Facts of interest
3000 meters = 9842 Feet, 3500=11482, 3600 = 11811, 3800 = 12467 Mt Cook NZ = 12349
Butter, we have only seen butter once to date, Chinese do not use butter.
Thursday 24 May
We arrived in Jiayuguan city, a Chinese frontier town with only three things going for it and that is the great Wall attractions. The great Wall was started in the seventh century BC and was worked on for 2000 years. We visited the large Fort of the same name, part of the great Wall fortifications, then Hanging Great Wall and the first beacon tower.
Friday 25 May
Today we drove to a 60 km to the city of Zhangye which has an extremely large sleeping Buddha, evidently the largest indoor one in China, I'm really looking forward to getting into some small village which is far more interesting than this tourist route.
I discovered that the Bank of China is the only bankamat that accept the National bank Cashcards all the others say, referring your card to the issuer, which made me think that all been stopped, so I went online and found that they had sent me a message through the online message system, this resulted in me making a phone call to New Zealand and seven minutes she later found out that was just a credit card that had been stopped, why they couldn't have sent me an e-mail telling me there was a message waiting I've no idea, perhaps it is too high-tech them!
We have been checked into a hotel car park for the night at 50 Yuan per vehicle, is right in the centre of the city so that was good value. We paid a total Toll of 70 Yuan today.
Eion & Liza returned to their motorhome with a small Chinese single tub washing machine which they paid 320 Yuan for, it was a size that was just fit nicely into the small motorhome, we visited the same shop later and saw our twin tub machine there were 350 Yuan, it's reassuring to know that if ours packs up there will be one available easily.
Today we drove from Zhangye to Xining and then on to Mt. Helanshan, the trip today was for 369 km and we drove through the mountains starting off at about 2000 m and climbing most of the day, we realise we are at 3000 m when we started seeing yaks, and were soon to reach our first pass at just under 3800 m and then we drove on at an elevation of about 3500 m passing a toll booth at this elevation and it was on to another pass at just under 3800 m, and then down to 3500 metres again, it was interesting the amount of agriculture that was going on at this elevation.
As we drove along this plateau between the two passes we saw dozens of tents all with their motor vehicles, be it motorbikes, motorbike trucks or even cars parked alongside their tents, evidently it is the season for collecting some Chinese herb which sells for 200 Yuan an ounce or similar good return.
We read stories, in the West, of the vast numbers of the Chinese population going into the cities to work in the factories, but this has not diminished the population out in the country as where ever we go we see intense cultivation with many people working in the fields and reasonably basic agriculture equipment.
As we drive through China we can't help noticing the massive construction of a new railway line with massive earthworks to take the line over level ground, and then the massive pillars supporting massive concrete girders to take the line over other areas. This is going on in different areas over what has to be many hundreds of kilometres and I believe we haven't seen the last of it yet, the cost must be astronomical and is just a small sampling of what China is doing to catch up to the West while it has been sleeping during the cultural Revolution.
We then we found were heading towards a mountain and from a distance we could see the road had been carved into the side of the mountain zigzagging all the way to the top, so this was an interesting drive and we thought this time would break the 3800 again we stopped 20 to 30 m under this magical distance.
We went down the other side of the mountain in an equally zigzagged route, and we came into the area of Xining, and if we had thought we had seen intensive cultivation was nothing compared to what we saw in this area. The whole mountainside was terraced and under intense cultivation, the city itself was about 3 million people so obviously this intense cultivation was necessary.
We were in the area of a minority group called the Hui, Muslim in belief with the men wearing a white hat, and the ladies a black lace covering over their hair.
The road over the mountain passes were extremely good and the motorway that crossed the city of Xining kept us well away from the intense traffic that would have been in the centre. The motorway took us almost right to our destination of the sleeping Buddha where we parked in the car park provided for the Temple. We paid a total of 50 Yuan tolls today.
By nine o'clock we found some men knocking on our window telling us that we're the other motorhomes were part was extremely dangerous and that they should be parked beside us because the police cameras could see where we were. Eion moved his camper over when told this, Sue chose to stay where she was.
Sunday 27 May
The first thing we did this morning was visit the Taer monastery, evidently one of the sixth largest monastery’s, were fortunate we camped overnight in the car park because right on opening time the buses and cars arrived and very soon the car park was almost full so goodness knows what the crowds would have been like in the monastery if we had been later.
We then set off on a 280 km drive to visit the Quinghaihu lake, extremely large lake at 3300 m elevation, we drove back to the city and then wound our way through the city contending with the Chinese drivers, if you think the Chinese drivers are bad New Zealand, try visiting China! The trucks will overtake on any bend, the cars will overtake on the inside if there is space, unless you really close to the person in front of you you'll find a car nosing its way in, and that's just for the cars on the road, then figure in the bicycles, the motorbikes, the motorbike trucks and everything else driving the way they feel is correct, and you, of course, have no safety on a pedestrian crossing, no one stops for that.
The intent was to camp there for the night, it was Sue's turn to lead with Andy in the car, she decided to stop on the right-hand side of the road in what looked like an old quarry on the opposite side from the lake, we drove in and was surrounded by millions of flies, so I said sorry this is not good for us, Sue's comment was “you won't find anything better”!
So we drove on towards the point of interest on our Garmin a little bit further round the lake and we found a picnic spot right by the lake with a fraction of the number of flies, beautiful surroundings, beautiful view in every direction, so I radioed the finding back, and Eion's comment was, will talk about it and consider it! My comment was, we're staying here!
An hour later we looked out and they had appeared, silently, like ghosts in the night, without a comment! Oh Well, it takes all sorts!
