måndag 23 september 2013

On the move again

I left Beijing on Friday and had planned to make it to Baoding where I would have a host for the night. My first thought was to do the 155 km in two days since I though getting out of Beijing would take some time. But it was actually easier than I had though even if the traffic was crazy in some places. But for a long time there was a bicycle path to ride on beside the road. It took me about 40 km until I saw some green open field. I wasn’t a lot, but at least a little sigh that I was leaving the big city. I made it to Baoding in good time thanks to mild wind and very flat roads. But just as I arrived I cycled over some sharp metal piece that punctured my back tire. So I had to change tube with just 1 km left to my hosts place.
Walked met up with me and showed me to their nice apartment on the tenth floor. Luckily my bike fit into the elevator! That evening me, Walker and her husband, Xin Lijun went out for a very nice dinner and lots of drinking. I decided to stay one more day in Baoding since I had made it there in one day except for two. So Walker showed me around town to the Buddhist temple, Bell tower and the old The Zhili Governors office. We had a nice day that ended with another great meal, this time home cooked by Xin Lijun.
The next day I had another long ride ahead of me. A girl that I had met in Beijing had arranged for me to stay with her English teacher in Hengshui. So I set out early in the morning after a breakfast consisting of donkey meat sandwich and a tasty soup. There were some roadwork along the way and one time I ended up on a road and noticed less and less cars on the road. And after a look at my GPS I realized I was a road that wasn't in use yet. But it looked like it was turning toward the road I should be on so I kept on going. And after going round a wall of soil that was blocking the road I was back on the main road and was happy that I didn't have to turn around.
The last stretch of the day my legs was really tired but I made it there even if 160 km isn’t a distance I like to do many times more. I met up with Nas and Jean who was both working as English teachers at the University. They were living at the campus where they had a spare room for me to stay in. Later we went out for some food and beers and also taking a lot of pictures with curious people, mostly girls(not complaining).

Today when I set off from Hengshui it had started raining, and after a little while it started pouring. And they don’t seem to have any draining in town because the streets began pooling up and for the rest of the ride out of town I rarely saw any asphalt, just a lot of water. And it kept on raining and the small road I chose was really muddy. And I think todays 70 km was harder that the 160 km I did the day before. Headwind and heavy rain is a real mood killer!

onsdag 18 september 2013

A week in Beijing

Before coming to Beijing I wasn’t sure that I would like it, mostly because it’s so massive and very crowded. But now after spending almost a week here I’m presently surprised and I have really been enjoying my time. There is a lot to see and do here, but I like mostly because of all the great people that I have been lucky to meet here.
I was surprised when I woke up on my morning in Beijing and the sky was clear and I could see a lot of the city from my host’s flat at the 16:th floor. Most people who I had met told me there’s always thick smog over the city making it impossible to see in the distance. But this day I was lucky with nice clear skies so I went to Jingshan Park which it on a hill with a great view of the city and especially the Forbidden City.
After that I went to Temple of Heaven. It was in the evening and so I didn’t have much time until they were closing up. But it was enough time for me to see it all and stroll around the park until sunset. And in most parks in China a lot of things happen in the evening, people are dancing, singing and playing games. There’s always something entertaining going on.
The next day I decided that I wanted to see a Giant Panda. I don’t really like the zoo that much because of the living conditions of the animals, but I went there anyway to have a look at the Panda and a couple of other animals. But in midday on a warm day the animals don’t do a lot more that sleeping.
I had made plans to meet up with another couchsurfer and have a look around the 798 Art Space. Shuyan had studied in Sweden before so it was interesting to hear about her impression of my home land. There’s a lot to see in the 798 Art Space with many galleries and exhibitions. There’s also a lot going on in the street with dancing and music playing. And it was nice sitting down for a beer in a nice bar overlooking the street and just look at everything going on.
Later that night after a great dinner and a movie at the cinema we realized that the subway had stopped running for the night. But I got to sleep at her couch since I was far away at the other side of the city. And since she had been in Sweden she had a jar of lingon sylt that tasted great with the morning porridge.     
On my way back to my host’s place I stopped by the Lama Temple. It was really nice to walk around the temple because people weren't rushing around and I liked the atmosphere with the quiet place and Buddhist’s burning incense and praying. The Buddha statues got bigger and bigger further in and the last and biggest Buddha was 26 meters tall and carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood.
Maybe the biggest attraction in China is to see the Great Wall, so on Tuesday morning me and Hunter got up early in the morning and got on a bus up into the mountains to see the wall. It is a place you have heard and read so much about so it was a cool feeling to be walking around on the wall. And it’s not easy walking, I could really feel it in my legs the day after. We went to a very famous part of the wall so at some places there too much people. But at other part there weren’t so much people and that was much more enjoyable and I could take in the beauty and the massive structure of the Wall. We didn’t have much strength to do much more that day and had a nice dinner together with some of Hunters friends.
Yesterday I still hadn’t been to the Forbidden City. I knew it was going to be the most crowded sight here in Beijing but I still wanted to see it. Today the smog was back and the view from Tiananmen Square was really gray. Once inside of the Forbidden City there where people everywhere, especially the main middle path going north. But there were less people at the edge of the city and that was nicer to walk around and explore.
But I was really tired after a couple of hours and wanted to get away from the crowd. I met up with another girl from couchsurfing and we had a look around the Hotung neighborhood with old building witch is a nice break from the modern high pace Beijing. And the last place I went to for some sightseeing was to the Olympic area. The bird’s nest was really impressing especially in the evening when it got dark and they lit up the stadium on a red color.

