Gobi Desert Camping Spot (China)

Gobi Desert Camping Spot
(China)

The trucks gave the bikers a wide berth the next day. Fun had given them the name and address for the hotel in Hami, and they were free to make their own way. The trucks would continue at their own pace. For the first time Fun travelled in Ivor, and I had a different companion in the passenger seat with me. With V for company it was a prime opportunity to turn the stereo up, and talk utter bollocks.

I was in need of blowing off some steam, and I knew just how to do it. I flicked through my iPhone until I found the Muse album. On it went, and up went the volume.

The first song seem to sum up the situation, and my feelings perfectly.

“Knights Of Cydonia”

Come ride with me
Through the veins of history
I’ll show you how god
Falls asleep on the job

And how can we win
When fools can be kings
Don’t waste your time
Or time will waste you

No one’s gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

No one’s gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

No one’s gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

If you get the chance, I suggest you play it. Play it loud!! It will give you a good idea of my mood at the time.

The drive was slow and relaxing. We had the chance to watch the world go by as we clocked up more miles. Now that we weren’t trying to keep up with the bikes, we took the time to stop for lunch. In what was to become a great little trend, we stopped at a little local restaurant, and enjoyed a feast of rice, meat and vegetables. Along with a drink this would always be between 20-25 yuan ($3-4 USD). It also gave us a chance to interact with the locals, something that had been sadly lacking on the trip so far.

After lunch K joined me in Boris for the rest of the journey to Hami. On the road into Hami we came across Barry sitting beside the road by himself. He had run out of petrol. It turned out that he had left the others when Billy had also run out of fuel. Continuing on hoping to make Hami by himself, he had missed the turn off and the others had ridden into town without him. I pulled out my spare camping fuel from the back of Boris and we filled his tank. He ended up waiting there as the other bikers were coming back out to find him. The other bikers had started to refer to him as Calamity Barry. It wasn’t hard to see why.

Digging out way to a great camping spot (China)

Digging out way into a great camping spot
(China)

Heading into Hami V, K, Fun and myself stopped for supplies at the market, and then drove out of town looking for a camping spot in the desert. Finding a camping spot isn’t the most straightforward activity in China. Nobody camps, and it’s not easy to find spots, as any decent piece of land is generally occupied. So it takes a bit of time, a little patience, and a knack for spotting potential places where there seems to be nothing. On this particular evening we found a cracking spot among the sand dunes on the edge of the Gobi desert. It appeared to be a disused raw sand material site. It had shelter, and a sand barrier in a ring around a superb flat spot. The only problem was there was no drive way in. Not to be deterred, I got the spade out and dug one. I switched on Boris’ diff locks and we powered over the sand wall, and into our little piece of paradise.

Statues in the Sand Dunes (Xinjiang, China)

Statues in the Sand Dunes
(Xinjiang, China)

We set up camp, and cracked open a beer each. It was the first time we had found a good camping spot early enough to relax and enjoy the evening. V brought out the french boules (Petanque) and we played until the sun went down. A last it felt like a proper day on the road in China.

Dunhuang was our destination for the following day. It was another warm day without a cloud in the sky. The drive through the desert conditions provided great scenery. On arrival we parked up in the car park of the hotel where the bikers were staying. The afternoon involved lunch and another session inspecting Boris for potential problems. There was a growing list of parts I required for the next service, including a seal for the leaking rear diff, and also the seal for the transfer box was worrying me. Both had started leaking after I’d had the last service, where the Toyota mechanics had recommended re-greasing the drive shaft. A coincidence was too hard to believe, and on checking with my mechanic in the UK he confirmed that too much grease can cause problems with the seals. New seals would need to be acquired and the issue monitored closely.

Enjoying a cold beer with Kimberly (Dunhuang, China)

Enjoying a cold beer with Kimberly
(Dunhuang, China)

That evening after our team meeting we all went out for beers and food. Donkey dumplings were on the menu so I could hardly turn down such a succulent treat. They tasted like vegetables so I wasn’t sure the correct order made it to the kitchen. Very tasty though, whatever they were.