Monday 28 May
This morning we left the lake, just as the light was getting interesting, and immediately ran into rain, which stayed with us for the rest of the day while were driving towards Xinhua, a Hui city in the mountains, and we took a country road through the mountains to get to the city.
The drive was an incredibly beautiful drive, and we only wished it had been fine because there were photographs and every corner, and the beautiful gorge we drove through with rugged rock faces rising up into the sky whilst the road hugged the cliffs as a zigzagged through the bottom of the gorge, was absolutely wonderful.
To get there of course we had to go over another mountain pass that again was cut out of the side of a mountain, and this time we made it to the magical 3800 m be it that it was snowing with a slight whitening of the mountain pass, and we stayed at the elevation of 3500 m for a lot of the afternoon, passing large herds of yaks clinging to the mountain sides as they grazed.
Again we saw lots of tents of people camping whilst they explored for the Chinese herbs which they could dig out of the ground at this time of the year, it must mean totally miserable at this high elevation, as cold as it was in the rain.
A lot of people of this area seem to be of Tibetan dissent with Tibetan type flags and ribbons flying in many places, there appears to be a lot of large tents that must contain many people because we usually see 20 to 30 motorbikes parked in a group outside such a tent.
We arrived in Xinhua and headed towards a point of interest with the hope that may have been a car park, there wasn't so we had Andy obtained permission to camp in the car park of a close hotel where we spent the night. The mountain roads were passed over today, were classified as local roads which are supposedly not up to the same standard as other roads but we found them extremely good and would recommend them to anybody.
Again we saw intensive agriculture with a tremendous amount of terraces cut into the mountainside to utilise every little bit of land, when one considers the amount of work required to make these terraces and then consider how long they have been there you realise that there is countless generations have worked at making this land the way we see it now.
Again the traffic was chaotic, with people wandering the road and barely moving as you go to pass them, and if you sound the horn, all you're doing is telling them that you've seen them, so they don't bother moving. The passing on the bend and rises in the road today were suicidal, with near misses being measured in millimetres.
Tuesday 29 May
Today we drove to Xiahe a distance of about 240 km, it was Eion’s turn to lead and for some reason his maximum speed going through the gorge was 17 to 20 K p.h, and that most of the day he was on a go slow mission, I first thought was going wrong with his 20-year-old Hymer, but no he just felt like going slow, Sue who drove across Europe to the meeting place in faster time than anybody believed possible, put her two cents in by saying “we're going slow because the scenery was beautiful”!
Eion turned into a road that went off to the left, evidently the sign indicated it would lead us to our destination, it was a one way concrete strip the type of scene going to the villages. I was assured that it was the right road and that questions would be asked at the village ahead, questions were asked and evidently it was possible to travel by this route but as the three vehicles each took up the width of the road, I suggested we turn round, they said they would look for a spot further along the road, we then passed a truck, started going round the bend and as I looked ahead seeing the road rising up and turning to the left I decided at this point the best course of action was to back up the 3 km we had travelled, so I announced my intention and started backing up, then noted the others were following, but they did manage to find a spot with their smaller wheel base to turn round so they were able to drive forward whilst I was backing, not an experience I wished to duplicate.
If this is the problem you can have when you have a Chinese guide that can read the writing it would be a hard job on your own. Of course we should have never gone down a one-way road
The scenery was very nice driving through the mountains, and again over mountain passes, the highest one today was only 3600 m and most of the day we are above 3000 m in yak territory, there was also some very interesting sheep of the sort we were not aware of seeing before, that an interesting way of branding the sheep, they seem to all have horns and they just paint the horns with the company's colours!
Eion's next brainwave was to stop in the middle of the village, pulling over to the right, to have a cup of tea, okay I know this is China and anything goes and I moved him on till he found a parking spot on the side of the road.
His reaction to this was to go slow for the rest of the day, and Sue got on board by going slightly slower again, it was my turn at the back of the group. I'm not sure how long they will keep this childish behaviour up.
Eventually we got to the parking area of Labuleng Monastery where we paid 10 yuan for parking for the night.
The monastery is a major series of buildings, and as we drove through the town you could not help but notice the large number of monks walking through the street. Looking at the plan of the monastery by the ticket office it has many teaching areas, a publishing house, many temples and I say it is a major influence on the people over a very large area.
We camped for the night in one of their car parks, opposite us are some of the prayer wheels, of which I have been told there are over 1000, the faithful walk around these wheels turning them with their hand and in doing so they are thought to have said the prayer that is on the wheel.
There was a continual stream of people walking around this massively large temple complex, they were of all ages and others of interest to see very old people treading the path of the faithful, most of the people seem to be extremely poor and we did notice one little old lady with a handful of one 10th of one yuan notes (2c) begging for money.
She came over to me indicating she would like some money so I gave her one yuan +5/10 one of yuan (total 30c) in her reaction was totally humbling, it was like I gave her a bar of gold of her weight. Later I had a little bit of a guilty conscience because of what I gave her so I walked over and gave her a 50 yuan note ($9.80), and with that she truly blessed me (I think that's what she did!)
Wednesday 30 May
We left the monastery car park and headed off towards an area called “Sangke Prairie”, it looked like an area of for relaxation, nice green meadows surrounded by a few high hills, evidently quite a tourist attraction to locals but to us from green New Zealand it was of little interest.
We then drove on and to our destination of the day which was Liujiaxia Reservoir where we would camp overnight and take a speedboat down the lake to visit the Binglingsi Grottes, some caves with reputedly 1000 statues of Buddha.
An uneventful drive with the normal kamikaze Chinese drivers, we slowly moved out of the Tibetan influence back into the Chinese Muslim influence with the appearance of the Chinese mosques in the disappearance of the Buddhist monks. Evidently the area that the temple is situated in is the centrepoint for the four religions of China, Buddhist, Chinese Muslim, Han Chinese, and Mongolian. They evidently all overlap in this particular area.
