Sunday, 22 November 2009
Saturday, 7 November 2009
An unprecedented 1st November snowfall had enveloped the city and its surroundings. My jeep is falling apart at the seams, but Peng and I were still able to take the opportunity to have a little jaunt out to the Ming tombs in the afternoon - the snow added an extra sparkle to the ancient buildings.
Unbelievably it transpired the next day that it was all the fault of the Chinese authorities!
A drought in North China just when the farmers were due to sow their winter wheat had led the powers that be to fire a few missiles carrying silver iodide into the sky in an attempt to seed the clouds and make rain. But they had not accounted for an advancing cold front which caused the resultant precipatation to fall as snow. It caused a few plane delays, but the farmers were happy, and everyone else seemed to rather enjoy the unseasonal surprise.
In the evening I went for a farewell dinner with Wutzala and Kubi of the Chinese Equestrian Association and Harry Tse of the Chinese Horseball Federation. Old friend He Guo Sheng, who was our indispensable ride manager on the first trial leg last year, also came with two TV reporters, and very generously treated us to the meal. Unfortunately, apart from Peng, the other members of our 2009 team had already dispersed homewards and were unable to be present.
As it was the first snowfall of the year, the meal had to be hotpot. In this case rather than one communal steamboat, we had individual hotpot burners containing the spicy simmering soup into which we dipped and cooked paper thin slices of meat and vegetables - warming and delicious on a wintry evening.
Replete after the meal. L to R. Guo Sheng, Peng, Kubi, Wutzala, Me, Harry.
Before leaving Beijing I was interviewed for the China based newspaper Global Times. Below is a link to the article on their website.
I am now back in Wales after flying home on Tuesday, and hope to return to China at the end of March to set out again across the Gobi at the beginning of April.
Keep reading - I intend to keep posting at regular intervals - not only ongoing developments, but photos of the Great Wall stage that I did not have room/time to publish before.
Monday, 2 November 2009
For details see their website www.beijinghikers.com
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
The first sight of camels actually in the desert generated a ripple of excitement, but this soon wore off after the 20th sighting. But you must agree that they are rather picturesque. The camels in China are of course the two-humped Bactrian - the type used on the Silk Route for centuries.
We did not make it across the Tengger the first day, and ended up staying in a tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere, all squashed into one sparse room with a single candle for light. However the next morning we were able to have a proper breakfast for the first time in weeks. Here is our breakfast steaming away outside the eating house at the next village.
And here is Peng limbering up with chopsticks ready to tuck in to mutton and potato dumplings – delicious! As this was a Moslem establishment, pork dumplings were not on the menu.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
We have had quite a bit of media attention recently, with a sizeable slot on Zhangye TV news – Bajiu providing light entertainment by knocking over his water bowl – and a troupe of pretty girl reporters from Jiaquan Weekly who considerably brightened up the day for the ‘boys’.
A year ago we were being hounded by the police to move out of our lodgings and drive 40 miles to the nearest ‘foreigners hotel’. With official certification and increasing publicity, things have changed, and now they even appear to want to join us. The photo below shows me giving pony rides to a charming young Jiaquan policeman.
Some cute kids at Qing Shui.
Monday, 19 October 2009
We have run out of the excellent hay we bought in Yinchuan. The Shandan stud gave us some straw and Peng managed to find a couple of bales of hay en route, but otherwise we have been eking out roughage with maize stalks. Hard feed is however less of a problem as everyone is harvesting, corn cobs are out to dry in front of nearly all the houses, and it is not too difficult to pick up the odd bag of ground maize. And yesterday SuperPeng bought some carrots from our hosts which he can be seen washing in freezing water below
And even a couple of schoolgirls.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Zorbee is much improved, so we have brought him back into walking work, and it has been a relief to have our pacesetter back in action. On Saturday we climbed over a stunning mountain pass between snow capped peaks, unfortunately cloaked in mist and icy drizzle so photos were difficult. The small, often rough road was almost deserted, thanks to the expressway which siphons off all the heavy traffic. Bleak grassland was grazed by small flocks of sheep guarded by shepherds in enormous identical sheepskin cloaks which appear to be all the rage among the shepherding fraternity in the highlands of Gansu. Along the side of the expressway strange orange plastic bags were strung up – they turned out to contain wild mushrooms for sale by people camped out in little tents.
Below are Hua and Zorbee in front of the strangely named ‘Cosmetic Mountain’ after the rain had cleared a bit.
At Chang Cheng Kou or Great Wall gap, where the expressway ploughs through the Wall, we stayed at the restful courtyard house of Chen Huai, a photographer and local expert on the Hexi corridor (the area in Gansu through which the Silk Road passes) whom we had met a couple of weeks earlier. Great Wall expert William Lindesay has also stayed at his house, so we were in good company! The horses had a huge grassy yard to roam in and were in seventh heaven.
I am constantly amazed at the changes in temperature as we ride. From the freezing conditions crossing the pass for which I was clad in thermal underwear and several layers of warm clothing, today I was riding in a short sleeved top for much of the way!
We are now just outside Zhangye, which is the last major town before Jiayuguan, so we are effectively about to start the last leg – hopefully we will be able to reach the end of the Great Wall in about a week, all being well.
The other piece of news is that now Zorbee is better, Li Jing has just arrived back.
Monday, 12 October 2009
Our horses also had a rest of sorts – on arrival they were subjected to a vet check before being allowed to rejoin the other stud riding horses – they were none too impressed either by being disinfected or having a thermometer up their backsides – see Bajiu below.
Hua and Shandan by the lake - both apparently suitably attired for fishing.
The day is rounded off by dinner and drinking games with the media.
And below is a photo of what he looked like before he was poisoned and stuffed. In his heyday he was actually the foundation stallion of the stud, created by cross breeding between local horses and Don stallions. He was rather enigmatically called 00.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
A new radiator has been ordered and in the meantime we are enjoying hot showers and flush loos at the very comfortable hotel here, which has views of the stunning snow capped Qilian mountains.
The photo shows Hua and Shandan by a kilometre post – now showing the distance from Shanghai along the Silk road.
Monday, 5 October 2009
After posing for photos , we led our horses out of the temple and rode off, not into the sunset, but back to our hotel where we were treated to a sumptuous meal washed down with Chinese wine which the over excited gentleman kept knocking over. Apparently the intention is to put our names on a plaque in the temple. So if you are walking along the Great Wall of China and come to Tumen, look out for the temple, which is down an alley to the north of the main street!
The next piece of news is more pleasing - we arrived in Gansu province on Sunday 27th September – the final province we will ride through this year. The area we have been riding through has been largely desert, and we have also been riding near the Great Wall, and sometimes actually alongside it. Unfortunately we have also been forced to spend rather too much time on the main road again, though it is a relatively quiet route.
Monday, 28 September 2009
Thankfully it did not cause a resurrection of the Great Watermelon Controversy that raged for weeks between Hua and the others – which are the sweetest and so on ad infinitum – I did not previously appreciate that it was a fruit that could raise such high emotions – or is it a fruit? According to Hua it is not.
He was looking very perky after a short day walking, so we should be able to step up the mileage again pretty quickly. Here he is with Hua above a bend in the Huang He near Shapatou, to the west of Zhongwei, and still in Ningxia province. This is probably the last sight we will have of the great yellow river that we have followed for so long.