west at Lanzhou
Lanzhou Travel Blog› entry 62 of 86 › view all entries
Our bikes didn't arrive so we couldn't leave until the next morning. Our days are ticking like a stop watch and together with the past 3 weeks of city life, the thought of spending a night, in what according to the 'Lonely Planet' was the most poluted city in the world in the 90's, left us a tad twichy. But In lanzhou I found some of the things I love about chinese cities and that I had forgotten in the bustle og Hong Kong: The exercise groups that appear in every chinese city in the evenings. On side walks, in squares and in the parks between 2 and 200 people will gather round a stereo and perform exercises. No one is the slightest bit worried they mey look a bit odd...Neo, a chinese friend who got his new english name because Daren refused to call him 'mr Anderson' due to an age gap, was shocked when I told him we pay for excercise groups in Europe.
And the stalls of tradesmen and women who bring 5 little stools for the que and their skill to a street corner: In Cheng do a seamstress patched up Darens trousers whilst a shoe maker next 'door' repaired all our broken zips. And in Lanzhou a bikesmith tightened Darens spokes. All whilst we got to sit on the tiny chairs in the middle of the most untouristy alleyways and slip into Chinas daily life for a while.
The reality of this life, that in the backstreets can seem like a cheerfull experience, hit us hard the next day, when we saw just how far Lanzhous greedy industrial fingers stretch: Complete exploitation of nature and people left everything grey, haggered and strained for about 50 km.
As we were climbing steadily towards a pass 100 km further north west, the hills around us became steeper and the mountains more rugged and barren. I was reminded of Morocco; Warm brown and orange colours, mudbrick arcitecture.... Snowcapped peaks in the distance only completed the picture by bringing back memories of sharing hot tea with the berbers on frosty mornings in the Anti atlas. Mountain people mostly are kind....Maybee they are more content I wonder... Here they were kind too: The sky constantly threatened to rain and when I stopped to ask for some big industrial plastic bags I saw stuffed away in an odd shop, we were given all that we needed. All the staff came out armed with scissors and tape and within minutes we had tailormade waterproofs for our bags. The day after when the weather had finally made up its mind and the rain was relentless I desperately needed mudguards: Again an odd shop, this one with bendy plastic on a roll, was our only option but about 5 people came out and helped design, cut and paste some solid bright blue mudguards.
All through this we climbed upwards and in porporton with the the snowline moving closer, the blankets infront of doors becoming thicker and the landscape wilder, Daren and I put on more and more layers. A lady saw darens shorts and promtly insisted on giving him a pair of trousers.
The empathy for us is strong and they don't question why we don't have ortlieb paniers and goretex jackets. They know we make do the best we can with what we've got. I suspect that we have managed to escape the barrier that the posh jeep, a tourbus and the idea of the rich oogelig westerner as a whole creates. But we havn't escaped the barrier of being odd. A policeman on a motorbike raced after us in order to give us water and keept asking why we were doing it. This day there was a headwind, it was dusty and horrible and it was hard to explain. Even speaking chinese wouldn't have helped us...
Higher up, when Daren had long put on his leggins, I wore the new trousers over my jogging trousers and sludge had turned into ice, the noodleshops became a rescue. With entrances hidden behind the thick blankets and only chinese writting offerng a clue as to what was infact behind the blankets they were hard to spot, but once in they were like a world of warmth. A world of blubbering woodburners and hearty soups far away from ice and sludge. Old women shook their heads at us with amazement and concern and ushered us in, ensuring that grandchildren never let our teacups go empty. More than once we spread out wet scarves, hats, gloves and shoes all around us and forgot the time and stayed way to long.
Outside the rain turned into drizzeling snow and a whiping cold headwind picked up. With an ever darkening sky and plumeting temperatures the last 25 km to the pass seeemed almost impossible. 4000 meter mountains had moved in on us with entirely barren slopes leading directly up to white ridges and peaks left, right and infront of us. With rosy cheecked and tightly wrapped up children and longhaired cows chewing their hey in mudbrick shelters the Moroccan feel had gone. This ride was to be like nothing else. A ride you could only have here in the high valleys of one of the biggest mountain ranges in the world. But epic as it was, it could wait a day. We couldn't reach the pass that day and instead checked into a tiny motel. 2 dirty beds in a mudbrick house with a brick floor and a woodburner in the middle. And the filtyhiest toilet across a huge yard. Outside the snow fell and the stars glittered peacefully as our pass silently prepared mayhem for us. But we didn't know that yet. We were happy with our hot stove, our wollen blankets and because we had the cosyest place on earth to stay.