Speedboat went down the river and through the beautiful gorge with lots of opportunities to photos, however large Buddha that everyone had come to see had being covered for maintenance so there was just the scenery.
We camped in the police car park, which was just beside the main road to the ferry across the lake, and all the trucks and cars went down this road, and some of the heavy trucks really shook the ground, made me think I was back in Christchurch with another earthquake, fortunately that stopped when it got dark to start again about 6 AM.
Thursday, May 31
Eion had to get his Hymer jumpstarted this morning, evidently he felt he had either had a bad battery, or a bad alternator.
Today we had a 250 km drive into Lanzhou but the first large town we went through Eion decided to get his Hymer and its battery looked at. We stopped at a small shop selling batteries and with the aid of Andy our Chinese guide, he had the technician check the battery and based on his comments Eion decided to buy a new battery, and then decided to have the original alternator fitted to his vehicle. Evidently he purchased a second-hand alternator before he left England and had that fitted to his Hymer and that has been the cause of the problem.
I suggested to Eion that he takes his old battery with him and his comment was “No” the technician checked it with a hydrometer and it is faulty. That was the end of it as far as he was concerned, however I realised that not only had the technician sold a new battery he also had a flat battery that just needed recharging so he was on a win-win situation. Checking a flat battery with a hydrometer is a wonderful way of showing a green person that the battery is useless.
In the 70s we used to lead acid batteries in our professional portable flash units, they had the three balls of a hydrometer built into them, we use these batteries every weekend taking candids, and we always carried a second battery with us and when we returned to the studio all the balls were down indicating the batteries were flat, Monday lunchtime they were all fully recharged.
Moral of the story is, never throw away a battery until you are sure it will not accept a full charge.
However he is happy now, he has a new battery, and the original alternator fitted, and everything is working, only his wallet is a little bit more empty.
It was about 12 o'clock before we got away so by the time we got to Lanzhou we did not have time to do many of the things we were supposed to do in the city, only a very quick visit to the museum before it closed and then some shopping.
I managed to find some Zero Coke so I bought 48 cans, finally we found some butter and margarine, and all sorts of other things we had been looking for.
We parked in the museum car park for 50 yuan and we spent 51 yuan on tolls today.
Friday, June 1
We were due to drive to a small city to spend the night, we decided to drive on to tomorrow's destination of Wuzhong about 360 km away, was on a motorway that would not be out of place in Germany with a speed limit 120k however we are still having problems with Eion and his old Hymer, seems to want to travel between 75K and 85K, so Luda & I decided to go on ahead at our speed, so we sped on between 95 and 100k with arrangements to meet them again at the toll station in 90 km.
It was certainly a pleasure to drive at speed that suited the road conditions and we arrived at the toll gate and pulled over to wait for six minutes before the other two Vans arrived, obviously my driving on influenced their speed.
On the other side of the Tollgate, Eion was a reformed character driving at a reasonable speed to suit the road conditions and the speed limit, which he exceeded by 9K.
Going through the reasonable sized towns we have noticed tremendous amount of construction of new apartments, a lot being built at the moment and the tremendous amount that are obviously new. There's an incredible amount of money being spent in this country on housing and infrastructure.
We eventually got to our destination and we drove straight to the location of 108 pagodas. There was an illustration of the tourist attraction at the entrance, it was just a round structure with miniature pagodas built all around the edge which to me was a little of a have! However we are spending the night in their car park so perhaps I should appreciate the structure. We spend 116 yuan on tolls today.
Saturday, June 2
Today we headed for the city of Jan’an about 480 km away, we intended to do this over two days so we stopped after 350 km near the city of Jingbian and a service centre on the motorway, we have spent 31 yuan today with one more toll to pay when we finished this stretch.
Shortly after we had stopped, it started hailing, and then it started raining and hailing and this built up quite a pool of water on the roof of the motorhome, and then it started coming through our large skylight that can be opened, and either was not quite closed, or is not built for such a downpour, but we started getting as much water inside the motorhome as that was outside.
We used every type of water container we had to collect the water, and when were eased off a little bit and gave us time to think, I altered the levelling jacks on the motorhome so that the motorhome was tilted to one side slightly, and watched with some delight as the small waterfall of water from the roof found its way to earth, not the nicest of experiences.
We have seen what we assume to be three nuclear power stations in one area and many, many oil wells in production and in one spot about 40 more wells in the process of being drilled. The possible oil consumption in this country is frightening because so many of the people at the moment are using scooters, electric scooters, and if they ever switch to cars China's problems will be just starting.
As well as all the apartments have been seeing on our trip across China we also have just seen about 800 X 2 room houses in one large block with a small amount of land and this type of development I think we have also seen several times before, in all sorts of land environments from desert to lush green settings.
The Yellow river has been very dominant in the scenery we have been seeing having crossed it several times today and observing its muddy yellow water being used in many places for a irrigation.
To date the two things will remember about China are the incredibly good roads and the dust everywhere.
Sunday, June 3
Today we had a leisurely drive to Yan’an, a drive off about 180 km, all on a tollway, and the cost of 110 Yuan. It appears the only claim to fame this city has is that it was where the long march ended, and the museum exists showing the features of communism Chinese style. There was a large statue of the chairman out the front and we parked at the back with the buses where we'll stay for the night.
It appears that China is heading the way of Japan after the Second World War becoming the manufacturing centre for the rest of the world, around the same time as this was happening in Japan, Chairman Mao took power in China, the Nationalists went to Taiwan and make Taiwan a powerhouse, it's interesting to think what would have happened had the Nationalists won and turned China into the powerhouse, would we be all driving Chinese cars instead of Japanese cars?
