Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gansu, still desert

Today, I got one ride. A joyful guy, some businessman appearently who is rich and in a hurry. He drives fast, 170 km/h to 200 km/h, this is possible on the excellent chinese roads, he buys me lunch and some variant of chinese tea with milk. He eats fast, leaves half of the food. We ride all the way from Hami to Jiayugan, more than 500 kilometers. My hopes rise when we leave Xinjiang. The inscriptions on the road, instead of being in arabic, are written in bad english and it will soon be the end of the desert.
And my wishes come true. Ho and behold, Taklamakan desert is finished and hello Gobi desert, even more dry and desolate than it's Uygur brother. Is it also colder? I hope I won't have to find out.
I think I can bear temperatures down to -15 in my tent, under that it would start to be borderline dangerous, I don't really want to put it to the test.
Gansu is more modern than Xinjiang and Xinjiang is already more modern than everything I have seen for months. So everything is pretty modern.
We arrive in Jiayugan at 5:30 in the evening (Beijing time but Gansu respects Beijing time without ambiguities I think), it's still light for a while. It isa nice city with big buildings but not opressive as in Urumqi or worse, Hong Kong. The architecture is wisely designed to have a good time and sight troughout the city. The guy leaves me in a park with good luck wishes.
Today, I don't want to sleep in a park. I will try to find another solution. I am not desperate for a solution anymore, I am more confident that I am going to find one. China has become slightly less scary.
I open the door of the most luxurious hotel in the city.
"ying yu?(英语)", english? My plan requires that not only me but also my fellow co-speaker know a language reasonably well to communicate in a more complicated manner.
It takes a while to find an english speaking person but it's the most luxurious hotel in town, designed mostly for rich foreigners, they manage it eventually.
"Hello. I am not looking for a room. I am a traveller from czech republic. My challenge is to travel for a dollar per day. I am writing a book about it. Do you have a place in there where I could stay for free?"
It takes the guy a while to come accross the one dollar per day, his average customer spends at least a hundered times that amount. But it doesn't work.
"Sorry sir, we can't help you"
"Absolutly no problem thank you."
"Where are you going to stay?"
"A tent"
"It's december sir, do you know it gets really cold?"
"Hence my question"
"Sorry, we cannot help you."

Big fancy hotel in Jiayguan center
I continue my way to the residence zone of the city, maybe I will have better luck with the locals. On my way, I come accross a hospital. There are a few doors open, I go for the emergencies. In europe, emergencies are the busiest unit, people are lining up, everything is full. In here, there is nobody.
And there is also no reception, instead, there is a police station. Of course. I will avoid to ask the police for help, I try the nurse office.
"ying yu? English?"
Nobody speaks english in there but they point me to a man next door: "he speaks english"
Turns out he doesn't really speak english but he has a tablet, not unlike mine with a translating program. I try my luck with that. I tell him about the same thing that to the hotel receptionist, just adding that I arrived by hitchhiking from Czech Republic.
"So can I stay somewhere in your hospital for one night"
"Ok. No problem.," says the guy. Just like this. No need for a tent today. That was easy!
Turns out the guy is taking a risk. He hasn't notified "the authority" because we all know what "the authority" would say in this country. He has found me a room with four beds.
"Lock yourself in there and switch the lights off," he tells me. In the evening, there is a high concentration of police in the hospital, god knows why. I go out to the city, get some internet, recharge my tablet, write my blog and get back when the police goes away. I switch the lights off, put all my devices to charge and go to sleep.
The next day, I am on the road again. I didn't have dinner except the milk with tea which I got from the last guy. But I get a small breakfest with my first ride.
My second ride is to Zhangye, where I will try to deviate south to Qinhaihu lake in the Qinghai province. I hope it'll be warmer and also the guy who rode me to Juayguan told me it's a nice place.

Hitchhiking is more difficult here but hey, a bus just stopped. I am slowly riding somewhere in the right direction. Two buses and three cars later it's getting late. There are mountains in front of me, I really don't want to get there. I've seen the rough cold down there once, I don't want to feel it again with 1000 more meters of altitude. That's the altitude that I guess for the mountains separating Gansu and Qinqua provinces.
Woman riding on the back of the tricycle
Nobody is stopping anymore, it is time to camp. But the temperature is lower than it should be and there is way more snow than there should be. The desert is finishing, I cheked the satellite imagery, it should be warmer but it isn't. Why is that? I check the altitude, I did it very often in Kyrgyzstan and while crossing the mountains in Xinjiang but here there was no need. Just endless desert.
My altimeter is ruthless: 2270 meters above sea level. Fuck. I am in the mountains. I am in the mountains and I didn't even notice it. I must have been rising slowly, very slowly, meter by meter until I ended up here.
There situation is clear, I can't put up a tent. I have to be hosted. I have two choices. Either ask someone in the village nearby to invite me in. Or hitchhike further and further until someone invites me home. It would never have happenend in Xinjiang but maybe Gansu is different. And for heaven's sake, who would leave a human being in the mountains in winter with just a tent, that's insane even for the chinese.
It is not. Car by car, kilometer by kilometer, they bring me higher and leave me at intersections, all continuing home to their villages. The last guy leaves me in the middle of nowhere about 2700 meters high and drives off. These people have no understanding for the consequences of their actions. You may also argue that I am stupid and you would have a point.
It is freezing and there isn't anything out of which I could make a mattress. I have to go back. I hitchhike a car downhill.
"Where are you going?"
"I try to find a place to build a tent, anywhere better than here"
"Get in"
They let me in front of a hostel, I don't even argue that it's no use, they would just leave me in the middle of nowhere again. I try my luck in the hostel and yay, I can stay there for free. There are some random guys sleeping in the same room, one of them being drunk but I have saved my ass from the mountain cold. Note to self; always, always check the altitude, you might be high and not even know it and I guess that's true for drugs as well.