Month: July 2019

K23 – Beijing-Ulaanbaatar

So, finally caught the train.

But first – some final token sight-seeing in Beijing… including such wonders as the “Customs Museum”, and the “Ancient Beijing Observatory”. As they were both in easy walking distance from the hotel I booked right next to train station.
Customs Museum – mostly boring, but had some interesting insight into the massive feeling of disjustice China had/has over foreigners effectively owning/running their borders for quite some time. And, some amusing exhibits on how hard China is trying to stop counterfeit products. The “Intellectual Property” exhibit, which I was very much intrigued by – was closed.
Ancient Beijing Observatory – actually quite cool… if only for some of the very, very old nerd-instruments they’ve still got, intricately carved/decorated with dragons and the such. First official observatory in the world? And again – a little display reminding everybody that the dirty foreigners stole most of this stuff, and didn’t give it back for many years. Ze Germans – were apparently the worst… nicked about 5 of these ancient telescopes (or whatever), and used them as garden ornaments for over 20 years.

And then – the train. Early start, Beijing station (large), got on – realised the vast majority of passengers are laowei/foreigners. I’d booked the cheapest berth available – a bunk in a 4-berth “hard sleeper” – but turned out I had the whole thing to myself. Which kinda made the best part of a train journey a little harder – the making friends and chatting with your random “roomies”.
But – made the most of it, by mostly sitting alone and reading.
Around 11pm – got into Erlian, the Chinese border town… where we all got off, sat around for an hour – not really sure what’s going on, but assumed at the time they’re changing the train over to the new wheelbase/bogies (China/Mongolia train tracks have different track gauges) – then got back on.
Only to sit around for another hour or so – while I think the bogies did finally get changed… not really sure when that happened, but I could see a train/carriage parallel to us being done out my window.
Then – onto the Mongolian border town, where we sat around for another hour or so, while they did their paperwork.
During this time – I did chat quite a bit with my neighbour, a young chap from Wellington, travelling with his girlfriend to London. I didn’t pull out any anecdotes or statistics of how well that typically goes, sticking to travel stories.

Finally got into UlaanBaatar – in enough time to check in to the hotel, get cleaned up, catch up on other people’s facebook updates and my gmail emails, and have a very cursory stroll around immediate surroundings. (Including, of course, finding a local craft beer brewery/pub… terrible).

Ancient Beijing Observatory. Old/pretty nerd-toys.
K23 – Beijing-Erlian-UlaanBaatar
Tail of the train
Government building – they seem to quite like Genghis(Chinggis) Khan here

Beijing 二 – Regrouping

Two weeks in Beijing – just trying to recover my senses, get organised for the next stage of travel, and then… hopefully, regain some momentum.

Finally got some stuff organised, to force myself back into action… primarily Train ticket to Mongolia, Visa for Mongolia (3rd attempt – success).

Other than that, just spent some very lazy days trying to reclaim some bad habits – eg: over-sleeping, day-drinking, and spending way too much money on over-priced over-hopped craft beers. I’m nearly there now… I’ve got the drinking parts down, but the over-sleeping – I’m still waking up ridiculously early, but then just pretending to sleep until silly hours, and then with some midday naps thrown in to top it up.
The absolutely stupid heat has helped with a lot of those ambitions(/anti-ambitions?). Walking out the hotel door into a furnace face-punch… leads one to quickly narrow down the options for the day to “where’s the nearest beer” and “perhaps I should just go back to the air-conditioned hotel room and lie down for a bit… perhaps with a beer”.

Did do a bit of walking around though, found a couple of parks, spent hours walking around dripping sweat while trying to find ATMs, restaurants, bars, etc.
And – finally ticked off one to-do item I had left surprisingly late – getting invited to drink with a table full of drunken locals – mostly older chaps – with the massive language barrier not being any impediment to plenty of “gan-bei”… or rather “gan-bei” being the default fallback option when attempts at communicating break down.

I should be in Mongolia on Wednesday, where I can perhaps finally do an update on that more commonly-used “social media” also. And – finally catch up on some youtube videos, I’ll probably spend the first night in UlaanBaatar just watching “Squidge Rugby” clips.