Mogao Caves - The Caves of Thousand Buddhas (Dunhuang, China)

Mogao Caves – The Caves of Thousand Buddhas
(Dunhuang, China)

Our visit to the Mogao caves the next morning was the first proper day of sightseeing for me on the trip. I’d been looking forward to visiting the site famous referred to by foreign scholars as The Cave of Thousand Buddhas. The are 735 caves of which 430 are open to visitors. They change the open caves regularly, and recently a few new caves have been opened up. Protecting the wall paintings is a challenge for the curators of the site so they need to manage each cave carefully. Many of the caves are from the Tang Dynasty in 10th century, even though the construction first started in the 4th century. They are famous for their Pyramid ceiling designs of dragons and phoenix, in particular. The Lotus for purity was also popular.

Abbot called Wang Yuanlu (Dunhuang, China)

Abbot called Wang Yuanlu
(Dunhuang, China)

The most famous cave is number 17. An Abbot called Wang Yuanlu discovered number 17 in 1900. He sold many of the artefacts to foreigner explorers such as Sir Auriel Stein (British, but born in Budapest), Paul Pelliot (France), Count Otani (Japanese), and Langdon Warner (US). The fact that these explorers removed many artefacts upset the Chinese government who tried to collect the remaining items. Unfortunately not all of these made it back to Beijing, as many went missing on the journey east.

The caves themselves also suffered damage at the hands of White Russians who were settled in the region after October revolution in 1920-21. While housed in the caves they defaced statues faces and hands. Their cooking in caves also caused a significant amount of damage.

Mogao Caves - The Caves of Thousand Buddhas (Dunhuang, China)

Mogao Caves – The Caves of Thousand Buddhas
(Dunhuang, China)

It was a thoroughly enjoyable visit, and a great escape from continued driving across the country. The rest of the day was spent tinkering with Boris and resting. It was our last rest day until we reach Chengdu in 7 days time. It was becoming apparent to me that we had got the schedule wrong. We were trying to cover too much ground, too quickly. It was punishing pace. And we were only at day 12 of 35. I needed to keep myself going, and I was well aware the issue of camping would rear its head again on the next scheduled camp night.

We departed the next day planning to all meet up at the highway toll gate. The bikes needed Fun and the trucks to convince the officials that the whole group needed to travel together. However, it wasn’t long before we found the bikers again. Billy in a great plume of smoke had lost all the new oil he replaced the day before, when his sump plug fell out. Most likely because he didn’t tighten correctly. We all stopped to help out. Fortunately I had some more spare oil in the truck. We all had a laugh at his expense, and then continued onwards to the toll road, where Fun talked our way into the highway with the bikes.

The toll road made covering large miles easier but wasn’t making the trip enjoyable. Miles of highway is no replacement for villages and countryside roads where you get close to the people. We were missing the opportunity to stop and explore regularly. The bikers just seemed focussed on getting from A to B as quickly as possible. To add insult to injury the toll charges were starting to add up for roads we thought we would be avoiding, and the bikers escaped these charges as they weren’t meant to be on the road at all!

V, K and I at the Castle in Jaiyuguan (China)

V, K and I at the Castle in Jaiyuguan
(China)

We arrived in Jaiyuguan around 2pm and drove past the castle site where The Great Wall begins. Fun had a spot for us to camp right beside The Great Wall itself. I should have been excited but I was tired and grumpy. I knew I needed to do some maintenance on Boris, when I should have been taking in the sights. Once we found the camp site Fun and I headed off to find a mechanic. I’d been unable to check the rear diff oil levels the day before because the previous mechanic had buggered the sump cap when putting it back in. I needed a mechanic to get it off. Once off we had to drain the diff oil as it was black. It wasn’t in good condition and the mechanic thought he found bits of metal in the oil. Oh dear! That was went we spotted the right rear suspension spring was broken. Oh great!! That was all I needed. The endless car problems combined with the stress of the trip, were wearing me down.

The broken right rear suspension spring (Jaiyuguan, China)

The broken right rear suspension spring
(Jaiyuguan, China)

We left the garage, and headed for the castle that signifies the start of The Great Wall. I headed in for a look, hoping for a temporary escape my problems. It was an interesting interlude but ultimately I struggled to enjoy it.

Inside the Castle Walls (Jaiyuguan, China)

Inside the Castle Walls
(Jaiyuguan, China)

Afterwards we had to go back to the bikers hotel to discuss our plans for the next day. Having to go to them, while they relaxed in their hotel yet again was the final straw. I’d had enough. I felt beaten. V&K could sense my mood, and kindly offered to take Fun to give me some space.

