed all the time. I forced myself to eat some instant noodles at noon and dinner. At night, the diarrhea was still bugging me very much. 

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Leaving Urumqi; Today: 220 km; Total: 3525 km

July 9-10, 2014

After three days in Urumqi, we decided to leave. We had packed everything the night before and woke up early to leave, but Fausto didn't feel well, so we decided to rest one more day. Then, in the afternoon, I felt sick. I had lost my appetite, I had a headache and I had diarrhea. For 24 hours, I didn't eat anything. The next morning, when we wanted to leave, Fausto asked me if I was really sure to start that day because I was sick. I could not imagine another day in Urumqi, so I decided hit the road.

Going out of Urumqi was not difficult. The way was downhill most of the times, so we went through massive construction sites in the suburbs on to the road toward east. The weather was OK, cloudy, but at the end of the day, we had strong head wind.
July 10, 2014

Nothing special! Woke up early, had breakfast, rode our bikes till one thirty, had a flat, started again at 4, stopped by a nice farm, took a bathe in the water running for the farm, and dinner.