Xi’an – Yongshou – Changwu – Jingchuan – Pingliang – Longde – Huining – Dingxi – Lanzhou
The few days we spent in the city of Xi’an were quite remarkable. With Matthieu having spent six years in China, and Oli three years, we were pleasantly surprised to finally find a city that seemed to get the balance of traditional and modern architecture just right. The ancient imperial capital is the birthplace of Chinese culture and unlike many of the cities in China has kept its pagodas, temples and city walls as a central feature to its development.
Istanbul is famous as the city where East meets West, but Xi’an really nullifies this by showing a city where true East meets Central Asia. Positioned just next to the 14th century bell tower inside the city walls lies the vibrant muslim quarter with its narrow streets, mosque and its spicy food stalls. One is quickly reminded that Xi’an is the starting point of the silk road and the gateway to the far west, the desert, the caravans and the endless supply of mutton skewers (yangrou chuan with a lingering rrrrr in the end, for those familiar with the local accent).
Leaving Xi’an for Lanzhou therefore felt to us like leaving the China we were somehow familiar with, eager to find our inner Marco Polo’s and start experiencing “the real deal”. The road from Xi’an to Lanzhou has undoubtedly provided us with an opportunity to really feel connected to the land we are traveling through, finally leaving behind the coal mines and large cities, passing along large arid plateaus and over deep canyons that divide the land into a network of deep yellow arteries.
Following our meticulously planned route, the road was supposedly going to cover some “undulating hills” in “dry, moderately warm weather”. One can imagine therefore our surprise when on day four out of Xi’an we were faced with a climb to a 2,400 m peak, in driving rain and with temperatures barely edging above freezing. Our Logistics Director has been suitably reprimanded and faces a week’s ban of Snickers as punishment.
Never did we think we would be so relieved to find a tunnel 2.4km long at the top of a mountain after only recently escaping the big city pollution. Following our first rather disgraceful Bear Gryll’s moment of stealth camping (see week 4 post) we were happy to discover a new technique of warming up by peddling in the close proximity of each grumbling diesel engine that passed by. Don’t miss the feature in the next episode of Man vs. Wild (Chinese drivers).
One of the joys of being on a bike and on the road is the time to think. Considered a dangerous pastime in many places around the world, for us having the time to think has been a truly liberating experience after both leaving hectic and stressful work schedules. Eight hours in the saddle everyday not only gives us time for some deep introspection that sometimes throws up meaning-of-life or metaphysical questions that often lead to a heated team road of smiles debate (swiftly followed by asking our old friend google). Our initial hope that this expedition would make us better men. Now, with this rather unexpected daily intellectual challenge, we hope it will also make us more contenders for Who Wants to be a Millionairre. There is no “I” in “team” so please find below the highlights from the last few days:
Q: Where do peacock come from?
Our guess: India
Truth revealed: Partly true, if it was not for the great African peacock. Damnit!
Q: When was the first Egg McMuffin invented? (yes, we are ashamed to report we have eaten Egg McMuffins on a few occasions but what is unacceptable at home is perfectly reasonable after five mornings eating mutton dumplings)
Our guess: with those orange wrappers, definitely the ’80s
Truth revealed: 1972.
Q: What is a chicken sphenoid (as discovered on a food menu)?
Our guess: cartilage from the nether regions
Truth revealed: an unpaired bone situated at the front middle of the skull in front of the temporal bone and basilar part of the occipital bone. Its shape somewhat resembles that of a butterfly or bat with its wings extended, and should definitely be banned for human consumption.
Q: Should religion play a role in modern society?
Our guess: yes and no
Truth revealed: pending