Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jul 30 - On to Hami

We boarded the bus at approximately 1 pm. The route goes north on China highway 215 for about 130 km, then west/northwest on China Highway 312 for maybe 250-270 km. 312 is the longest highway in China, running from the Pacific Ocean across the country to the Kazakhstan border. Had we not taken the train in Lanzhou, we would have ridden on it all the way from Lanzhou to Urumqi. The total length of the road is apx 5000 km.

The road north/northeast from Dunhuang to the 312 junction is mostly flat and straight. It is, however, badly maintained and is bumpy from beginning to end. As a result for much of the road, the bus was able to do only 50 km per hour (32 mph) and that was really pushing the limits of the vehicle. It felt like our morning camel ride. At one point in the desert, we saw a beautiful lake mirage off in the distance.

About 50 km north of Dunhuang, we passed by the remnants of the western extension of the Great Wall, heading west from the Jiayuguan Fort. Apparently off the road to the west of us, the wall is in better shape, but right at the road, there are only fragmentary remnants.

The remaining 80 km were of the "Daddy, are we there yet?" nature, mile upon mile of the same slow bumpy road. Occasionally, the driver drove on the wrong side of the road just to get a slightly better bit of pavement. No rest stop, no houses, no real evidence of anyone on the road at all. Finally, with the junction of 312 in sight, we pulled over for the second rest stop, in the middle of the desert - ladies to the right, and gents to the left.

We anticipated 312 to be a fine piece of road, because from Jiayuguan to the turnoff, it was new 4 lane divided highway. However, this stretch was 2 lane, bumpy, and generally in bad shape. For most of the length, there is a parallel road being constructed, and within several years this will all be a new 4 lane road. But now, it was really slow. It carries a huge amount of long distance truck traffic, and our bus driver spent much of his time passing the trucks.

Not long after we passed into Xinjiang, we had to stop for a toll stop (tolls on this piece of crap of a road!!!), and were waved over by a policeman to show the buses credentials and passenger list. Finally, the driver was allowed to pull forward to a gas station, to fill up. Not much in the way of snacks to buy - vacuum packed hundred year old egg, and various crispy items. Outside, Mike cut up a melon that Charlene had been given by the passengers in another bus. We all had a piece of melon, and we were off.

After another 150 km, another toll stop, and another pull over by the police. As we got closer to Hami, we ran into numerous stretches where the road was under construction, and we were diverted onto a gravel side detour at 10 mph or so.

We didn't get into Hami until 8:30 pm. Our driver dropped us off at a restaurant, where we met our new guide (one per province) and then dropped off our luggage at the hotel, and was immediately back to Dunhuang over that same 7 hour stretch of rough road, at night. The bus was needed tomorrow for another tour, and he had to put in a 15 hour day.

Our new guide, Rana, is Uighur from Urumqi. She speaks Uighur, Mandarin, and English, has a mischevous smile, and a great sense of humor. After dinner, we all got in a new Xinjiang bus (the other was a Gansu bus) for the short drive to the hotel.

Quick check in, and then at 10:30 pm, off to an internet cafe just down the street. To bed close to midnight.

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