I don't think there's anyone in China game enough to say that they have wasted 60 years getting to today but it is the sad fate of socialistic ideas the worldwide, it's a wonderful in a classroom but the moment you introduce people into the equation it fails dismally.
Looking at the Chinese that were getting off the buses to go into the museum, I am starting to see what I'd call fat Chinese, not American fat, but certainly more hefty than they were 25 years ago. What we are seeing at these tourist sites, are extremely well-dressed people, particularly the ladies, high heels and beautiful dresses that would not be out of place in Milan. I would have to guess, but I guess, this is the new middle class, if they have got sufficient money to visit the tourist sites by bus, and then, of course, there are the New Rich which have their own cars and drive to the tourist spots so there is a real re-levelling of the total social class.
It's really interesting watching all these well-dressed Chinese being entertained by Eion, dressed in his shorts and sandals, carefully explaining to them, in English, with the aid of the map on the side of this motorhome, the route that he came to China and the route around China. Then they get it tour or of the inside of his motorhome, I hope they are impressed.
This is the area that the Communists established control of China, and right through the whole province you can see the cave houses that a lot of the people must have lived in.
We were due to get our LPG tanks refilled in the city but the directions supplied by the tour company were insufficient for Andy to find the location, which is a very good thing to happen in a point where we don't really need it, hopefully the instructions will be better next time.
Had another run in with Sue today, it's interesting to reflect when I was organising the original tour and Roger, her husband protested about two of the women, that were to be on the tour, would send him crazy, I found it a good excuse to reorganise those coming, and included Roger, in hindsight I should have paid more attention to his wife, because I find her worse than the ones Roger objected to. Perhaps Roger would have been able to keep her in control, but with his detached retina, we will never know.
Luda and I reflected that had we been doing this tour by ourselves, we would have not been visiting so many museums, but I guess when you are travelling with a group these attractions seem to be a necessary evil.
We were due to spend two days here, today and tomorrow, but I considered the extra day a waste of time so we move on tomorrow and hopefully will spend the extra day visiting a mountain monastery, details of which I have just supplied to the tour company, I only hope they have found the right one.
Again today it very much appears as if the value of life in China is very low, or perhaps they pray to a higher god, because they just wander all over the street in and out of the traffic, walk on the side of the road with their backs to the oncoming traffic, and so often we miss them by just a fraction it is quite unsettling, add to that the traffic, the driving is atrocious, it is beyond what you can imagine, I am doing a video through the front windscreen of the motorhome of what we see when we are driving, hopefully from this I will be to produce a small film, “ Driving, Chinese style”, always assuming I survive!!!!!
Monday, June 4
Today we are heading towards Hukou Water Falls drive of about 200 km and again through the inevitable toll road on a German autobahn class motorway. Basically there are very few motorhomes in China, possibly mainly around Beijing, people that can afford a motorhome would prefer to fly and stay in a nice hotel, one day they will learn!
So the minute you get onto a toll road, the people on the Tollgate look at the motorhome, and say that is a 30 seater bus and get ready to charge us appropriately, Andy our guide shows the tour operator our Chinese numberplates and written on the back is the fact that we are a five seater car and so we get charged about 25% of what we would otherwise pay, and when every day you travel on a toll road believe me the saving is substantial.
It was a pleasant drive with the normal excitement driving out of the city and the kamikaze drivers, as usual I had switched on my windscreen mounted video camera so hopefully I'll be able to edit some interesting sights, probably interesting enough to get the thought of driving in China completely out of everybody’s mind!
Coming into the waterfall area we passed an incredibly expensively built new motorway, I say expensive because the concrete viaducts are massive, it's not open yet, but it looks like it is very close to completion, is not shown on the Garmin maps but I guess one day it will be.
We arrived at the Falls, presumably is on the Yellow river because the water is muddy, they are interesting, but not of world note, and Niagara Falls can rest in peace, that their reputation is not in danger. The cost is 91 yuan to drive into the Falls area, and I'm told we will be camping here for the night.
Tuesday, June 5
Today we drove 360 km to Mianshan a Chinese temple near the city of Jiexiu in the Shanxi province, we are parked at the first level car park which is situated at 1424 m elevation, I've been told that the Road goes on up the mountain for a further 10 km, but there is also a cable car going up the mountain which we will probably use and stay at this level for the night. Price of the ticket for entry 190 yuan. Check out either Mianshan or Jiexiu on Google and see what an amazing sight this place is.
We drove on local roads and motorways today and observed in new motorway being constructed with massive flyovers and beside a lot of this was a new elevated railway line, and going through a reasonable size town massive numbers of apartments being built, again I'm overwhelmed by the amount of money being spent on infrastructure and housing.
For the first time paying tolls we had a problem at the Tollgate with the tour operators insisting on different amounts each of our vehicles based on a reasoning that had not been used yet.
We have seen several examples today of the need to stay alert driving in China!
Wednesday, June 6
It's very interesting, I arranged a tour, found the tour guides, decided on the route, found two motorhomes to accompany me (more work was needed on this) sorted out the visas required, sorted out how to get the China, we provided Russian translations all through the old Soviet Union, in China I had been working with our guide to make the trip more interesting, and this has worked extremely well, we would not have got to Mianshan if I hadn't changed the itinerary, and I was working on other portions of the tour for similar enhancement when …….
Eion approached me this morning, said he was speaking for the rest of the tour members, said he wanted no more changes to the itinerary, said there was no tour leader, and if they were to be any suggestions of any changes, they had to be a roundtable discussion, or a committee discussion, with everyone having their equal say, and full disclosure of why things should be changed.
