Monday, July 28, 2008

Jul 28 - Jiayuguan

The train tickets are 275 RMB for an upper bed, and 286 RMB for a lower bed.

We shared our cabin with a young Irish couple. He had, in preparation for the trip, purchased a $3200 USD lens, which is carried in a 20 pound metal case. He had managed to arrange to resell it at the end of the trip to someone for 3400 Euros, for a profit of over $2000 USD. The customs at the Beijing Airport was understandably worried that he would sell it in China, so they confiscated it, and it was released later only on the posting of a considerable bond. It seemed that everywhere that lens went, it attracted difficulty, so he had named it "Trouble." We also shared the cabin with "Trouble", uneventfully, it would seem. The cabins have an overhead storage area, adjacent to the upper bunks. We stored our belongings under our beds (they were nice enough to let us both sleep below) and they fitted their stuff above.

To the south of the train are the QiLian Shan, and as morning light came, we could see snow covered mountains to the south. One of those mountains is itself QiLian Shan, over 17000 feet, but we have no assurance that we saw that specific peak.

The restrooms on the train were difficult to use. They were not allowed to be used when the train was stopped, whether in the station or on a siding, waiting. As the room said: "No occupation while stabling." In each car, one toilet was a squatter, the other a sitter. On the sitter, there was a message: "Please drainage develop." (flush)

From the train station, there was a new bus and a new driver, waiting to take us to the 4 star Hua Yuan Hotel on the central town square. There we had breakfast, the best so far. They had 60+ dishes, including hot soy milk, fried twisted bread, fresh noodles, prepared in the hotel room while you watched.

Our rooms were not going to be ready until 10, so we took a short walk downtown. There we found an Internet Cafe which we would come back to twice (2 per hour), several markets, including one where bulk tofu was being sold for 2 RMB per half kg, and all sorts of melons, garlic so fresh from the ground, it was still dirty, sunflowers, etc. were sold. We found a Uighur restaurant but didn't stay. We found a laundry. We got back just at 10.

Up to the room with the baggage, for our much needed showers and changes of clothes. We packed up all of our dirty clothes and went back to the laundry, extracting a promise that they would have the clothes ready by 8 PM that night, not tomorrow, for a price of 65 RMB ($9.75 USD). We got in a half hour of internet, and found a local icewine in the grocery store for 33 RMB, to be handed around after dinner.

Lunch was even better than breakfast. After lunch, we hopped on the best to go 7 km north of town to the Jiayu Fort at the end of the Great Wall. This is a mostly restored building complex. Unlike the parts of the wall around Beijing made of stone, this is made of mud and brick. It consists of a number of beautiful temples, built at the time of the Ming Dynasty, perhaps 1st century BCE. Again we were told that the elevation was 1500 meters or so. I had disbelieved all of this because the Jay Anderson eclipse maps in one of the earlier posts showed the Hexi Corridor at 1500-2500 feet above sea level, not 5000-6000 feet above sea level. However, Ralph Chou got his GPS working and it showed the elevation at 1746 m, or perhaps 5600 feet. No wonder this little bit of climbing yesterday and today was so tiring.

Anyway, this area gets only 8 cm of rain each year (3 inches), and were it not for the water from the mountains, it would be dry as a bone.

Jiayuguan was nothing more than a small fort town until maybe 40 years ago, when the government realized that the mountains had iron ore, coke and lime, and a huge steel industry came to the town. So it is a quite new town.

After the trip, back to the internet cafe with 5 others for an hour. A few minutes in, the entire cafe lost power. We had to change computers, and then 15 minutes later, change again. We finally got in the whole hour, but it was very unsatisfying. We picked up our clothes, so beautifully clean and folded, and then went to dinner.

Dinner featured a plate of roast duck (Yum!!) along with a number of other dishes.

We found another internet cafe just across the street from the hotel, instead of 1+ km away, and are now finishing up. It is 9 pm and Carol is totally zonked. So we are now signing off, anticipating an early start and 5 hours of morning driving to get to Dunhuang, and the famous Magao Caves.

1 comment:

Shoshana said...

I'm so pleased that you are having a good time! How were the freshly pulled noodles? Were they very different from the ones you've had before? Also, how was the Chinese icewine? I'm intrigued.

Keith is in Montreal today and in Orlando tomorrow. Ellie seems to finally be getting the hang of walking on her own, especially if motivated with raisins or other bribes.

Much love!!!!!!