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You’re Where?!?

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

I had no idea I’d be able to post this soon, but I also didn’t think that after three days of hiking we’d be here in Jiuquan, around 16 miles East of Jiayuguan.
However, I also didn’t foresee traversing levees between corn and rice paddys the entire second day in search of the elusive Wall.
Lemme backtrack here a sec…
Day 1
A bit of a toughie, as the sun and wind were relentless, but outside of a massive pipeline project, we were able to follow the Wall the entire day.

(Rob and Marsh; the photo below shows snow capped mountains and the steel town of Jiayuguan in the distance.)

Goodby Jiayuguan.JPG

This photo is a view of the Wall in the distance from the top of the pipeline project.
(Rob and Marsh; this photo and the one below show the amid a whole lotta desert sand and rock)

Way off Wall.JPG

Here’s a closer look at the Wall from the pipeline project.

The Wall and a whole lotta nuthin.JPG

(Rob and Marsh; this photo is of my shadow against blowing, ridged sand)

not much out here but sand.JPG

If I’m remembering right, then the Gobi desert is named for it’s sandy and rocky terrain, which you can see in the photo below.

Gobi gobi.JPG

We started at 9:30 am, and by 3:30 we were absolutely beat. We thought we’d have to camp unprotected in the desert, but just when our bodies started screaming we came upon a little oasis of trees and set up camp between the Wall and some corn and rice paddys; it was absolute bliss. I slept horribly, however, on account of the cold and because we were discovered by a farmer at 9 pm; I wasn’t afraid of the farmer, but all I could picture was him coming back with a crowd to check out the side show behind his field.
The worrying was all for naught.
Although there’s no gps signal here to keep track of our mileage via Ig’s watch, we’re pretty sure we hiked about 15 miles, all going NE.
Not bad really, considering it was our first day with our packs,

Okay, Seriously…

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Really, this time that’s it; just wanted to let ya’ll know the weather is beautiful! No wind, sunny, and a pleasant high today in the upper 60’s!!
Now this, this is the way to start an 1,800 mile trek!
:~)

No, Really, I mean It This Time…

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

So, after posting this morning The Ig and I finished packing up (my pack is in the below photo),

(Rob and Marsh; photo shows my pack weighted down on both sides with water resevoirs, my sleeping pad strapped to the front and my tent strapped to the top…and it’s actually still not that heavy, thankfully!)

The Rucksack.JPG

checked out of the hotel and walked outside.  There we were greeted by a chilly 40 degree day, rain, and wind gusts to rival Chicago in the winter. 

We both stopped dead in our tracks, the rain falling on our heads, and said, “Uh…do we really wanna start this way?”

With the wind that bad in town, we couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like in the desert, and so with tails between our legs, we walked back in to the reception desk and checked in for one more night. 

Our spirits dampered, we set off to find something to eat, and in the mile walk to the day market, we were miserably cold and felt justified in staying.  That didn’t mean, however, that we stopped trying to justify our descision. 

So instead of hiking today, we spent the day nestled under our quilts and add-libbing lines (Mystery Science Theatre 2000 style) to Chinese soap operas. 

As of tonight the skies have completely cleared and the wind slowed to a breeze, so no matter what the weather tommorrow, we’re outta here.

No, I really mean it this time…!

Check ya’ll from Zhangye in a few weeks hopefully!  Woot-Woot!

Last Minute Cramming

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

So while we’re waiting on our laundry to be returned, I’m making one last post.
After grocery shopping last night we started getting schtuff around.
Here’s me filling one of my water resevoirs; ever notice how heavy water is?!

Water ahoy.JPG

And of course there had to be the last-minute cram.
Here I am sitting on the bed, looking at the map in Mandarin, and trying to figure which Mandarin symbols are the cities we hit along the way.

Last minute Cramming.JPG

Here’s a close up of the five different maps I was using to orient myself.

Last minute cram.JPG

And here’s a close-up of our Trucker’s Map (I just love that…wonk-wonk!) where I’ve written in the cities in English.

Its all Mandarin to me.JPG

Lemme tell ya, that was quite an eye-straining job, but well worth it when we get out on the hike!
Alright, I’m really outta here this time. No, really. How many times have ya’ll heard that before?! Wonder what I’ll forget this time!

SonofaGlitch!!