OK, Eion….. You are the guy that every time he spoke to me (at least 6 -12 times) when I was arranging this tour asked me THE SAME QUESTIONS each time! Yea Right!
At times like this I am always reminded of the old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee!
I don't mind sitting down the table discussing things with a committee providing, I believe, the committee has a shred of intelligence, so I'm sure Luda and I will see all we want to see and I'll just leave the program as it is, and the others will never know the difference!
This morning we did a gondola ride up to the top of the mountain, incredible views in every direction, the rest of the team walked down and as I was blocked up with the flu, I went back down in the gondola.
Today's destination was Ancient Pingyao Town, a tourist destination that has been granted UNESCO heritage site, having walked through real villages last time I was here this one setup for the tourists held my interest for about five minutes.
I'm beginning to realise just how good my visits to China were 25+ years ago and now that China has modern highways, fast trains, fast Internet throughout the country, it has lost all the charm that it had two decades ago. Yes…………. you can never go back!
Perhaps we should be stopping at more villages and walking through the villages to see how real people live instead of going to tourist destinations showing ancient cities.
We camped in the car park of the ancient town for the night.
Thursday, 7 June
Our destination today was Hunyuan famous for the hanging temple. To get there we passed by the city of Taiyuan, a city of massive pollution, and passing through it we saw in motorway sign to the coal museum, so they burn coal there as a main fuel supply no wonder there is the pollution, although it's not the type of pollution you see on the West Coast on a winter's day when all the coal fires are burning.
Eventually got out of the polluted area and travelled on the toll motorways, some of which did not show up on the GPS, we almost 400 km today, and quite frankly that's enough.
I broke out of the convoy, and travelled at my own speed, which on average was about three or four minutes faster on a 50 km stretch, it was much more relaxing than following behind the team with their variable speed.
At one point to get on the motorway we drove down what I would call “ truck street” is a street that has tradesmen that are capable of doing any sort of work on the trucks that are on the road, it was about at least 4 km long, with little workshops all the way both sides, and more trucks parked that I've ever seen in my life in the one spot. It makes you realise just how large China is and just how large is their population, with absolutely everything on a massive scale.
We had hoped to camp tonight in the car park of the hanging temple, but was not permitted, so we drove back towards the city, I rejected the first dusty area they found, and they then went on to the bus station which I had reservations about, but we stayed there.
Friday June 8
My reservations last night about the bus station became true at 4:50 AM this morning when we had crowds of people around the motorhome, tapping on the windows, tapping on the door, trying the door and generally talking altogether in a loud voice.
So we had the early morning rise, so it was have a shower and get up and have breakfast. Around 7 AM we looked out and saw crowds around Eion's motorhome, and he was out in his normal position of tour guide, showing people where he had been, then giving them a tour through this motorhome, I've mentioned before Eion's motorhome is 20 years old, and the inside looks its age, I'm afraid I'd be too embarrassed to show foreigners through such an old grubby machine.
Sue had problems with her fold-down lid of her campervan so we took a couple of hours of this morning getting it fixed, Sue has decided she does not want to speak to me ever again, which is a little bit of a relief, because I find She is often quite irrational and un-sound in her comments, but that's just my opinion.
On inspecting Sues problem with her fold down section, I saw it was caused by false economy in the choice of the sliding gear, and this will continue to be a problem on occasions because of that choice.
So we eventually got on the road to go to Yungang to see the Nine Dragon wall, this is a wall of tiles each one showing a different portion of the Dragon, placed altogether in a wall and the origins of the tiles I believe go back 600 years. They have also just build a new, old, walled city so they are preparing here for a lot of tourists to see their old new creation.
It was on to the grottoes of Yungang, we entered through a new gateway into a swept up car parking area is just been planted with mature trees, there's about 20 buses here so the tourist industry in China is currently very large and with all of the tarting up of their attractions they are expecting big business.
When everyone had finished with the grottoes we decided to get on the road again and nock a little bit off tomorrow's 300 km drive so we drove on until we found the second parking spot on the motorway, the English translation it was posted on the sign claimed it to be “ a very civilised parking area”, and civilised that was as we parked in behind the toilet block well away from the road and got a good nights sleep.
Saturday June 9
Today we finished up on the outskirts of Beijing, but first we had to visit the Juyongguan Pass of Great Wall, and spent the night in the car park of Ming Tombs.
But first we had to get there, everything was going fine until we saw some young guys on a motorcycle signalling us to stop and turn round, the story was there was a roadblock up ahead of trucks, we could not see how we could turn round and drive back the wrong way on a motorway, we of course forgot this is China, and anything is possible, so we drove on and sure enough there was a roadblock of trucks, probably about 16 km long and three lanes wide.
So we sat there peacefully watching all of the people on motorcycles, quite a few with kitchens bits built on the back, so they had a gas bottle, a stove, a wok, all the ingredients so they could cook your meal and a few moments. Then there were the touts, trying to get us to pay them money and then turn round and go back the opposite way, it was going to cost us 300 Yuan for each vehicle, and before we knew what had happened they had organised the trucks to move to make a gap for us to turnround, but we decided to stay put, and after about two hours the outside lane started moving, so we made our way over towards the outside lane and eventually exited the motorway and then moved on to our first destination. As we drove off the motorway we say about 30 motorcycles with all the implements and bits and pieces so I guess that this roadblock is an ongoing situation and there is a group of people making a lot of money on it.
So is on through the back roads to this part of the great Wall, It was a beautiful sight driving in to this part of the great Wall, however the moment we parked, it started raining, no it started pouring down, so I let the others walk in the rain to view the great Wall and I preferred to look at the wall from a wet distance.