The only photo I’ve taken in the last 2 weeks

Beijing 一 – Goodbyes

So, a few days in Beijing – to tick off all the other touristy things it has to offer, and get the bikes packaged up in containers.
For myself, it was mostly spent with Angela’s family.
Tried to get a Mongolia Visa organised – first attempt, found the application centre – closed for the Naadam Festival. Second attempt, waited in queue for two hours, until noon, where they just shut their application windows. It’s open until 12, and at 12 – the shutters came down.
So – my flight for Saturday(today) – can be forgotten.
Also went out to the Great Wall again (Mutianyu section this time), which was as awesome as ever, but with very low-hanging cloud – so we could never really see my favourite view of the wall stretching away over the horizon. Instead, it was a view of the wall disappearing into the mist, with glimpses of it in the distance through that same mist. Still pretty cool.
Intended to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on the morning Angela’n’co flew out – but the queue for Forbidden City looked like it would take several hours (even with tickets pre-bought)… so it was just a (relatively) quick wander around Tiananmen Square instead. Although we came in via the corner with the Museum of China on it – and there were still queues, to go through a security checkpoint. If we’d come in from the South – no checkpoints, no hassle.
Tiananmen Square – didn’t have the same feel as the last time I visited. I’d just gotten off a bus last time, very very tired, and perhaps more suggestible… but I recall it having a lot more gravitas, while also being more “fun”, if that’s not contradictory. I just remember walking in, thinking “this place has been here since before New Zealand was on any maps”, but also there were people flying/selling kites everywhere. The other day – a lot more fences up, a couple of sizable sections completely fenced off for restoration, crowd-control everywhere, security – and no kites. The crowds were much larger than normal due to Chinese summer holidays – so perhaps the extra numbers contributed to the extra crowd-control measures and therefore general soul-less-ness.

Angela flew back to New Zealand, I said farewell to the final riders left, and checked out of the hotel – moving to a cheaper one, near the Mongolian Embassy – to regroup, and try to start organising my next stage of the trip. I think I have a plan, but currently – after 3 months of having every day pre-planned, being told where to go, and early starts… I feel like I’ve hit a wall – and just want to sleep for a week.

Some kids in front of Forbidden City, one more patriotic than the others

Fin. Beijing.

13 July – China (Beijing) – ~40 miles

Placeholder post: busy day already, much more to do.
But in short – made it to Beijing, safe/sound. Absolutely amazing to ride into Ace Cafe and see my sister there with her family.

A more gushing/raving post of details to come tomorrow, with a hangover to help – presumably.

Edit: an attempt at a more complete post. Although – not really sure what else there is to say…
Had a sleep-in, a few final gazes at The Wall, a couple of extra photos, and then a very late-morning group-ride into Beijing. Stinkin’ hot, riding in “formation” – bullying our way through the expressway traffic… to arrive at Ace Cafe Beijing. A little bit misty-eyed, must have been some dust on that expressway, turned in – and saw Angela standing on a grassy knoll, which just made a rather special moment even more so.
Parked up, bottles of “champagne” were handed out… and I couldn’t even get mine open. Bubbly spraying everywhere, and after about 5 minutes of fumbling, with shaky hands, the cork broke off, and I gave up – grabbing a couple of beers instead – letting others spray champagne all over me, us, and the bikes. Some rather sticky/aromatic bike kit at the moment.
Eventually things calmed down, and there were the photos, speeches, presentations, photos, speeches, a birthday cake (??? I believe for the Ace Cafe Beijing itself?), and some food. And some beers.

Then – packing up all our stuff – and goodbye to the bikes. For me – the final goodbye – giving my lovely white lady a few parting hugs. And there was some more dust in the air. Weird.
Bus back to the hotel – a bit of rest, and organising a taxi for Angela’n’co to get to their hotel (after a bit of a typical chinese mix-up with their taxi from Ace Cafe), a quick shower, and then off to Ace Cafe Beijing central-city-edition. For… beers, photos, speeches, food, cigars, and some beers.

Most people had a relatively early night, but a couple of us dedicated ourselves, and continued onwards, to… some beers.
And eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, ignoring a taxi drivers shaking head that he couldn’t take a fare, inserted ourselves into his taxi, and after some false starts, back to the hotel. (Poor fellow thought he could get rid of us by just pulling up to some random other hotel… no such luck. You’re taking us home, laddie, and these 3 laowei ain’t getting out until they recognise the hotel.)

Goodbye, faithful steed.

Great Wall. Great, great wall.

12 July – China (Shanxi-Hebei-Beijing) – ~180 miles

Final day of riding solo.
Final chance to ride like a local(/nutter).
Final proper riding day.

