Our stay in Mianyang was great, hosted by a designer in a nice apartment. We light some balloons again and some firecrackers. The next day we head to Longnan, with tunnels all the way. It crosses mountains and hills dried by the weather till Urumqi, with some valleys larger and larger. We are in a desert.
Unfortunately this travel on the highways and the nights in the huge chinese “villages” prevent us to take pictures. Again, everything is new and our hosts sometimes complain, talking about Beijing and Xi’an where some old districts are still preserved. In Longnan we ask in a shop if they know where we can stay, the beginning of a long serie. We finally find a church besides the city on a mountain’s side. We discover there the electric mattress for the first time, an amazing invention to keep you warm. Sometimes it’s replaced by a huge tank of warm water under the bed.
The next night in Tianshui is difficult, after asking many people in the street and tried mosquee and churches we find a shelter in an hospital. There, the night guard takes care of us but there is nowhere to sleep. At least we are warmed up.
In Lanzhou we are luckier. Close to a mosquee a woman and two siblings take care of us, we talk through the translators of our phones and we rest in a nice muslim house of the suburbs.
The next day, an English teacher we contacted on Couchsurfing host us in his university. He helps us to go out of this huge city, and he will find us an host a few days later in Yumen. We start to have a good network on Wechat! It is their local Facebook, and they even use it to pay in the shops.
In Haidong we sleep in a noodle restaurant, in Qingshizui in the house of the mosquee’s Chef.
In Hangshui we sleep with retired men in a buddhist monastery, where the female monks hesitated first to host us. They use a lot of coal there for the heat, the air is saturated, and our clothes too.
In Jiayuguan a night guard allows us to sleep in offices, and we lay down among computers.
In Yumen, a driver welcome us in his home, and his hospitality gives us some energy. He tells us how Chinese from the North West are reluctant to invite strangers to their home, but when the ice is broken they are really nice, actually taking care of us as we were relatives. We stay a second day in Yumen with a friend of our host in Lanzhou. It is cold, far under zero, but we are happy to visit the city and to finally enjoy some free time. It was an old town of the silk road, and around is the oldest oil field of China.
Today, the drilling is replaced by photovoltaic farms and thousands of wind turbines. We could visit one of these metallic forests.
Therefore we spend too often our days walking, eating and trying to find a place to sleep. Fortunately, our wandering makes us discover poker players, geeks in huge rooms, factories, coal plants and mines, tree nurseries and so on. In the cars the landscapes are amazing, with 3500 meters pass and sceneries like those of Mongolia. The road between Xining and Zhangye is especially impressive and we dream to go one day deeper in the Qinghai. As we go closer to Urumqi, cows and sheeps are replaced by horses and camels. We can also observe many policemen and military units in the Xinjiang with security gates everywhere, ID control, and gas stations secured with fences and police. Apparently, it has been strengthened this year.
In Guazhou we don’t sleep. No one offered us some place to sleep, only some warmed-up ATM rooms. We discover there that there is someone behind the cameras, we waited only 10 minutes before the speaker’s voice was turned on. We wait then till the sunrise in a night restaurant.
In Hami and Turpan, we finally find some hosts on the street, quite easily, and we can talk and recover. We got experience, or luck.
The first host is student in informatics and he speaks English, which allows us to stay away from the phone’s translator. The translator is actually often useless and misleading, especially when we hitchhike, the technology cannot yet properly replace body language.
On the food side, and it is important isn’t it, we try all kind of fresh noodle plates and soups, usually with some beef or mutton, onions, pepper and sometimes green beans. We also find more and more breads, filled with red beans or dotted with sesame. Result: it’s great!
We are now in Urumqi for a few days, in snowy landscapes. We planned it and this time we have an host… We should move toward Kazakhstan.
China gave us a mitigated impression about the proactiveness and the hospitality of people. But our way of travelling is weird enough, so we understand their surprise and the misunderstandings, even if in other countries we did not have the same issues. On our side we tried not to use charity, trying as much as possible to be hosted spontaneously, but the task was hard. If we are quite stubborn not to stay in hostels in spite of the cold weather, it is to force ourselves to ask people and somehow to test the welcoming spirit and the character of the local people. It’s also a way to meet people of any condition and culture, and to discover atypical places. We would definitely use the tent if it was not -15 degree by night, the hitchhiking being already a big challenge under these conditions. The adventure will now go on in Central Asia!