Sunday, 30 August 2009

We have arrived at the Huang He! .

Yesterday we arrived at the Huang He or Yellow River. Not so close we could dip our toes in, but we could see it from the little town where we were staying. Above is our first glimpse of the river - Hua was very disappointed that it did not look yellow until I told him the loess colour would not show from a distance.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Vidazorb for Energy like Zorbee

Here is Hua on wonderhorse Zorbee about 30 miles further down the dry river bed last week. He is displaying his bottle of the Vidazorb probiotic tablets we have been taking.

The best things often come in small packages, and not only has little Zorbee been willingly covering twice the distance of the other horses. but our Vidazorb tablets have been keeping

us healthy and with plenty of energy to face long days in the saddle.

I am sure my rapid recovery from a serious accident can be partly attributed to my Vidazorb tablets!

Scenic photos

Hua and Zorbee at the beginning of our ride down the dry river bed last week.

Genghis Khan rides again - or rather an elderly Brit. Me and Shandan in front of fake castle near Houhehot which was a set for a Genghis Khan movie.

Friday, 28 August 2009

More photos!

When loos exist, they are invariably guarded by one-headed Cerberuses as shown in photo. No sneaking quietly to the loo in the middle of the night. This hound had a long chain which necessitated creeping along the right hand wall to reach ones goal. He had devised an amusing game of charging at terrified loo-goers while barking furiously. But if stared at he soon backed down, shamefaced and crestfallen.

The Shi Gongli factor. But I an sure it said 154 kms to Baotou 10 kms (shi gongli) further back.

Peng and Zorbee negotiate the outskirts of Houhehot.

Rumours of UFOs in Inner Mongolia have been greatly exaggerated. In fact they are luxury hotels such as this one we stayed in at Houhehot, courtesy of the Houhehot horsey fraternity.

Find the pig. Houhehot.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A photo!

Hua and I by lake en route to Hong Pan Zhen last week

Monday, 24 August 2009

Houhehot Hospitality

We have arrived in Houhehot and are receiving a royal welcomme. Yesterday we met up on horseback at the racecourse with members of the local horsey community. We were then dressed up in Mongolian costume and rode through the streets of Houhehot to the bemusement of the local populace to our lunch venue in a yurt on the other side of town. This involved much toasting in bai jiu and Mongolian singing - I was prevailed upon to contribute a Welsh folk song about goats which has previously proved a useful party piece in Central Asia.

The horses were then put out to grass at a nearby stables while we were whisked off to a luxurious Mongolian hotel which eerily resembled a UFO - unfortunately I still cannot download photos!

We have now been moved to more modest but still very comfortable accomodation (ensuite with hot shower!) and tonight are being treated to a banquet in our honour. And we are being supplied with hay for the next stage of the journey.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Putting the record straight

Having parted company with 5 people in as many months and notched up a total of 2 broken collarbones, 7 ribs and a punctured lung, Zorbee has developed a reputation as a bit of a devil horse. I have not only had emails asking when we are going to get rid of him, but even half seriously that he should be shot!

However, this reputation is uncalled for. He is not a nasty horse and has NEVER deliberately tried to get rid of anyone. He is very energetic and responsive - this sensitivity also means he is susceptible to occasional panic attacks particularly with regard to things around his legs - he is paranoic about the loose wire with which the grasslands are littered. But the majority of the time he is a little trooper - forward going, willing and obedient, and taking everythiing in his stride. He is a cut above the other horses both in travelling speed and endurance. I suspect when Li Jing rejoins us, he and Hua will be fighting for him!

Hua and I spent today riding along a dry river bed through the hills for miles - absolutely fantastic though we had a bit of a job scrambling through rocks and negotiating a weir where the valley narrowed almost to a gorge. Zorbee carried Hua ahead at a collected canter along the sandy stretches while I trotted behind to catch up. As we are down to 2 riders, I am alternating riding Shandan and Bajiu - Zorbee is doing the whole distance with a heavier rider and still arriving looking the strongest. And he is the littlest!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Try Thuraya Locate Again

I have at last managed to sort out the problem with Thuraya Locate, and have already put in my last couple of locations. The map shows the latest location, but you can View History to look at previous locations. Allow for some offset - we are not sleeping on the side of a hill as it appears on the map, but in relatively comfortable lodgings at the bottom.

After staying in a grubby fly infested hotel in Hou Qi on Tuesday, we have had two lovely days of riding, first following alongside a quiet road through open grassland hills past a lake to overnight at Hong Pan Zhen, a pleasant little one horse town - or rather 3 horses and several pigs. Surprisingly the 'high street' boasted six shops, mainly stocking liquor. But I suppose there is nothing much else to do out here. A couple of the shops appeared to double up as social clubs, with small groups huddled over cards and mahjong.

Today we cut across country at one point, and in the afternoon followed along a dry riverbed to our current destination. We have been covering about 40kms a day, as apparently we are aiming to reach Houhehot at the weekend to meet up with some horsey people.