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

I really don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m going to apologize for the clickable blue writing that follows the photos; I’ve been sitting here for an hour and a half trying to fix this and add captions for the photos.  Not only can I not fix the text (and why it’s like this, I really don’t know…I’m quite challenged), but it’s not letting me back in to add photo captions…sorry Rob and Marsh. 

At the moment, the text is so small on the screen I can’t really even read what Im typing.

I’m so frustrated I’m ready to cry, so on that note, I’m off to a happy place; no, I don’t have time for my nap now, but I’m off to do some of my favorite shopping…to the grocery store it is!! 

Take care everyone, and I’ll catchyall in a few weeks!

:~p

 

Great Wall Trekkin’ To-Do List

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

1.) Cash traveller’s check; this proved to be quite a task, as the people at the bank weren’t quite sure how to deal with it. After two visits and a good chunk of time it was finally sorted.

Mission Accomplished.

2.) Go to the Post Office; Ig had no problems sending his package, but they wouldn’t give me postage for my postcards. Funny, I didn’t think I’d end up buying stamps at the hotel and mailing ’em from here, but I did.

Mission Accompished…eventually.

Just thought I’d throw in a picture of our hotel lobby…not too shabby, eh?!

(Rob and Marsh; photo shows a big chandelier, part of a tree, and a little pond with a bridge over it.)
hotel lobby.JPG

3.) Buy a Mao hat; I looked high and low for a hikin’ hat back home (a girl has to have a hikin’ hat, just as she has to have a campin’ hat…sheesh!), but ran out of time before I found anything I liked. With all the little blue hats floating around, I figured one of these would certainly work. Now, let’s hope the locals think I’m just some dense foreigner who doesn’t know any better than to wear an old man’s hat instead of it somehow offending them.

Mission Accomplished.

(Rob and Marsh; photo shows me sittin’ on the bed writing in my journal in me new little blue Mao hat.)
Me new hat.JPG

4.) Buy binoculars; I was thinking it would be nice to be able to scan the horizon for signs of the Wall when we’ll need to find it again, but the only pair we found weren’t even as strong as my glasses.

Mission Failed.

5.) Buy Chinese Road Atlas; between the two maps we have we’ll be able to pinpoint where we are on our new “Trucker’s Atlas”, and the bonus is that if we’re lost, we can easily find someone who can read Mandarin and show us where we are on the map.

Mission Accomplished.

6.) Grocery Shopping; it shouldn’t be a problem getting food and water from little villages, but we’re stockpiling at least three day’s worth of each just in case.

Mission Pending, following possible nap.

7.) Remind the ‘rents and everyone else not to worry; just wanted to let ya’ll know it’s gonna be pretty quiet around here for the next couple weeks, as I really don’t think I’ll be able to post until at least Zhangye (and maybe not even then, who knows). At any rate, don’t worry, we’re well-prepared.

8.) Hike remaining 1,795 miles to Shanhaiguan…Mission Pending…

Only 1,795 Miles To Go

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

So we’ve went and done it now, there’s no stopping the rolling ball; we completed the first day of our trek.

Now granted, the hike was only five miles, we didn’t have our packs on, and we returned to the hotel to have a victory beer and sleep in cushy beds. But, the ball IS rolling.

At around five pm we caught a cab out to the first beacon tower of the Wall. Built on the side of a cliff overlooking a river gorge, there’s not much out there besides the tower, the Wall, a small re-creation of a camp, and a hell-uv-a lotta sand and scrub brush.

The cabbie gave a hearty laugh when we told him we didn’t need a ride back.

“Suckers!” I’m sure he was thinking. “You’ll never find a cab back from way out here!”

After poking around the village on my own for a bit (Ig opted out), we mulled around the first beacon tower taking pictures, reveling in awe, and grinning ourselves silly.

The Settlement.JPG

1st beacon tower.JPG

Not standing in the way of progress.JPG

The forts in sitght.JPG

Wall leading to the Fort.JPG

Before we’d even made it to China, Ig mentioned that he wanted to have a bottle of some kind of alcohol to toast the Wall, ourselves and the trek at the very begining. He wanted something like Cuervo, and I thought it should be something local.

So when Gun at the Liquor House gave us a small bottle of rice wine as a gift, we knew just what to do with it.

Cracking the bottle behind the stone sign pronouncing the First Beacon Tower, I took a sip.

I’ve had rice wine before, and lemme tell ya, this rocket fuel/moonshine is not something I’d ever go out of my way for. In fact, it’s more likely that I’d jump in front of a bus to avoid it. However, it was late in the day, windy and chilly, and although the tiny sip made me gag, the warming effect was welcome.

