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

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