I last left this blog in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. A fair amount has happened since then. I entered back into Kazakhstan and then made my way west into China. I was always concerned that the section of this trip between finishing the Pamir Highway (in Osh) and then getting to China would be difficult. Not physically, but mentally. It seemed in my planning, just a means of getting from one interesting section to the other, yet it was still a couple of weeks and hundreds of miles. I definitely was less motivated and less focused and it probably showed in my last video and also the fact I haven’t really got a week 17 video! Anyway, I’m back in now and excited for this next section to Beijing. I’ll have to go back to Kyrgyzstan in the future to fully appreciate it and give it the credit it’s due!
So I’m now in China and in Xinjiang region. This region has created global news headlines recently and it’s been very interesting to see the way people live and the way it’s governed. So far, it’s been a pleasant experience and any fears I previously had, have disappeared. However, not to underestimate it, I still plan on getting through it as quickly as possible and the way I’ve been doing this so far is sticking to the G30 Highway. Officially not for cyclists but unofficially accepted by many police checkpoints as they wave you on. Broadly, this region has experienced a number of terrorist attacks in the past couple of years and the way the China is trying to prevent any future disturbance is rather extreme. Very much controlled by the police, they are everywhere! I’d avoided too many police checkpoints by staying on the highway and sleeping on it too!
Yesterday, 28 Aug, was an interesting day, and unfortunately one which I really didn’t document well/at all on film! Unfortunately I was told to leave the highway by a couple of policeman. That was ok as there was an alternative road that didn’t add much extra distance but this road had a number of police checkpoints on it. 4 large ones in total. At each checkpoint you have to park the bike and take your passport inside. Answer a fairly standard set of questions about where you’re going, where you’ve come from and then wait around for a bit. They are all pretty friendly people and my last checkpoint I was given some noodles and water! Win. The region is spilt into police regions and they are just keen for you to get out of their region! I had to wait around for about an hour at one of the checkpoints yesterday while they sorted out an escort for me! When the escort arrived they tried to tell me that because there was some road works they may have to give me a lift part of the way. I was pretty sure they were lying and I explained that I didn’t want that and about my trip and they backed down and were pretty kind about it. So for two hours I had a police van trail me! They kept their distance but it was slightly odd. What a waste of their time, but I didn’t want to give them an excuse to insist on a lift, so my average speed during those two hours was pretty good! I ended up doing 114miles yesterday. I knew it was going to be a long day so the police checkpoints didn’t help! I had a hotel booked so when I rolled into Urumqi at nearly 10pm, I was pleased to have a bed waiting! I’m not sure if it’s just this region but the majority of hotels here don’t accept foreigners. I think it’s mostly down to the registering process which is taken very seriously. Most people have electronic ID cards that are contactless and can just tap in to register at the hotel. I obviously don’t have that. I tried to stay at a hotel a couple of nights ago, which I had booked but they don’t tend to take foreigners. Anyway, it ended up being a big team effort to allow me to stay there! They were all very friendly and two policeman came in to translate and ask if I needed any other help. The guesthouse manager went to another hotel to ask how it’s done for foreigners! I ended up staying there, so success on my behalf. The foreigner hotels are so much more expensive! Although my en suite was definitely unique! (Photo below).
I’m having a day off the bike today which is nice but will be back to it tomorrow. I’m heading for a border crossing into Mongolia and then my next big city will be the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, although that is still a number of weeks away yet.
p.s. bar the amount of spice, Chinese food has admittedly, been pretty tasty so far!