From begining to end our first day’s trek was easy, but maybe that’s because we actually floated the whole way.

The most difficult part was navigating around the plentiful snake/lizard holes in the sand (we both had our feet sink into these…SUPERGACK!!!) and trying to avoid the scrub that was everywhere; I’d decided to give my sandals a go, but from now on all desert hiking will be done in my boots, as the sharp scrub twigs kept getting stuck between the soles and my feet.

Once we got to the end of the Wall, we were going to just walk around to the front of the Fort and grab a cab home.

The massive walls of the nearly 700 year old fort, however, are now protected by a chain link fence.

Well, I ‘spose something has to keep the vandals from yanking down the tube lighting that outlines the fort walls at night.

Viva Las Jiayuguan

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

As per usual, my preconceived notion of a place has turned out to be utterly wrong. 

From what I’d read, I pictured Jiayuguan to be some dusty little settlement town with electricity restrictions and unpaved roads perhaps.

But lemme tell ya somethin’, folks;  people travel out here to visit the Fort, and Jiayuguan is a hopping little town that appears to play the tourist schtick quite well.

Take our hotel, for example; the outside is designed to look like the Jiayuguan Fort.  Tacky?  Sure, but I’ll bet kids love it and can goad their parents into staying with just a few whines (how do you think I got Ig to stay here, eh?).

Scattered about town one can find an amusement park, an outdoor  rollerskating rink, and a playland type area equipped with a trampoline.   

On the main drag are two large roundabouts (I still don’t quite get these, and I’ve driven on them…gack!) where the foliage is all lit up, and both sides of the street are lined with trees.  At night a green spotlight showcases each tree, and stretched across the road every so often is a bridge of white christmas lights. 

The footpaths are uncommonly wide and clean, and there are neon signs flickering all over the place.

As I walk down the street then, I can’t help but think this desert town is Gansu province’s Las Vegas. 

Forget there aren’t any casinos; with all the snow-capped mountains around, I really like it here.

(Rob and Marsh; both are photos of the roundabout downtown.  One picture has a pedal rickshaw in it (I don’t know what they’re called in China, I just realized), and in the backround are the snow-capped peaks.  The other photo is the same thing, but it has a communist monument and some neon Chinese characters in it.)

              mountains.JPG                                          The roundabout in Jiayuguan.JPG          

 

It’s a good thing I like it here, too; we’d already agreed that Jiayuguan was worthy of taking an extra day to poke around, but now we’re taking a second extra day.

We wanted to see both the fort and the first beacon tower yesterday, but we farted around so long at the fort that it was too late by the time we were done. 

Walking up and touching the wall of the fort for the first time was like shaking the hand of someone you’d never met but had long admired. 

(Rob and Marsh; first photo shows the massive East gate of the fort, and the second photo is a close up of the more than 600 year old wall; in the mud of the wall you can see some of the straw that was used to build it.)

 

                             East Gate at the Fort.JPG                         the ancient wall up close.JPG  

It was quite an experience poking around out there, and it sparked me up even more to get to where we’ll find the first part of the Wall; far from continuous, finding the bits of Wall will prove to be a real challenge.

As for Jiayuguan Fort, it was considered by the ancient Chinese to be the end of civilization.  When someone was exiled, they were brought here and out the West gate they went.  Not knowing what lay beyond the gate, the exiled must’ve been horrified, as they faced nothing but soaring, snow capped mountains and a whole lotta desert.

(Rob and Marsh; this photo shows a pagoda on top of the fort and snow-capped mountains in the distance)

                                              South of the Fort.JPG

After returning from the fort we headed out to the Night Market for some grub.  It was lively, the food was great, and we were even entertained by a little testosterone-fueled brawl off to the side.   

(Rob and Marsh; first photo is of all the stalls lined up at the night market, and the second photo shows our cook at one of the stalls cheffing up our grub)

                          Night Market.JPG                       Cookin our grub.JPG 

 

So with the fort behind us, the beacon tower on our plate today and a slew of odds n ends to get done tommorrow, we’re looking at setting out Thursday morning…:p

On a side note, I think whoever designed the hotel bathrooms definitely had roommates, as there’s always a phone right above the toiletpaper dispenser; “Uh, hi, Jamie here.  Yeah, they left me hangin’ again–could you send up another roll?”