Our campsite beside the Great Wall of China (Jaiyuguan, China)

Our campsite beside the Great Wall of China
(Jaiyuguan, China)

There was only one thing for it. I need to let off some steam. My best options for this were loud music and alcohol. So I headed back to the camp spot with the stereo of full volume playing Muse again. While I don’t condone drowning yourself in booze to make your problems go away, it has its uses when one really doesn’t give a shit, and needs to unwind. So with great gusto I got stuck into a beer and a bottle of vodka, while listening to the Knights of Cydonia on repeat for 45 minutes. Eventually the others turned up and we sat around the trucks drinking in the sight of The Great Wall around us. Suffice to say the evening went downhill, or should I say uphill quickly. In short, we ended up boozing and finally sleeping on top of The Great Wall that night. It was a great escape.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Hungover on The Great Wall of China

Hung over on The Great Wall of China

View from The Great Wall of China

View from The Great Wall of China

The next day we woke up on the Great Wall of China feeling rough and hung over, having slept in our sleeping bags on the concrete wall. V&K cooked up a good breakfast. We headed to the hotel to pick up the bikers, and lead them to the highway. We fail to get on,  and had to continue to another entrance point, so we could see them race through, and then see them disappear into the distance. Just the norm really. We caught up with them in Zhangye to check out the biggest Sleeping Buddha in the world. It was pretty big.

Entrance to the Giant Sleeping Buddha (xx, China)

Entrance to the Giant Sleeping Buddha
(Zhangye, China)

The Sleeping Buddha sleeps here  (Zhanye, China)

The Sleeping Buddha sleeps here
(Zhangye, China)

The bikers departed for Miahe. and we followed after lunch. Now today was the first day we were suppose to camp together, now that we were in a new province. We weren’t confident this would happen but we wanted to see if they were going to play ball.

Unsurprisingly we found the others at a hotel, where we all ended up staying. Camping wasn’t even mentioned. So that was that. At dinner that night with V, K, Stephen and Jose we enjoyed a pretty sensational hotpot, along with the realisation that the bike wankers weren’t even going to make an attempt to camp. Oh well, at least in was fully out in the open now. Repeated efforts had failed, and we would now steer clear of them as best as possible, while trying not to inconvenience our guide Fun too badly.

The following day was leisurely start after good sleep. We the shackles removed from having to worry about the biker wankers I was able to relax. I should have done this weeks ago. I had a good car park breakfast with V&K and we headed off around 9.30am. It was a slow winding drive through a beautiful mountain area at our own pace. We stopped to take a few photos, and generally enjoy the day.

Mountain Scenery (Gansu Province, China)

Mountain Scenery
(Gansu Province, China)

Mountain Scenery (Gansu Province, China)

Mountain Scenery
(Gansu Province, China)

We arrived in Xining to find a that Stephen and Jose had tried to check into an expensive hotel much to the displeasure of the bike wankers. And thus the bikers began to argue between themselves. We decided to stay near the Te Shi monastery in Huangzhong. It was great to be away from the bikes even if it meant staying in a hotel car park again. Beers and banter before dinner, and then home after checking out the Te Shi monastery at night. It was almost bliss.

Te Shi monastery in Huangzhong (China)

Te Shi monastery in Huangzhong
(China)

After breakfast we visited the Te Shi monastery in the light. It was a complete contrast to the night before, as it was invaded by Chinese tourists. Chaos and cameras were everywhere. Not long after we headed south to Tongren, and a lovely night camping by the side of a river. We were now in the Tibetan cultural area. The Chinese government rules dictated we weren’t allowed to talk to the Tibetans about anything political. You could just buy supplies from them. Out of sight of prying eyes we chatted to the locals that came to check us out at our camp sight. They were very friendly. Much friendlier than the Chinese, as they waved and smiled back when you waved at them.

It was an early start the next morning as we planned to combine two days from the itinerary into one. It was slow going as the road was poor, and I needed to take things slowly with Boris due to the broken rear spring. It was great to be in the mountains though. We stopped in Xiahe for lunch, and to check out another monastery, before continuing on Langsui in the torrential rain. We ended up in the hotel car park again but that was o.k. Off-roading was not ideal for Boris. That evening Fun called a meeting to discuss the next few days. He wasn’t happy about everybody splitting up, and not staying in contact. To be honest I felt for him. Everybody was breaking the rules and all he asked was that for safety reasons they checked in via text or phone. The biker wankers couldn’t even do that. The group agreed a plan but I stayed quiet. I found it incredibly difficult to say anything constructive to people I had no respect for. So it was best to remain quiet.