Still can't download photos which is annoying - I suppose I will just have to rely on a photofest every so often.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Now We Are Four

It transpired over the weekend that Li Jing has also cracked a rib - he was in such pain on Saturday night that he had to go to hospital. He has thus decided to go to Beijing to recover, and will rejoin us when he is feeling better - he did not look at all well.

The endurance event ended with a wonderful dinner and prizegiving with photos of all the competitors flashed up on a huge screen to the accompaniment of trimphant music. This even included me, though I only covered a token kilometer due to my bad back. Wutzala came second and the majority of the international riders made it round.

The following day I went to a post mortem which was very constructive. Mr Ho, the President of the Asian Equestrian Federation gave his recommendations, and afterwards I was invited to join a select group for lunch with the Governor of Xilingole province.

We have now come down to earth with a bump, having left the luxury of a five star hotel and returned to nil star accomodation! Today we rode about 20 miles steadily to Shangdu town, though Zorbee managed to dispose of Peng when he was frightened by loose wire which is a continual hazard round here. Happily Peng was OK.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Inner Mongolian Internationl Endurance Event - out on the course.

Course marking flag - the course was well marked throughout.

Water at the ready - Vet gate 2.

A cage full of criminals? No - Vetgate 2 officials waiting for action in their airy little yurt.

The leading horse being vetted.

Back markers, mainly the international set, including Austrian, 2 Hungarians and Malaysian girl Asrin, second from left.

Friday, 14 August 2009

And it was all going so well.

Cheerful endurance race competitors herded onto a military truck to inspect the course. President of the Asian Equestrian Federation Mr Ho in front.

Five kms further on and not so cheerful.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Photos while I have the chance

Peng in his beekeepers hat and Li Jing riding across the grasslands on Shandan and Zorbee. My usual viewpoint from the steady Bajiu.

Sign promoting population control which appears to have been singularly effective.

Obligatory baby holding with friendly farmhouse family at Gaoshanpu

Find the pig. Kang Bao.

Yet another unusual bedroom

Wolf or Not?

This large canine trotted past while we were picnicking on the grasslands. Hua reckoned it was a wolf, Li Jing not. What do you think?

Li Jing Update

At last I can download a photo. This is Li Jing on danger zone Zorbee by the sign announcing our arrival at Inner Mongolia last week - unfortunately it appears to have had an altercation with a lorry.

The latest on Li Jing is that he has broken his collarbone but not his ribs. Being the the hard man that he is, he is intent on getting straight back in the saddle, but we shall see. Conveniently we had already arranged to attend a big endurance event in Xilingole over the weekend, so that gives us a breathing space to decide our next course of action.
We are now esconsed in a 5 star hotel in Xilingole courtesy of the Chinese Equestrian Association, quite a change from the simple farmhouse we stayed in last night, and where we have left the horses in the care of a local farmer who came to our rescue.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Zorbee Does It Again.

Hua and I are sitting in the trailer in the middle of the Inner Mongolian countryside while Peng carts Li Jing off to hospital at Shangdu, 30 kms away. I did not see the incident as I had ridden quietly ahead at a sedate walk from our last rest stop because of my bad back.

Apparently when Hua trotted on Zorbee got over excited and fell over, and spookily Li Jing appears to have mirror image injuries to mine, only hopefully not as bad

It looks like it is going to be a long day as they have only just left and it is already 6 o'clock. We may end up camping where Peng unhitched the trailer when he got the news - at least there are shady trees to tie the horses to.

I am writing this using the solar powered socket in the trailer, today being the first time I have tried it.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Through the Grasslands

Now in the unappealing industrial town of Hua De, Inner Mongolia. Communication is proving very erratic, hence the lack of blog posts (I have written some but have not been able to publish them or download photos) and apparently my Thuraya Locate points have not got through. E-mail contact comes and goes without warning!

We have been following a quiet country road through some lovely country, varying from open grassland with cows and small flocks of sheep with attendant shepherds, to yellow and green bands of cereal crops or neatly planted cabbages and potatoes, bounded by belts of poplar and birch. Thankfully we have been able to ride the whole way on earth tracks or grass verges. Occasionally we pass through little mud or red brick villages with sunflowers in the courtyards, the odd pig snuffling around and donkeys or mules tied up to graze on the outskirts. Inevitably we collect a small crowd of curious and friendly locals, who are amazed to see a foreigner in their neck of the woods, particularly on a horse!

Unfortunately my back has been playing up and Li Jing is also not well, so we have been taking it easy though we covered about 33kms today. Over the last few days we have stayed in a friendly farmhouse, a hotel in Kang Bao (with very welcome hot shower cubicles downstairs!) and in an empty schoolhouse - heaven for the horses since they had a whole grassy yard to themselves.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A Gongli Too Far

Friday was a 'shi gongli' day. On the first stage of our ride according to our guide Mr Ren it was always 'shi gongli' or 10 kms to our final destination no matter how far we rode. Having expected to ride about 16 miles, it somehow ended up being nearly 30 miles, and we limped into Wu Mian Jing exhausted, and in my case, grumpy. As a result I now have a bad case of back ache from overdoing it. We are all set up to camp and annoyingly we passed several ideal camping spots.