Alright, I’m being beckoned by the 7k hike from the last beacon tower, so I’m off for now… 

And The Band Played On

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

(The below post was written on the train.  Today–Monday the 22nd I think–we’re off to get our first peek of the Fort, so will post again tommorrow with more pics too)

It was a breeze getting to the Beijing Rail Station and finding where we needed to go; everything has gone so smooth something crazy is bound to happen soon.

(Rob and Marsh; photo below shows the outside of the Rail Station; it’s a wide open area, super clean, and has a massive t.v. screen on the opposite end that was televising some basketball game.)

 Beijing Rail Station.JPG

 We were pointed towards a VIP waiting area, apparently because we’d purchased tickets for a sleeper car.  Another nice clean area with comfy seats and cleat toilets–woot-woot!

(Rob and Marsh; photo below shows the swanky VIP area with it’s shiny floors, high ceilings and big cushy chairs.)

 VIP Waiting Room.JPG

The train ride, with the view of the mountainous landscape rolling by, is quite comfortable.  I’m in a sleeper car with a top bunk, and being that this is a 34 hour train ride, being comfortable is a definite bonus.

(Rob and Marsh; photo below shows me on the top bunk of our sleeper car with my backpack.  On the bottom bunk sits one of our bunkmates staring out the window at another parked train next to us.)

 Our Compartment.JPG

 

 While Ig and I were settling in, however, screeching Chinese music blared from a speaker planted on the ceiling between our bunks.  It was both high-pitched and high in volume.  If this kept up, I was sure my ears would be spurting blood in no time.

“Oh god,” I said, “I hope this doesn’t play the whole trip.”

“I know,” Ig agreed.

The train departed, and for the next hour Ig and I switched from rolling our eyes at each other to laughing while the music screeched on; we weren’t sure whether to  laugh or cry.

In a desperate attempt to keep my sanity, I shoved my earplugs in, to no avail.  Next I flipped around so my head was next to the outside wall and furthest from the speaker.  Still no dice. 

Now I was hopelessly desperate, and I eyed the speaker with absolute disgust; I couldn’t understand why it was so loud, and why the train crew was intent on driving us mad.

I looked around the cabin for something, anything, to cover the speaker with. It was then I realized Ig’s massive bag was up on the shelf near the speaker; if I could manage to swing part of the bag over the lip without it falling, then perhaps it’d block some of the sound. 

I jumped up and started fooling with the bag, and Ig smiled over at me; he knew exactly what I was up to. 

The bag blocked some of the sound, but it was still extremely loud.  I found a cloth-covered hangar on the wall and shoved that up there too, but it didn’t do much good.  It was then I realized I’d have to sacrifice some of my food to keep my sanity; I’d tried the beef sticks earlier today, and as appealing as their spam-like taste is, I decided to use ’em as a plug.  This muted the sound even more, but not enough, and so I shoved a plastic bag up there as well.  You might not be able to see all the “plugs” in the picture below, but you get the idea.

(Rob and Marsh; photo shows Ig’s bag hanging over the edge of the shelf but blocking the speaker.  On top of the bag is the hangar, the beef sticks, and a plastic bag…oy!)

 Stuff It!.JPG

This of course didn’t take care of the problem, but at least it was muffled screeching. 

Right now there’s some kind of comedy album screeching down from above, and even though I have earplugs in I can hear every word, even the crowd’s laughter.

Ugh, looks like I’m goin’ down with this ship, bleein’ ears and all.

Day Two

Yesterday the air conditioning flowed throughout our cabin to the point where we had to bundle up in our blankets. Apparently they’re running short on air conditioning and are rationing, as it was so hot in our cabin that Ig and I both tossed and turned the entire night.

Hurmph, it’s just my luck that they’re not running short and rationing the music.

The crew all seem quite nice, but I’m a bit befuddled by what I’ve dubbed the Curtain Brigade. 

We’ve been keeping our door open so we can see out both sides of the train, and every time I look away, someone from the Curtain Brigade swoops past and closes the curtain. 

I’ve begged and pleaded, gasped in exasperation, and have thanked them every time they leave it open for me.  But it never fails; they keep giving it  the ole college try every time they go past. 

I can appreciate dedicated zeal for your job, and I understand what a massive request it is to ask to keep the curtains open, but really, I’m only makin’ this train trip once!    

That’s It–I’m Sooo Outta Here!

