On Wednesday night we stayed in the delightful traditional village courtyard house where Wutzala keeps his horse (N40 32' 28.15" E116 00' 53.74") - a little haven of peace. We arrived early and were able to relax, do our washing, catch up with emails, have another HOT shower etc - it is imperative to take advantage of them whenever one can as it may be the last shower one gets for a while! The horses were happily crammed into a little brick shed looking onto the yard - here they are tucking into maize stalks. L to R, Zorbee, Baijiu, Hei Feng, and the unnamed thin horse. He is travelling everywhere in style in the trailer.
Woke on Thursday to the sound of rain drumming down. However it soon turned to drizzle, and we set off to the north. Wutzala led us through the mountains on a small dirt track clinging to the side of the hill, and up to a gap through an ancient stone section of wall dating from the Spring and Autumn period. It should have been a wonderful scenic ride, but unfortunately the mist was so thick we could not see anything, and Bajiu, who I was riding, got over excited and pulled all the way - not relaxing. However at least I now know the horses are fitter than I thought. We had an exciting interlude when Zorbee (who I was leading) got a branch stuck in his tail and charged off back down the track - as I also lost him on the main road on Wednesday, Li Jing tactfully suggested he do the leading from now on.
After a superb late lunch (washed down with Wutzala's home made hooch) in a small one donkey town reminiscent of the Wild West, we trotted on to our hotel for the night. This transpired to be a deserted ex AK47 factory (!) with abandoned Soviet style residential blocks set round a small lake hidden away in the forested hills. To my amazement, the horses were led through a couple of little doors into a huge empty auditorium which was to be their quarters for the night. Once a hall for Chinese dignitaries, now a stable for foreign devils.
We stayed in the ancient 1950s hotel which no doubt once housed visiting Russian weapons experts - it had seen better days, and although it had wood panelling, hot shower tanks, TVs and Western bathrooms, the only things that worked (happily) were the flush loos. Even the bedside lights had no bulbs. We stayed in solitary splendour on the top floor, and discovered in the morning that we were locked in until the caretaker arrived! It would have made an excellent location for a zombie movie.
The horses in their unusual stabling, complete with stage - we could not persuade them to give a song and dance act. Below - me on Zorbee sporting my new white Michael Jackson gloves bought this morning for £1.50 in a kind of Chinese Old Curiosity Shop. You can see I look like a creature from another planet, and together with Li Jing we attract a lot of curious stares.
Today Li Jing and I only rode about 16 miles - but WEST at last! Wutzala still appears to be on a mission to send us via the North Pole, and we are constantly being pressured to ride north via Inner Mongolia, although it is likely to add over a month to the journey, assuming we do not freeze to death on the way.
The horses are going like bombs - I think the feeding is getting through to them and they are certainly all on their toes. It is difficult to take photos as I go along as there is a bitterly cold wind sweeping down from Mongolia (!) and the horses insist on going everywhere at a trot. Hei Feng and Zorbee are both pacers, but I have not got the hang of keeping Zorbee at it yet.
We had an extra bit of entertainment when we found an enormous white mule bearing down on us at full gallop, having pulled out its tether - superman Li Jing managed to catch it and tie it to a tree someway down the road where one hopes its owner will eventually have found it.
Li Jing with Hei Feng and Ba Jiu braving a long noisy tunnel - it was much darker than it looks in the photo.
Now staying at N40 43' 17.84" E115 49' 8.43"