On the plus side we crossed into Inner Mongolia and rode through some lovely grassland country with belts of poplar and birch. I have not included photos here as I don't seem to be able to download them for some reason.

Wu Mian Jing is a former government administration centre which is now been abandoned and is almost a ghost town. Hua managed to get us accomodation in the town cottage hospital which was somewhat run down - we stayed in a hospital room complete with drip stand, and were booted out early next morning to make way for a patient.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Zou Ba! We're Off!

Dinner is served!
The re-launch went off in tremendous Chinese style with the promised fireworks (the horses, being Chinese, didn't bat an eyelid) drums and cymbals as we rode out of the gateway, and an accompanying cohort of stable lads in Mongolian costume to see us off. This was following a fantastic Chinese lunch with speeches, Mongolian singing and horsehead violin playing, and various Mongolian rituals in which I was expected to take part, not to mention the procession above bringing in a whole roast calf.
Rode out through Guyuan on a hot afternoon, and who should greet us but old friend Mr Zhao of the Yihe stud on a hay buying trip! We are now in Gao Shan Pu, staying in a yard full of sheep.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Thuraya Locate

A quick mention - if you wish to follow our progress on the ground, start looking at the Thuraya Locate map. I intend putting in our location every day from now on, reception and memory permitting.

Ba Jiu and Bai Jiu

Here I am on Ba Jiu during an excellent morning ride through the neighbouring countryside with Peng and Hua ( on Zorbee and Shandan). No hard roads for a change, just gravel and earth paths through fields of growing crops. And a canter to the top of a hill overlooking the reservoir behind the hotel.

Wutzala and Li Jing arrived today. The deputy boss of the company that own the holiday complex where we are staying and being royally treated, gave us all a wonderful dinner in a private room. This involved a groaning table and much toasting with Bai Jiu or white Chinese spirit - not to be confused with the horse.

The official relaunch of the ride is set for tomorrow. The deputy boss is providing an enormous flag to present to us, and apparently we will be sent off to the accompaniment of fireworks which could prove interesting - my Kanteq body protector and Charles Owen helmet may be of use sooner than expected!

Internet reception is poor around here, and we have been using the connection in the manager's office - access may be unreliable from now on so you have been warned.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Happy memories

Here I am on Bajiu at the exact spot I fell off three months ago. The prone figure in the background is Hua, not re-enacting the scene, but sunbathing. Note I am wearing my new Kanteq body protector which as promised is proving amazingly comfortable - I completely forgot I had it on! And of course my new Charles Owen helmet to replace the one that no doubt saved me from worse injury.

We had an idyllic ride in the cool of the morning through the Chinese countryside, past cauliflower harvesters and poplar groves.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Shoeing day

Enjoying tremendous hospitality at the Joy hotel which is part of the holiday complex outside Guyuan where the horses have been based since my fall. The stable boys tried out a couple of the horses yesterday and Zorbee was true to form with an introductory bronco session, and followed this by taking off with his rider and depositing him at our feet. Apparently the second person he has decanted since I hit the deck so I am not alone! Unfortunately in the last couple of weeks the boys have also managed to give Bajiu a couple of girth galls. They meant well in trying to get the horses ready for us, but I hope it will not be a problem.

Today was shoeing day, and the horses apart from Hei Feng were all strapped up one by one to a shoeing frame to be shod the traditional Chinese way. Even the recalcitrant Zorbee ended up with a new set . Peng has now given the now not so thin and considerably more sharp un-named horse the inspiring name of Shandan!

Hei Feng's back leg injuries are unfortunately too bad for him to continue and we will have
to leave him here. It seems he slipped on a concrete slope on the yard, and of course he is so wild to handle it would have been impossible to treat him properly.

The place is swarming with police at the moment - there is a police conference and sort of Chinese policeman's ball going on.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Back in Beijing

Have managed to circumvent the Great Firewall of China with a little help from my friends! But how long this lasts is anyone's guess as it is apparently a cat and mouse game. Champagne flight with BA as the plane was chockablock and I was one of the lucky few to be upgraded to business class. Met at the airport by a welcoming delegation consisting of Kubi, Peng, Li May and Hua our new driver who also speaks good English. Driven to hotel by Peng in my 4x4 (how funny to own a car and not to be able to drive it!)and am now catching up on sleep and sorting out my bags, including all the stuff I collected from Ed's flat yesterday. We will probably be off to Guyuan early tomorrow to meet up with the horses again. They are reportedly fat and well, but the mad Hei Feng has somehow injured his hind legs so we are down to three. At least it was not one of the quiet ones!