My Chinese military helpers (xx,China)

My Chinese military helpers
(Langsui,China)

That night I had help from the Chinese army to set up my tent. They were staying at the same hotel, and two of them were on night duty. They were only too happy to help me. Top lads. I wished them goodnight as I crashed out, looking forward to a long sleep. This wasn’t to be the case as the whole hotel was awoken at 6am by the army boys performing morning manoeuvres, right outside my tent. Oh well, there wasn’t much you could do. We got up and hung out in the car park chatting to the locals. Bizarrely they were all after some foreign cash. So the two army guys got shiny one pound coins for helping me the night before, and the rest of the locals got shiny 1p coins. They were all excited with the gifts, and some photo posing followed. As a result I was in a good mood when we departed. So much so I wasn’t concentrating and promptly drove into an uncovered manhole, that looked like a puddle. Fortunately Boris is tougher than I am, and I was able to back straight out. It was a close call.

Friendly locals (China)

Friendly locals
(China)

The rest of the day involved driving through the mountain valleys in the driving rain to Maoxian. This was our last stop before Chengdu, where I need to find some replacement springs for Boris. There were also some Panda’s to visit as well. It was shaping up like we would have to stay an extra day or two longer than planned. So an early start was necessary to get to Chengdu.

The Landslide that halted our progress (Sichuan Province, China)

The Landslide that halted our progress
(Sichuan Province, China)

That night it rained, and rained, and rained, and rained. The monsoon season was in full swing. Fun and I got the early start we need. The evidence of a significant rainfall could be seen by numerous rockfalls along the road. I told V&K to get a move of as it would definitely slow up traffic that day. Fifteen minutes later we were stopped in our tracks completely by a landslide that closed the road. Brilliant, just brilliant. The local services were already on the scene but we faced a minimum two hour wait. There was nothing we could do, so Fun and I stopped for breakfast.

The Landslide that halted our progress (Sichuan Province, China)

The Landslide that halted our progress
(Sichuan Province, China)

V&K joined us, then all the locals came out to investigate. As there was nothing else to do, we had an impromptu dance party on the side of the road. The least we could do was provide some entertainment.

Our impromptu breakfast dance party with the locals

Our impromptu breakfast dance party with the locals

After two hours, we could see it would be another couple of hours before there was a clear lane. While we waited, Jose who had recently join us, made me laugh. With english not being his first language he rocked up, surveyed the situation, and then said ‘shits happen’. I chuckled to myself. He was right, even if he didn’t quite get the phase correct.

Annoyingly, a short time later the bikers just cruised through the smaller gap and continued on. We told them to be careful, and they had been warned the night before that they probably wouldn’t be allowed on the highway into Chengdu. We didn’t really expect them to comply with any requests to stay off the highway though.

After a 5 hour delay we finally got back underway. The road was slow as traffic was backed up for nearly 10 miles on the other side of the landslide. Fortunately, we were at the front of the first queue to go. It was good to be back on our way, and we were soon making good progress. Everything was back on track.

The valley from Maoxian towards Chengdu (Sichuan province, China)

The valley from Maoxian towards Chengdu
(Sichuan province, China)

Then came the call. Fun answered the phone, and I heard him exclaim, an accident!? Where!? Who?! One of the bikers had fallen off in the tunnel on the highway. What was his condition? We weren’t sure but a potential broken leg was mentioned in the moments following the call. We made our way to the toll gates for the highway. We stopped to let the officials know what had happened. I told Fun to tell them to ring an ambulance. Here we learned that the bikers had ignored officials trying to stop them getting on the highway. Now Fun’s worst nightmare had happened. There had been an accident with the group travelling separately, and to make matter worse, on a road the bikers weren’t supposed to be on. He was a worried man. We all were. It doesn’t matter how much you are struggling to get on with a people. The last thing you want is to see them get hurt.

