Entering China and onwards to Kashgar!
Having escaped the border crossing, I found my way to the expressway which indicated 110 km’s to Kashgar. I couldn’t wait. With the only things on my mind being a big modern city and all the comforts that went with it, I cycled on with much gusto and energy.
Being down to such a relatively low altitude now, the heat was pretty intense and so I stopped for a while to reduce my layers and to take off my silly but warm Russian hat and of course to eat some porridge.
Cycle touring through Xinyiang - real asphalt is a blessing!
I cycled for the rest of the day along the expressway eagerly counting down the kilometres. I cycled through the mountains which grew less and less impressive as the day wore on until I realised I was almost out of water. Being on the expressway meant the road was great with a big hard shoulder but actually, finding places to get supplies became quite difficult. It was at a police toll booth where I found my saviour. The policeman went into the huge building (everything is huge in China it seemed) and brought out with him the bottle I had given him and another bottle too. This was a very nice thought and so I posed for an obligatory photograph with him and his friend.
I met more hospitable people later on in the day when I happened across anther toll booth. This time it was some delicious local bread and some hot water. I wasn’t quite sure whether I needed to put my own tea bag in the hot water but the man indicated that I should dip the bread into it. This was a new one on me but must say it was quite tasty.
Being an expressway, the road is literally hemmed in by a continuous crash barrier and a barbed wire fenced that I couldn’t find a break in and so 15 km’s out from Kashgar I decided to take a small road off the expressway in order to find a place to camp. I did not want to arrive in a huge city with nowhere to sleep in the early evening, that much I was sure of.
I wandered down country lane after country lane eyeing up the roadside to my left and right but found only another unbroken line but this one consisted of humans. There seemed to be literally nowhere to pitch a tent.
In the end I had to dart off across the road when I saw a small quarry or something and lifted my bike up the hillside in order to find some out of the place way. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but at least it was away from prying eyes. I think China is going to be tough.
As you can imagine, I was thoroughly excited in the morning at the prospect of my impending arrival in my first city. It turned out to be an easy last 15 km’s downhill into Kashgar and I began to see restaurant after restaurant by the side of the road. Pretty soon, what with the smells and all, I could no longer resist and pulled other to have breakfast. It was amazing.
Central Asia had been the culinary equivalent to drinking beer in Turkey i.e. not very exciting. Here though. Wow. Here there were different flavours, textures, colours and smells and I could not have been happier. My dumplings and their side dish were very tasty indeed.
I set off with renewed vigour towards the centre. It was a big place and I became lost very quickly. For over two hours I wandered the main avenues and the old town district in my quest for a room for the night. It was not to be. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to sleep. No hostel signs. Nothing. Since I couldn’t read Chinese I went into a very expensive looking hotel in the end to ask for direction to a hostel I had the address for but I got lost again even with her help.
I guess the one good thing about not carrying a GPS or smartphone in these situations is that you do find yourself unlikely treats along the way. In my case it was a giant Mao statue. I quickly got to work getting my photo taken which, I must say, isn’t easy with a crowd watching your every move.
When that was done, a man walked up to me and asked if I needed a hotel. I replied that I did but unfortunately, due to my peasant ways, I could only pay so much. He took me to a hotel down the road in the Old town that was actually quite perfect. For £10 I got a huge plush room with a double bed. It was still too much for me to stay more than one night but I think I had earned it.
So that’s the story of how I got my ass to China. I know it was long but it was even longer and much more uncomfortable for me.