Today I’m just taking it slow, getting everything ready and trying to decide what route to take south. My time here in Beijing has been awesome but I ‘m also looking forward to getting back on the bike. Maybe not the first part out of the city with its crazy traffic. But it’s been a while since I cycled and from here to Hong Kong I can’t take that many breaks since I need to get there before my visa expires.

More photos from my time in Beijing: http://thebikeadventure.com/Photos/

fredag 13 september 2013

Barely made it to Beijing

I woke up this morning feeling great about going to Beijing. So I got ready and headed out to the train station. But when I was on my way in to the station the woman to checked tickets told me that I was in the wrong place. I didn’t really understand where I should go but then another woman walked by who knew English and explained that I was at the wrong train station. I didn’t know that there were two stations in Xi’an, I just went to the one that I came from when I arrived from Urumqi. I’m not a very experienced train traveler. So hearing that made me a little worried since I didn’t know how far away it was and I didn’t have that much time to spare. So I hurried out into the street and tried to find a taxi. But I though they wanted way too much money even though I didn’t know how far away it was. But I realized I had to hurry to get there so I accepted the price from a guy on an electric scooter. But at first I didn’t think he could carry all my bags on the scooter, but somehow he managed and we raced through the city. It was further then I had thought and I got more and more worried the more times passed. And when it was only twenty minutes lift until the train was leaving I was sure I was going to miss it. But we arrived at the station with about five minutes to spare and I walked as fast as I could with all the bags I was carrying and was the last one on the train just before it left.
It was a big relief to make it and I could sit down and catch my breath after the mornings rush. The high speed trains here in China are really nice and it felt very luxurious compared to the last train ride from Urumqi. It was really fast and after about five hours we arrived in Beijing to another crazy crowded station. Luckily the subway was in the same station and I could just get on that and quickly get to the station where I met Hunter, my couchsurf host and we went and dropped off my luggage at his place.

After that we vent to another train station where my bicycle was supposed to be. It took a little while to find the place where I could collect my bike but we eventually we found it in the underground in the back on the station.