We drove the 30kms along the highway looking for the tunnel where the accident had happened. We weren’t sure what to expect. When we arrived Barry was nowhere to be seen. Hans, Billy and Willie had put him in the car with a Chinese couple, and they had taken him to hospital in Chengdu. The look of shock of their faces said everything. They were shaken up. In the craziness none of them thought to go with him, and Barry didn’t have a phone. We just had the number of the Chinese couple. However with the help of the locals they had the bike on the back of a local truck ready to be transported. We transferred all the excess equipment into the trucks, and decided on a plan of action. If Barry was safely on his way to hospital I thought he would be o.k for the meantime. The next best thing would be to sort the bike out and get it into Chengdu along with the rest of us. The local driver with the truck was prepared to help but he couldn’t go all the way to Chengdu. We all followed him to his home town. The conditions were appalling. It was torrential rain and visibility was poor. Slowly we made it to the next town, where we stopped and took control of the bike. The local had to go and wouldn’t accept any payment. Later we found out he had to go because is house was flooded, but that didn’t stop him from stopping to help our group beforehand. Amazing!!

Next we got the call that Barry had arrived at the hospital, but the doctors wouldn’t see him without payment upfront. You’re kidding!! No, said Fun, I knew this would happen. In the confusion I hadn’t understood his concern about getting into town so quickly. Well, I did now!! Fortunately Stephen and Jose were travelling ahead of the other four, and were safely in Chengdu. We left immediately leaving the others in charge of getting the bike into town.

Fun and I drove with some urgency into Chengdu to find the hospital, while Barry called periodically from the phone of the Chinese couple. He was is great pain as he couldn’t even buy painkillers. The next challenge was finding the hospital. We gave Stephen and Jose the hospital details, to their hotel receptionist. They were sorted, and on their way. We on the other hand only had a rough idea from Stephen’s directions, and I only had google maps on my phone. We made for the southern part of central Chengdu along one of the main ring routes, and then turned north towards the hospital. Just when I was wondering how were we going to find the hospital we hit rush hour traffic. Bugger. We were stuck and we weren’t going anywhere fast.

In what was to be an amazing stroke of luck an ambulance came past us, sirens blaring, slowly making its way through the traffic. Fun wound down his window and asked them where Barry’s hospital was. The reply from the driver was pure Hollywood. Follow us, he said, we are on our way there now. So next thing we knew we were flying through the middle of town, following a medical escort. The ambulance took us right into A&E. It was brilliantly timed, and rather exhilarating given the circumstances.

Chengdu Emergency Dept (China)

Chengdu Emergency Dept
(China)

We raced inside to find Stephen and Jose had just arrived and were tending to Barry’s needs. Stephen had gone straight into project management overdrive, and was ordering all the doctors around. He was a man on a mission. Jose had the caring role, and was watching out for Barry’s personal requests while chatting to him. The couple that had brought him in, had also paid for him to be admitted, and to have x-rays. Again, it was an absolutely amazing act of kindness for a total stranger. With Stephen and Fun organising the hospital, it left Jose and myself to chat with Barry. He was down, and very apologetic for the trouble he had caused. We told him not to worry.

In Chengdu A&E patching up Barry

In Chengdu A&E patching up Barry

The result of the accident was that Barry had a compound fracture of the right hip. It required a cast to hold it in place until a decision was made on what to do. To put this cast on the doctor required Stephen, Jose and my assistance. Just what do you need us to do Doc? Stephen asked. You need to hold his waist up and support his legs, while we apply the cast. Ok, sure thing. Jose piped up and said he would take the legs, the sly bugger. The next thing I knew something far worse than a ruddy compound fracture happened. Stephen and I had our arms around Barry’s waist. As a result, our faces were 3 inches from his naked private parts. As far as I was concerned it was bad enough having to look at them, so being 3 inches away was just plain bang out of order. Of course the doctor and his assistant took forever to put the cast on while Barry groaned away, apologising repeatedly. It was a truly upsetting time for all involved.

But really we should have been thankful it was only a compound fracture. It wasn’t anything compared to the poor lad we saw get wheeled out of Barry’s room when we arrived. He’d been part of a fencing mishap while playing the sport. A fence had made it through his defences, and in a the terrible stroke of bad luck, it had impaled itself through his private parts. Stephen and I both recoiled, and reached for our family jewels simultaneously when we looked up and saw that. Now that, was a proper injury.

The upshot was that Barry had to stay overnight in the hospital, while his travelling buddy Willie contacted his wife, and got started on his insurance claim. Nobody was going anywhere until Barry had been flown out of the country by his insurance company. However you looked at it, it had been a bad day, but it could have been so much worse.

One thing was for certain, the group had been dragged back together. It made our petty squabbles seem pretty insignificant. We now had to work together to take care of Barry.

One Response to “China Part 2 – The Great Wall of China, The Storm, and The Accident”

  1. Shits happen… Love it.

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