Friday, October 15, 2010

Going West: Day One

We have been meaning to update about our big trip to Xinjiang province (the biggest province in China in the northwest), but have been busy with Courtney and Stacy, getting back to work, and traveling some more (see Xi'an below:)

I think it's more fun to do this as a sort of photojournal, so here goes...

We flew from Beijing to Urumqi (capitol of Xinjiang province), spent the night at the airport hotel, and then were on our way to Kashgar. The morning started with a  ham sandwich, complete with finger-food gloves! In some ways, the Chinese are uber germ-a-phobes, yet they spit like crazy and the kids pee everywhere. 

We got picked up by our guide, Akpar (see photo), and were on our way! First, a quick stop at the hotel to consult with the tour company and pick up our camping gear for a night in the desert.

 This was our view leaving Kashgar, on the way to the desert:
Our first stop was Yengisar, a town known across China for knife-making. We were supposed to go to the factory, but it was closed because of the national holiday, so we went into a few stores instead. This is a picture of Adam with one of the large knives:
Behind the particular knife store was a bathroom (aka hole in the ground) and a pen with three sheep inside. Maybe this is a back-up money-maker for the knife store owner? Or dinner for the coming weeks...who knows.
 Along our journey to the desert, we stopped again many times.

A lake...

A mosque...

A Muslim royal cemetery (they were a ruling family in the area back in the 1500s)...

until we finally arrived at the last town before the desert. We stayed here for a while, walking around the market. We saw some fantastic things that can pretty much only be explained through pictures (you might not believe us otherwise!). For example...

Medicinal dried bullfrog, in both large (left) and small (tangled on the right):
 An assortment of teas, spices, and dried fruits:
 An adorable old man selling soap (bottom) and furs:
 Smoked lamb parts (can you find the heads?!):
 People haggling over lambs' heads (with fur/eyeballs/dried blood at the neck all intact):
 aaaaand A BABY'S BOTTOM!!!! (I've been trying to get a picture of this for weeks now!):

We were supposed to be cooking dinner at a campfire, but the guide and driver decided they were hungry around 5, so we ate at a restaurant in the town. We then went to a little store and gathered cookies, candy bars, and some bananas to have in the desert. Strange, but we went with it. We thought we had a long drive ahead, but after passing various horses, donkeys, tractors, motorcycles, and flat-bed carts, we pulled up to an awning where the road ended. Ahead of us was the desert! It was actually very strange because we had been driving along grass and trees, which suddenly stopped. Adam, our resident desert-expert, said he had never seen anything like it.

Our guide met the local camel-owners, who brought 2 camels and logs for the fire. They loaded everything onto the camels, while Adam and I took pictures. 

We climbed aboard and were on our way! It was a little eerie and strange to be going through the desert at night because we couldn't really see what was around us and had no idea the scale of the desert, the incline of the dunes, or basically where we were going. It was awesome to be riding the camels though; bouncing around, bobbing up and down, and holding on for dear life when going down hill.  There was a lot of laughing and squealing from my end :)  My camel was "Alison-sized" according to Adam, and didn't have any baggage but me. Adam's was very tall and had everything we would need for the night. After about 30 or so minutes, we came to a small clearing and set up camp for the night. One of the locals took care of the camels while we helped set up the tents. Then they started a fire, spread out blankets, and we ate some cookies in the warmth. It was beautiful, very serene, and the stars were gorgeous. I don't know if I've ever seen such a clear night sky.
That was it for day 2 to come!

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