That being done, it was on to see where my friend Ming, was buried, evidently he had a very large family because we went to one of his relations by the name of Ding, and it was interesting to look at the ticket office from the car park and see was labelled “ Ding Ling” ticket office. We were due to park here, but no one wanted the responsibility of us being there, so we first moved out onto the road, and that was too close, so we moved on down round the corner and found a nice spot where we spent the night.
Sunday, June 10
This morning the group went off to see were Ding Ling was buried, I've seen so many burial chambers in my travels I stayed behind and did some computer work, Luda came back with the comment that was not very interesting, but she would not have liked to have missed it in case it was.
We are then left our roadside parking and headed off towards Mutianyu Pass of Great Wall some 60 km away winding our way through backroads and the interesting Chinese traffic and we arrive there about 12:30 PM, we headed for the bus park and Eion who was leading found a bus park, Sue drove up the hill a little bit more, we tried to follow her that were just too wide for the track, so we backed back down, the two cars that were behind us did not want to move but eventually even the Chinese realised there was no going forward until we went back.
Back on the flat a bus driver had held us a place and we pulled into that and had lunch, we assumed this was what was happening as Andy had not told us, nor had he told us what was happening after lunch, so we had our lunch, waited around a bit, then headed off up the mountain by ourselves, they sold us the gondola ticket, but did not tell me I needed an entrance ticket as well, so I got to the gondola Gate and was not allowed through, so Luda went off up the mountain by herself, and I ran the gauntlet of souvenir sellers, back to the ticket office, where I got a refund.
I was just back at the motorhome when the phone went, and it was Andy asking where we were and I told him, so he led the others up the hill and I'm as again working on my computer.
Luda having seen the great Wall in three different locations. felt this one that was by far the best, of course we did not go to Badaling which I did on a previous occasion and captured the sunrise over the wall, a magical experience.
It was then time to head the 60+ kilometres to the south side of Beijing city to the hotel that was expecting us to stay in their car park, it was a reasonably easy to cross the city with motorways all the way, the only stressful part where of course the Chinese drivers who believed that the emergency parking lane was the overtaking lane so often you find somebody coming up on the inside at high speed blasting the horn at the last moment and then they were gone, but this is China and you do expect it to be different.
We got off the motorway and went through a really crummy part of the neighbourhood that was in the process of being redeveloped, and eventually we got to the hotel down a grubby sidestreet and found very nice parking, well it should be at $US47 night, the best Moscow came do is $US20 a night, so based on this simple equation Beijing is more than twice as expensive as Moscow.
Monday and Tuesday 11, 12 June
Peking is one of the largest cities in the world and in June it is extremely hot. I've been to the city twice before and seen all the tourist spots, which I believe you only need to see that once, so I let Luda and Sue ventured forth with Andy to see all of the following exciting sites. Forbidden City, Tian-an-men Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Old Beijing Hutongs, Lama Temple, Bird Net, museums.
Eion and Liza had relations in Beijing that were here on a teaching mission so they went off to visit them and I lazed around the hotel car park going out looking for Diet Coke, purchased six dozen, looking for a folding electric bike, found one that arrived the next day for 2500 yuan which seem to be an okay price to me, it is sitting folded up in my garage, the next decision is to take it home or leave it with the motorhome in Europe.
Wednesday 13 June
Today we headed for Tai'an and some 500 km away the first we filled up with LPG, I had half a tank left so I would have been okay for another 10 days, but it is good to have a tank filled.
We decided to break the days trip and to so we stopped when we had about 150 km to go and were parked in a large surface area and hopefully it will cool down from the 37°C outside at the moment. It was easy motorway driving today, of course they were toll roads and we spent over 100 yuan was more yet to come, we drove on ahead again, it was 100 km stretch of road and we seem to get ahead at least 18 minutes so I'm not quite sure what the problem is, at least driving on straight motorways you can drive on at your own speed.
We pulled into a parking area on the motorway, our first choice of locations was in a shady area, but straight ahead was a drain that was covered by concrete slabs, they had a gap in them, just big enough gap for somebody too use as a toilet, so was a bit of a smell and plenty of flies so moved over to another area, and we were not allowed to park there so finally on the third attempt we were okay, a bit of wind and lots of thunder and bits of rain was our musical interlude for the night along with high humidity and about 38°C, but I guess it's better than New Zealand's winter temperature at the moment.
Thursday, June 14
Today we completed our drive to the city of Tai'an, was motorway driving all the way, but the level of fog or pollution was extremely high with a visibility of about 500 m, it could have been just the humidity causing this and it wasn't pleasant. We reached the city and Andy had a friend meet him and we followed his car to his apartment block, were parked here for the night, and he's gone up to the apartment to have some real Chinese food, at 12:30 PM the girls went off with Andy to have a look at the mountain, with a visibility still had about 500 m I decided to have a wander around these apartment blocks.
Late in the afternoon the team came back after travelling by gondola to the top of a mountain and walking down 6000 steps to the bottom. It was evidently not as good as the last mountain we visited that they enjoyed it nevertheless.
Parking in the car park of a block of apartments certainly places you as centre of attention and countless people were shown through Eion's motorhome and then they came down to peer through the fly screen over the doorway of our motorhome and jabbed away in Chinese.
Sue as usual, heads to Eion's motorhome the moment she stops and were often noticed her sitting in the motorhome at 9 PM at night, I've always been of the belief that fish and guests go off after three days, but I have to admire Eion and Liz for their perseverance.
Friday, June 15
This morning we drove 70 km to Qufu the hometown of Confucius, quite a big deal in the city, temples and all sorts of buildings along with one of the largest graveyards in the world devoted to one family. Having collected all the wisdom we then drove on towards Nanjing staying on the motorway and stopping after about 120 km and a parking area where we stayed for the night.