Friday, May 19th, 2006

After leaving the internet cafe I went back to the laundry room…erhmm, hotel that is, and called Paul, our visa guy.  He answered right away and agreed to meet in the lobby of our hotel at 3:30; he had our passports with the new six month visa in hand! 

After giving Paul a physical description of Ig and myself so he could easily spot us, I hung up and then said, “How stupid!  He has our passports with our photos–he already knows what we look like!”  Doh!

Paul was right on time with our goodies, and he also did me a massive favor; I’d written an entry to put in the first spot of my journal, but I needed it translated into Mandarin.  I plan on showing this to the fine people we meet along the way to explain what we’re doing, to thank them, and to ask if they’ll write a small message in the book.  Not only did Paul translate this for me, but he also talked to the people at the front desk to make sure I could leave a bag here at the hotel for six months.  Turns out this will be no problem, thankfully.

If anyone needs help getting a visa for China, then Paul’s definitely your man!  Contact me and I’ll pass his number along. 

He of course thinks we’re crazy for such an undertaking…but then who doesn’t? 

Thanks again for everything, Paul–you’re awesome!

In the first photo below you’ll see my old visa, now cancelled.  The second photo is my new six month visa (WOOT-WOOT!!), and the third photo is the ticket to Jiayuguan, which means that starting tommorrow at 11:40am, I’ll be spending the next 36 hours on a train.  Again, I say, WOOT-WOOT!!!  :~p

 Old Visa.JPG                   New Six Month Visa.JPG              Train Ticket.JPG  

 So after all that was sorted, Ig and I got some grub.  Passing up the “Chase the hangover away” soup, the “jujubee” drink and the “cock”, I ordered a bowl of spicy beef soup, and Ig ordered rice noodles with beef and vegetables. 

“I think this order is very small,” our waitress said.

Ig and I looked across the table at each other, eyebrows raised, and in unison said, “Uhh…yeah.”

She shrugged it off and came back to the table with a myriad of small dishes; we were in a hot pot restaraunt, and obviously we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. 

It was one of the best meals I’ve had since being here, and when I’d finished (I was still grazing long after Ig) I said, “Man, I can’t believe how full I am.”

“Well,” Ig said, “you just ate a bowl of soup the size of your head.”

Yeah, ok.  True dat.

Then it was off to the supermarket to stock up on snacks for the train ride.  We bought plenty of water, a box of onion crackers, some cheese (Ig stumbled across some imported cheeses the other day), some chips, a bundle of beef sticks and chicken sticks (yeah baby!), and at the last moment I snagged erhmmm, some coffee jelly.  I think I might’ve eaten this in Taiwan, but I can’t be sure.  At any rate, it’ll be good for shits n giggles, not to mention my caffine fix.

And then something new happened on my way here.  There’s a lot of building going on in Beijing (you’d think they were taking this Olympics thing seriously, as you can’t walk a block without seeing a plethora of cranes and all sorts of patching and fixing), and the shortcut I take to the internet cafe is through a construction area that lays under two raised expressways which are not yet in use.  Outside the construction guys, you hardly ever see another soul walking through there.

As you can imagine, work seems to stop as mouths fall open and eyes widen when I go strolling through.  I’m sure this is because I don’t have on a hard hat, really.  At any rate, nobody has ever made a peep or said anything to me.  Tonight, however, I found that passing a construction site is a bit like home after someone whistled and someone yelled, “Hello!” 

Hmm, I think that maybe I’m starting to blend now instead of sticking out and scaring the locals. 

And then just when I’d actually convinced myself that I blended in well, I popped up to the internet cafe counter to hand over my 3 Yuan for the hour.  The clerk, who’s seemingly always here, plopped a card on the counter with hand-written English on it.

“Please show your proper verification,” the card said. 

“Oy, crap,” I thought.  “Did I muck up the computer with that download?  Am I busted for trying to break into my hotmail everyday??”

I just looked at her with wide eyes, because if she was after my passport number, I didn’t have it on me; not wanting to chance loosing it after such a long wait, I left it back at the hotel with Ig. 

So I widened my eyes even more, smiled and shrugged.  She called out to a couple people for help, to no avail.  She took my money and sent me to “Joe shuh chee”.  Don’t mind my awful spelling; that’s computer number 97 for those of you who can’t speak baby talk Mandarin.  :~)

So ya’ll, the “Hurry up and wait” period is over, I hope.  At least we’re headin’ West tommorrow. 

I should be able to post from Jiayuguan, so I’ll do so as soon as I can.  Until then, happy trails!