Monday, 28 September 2009

A Surprise Present from Hami

On Friday we were given a most welcome surprise present by a passing truck driver – a Hami melon! Hami in Xinjiang province is on our route next year, and I had been looking forward to trying its world renowned juicy melons when we arrived there. However we were able to have a pre-tasting when we were presented with one fresh off the truck all the way from Xinjiang. Here is the driver in his truck – Hua has persuaded me to point out the evidence in Chinese on the door that it really did originate from Hami.

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.

Vet Visit and Goodbye to the Huang He

Shandan is a bit prone to mysterious accidents, twice unaccountably scraping his back in the luxuriously padded trailer. The latest is that he somehow managed to cut his stifle on the trailer. He is not at all lame, but it was a nasty little cut which needed stitching - so Peng went off to Zhongwei find a vet. As there are no modern veterinary facilities out here in the sticks, Shandan had to be pulled over on his side in the yard and held down for his little operation. As you can see below, the vet made a commendably neat job. And all for only £20! I have a course of injections to give him for a few days, and he took the first one like a rock this morning.

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.

The Great Leap Forward

We have been making excellent progress recently, but seem to have spent much more time on the main road than I would have liked – at least the rubber shoes have made it more comfortable. However we were able to spend some time riding along the side of the Great Leap Forward Canal which presumably dates from the time of Mao’s Great Leap Forward in the 1950s. Hua hoped it would enable us to live up to its name, but we ran into obstacles too often and were forced back onto the road.

An unexpected treat was when we came across an ancient Tang dynasty Buddhist temple complex sited against a bluff above the canal at the end of a crumbling section of the Great Wall. The Shi Kong temples were absolutely stunning and virtually unvisited.

Hua is shown round ancient temple by equally ancient retainer.

Hua on Bajiu – yes the little crumbling remnant at the top of the bluff is the Great Wall!
Having problems accessing my blog at the moment, so posts may be erratic – I am now having to e-mail text home.

Hurray For a Hot Bath

After a sweaty day in the saddle, a good scrub is a necessity and I have become very adept at having a bath in a plastic bowl. The photo above shows my usual daily hot bath. Hot water is normally provided in a thermos wherever we stay, and cold water can be obtained from a tap or hose outside, or from a Shanghai jar inside.

Every so often we have the luxury of a shower. Some of the larger truck stops have shower rooms, and the photo below shows one of the grander ones, although the shower heads here were in fact taps! But who cares when the water is hot. Unfortunately at this premises the door to the shower room was only a curtain - as I did not want to give the truckers a nasty shock, Li May had to stand guard.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Return to the Not so Great Wall

Today we met up with the Great Wall of China again for the first time since leaving Hebei. Only an outlying spur but the real thing nevertheless - there were signs to prove it!

As you can see, these remnants are considerably shrunken compared with the Wall further west, and from now on it is constructed of earth.

1111 kilometers

1111 kilometers from Beijing! Of course in fact we have gone much further as we detoured into Inner Mongolia and have kept off the roads where possible.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Ningxia Here We Come

We have left Inner Mongolia after nearly a month. Here are Hua and Li Jing in front of the Mongolian style toll gate into Ningxia.

This part of China is developing fast, and we have been forced to ride along busy roads through country littered with industrial concerns - power stations, iron and steel, concrete and chemical factories. Everything is coated in a thin film of coal dust, and makes me glad we heeded advice and avoided the industrial coal mining areas of northern Shanxi, which the Great Wall passes through. The second crossing of the Huang He - not a pleasant experience.

New road construction means suffering stretches of road like this.

Sneakers R Us

The horses have all been fitted with brand new sneakers in the form of shoes made out of old rubber tyres! We started off in Guyuan with conventional shoes, which lasted us to Baotou, where the horses were reshod with traditional Chinese iron shoes. These have not been a success as both Zorbee and Shandan had loose and bent shoes after only ten days, so we decided to take advantage of Peng's rubber tyre shoe kit. I had already seen rubber tyre shoes in action on Peng's own horses in the autumn, and they seemed to work very well. Li Jing says he has ridden 1000 kms with one set.

