Lanzhou-Somewhere in Gansu-Tianzhu-Gulang-Wuwei-Yongchang-Shandan-Zhangye
The end of the sixth week of our journey sees us stop in beautiful Zhangye, a prefecture-level city in the northwest-central province of Gansu (to use the official Chinese description). Marco Polo allegedly spent a year here during his epic 13th century adventure but judging by the evident lack of decent ice cream anywhere in town, we will likely only stay one day. Zhongye might not be famous for its night life, cultural landmarks or frozen desserts, but it genuinely should be better known for its position nestled in the midst of a breathtaking ensemble of arid hills in the foreground and snowy peaks beyond.
The road from Lanzhou has undeniably provided the most stunning scenery since our departure from Shanghai. We have been travelling via an ancient trade route known as the Hexi Corridor, a 1,000km passage skirting the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau to the South, and the infamous Gobi Desert to the North. Finally the real adventure we were searching for has begun.
Such a contrast in neighbouring topography has brought not only steep uphill climbs including our first 3,000m ascent but also changing weather that has seen us fully “North-Faced-up” one day and applying sun-block the next. After our miserable attempts at stealth camping thus far we now have no fear of alerting guard dogs or being disturbed while attending to our morning business “au naturel”. In week five the Team Road of Smiles Logistics Director was reprimanded for his poor map reading skills. This week it was the turn of our four-starred Michelin chef to be in the dog-house for burning the morning porridge. His saving grace and subsequent pardon only due to the fact that unleaded petrol was the only available fuel source, though this will be his first and final warning.
As the physical and mental stress from being on the road increases, it is the small victories each day that provide us the strength to persevere. Finding a lady that serves hot, sweet Dou-Jiang (soy milk) in the mornings amongst all the mutton-noodle-soup vendors; being caught in a storm at 2,850m in the middle of no where and being invited into an old lady’s house, put next to a log fire and fed up on boiled potatoes and strange processed sausages; checking into a guest house and only needing to present our passports once as opposed to five times in one night (our record so far). So as we take our rest day in the city adopted by Marco Polo we eagerly anticipate the next stage of the adventure, and one that will no doubt test our resolve to new levels: the crossing of the Taklamakan Desert.