After a little wait I could pick up the bike and it was a huge relief seeing the bike in on piece. From the station I rode the bike 20 km through Beijing back to my host’s place. It was an awesome feeling being back on the bike, even if cycling in Beijing wasn't what I was looking forward to the most.

onsdag 11 september 2013

On a train to Xi’an

On Monday morning I got up made sure I had everything with me and headed out to the train station. It was really strange not leaving on my bicycle. And carrying all of my stuff was a workout, but somehow I managed and was able to carry all of the bags on me. It’s a lot easier when my bike is doing the carrying. The train station was a bit chaotic and very crowded. But luckily the number of the train was on signs and easy to find where to go. When going in to the train there was three seats on one side and two on the other. And as I was walking through the train I was just hoping that I didn’t have a seat in the middle of two other people. And I was really lucky to get a seat on the side with two seats and also with a window seat. The train was absolutely packed and the seats were not that comfortable, maybe that’s why they call it a hard seat. But I was felt ready for 35 hours to Xi’an.
And the ride was really an experience. Even if no one knew a word of English I could communicate a little bit about where I was from and where I was going. And I could feel everyone looking at me since I was the only foreigner on the whole train. I’m lucky to be a very good sleeper and was able to get a couple of hours during the night and felt a little rested waking up in the morning with another 17 hours to go.
Outside the landscape had become greener then the dry west and it was interesting looking out of the windows seeing China pass by. But mostly I just read my book wanting the time to pass by much faster than it did. And eventually after a long, warm, sweaty, loud, smelly train ride we arrived in Xi’an at the middle of the night. I hadn’t gotten a invitation from any couchsurfer so I got in a taxi and headed for a hostel. The driver could find the hostel I wanted o go to but eventually found another hostel that luckily had a bed for the night. And after 35 hours in a train a shower and a soft bed felt like paradise!
Yesterday I had to change hostel since they didn’t have rooms available for the next days so I then went to the hotel I first wanted to go to. And I have to say the standards of hostels here in China are really good. I met two American guys who were in the same room and we went together on an hour bus ride to see the Terracotta Army. I is the big attraction here in Xi’an and it was really cool to see. And since we vent in the afternoon it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. And somehow I managed to get in half price as a student by showing a business card from a man I met on the plane back to Sweden and was working at Stockholm University. It’s a good thing they didn’t look more closely at the name, because maybe I don’t really look like my last name would be Akaber =)
Another strange and funny thing that happened there was when a couple came up to me and I thought they wanted me to take a picture of them. But it turned out that woman wanted to be in a picture with me. That happens many times to me when I’m on my bike and meeting people, but I didn’t think I would happen in a touristic place like Xi’an when I’m out dressed like any other tourist.
Later that night I met up with Ruyang and his friend from Couchsurfing and we had a great night. First we walked around the Muslim quarter trying different food and then went for some beer and had nice conversation about everything and I got some advice about the rest of my time in China.

This morning I was woken up by a call on my phone from someone that spoke Chinese, so I just hung up and turned off the sound. But when I got up a little later I saw I had ten missed call and then answered the eleventh. This time someone spoke a little English and he was talking about my bicycle. I got in contact with my friend in Urumqi who called back and she told me that they just wanted to call and tell me that my bike had arrived in Beijing and was wondering when I was picking it up. It was a big relief knowing it’s there but until I have it in my hands I’ll still be a little worried. So tomorrow morning I’m getting back on the train heading for Beijing. But this time I spend a little more money on a speed strain that just takes 5 hours instead of 12 on the other train. I’m looking forward to seeing Beijing but at the same time I know it’s going to be a crazy big city with people everywhere. But at least I don’t have to ride my bike into the city. 

söndag 8 september 2013

Bye Bye Central Asia, Hello China!!

After a day of rest it was time to set out towards the Chinese border. I had about 370 km left and planned to do that in three days. It felt great getting back on the road and I was excited to get to China. It had always been one of the countries that I had been looking forward to the most. And after riding slalom through the traffic in Almaty I was on the country road heading east. The first day I did 130 km on a very warm day and set up my tent next to a little forest with a stream close by where I could take a refreshing bath.

The next day started off with a big uphill and when I thought I was at the top I was expecting a nice relaxing ride down. But instead the road continued on high ground and for the rest of the day I had to fight with a strong headwind in the open landscape. Eventually I arrived at a beautiful canyon with a river running down it. I decided this was the best place to stay for the night even if I hadn’t done as much as I hoped I would. But I was really tired after a long day. I now only had one more day to reach the border and set out early in the morning. I began with climbing out of the canyon and back on the flat windy desert floor.

