China

The untold stories

It has been brought to our attention that this blog is perhaps presenting a fairly rose-tinted view of our last eight months. Therefore, in the interest of unbiased reporting and to show what lies behind the smiles and the sunsets, we have compiled a series of photos which should illustrate the somewhat less glamorous side of cycling from China to Africa.

Back to basics: bread, water and bikes have been our staples.

Not usually a fussy drinker, but the homemade Tajikistan brew was not to our liking.

The floor is often preferable to the bed.

With a limited wardrobe, all fashion sense was discarded early on.

The reason communism failed: an ex-soviet en suite bathroom.

Uzbekistan was hot! Taking a post-lunch nap under a bus shelter.

There is simply no greater (nor more widely available) refreshment.

Bike rebuild in Istanbul.

Language barriers occasionally require a more hands-on approach.

You know that storage room behind a hotel reception…. our first night in Egypt.

Finding a pesky thorn.

Another unsatisfactory breakfast.

Fire up the bedroom stove, again.

Beans for lunch and beans for dinner. Hope you like beans if you’re heading to Sudan.

Who would have ever thought that camping in a thorn field would result in multiple punctures?

Low key birthday celebrations this year.

‘Hotel’ rooms: there have been some heart-sinking moments.

Pursuit of cash in Africa has been a challenge: queuing for another empty ATM.

A familiar sight on rest/laundry day.

The washing Wife.

Don’t drop the soap… loo and shower combo.

The simple life: our luggage for the year.

 

To Kyrgyzstan

IMG_7883We set off from Kashgar in high spirits and full of the joys of a Chinese Thursday. But that didn’t last long at all. Our unnecessarily heavy loads,
uncomfortable saddles, absolute absence of any fitness whatsoever, our lead-in diet of beer and fried food, the unrelenting incline, headwinds, and the hot dry weather soon dampened any joy of the day. And so we turned back to Kashgar and flew out to southern France, for a year of patisseries and sunshine (at least that was a suggestion floated on Day 1).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Navigation in the first week was not as straight forward as anticipated. Even between our road map and Garmin Global GPS, the current road layout remained woefully represented. The extraordinary growth and  development in China over the last 20 years has made its way to Western China and as a result, new roads, mine sites, construction projects, and towns are cropping up like daisies in springtime. Unless a bitumen road can be witnessed with your own eyes, it’s existence should be questioned.

The western fringes of China are a fairly barren and inhospitable place. It is a landscape which at no time would have been particularly welcoming, although the ribbon of new tarmac certainly makes life a little easier than it once was.

Through the stunning foothills of the Pamirs, we slowly made our way to the border and after a day layover to attend the customs checkpoint followed by a long cold wait at the Irkeshtam pass, we finally left China toward the former Soviet states. The thorough Kyrgyzstan officials would check our passports on eight separate occasions within a 2km border crossing episode under the guise of official duty, although it appeared that the process was simply to see what we looked like without the assortment of head and face wear protecting us from the elements, and to have a good laugh about the situation. We clearly entertained sufficiently, and were considered suitable for entry.

Touchdown in China. Apparently.

In order to make it to the point where we were able to begin pedalling, we gave up our jobs in Perth, sold our possessions – bar for a small container – and enjoyed a final scenic road trip up the west coast of Australia to Darwin. We enjoyed an interesting 2 weeks holidaying in India; ‘interesting’ due to it being the absolute dichotomy of the conservative Australia we had left behind. A flight across the Himalayas landed us at our starting point: Kashgar, in the Western Chinese Province of Xinjiang.

Cheerio India

Kashgar lies at a natural intersection of pathways between East and West and is therefore a melting pot of cultures, faces, languages and dwellings, and not at all the China we were expecting. Arab, Persian and Turkic influences are seen throughout the city; all under the watchful eye of a towering statue of Mao Zedong, one of the few left in the country.

Liang: Taiwanese & proud of it.

The first notable challenge upon arrival into Kashgar is to determine what the time is. China operates on a single time zone, which is odd for a country roughly the size of Australia. As a result, the good people of Kashgar refer to ‘Beijing time’ – which is the actual time – and ‘local time’ being two hours later– which is the time everyone wishes it was (and the time it probably should be). The two terms are frequently interchanged, with no apparent consensus on which time everyone should operate under. The single time zone was a former brainchild of Emperor Mao to create unity within the county, and it would be safe to say that a significant by-product of this unifying initiative has been some pretty tardy meetings and a few missed dentist appointments.

With the help of a Taiwanese chap who’d just ridden solo across from Taiwan, we were able to locate a Merida bike shop shop through a dust storm, from where we bought our touring bikes. Liang proved invaluable as our translator in the bike shops, but more importantly for introducing us to the finest dumpling restaurant in the city (and probably China). The remainder of our time in Kashgar was spent setting up our bikes with the saddles and extras we had brought with us, and ruthlessly reducing our equipment and clothing piles.

If you decided to take a holiday to Kashgar without the intention of tying it in to a cross-continental overland journey, I can only imagine you would be quite disappointed. This is a sprawling, highly populated operational Chinese City, and even the Sunday markets – which are sold as the centrepiece of this town, were certainly u underwhelming. Notwithstanding this, Kashgar served us well. The people at the Pamir Hostel (http://www.pamirhostel.com/en/) were nothing short of excellent and come highly recommended. The food market near the hostel is a worthwhile evening experience, particularly when craving sheep intestines, brains and hooves.