So yesterday afternoon was spent sneaker fitting and we are now all padding softly along the road. Above is Bajiu being fitted - the guy in the orange helmet (was Bajiu really that bad!) turned up from nowhere and pitched in - apparently he was some sort of lay farrier of which there are a lot in China - happily he seemed to know what he was about.

Here is the finished product on Bajiu. They may look rough and ready, but the horses feel happy and comfortable. There is some overlap on Bajiu's set as he has a tendency to drag his toes and we were concerned about the wear on the front of his hooves - one of the reasons we opted to change to rubber - hopefully this will help solve the problem.

On the banks of the Huang He.

If you are wondering why there have been so few photos of Li Jing recently, it is his own fault. Since he reclaimed Zorbee (it was only a matter of time) he has usually been a speck on the horizon. To prove he still exists, here is a suitably enigmatic photo of him and Zorbee on the banks of the Huang He.

And one of me on Bajiu

And Hua on Shandan with Wuhai in the distance.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


Great excitement a couple of days ago when we bumped (not literally) into Juan and Marta, Spanish friends cycling aroun China - the first waiguoren (or foreigners) we have seen in almost a month. They turned up the following day as well and joined us for a noodle lunch by the side of the road.

Hua and Shandan pose on a sand-dune at the edge of the Ordos desert.

Hua asking the way. The goats are a breed commonly found in this area. They are called er ba se or something similar, and are reared not only for meat but for their cashmere like fleece.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Photos - Huang He valley

Bajiu and me above the Huang He. I am wearing my Korean corset because of my pesky back ache - thankfully now much better.

Friendly local plying us with water melon at a picnic lunch break.

Li Jing on Shandan and Hua on Zorbee before Li Jing repossessed him.

Hua coaxing a suspicious Zorbee across a drainage canal.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Sand, Sunflowers and Swallows.

For the last few days we have been riding along the floodplain between the Huang He and the desert. Sometimes along earth tracks through fields of maize and sunflowers, sometimes across areas of fallow sandy grassland where little chunky Chinese swallows follow us, swooping right under the horses noses. At one point we rode along the embankment right beside the swirling waters of the Huang He itself, with our retinue of swallows darting around us - a magical experience. To the south we can almost always see a low line of sandhills, and at one point rode through them on the road.
However we have also had quite a bit of rain. The day before yesterday we had to abandon riding after only 11kms due to the wind and rain, though Peng found us a very clean and comfortable fish restaurant to take refuge in and spend the night. And this is supposed to be a desert area!
We are grazing the horses as much as possible as Peng is worried the hay supplies will not last a couple of weeks until we can pick up more in Yinchuan. However, if the worst comes to the worst, we can always buy maize stalks.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

What Happens When We Stop in Town.

Hua stops to quietly peruse the map book.

Three minutes later. Note the policeman has now comandeered the map book.

Five minutes later

Scenic photos Houhehot to Baotou

The challenge was to avoid the horrible main road between Houhehot and Baotou. The first day we followed a peaceful gravel track along the foot of the hills.

After a foray struggling through a maze of maize fields and irrigation canals, we found a lovely gravel/earth service track alongside the railway line which we followed all the way to Baotou.

Li Jing Rides Again.

Internet connection over the last couple of days has been very unstable so I will limit this post to text. In Baotou we stayed at a private stables set in woodland in the suburbs, and were wined and dined by our very generous host Mr Jiang. Very peaceful except for the music blaring out from the attached yurt resort on Sunday evening!

Yesterday we were filmed by local TV crossing the landmark Huang He - holding up the traffic on the busy bridge. Mr Jiang is deputy director of a big new stud farm to the south of the river, and we were accompanied there on horseback, riding along an earth track on a bund across the flood plain in the morning. Sunflowers, maize and a lot of beekeeping - one of our party was stung!

We stopped at a little town for lunch with Mr Jiang and the mayor, and then rode on through the sweltering countryside to rendevous with a posse of stable lads who escorted us across grassland and alfalfa to the magnificent new 'Brother Win' stud of which they are inordinately proud - both horses and humans are in 4 star accomodation so we were all able to indulge in hot showers again!

We are soon setting off to start riding westwards between the Huang He and the Ordos desert - just a short hop today to set us up for a longer day on Thursday. Li Jing has rejoined us - he is not fully recovered but able to ride sedately.