As we drive through all of the cities of China is very easy to see that almost all of China is transported around the city's on electric bicycles or electric scooters, are absolutely everywhere and start in price from about 1200 yuan and that is for a new one, goodness knows what you could pick up a second-hand one for!
Saturday, June 16
We completed our driving towards Nanjing, probably on the most expensive motorway yet, over 200 yuan for the day, when we left the parking spot were surrounded in a blue haze of smoke, we soon realised it was the result of the burning off of the remains of the wheat harvest and this haze stayed with us for the complete 360 km drive.
When we reached Nanjing we ended up driving through the city to get to a Mo Chou Hv park which was close to the centre, quite a large botanical Garden that has a large parking area are attached and it was to this attachment that we headed, parked in one corner and settled in for the night. Well first we went shopping, replenishing all of our supplies, bought a DVD player to plug into the TV, not totally successful as we could not understand the Chinese instructions, nor could we get sound coming out of the TV so we have to put this down to occupational hazard of travelling through strange countries.
Sunday, June 17
Today's itinerary covers for a five tourist spots (Qinhuai River ,Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum,Dr.Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum,The Memorial Hall to the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre) none of which are high on my list of must see! Luda however has gone up with the team to digitise the images she sees…. she was impressed by the Memorial Hall to the victims, and was interested to learn that the Russians were the first people to help the Chinese against the Japanese.
Monday, June 18
Today we drove back onto another motorway, to the direction of Shanghai, to visit the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, were now moving into the area of the largest city in the world Shanghai I believe 30 million, and of course the closer you move to the megacities the more population you get and of course the pollution increases. All day to day driving along the 260 km motorway were pollution in every direction we looked, the high rises that were either side of the motorway were poking up into the pollution, unfortunately not high enough to break through to the fresh air, but this is the price of progress and civilisation.
It was again another interesting day of driving on the China roads, if there is a gap anywhere you can bet your life Chinese will be there to fill out, on the motorway they will pass you in any lane so you have two be watching for traffic from behind from your left hand side and your right hand side.
We drove into Suzhou and onto the car park of one of the Gardens were we have parked for the afternoon, the team will be visiting these gardens and then getting a taxi to the next Gardens until they have been gardened out and then will eventually arrive back here and will drive on to a campground close by.
The team arrived back, just as it started raining, so then became a drive across the centre of the city, in the rain, at peak traffic time, and of course with the rain, the light level fell, so it was a matter of driving with your lights. So after 24 km we arrived at an Agi centre were a company has set up a campground in the expectation that this would become a popular pastime, I wish them well.
We naturally had the place to ourselves, there are a couple of caravans parked there and there were six campings slots in all, so after we arrived at left room for one more camper which of course never arrived. The cost for the night was 190 yuan and we do get electricity and water.
Tuesday, June 19
Today we drove 90 km to Shanghai, Shanghai incidentally, according to Wikipedia is the largest city in the world followed by Istanbul.
I'd requested for all of the megacities that we stay on the outside of the city and go in for sightseeing, I had no wish to drive across the largest city in the world.
There becomes a problem when dealing with anybody, who has English as their second language, with comprehension. I've run into this before, and were people say yes yes yes we understand, they should be asking more questions.
In my request to stay on the outside of the city this in no case has worked in each time we had been guided across the centre of the city, by motorway, to stay at a place selected by the guide company that may be a fraction outside the centre so they feel they have filled my request where as what I meant stay on the outside and camp there. They feel they have done their bit by taking us across the centre of the city to stay on the outskirts on the other side and will look at you dumbly when you say that's not what we wanted.
In this case the Shanghai we drove on motorways across the city for 30 or 40 K to a parking spot that was described to us as a parking spot for motor homes, yes it was, they had motorhomes for sale or for rent, in the middle of the city, and they had room for the three of us, but no water or electricity like we had been promised.
Well if everything was simple and went without a hitch you might think you were at home and lose all of your excitement for travel.
It started raining about six o'clock so they cancelled the evening in Shanghai on the Bund.
Wednesday, June 20
The weather is cleared up and the team have gone in to see Yuyuan Garden, Jade Buddha Temple, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, I stayed behind to catch up on computer work and do some shopping, I'm afraid Oriental Gardens and Buddha no longer have a fascination for me after so many viewings, I believe it is the Oriental torture equivalent to the European cathedrals and castles.
Wandering the streets of Shanghai you have the continual smell of drains, this is not helped by the locals throwing out their dirty water onto the road, and the other disturbing factor of China is the continual spitting of males and females so you need to be careful, if possible, of where you walk.
Luda had a good day walking all around Shanghai, enjoyed the sky Tower and the Oriental Gardens, at one stage she did a left-hand turn and ended up in a poor part of Shanghai and she had never seen before in her life so much abject poverty and so bad living conditions. Now she has not been off the beaten path in many other countries we have visited, so this was certainly a major education for her.
She has seen poverty in Russia, but then they do have space and are better educated on hygiene and do not have to live on top of each other as they did in this part of Shanghai.
Thursday, June 21
Today we drove to Hangzhou but we drove around about 300k driving over the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, a bridge that is about 38 km long and has a viewing platform near one end, this is the longest sea bridge in the world.
It was a toll motorway all the way, and I've given up adding out how much we spend each day as it will probably just give me grey hair!
We again drove across the city by motorway when we arrived at Hangzhou and we parked in the car park of the Six Harmonies Pagoda, the majority of these wonders of Asia I have seen before or fine examples of similar, I was hoping on this tour to visit more of the smaller country towns and see the real China, but the people on this tour have guidebooks and if it is not in the guidebook they are not interested.