Started off well… leaving Datong, the GPS tried to take me out of the old/inner city via a gate/bridge which turned out to be one-way, the wrong way. My very first thought was not “oh well, let’s look for a new route”, it was “well… footpaths aren’t one-way, and that gate/bridge has a footpath, so…” No need to looking for a new route.

The rest of the day – turned out to be an excellent little compilation of all the experiences over the last two weeks. Red trucks, mostly carrying coal, for ages – coal dust everywhere. Insane traffic, with us joining in the fun. Overtaking dozens of trucks all lined up for their weight checks, dodging oncoming traffic, overtaking vehicles 3-wide, overtaking on the inside, ignoring red lights, coming across the road completely disappearing – and enthusiastically trying 6 or so different detours, off-roading random places, until finally finding a way around.

And then, we roll up to our hotel, located right at the foot of the Shuiguan section of the Great Wall. Riding along, coming around a bend, and seeing that bloody great wall along the skyline – magical. Not quite as magical as my first ever sight of it – but still pretty cool.
Got in early enough for an afternoon “wander” up the Wall. It’s still a good wall. Last time I saw this bloody wonderful thing, I spent an entire day just sitting on it and staring at it, including dodging the security guards to spend the evening sitting on some of the towers after-hours.
Today – after a hard day of “combative riding”, and then climbing the approximately 70-degree slope stairs to just get to the first tower – I was happy with just a couple of hours on it – including the ridiculously perilous climb up and down. (Super paranoid about just having a little slip and spraining an ankle on this of all days – and rolling into Beijing Ace Cafe sitting in the van – I was creeping down like a pensioner)
And then standing on the roof of the hotel, reading the book, gazing up at that glorious endless masonry on the skyline as the sun went down.
Good wall.

So close, nearly over, sad-face
Riding through the Great Wall
Old vs new
Rather steep “stairs”

Farewell, Faithful G108

11 July – China (Shanxi) – ~262 miles

Another day of “eating up the miles” or “just getting to where we’re going”.
Another day of red trucks, coal-dust/soot, traffic, fairly boring roads.
Another day of getting the fun in where you can – whether it be ridiculous overtaking manoeuvres, running red lights, ridiculous overtaking manoeuvres past police cars while running red lights, or just lunch with locals.

But – it was our last day on the G108… it was actually fairly sad to leave her. I made sure my lunch was had at the last possible moment before splitting – in a small town obviously existent solely to serve the local miners/truckers… a laowei stopping in for lunch on an “ultra-modern” motorcycle was quite the event.
But – the 108 and I had different goals, so I had to leave her after one final goodbye meal, and then started my relationship with the 208. The 208 seems slightly less grimy/sooty thus far, but after an initial honeymoon period – the omnipresent red trucks appeared again. And she tried to insert a little bit of ‘magic’ – a very short stretch of twisty roads over a pass… but after the magic of the 318, and the relatively frequent spurts of adventure 108 turned up… I don’t really know how any road will ever live up to those giddy heights.
I managed to capture a little video of some of the infamous “red trucks” – in case anybody doesn’t believe just how many of them there are – including some fairly typical passing, as I’m filtering between the oncoming queue of stationary trucks, and the outgoing queue of 40mph trucks, all displaying very un-chinese standards of driving as they seem to be checking the rear-view mirrors and moving slightly aside to let me zoom up the centre-line.

There were also some fairly standard navigation issues, coming across roads which were non-existent, in the process of being built, or some-such. In most cases, a little bit of riding down through inappropriate alleys, road-works, rice-paddies, and pretty much anything heading in vaguely the right direction – worked out well.

Arrived in Datong – staying in the middle of the “old city” – but this one looks like it’s in the process of being rebuilt/restored to become the next big chinese tourist centre… so fairly uninteresting in its current state.
An effort was put in to cleaning up the stock of spirits bought in various countries over the last 3 months. Tonight, the focus was on the Kazakhstan Brandy.

Tomorrow – the last day of “solo riding”, before the group ride into Beijing.
The reminiscing started last night, continued tonight… I’m not really sure I’m ready for any of that yet. I’m pretty keen to just get to Beijing, spend a few days, then turn around and ride back to London, maybe with a slightly different route – just to mix things up a bit.

Anyway, some photos of 208’s attempts. It’s nearly embarrassing.

The G208 – trying hard.
Datong threw this into a roundabout
Chinese Mosque
How Datong looks after a bottle of Kazakh brandy