Time to head West
Lanzhou, north-west China
The landslide at Linjian
18 days into our Chinese tukathon and we've reached the half way point in this neverending country. As you can probably tell by the absence of blogs in the last week, we've had our foot flat to the floor, driving on average 10 hours a day. If we didn't have a log book I (Ants) would find it very hard to remember where we have been or what day or date it is. It all melds into one long bumpy road.
I think the last blog I wrote was in Leshan...so I'll start where I left off. After Leshan we headed for Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and home to around 10 million people. We gave Emeishan, the Holy Mountain we were supposed to climb, a swerve and opted instead for a much needed day off in Chengdu.
Some day off. The CSITS insisted we went to extend our visas, saying it would take an hour. So we hung around, filled in forms, waited some more, only to be told after wasting about four hours that infact we would have to wait five days to get our passports back. We were not amused. It was our first day off in 12 days, we were desperate to explore the city and just chill out, and our plans had been scuppered, once again, by the CSITS. And guess what, Chengdu's piece de resistance, Tianfu Square, looked on by a towering statue of Chairman Mao, was a pile of rubble, apparently a new metro system is being built.
For the next few days we headed further north through Sichuan. The beautiful mountains of Yunnan and Guizhou were replaced by an endless stream of filthy towns, shrouded in a noxious cloak of pollution, some no more than mountains of bricks and half knocked down houses. I feel so sorry for the people who live in these towns, victims of China's frenetic quest for development, living in places that honestly looked like they have been caught in the Blitzkreig.
After the pollution and filth of central Sichuan came Gansu, where we currently are. Traditionally viewed as as a buffering zome between China and the barbarians beyond, Gansu is a huge province which goes from Lanzhou in the west to Dunhuang in the east. More importantly for us, as we tukked into it on Friday we passed the 5000 km mark, meaning we have covered 2000 km in China.
Driving into Gansu felt like entering a different country. The manicured hills of Yunnan and Guizhou were replaced by rugged, scree laden peaks. Hints of Muslim culture began to appear and the air became dry and stifling. And Gansu had a special surprise in store for us.
On Friday evening, after 11 hours on the road, the afternoon tuk fever and hysteria set in. With me at the wheel Jo launched into singing Nee-hao (hello), in perfect operatic tones, to all lucky passers by. Whether toiling in the fields, selling watermelons by the side of the road or just strolling to town, they all got treated to Jo's dulcit tones. Sam hid under his map in embarrassment (whilst trying unsuccessfully to contain his laughter) and I tried to drive straight whilst weak all over from laughing. It really was hilarious. The zenith came as we drove slowly through a small town. Tens of Dong Feng trucks were pulled up by the roadside and crowds of people milled around. We assumed it was dinner time and everyone had stopped for their rice and noodles. Jo continued her operatic offerings, safe in the knowledge that we would never see these people again. As we rounded a corner we saw the cause of the crowds, a vast landslide blocking a 50 m section of the road. We soon discovered there had been not one, but two, earthquakes, causing the landslide as well as destroying some houses. There was no escape. It was 8 pm, all the hotels were full, everyone had abandoned their houses for fear of an aftershock, and the only other road to Wudu - which lay tantalisingly close at 50 km's away - was a 300km diversion along dirt tracks. The only option was to wait till they cleared the path. It could be the next day, it could be in two days.
What followed was by far the funniest night we have had in China so far. Ting Tong and her inhabitants became an instant source of amusement for the locals and we spent the night at a karaoke bar, drinking far too much beer with the local lads. Sleeping on the pavement wasn't quite so much fun but hey, its all part of the adventure. Amazingly, by 12 noon the next day, one ancient digger and some dynamite had cleared the road and we were off again.
New karaoke friends..
Yesterday was another massive day of driving - 12 hours on the road, 365 km's covered. The long hours were alleviated by the incredible beauty of the country we were passing through. Magic. Mountains rose up on either side of the road, so perfectly green it was as if some ancient being had cast a giant velvet cloak over their shoulders. Funny yak like creatures, wild horses and goats grazed in flower strewn meadows. And to top it all off, we ended the day by driving into a perfect sunset. However long and tiring the days are, scenes like this can not help but lift the spirits. That's not to say I didn't feel slightly deranged by fatigue by the time we arrived in Lintao last night.
So now we are in Lanzhou, where after 5600 km's of tukking north we turn Ting Tong west and head along the Silk Road for Central Asia and home. Our visas are being extended today and we are changing guides, Sam is being replaced by Jack, who hails from Urumqui. Sam was so relieved to make it through his tukathon he leapt out of Ting Tong this morning and embraced Jack like a long lost brother. Sam's been a funny one - oscillating between perfect charm and vile sulks. We hope Jack is a little less moody.
As for our Chinese solution - well there isn't one. The CSITS can't /won't extend our permits and we can't drive any harder than we currently are. There is no way we will make it out of China by the 7th, so we'll just have to pray we don't get whipped and sent to prison at the border.
A few random observations about China: at least 20 % of the cars are VW Santana's, ankle socks are all the rage, perms a la 1980's are the height of fashion, and the biggest crowd TT has pulled so far is 46. That was at a 5 minute ice-cream stop yesterday. It is the most bizarre country and although its been a bit of an endurance test its been our favourite so far, every day something makes us really laugh.
That's it for now - sorry its a bit long and no idea when we'll next make it to the internet. x Ants
PS Got a load of pics on the USB key but this internet cafe won't allow them, ggrrrr