Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tajung is halfway through the Taklamakan. It was a town of 1 hotel, 1 restaurant, 3 food stores and a handful of other stores. The most noticeable feature of this town was all the brothels. There was more brothels than all other stores combined. I had heard from passing bus and truck drivers that a lone cyclist was seen crossing the desert first 100KM, then 50KM, then 10KM from town. By the time Markus had rolled into town it seemed half the population was expecting him. He was greeted with 'Ireland, Ireland' and was brought by about 15 people to the only restaurant in town , where I had spent the day drinking tea and reading my book. Beer and more beer was ordered and while I had updated him on fun times in south east Asia, Markus talked of having snow up to his waist as he crossed passes from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, the endless complications in getting his Chinese visa, getting arrested for wandering (deliberately) into an area that was "closed to the world" according to Chinese authorises. "You shall be punished", he was told. Punishment was agreed with a €20 fine. Maps of China were sprawled across the table as discussions of routes, Himalayas, visa extensions, the approaching winter filled our table. The great news is we roughly had the same plan. The question remained; Would it be possible? Firstly we wished to detour from the Cross-Desert-Highway which would bring us out in Minfeng. We wish to take the lesser travelled desert route to Qiemo. Its most likely we would be the first people to attempt this route by bicycle. The plan would be to take road 315 out of the Xinliang provence and into the Quighai provence. This would eventually get us to Golmud. Our visas would be running out at this stage so a visa extension in Golmud would be ideal if possible. (If not Plan B comes into operation,-Presently we don't know what Plan B is). Then it comes down to where we can or cannot go. Tibet is out. End of story. Without a guide to dictate and supervise our every move, permits are impossible. Even if either of us could afford a guide we have no intention of paying and thereby promoting such a system. Independent travel is King. So the plan is to continue south east to the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan. Another visa extension will be needed at this stage. The question remains; Will we get it?The next day started with clear skies. We learned we would not pass an source of food or water for 200KM. By mid afternoon a strong direct headwind through a sand storm brought us to a stop. But with no where to shelter and winds to powerful to pitch a tent in the sand, there was nothing to do but pedal through it. It calmed after sunset and with zero traffic on the road, we pedalled into the night. Exhausted at the end of the day, we didn't even set up our tents; Just blew up our mattresses and climbed into our sleeping bags.We were packing up our stuff before sunrise and decided to venture off walking away from the road and into the desert. A perfectly calm morning with splendid sunrise. The dunes were just spectacular. Plenty of photos and it was time to get back on the bike. Our main aim today was to get out of the desert and to skirt the road around the desert. Making it to a village just before Qiemo was ideal. We bought some food and beers and sat out in front of a convenice store. It was well past sunset and we had no fears of finding a camp spot. Who cares at this stage. Sure we always find somewhere. And sure enough the store owner invited us in to sleep on the shop floor. We had a fine nights sleep here. The rats and mice stayed in one corner and we stayed in the other. One of the best things about sleeping in a convience store is the choice available for breakfast. We were up again at sunrise. It was great to complete the 550KM crossing of the Taklamakan. Now the plan was to skirt around the desert on Highway 315. There was many more days of desert biking before we start into the mountains. Gradually the desert became a completely flat landscape of small stones. It took us 3 days to cross this 'Lunar landscape', as we called it. Neil Armstrong could have saved the American taxpayer millions and gone for a walk here instead. I've been in some wild winds in everywhere from Antarctica to Patagonia to Iceland, but I've never experienced winds like these here in Western China. It was a direct head wind and although we were on a perfectly asphalted road, we had to walk the bikes due to the power of the wind. Both our maps pointed to the fact that we would be passing 5 towns over the coming days. But 3 of them were abandoned. At one stage we were down to 1 litre of water between us. Thankfully we came across a road workers' shelter, and here we could refill our bottles.The past 8 days have been very difficult. We would go from sunrise till way past sunset, and rest for about 4 hours in the afternoon as the wind was generally most powerful then. As the sight of the mountains came into view it was a great relief. We were finally getting off this moon. We had hoped to find regular streams to stock up on water but the mountains are completely barren with no agriculture and the only people seemed to be more road workers. And the stream water we found was too saltly to drink. Yesterday we climbed from the 'Lunar landscape' of 1200M to 33350M into the mountains. It was a massive climb but that powerful headwind in the valley became a tailwind and literally blew us up the mountain. In the desert and lunar landscape, Markus and I never bothered setting up our tents, we would throw down the mattress and sleeping bags and sleep wherever. But once we ventured into the mountains, there was an expected temperature decrease. Its morning now as I lay here in my tent and my thermometer reads 2'C. My water bottle outside the tent is partially frozen. The sun has already risen, but I'm in no mood to get out of my cosy sleeping bag. We believe there is a big town coming up. I'm looking forward to this. A choice of restaurants, Maybe even a hotel. All things considered, we are on schedule to reach Golmud before our visas expire.

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