The pagoda's are a Buddhist symbol or building and this particular one was built with the hope that the spirits would intervene and make the tidal problem they had disappear. Sounds a little bit like King Canute !
It's times like this I wished we were travelling by ourselves, but the downside is that is that you have the one guide which you in your motorhome eight hours a day, every day while you're in China, that is probably more than I could handle!
I've just realised with the Chinese driving if you poke your nose in to the traffic, and put your foot down, if the person you nosed in front of, doesn't stop, they have hit you, and they are at fault, so it is a very common occurrence here in China for something to turn into the main street from a side street of any sort and to drive into the traffic without looking, so you have to be eternally vigilant and drive with one foot ready to slap on the anchors.
Friday, June 22
Today we are again on the toll road driving towards Ancient Tunxi Town situated in the modern town by the same name. It was a beautifully preserved old town, the best with seen yet, spoiled only by the rain, the souvenir shops, and the hundreds of tourists all with umbrella is up! Anybody like a photograph of a couple hundred umbrella's wandering through the town?
On the way we stopped off and visited Shexian Tangyue Memorial Archways some gardens and archways for some person of the past. It was a wet day all day but it did lend itself towards beautiful misty mountains which unfortunately all had to be photographed from the motorway at 80 Km.
We again have the leak through the skylight window and whilst the team were visiting the ancient town I was out shopping and bought some silicon sealer which should seal the leak for good, okay the skylight will not open but this better than having a shower when we don't need one.
Just in case you worried the driving was no better today or perhaps, heaven forbid, we are getting used to it.
Saturday, June 23
Today we drove 60 km towards Mt.Huangshan, said to be a magical place with misty mountains grotesque rock shapes and a real magical place to visit.
I stayed behind to try to repair my leaking skylight, discovered it was the seal around the skylight holding it to the motorhome so I picked off the seal on two sides and replaced it now I wait for a rainfall to see how successful I was. I went out and bought a plastic raincoat this morning, stuck Velcro on it so it is sort of inverted on the ceiling with one arm coming down to the sink to let the water run away, hopefully I won't need to test it.
I bought a DVD of the remarkable sights on the mountain, and when I saw the steps leading from one of the peaks down the mountain with two people on each step, one going up the mountain and one coming down I'm glad I had an excuse not to partake in this tourist attraction. Add to the fact that today is a long weekend here in China and there were thousands of people up on the mountain, and Luda had a two hour wait in the queue just to get to the gondola to come back down the mountain, and of course it was a little bit like pea soup fog up there today and only occasionally did the wind blow it away to get a glimpse of the magical place.
Sunday, June 24
Today we drove about 60 km to see Hongcun and Xidi Ancient Villages, these are heritage sites and of course are on the tourist trail, the first having about 6 to 10 buses in the car park, evidently was a rather beautiful old village, little bit like Venice with water canals running between the rows of houses, the second was a larger village with a little bit of water but a lot of smelly drains, and was rather interesting to walk through and spite of being a tourist attraction with all of the bad things incorporated in such a site.
We have chosen to stay in their car park for the night.
Comment: I wrote of the traffic jam we were in on June 9, and had received from my friend on Chesapeake Bay, Joe Lust a picture of the largest traffic jam in the world, which caused me to find out more information and realise how close we came to being on the motorway for several days. At least we would have had the food on board the motorhome!
Monday 25 June
Today we drove to Wuyuan on a route took us through the mountains staying mainly on local roads where we could see Chinese driving at its best.
We are evidently in the wet season which happens this time of the year in the countryside in from Shanghai, so consequently it has been raining most of the day with temperatures in the high 20s and goodness knows what humidity. The humidity and temperature gets no better at night so one could wish for an air conditioner and generator that comes as standard equipment on the Chinese motor homes.
It was raining heavily when we reached our destination of Wuyuan which was another village on the tourist route, I could think of nothing that I would see in the village that would equate to me being soaked to the skin so I let Luda and go with the others and have welcomed her back an hour or so later looking like she had been in for a swim.
That is our programme for the day so that the rest of the afternoon we sat here in the car park in the rain testing my repairs on the skylight and yes it still leaks from the side I had not repaired so hopefully when that is done we can do away with our plastic raincoat that is velcroed to the ceiling catching all the drips and guiding the drips to the sleeve to a basin at collects potentially freshwater!
The afternoon would be much better utilised if we had driven to the next location as what else can you do in the rain, but the others do not appreciate that sort of input so we stay here.
As normal I levelled the motorhome with the levelling jacks, this changed the pattern of were the drips of water fell in the motorhome, at about 11 PM we heard some different sounds while it was raining, and the water was flowing out the other side of the skylight where my marvellous plastic raincoat did not cover, so there was some hasty readjustments which seemed to get us through the night.
Tuesday, June 26
This morning I bought another plastic raincoat and added it to my water capturing system which has yet to be tested, hopefully it will not be!
So we left our camping spot in the rain, drove on to Jingdezhen in the rain and drove straight to the exhibition centre for the oldest porcelain production line in the world. It is very easy to spend an hour looking at all the fine examples on display and if your pocket was deep enough lots of beautiful examples for you to buy, all you had to do is work out how you would get it home to New Zealand.
Our next port of call was Wal-Mart back in the centre of the city to replenish our larder, we were lucky to find parking spots on the road just opposite the supermarket, which was downstairs, not terribly convenient if you have a large purchase having to carry on up the stairs and across the road, but things are still new here in China.
After this shopping excitement we got back on the road and knocked off another 50 km towards tomorrow's destination, we parked on a very large parking area on the motorway. On our way we slowed down many times to get delightful photographs of people working in the rice fields and we were not quite quick enough to be in the right spot at the right time to get the water buffalo working, however I am sure this will not be the last opportunity.