After a while I saw two guys standing by the road that looked familiar. It was two German tourists that I had met at the hostel in Almaty who were traveling around Kazakhstan by car. I have to admit I was a little bit jealous with their air-conditioned car. They gave me a refill of water and I continued on the last bit through the desert. Because after lunch the landscape changed and there were more trees and vegetation witch was a nice change from before.

When looking at the map I had the border seemed to be after crossing a river. So I thought I would set up my tent somewhere close to the river and then cross first thing in the morning. But sooner than I thought there was a card station in the way and the guards told me the border was closed today and would be closed the next day as well. I really didn’t know what to do since a had spent my last Kazakh money during the day, but luckily I had some food in my bag. But after cycling back the road for about 100 meters a man waved me in and I told him about the border being closed and he understood my problem. So he offered me a place to set up my tent behind his restaurant and also gave me dinner later at night. So I had an involuntary day of rest at the border and met some nice people at the restaurant during the day. Among them an Uzbek guy who spoke a little English and was waiting for his brother to come back from China. I also met many friendly truck drivers who gave me food and a couple shots of vodka later in the evening.

Early on Saturday morning I was at the first gate waiting for it open. After that I cycled about 6 km to the next gate where one of the guards said there was a problem with my registration card. I was taken to a room with a guy who spoke some English and he made a couple of calls and explained that I should have registered with the police within the first five days, something I didn’t know about. But if had read the immigration card more careful it said very clearly on the back that I should. But after some waiting he told me that I didn’t have to pay the penalty fee and that I could continue to customs. That was in another building and once I tried to get through there I was stopped again and this time it wasn’t as easy. When I told the officer that I had talked to another guy before and he told me it was okay he just said that he was the boss and not the other guy. So after a while I realized I wasn’t going to get out of this without paying the fee. So began a very slow process sitting in a room with a guy who typed on the computer in slow-motion. Eventually after spending 3,5 hours at the border and paying 118 Dollars fee I could leave and cycle the 5 km through no man’s land to the Chinese border. And there is was much smoother and just took a couple of minutes. I even got some advice from one of the officers who also were a cyclist. First impression of China was a much more modern country than I had been in for a while. Especially in the cities where all the houses looked nice and everything seemed more organized that the sometimes chaotic central Asia. But once I got out of the first city I saw that the old China is still there and there is not much difference between how farmers and villagers live here compered to where I came from. Since I had lost a couple of hours at the Kazakh border I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the Sayram Hu lake up in the mountain that I had hoped to. But after acquiring a Chinese sim–card and getting some money from the ATM(witch felt like a luxury since the last time I did that was in Turkey and throughout central Asia I had to change dollars to local currency with some guy on the black market) I pushed on up into the hills. But the climb uphill was slow and all of a sudden it started to get dark. There weren’t many places to set up a tent in the narrow passage the road went through. I put on my lights and continued on for a while longer until I came across some houses and tents next to the road. I stopped and asked two women I met there if I could set up my tent next to the house. That was no problem at all and they helped me with a flashlight while I got all my things in order. When the husband came home I got invited for dinner in a tent that looked almost identical to the yurts in Kyrgyzstan. And having bread and tea for dinner also reminded me of my time in the Kyrgyz mountains.

My first night in China was a very cold one since I had cycled quite far up into the hills. And the next morning was also a cold one, so some warm tea for breakfast was great. After I helped the man crank his tractor into action I waved goodbye and continued up the mountain. After a while a came to a huge bridge that I cycle over after rounding a hill through a long tunnel. It was really massive and continued even further after the big section.

After that there was a couple of tunnels until I arrived at the lake where I planned to camp for the first night. It was a massive lake high up in the mountains with even bigger mountains surrounding it. It was still cold and after fighting against a headwind to reach the top the road started to lean downwards and I had to put on more clothes to keep warm. But going downhill is always a great feeling even though the wind kept me from breaking any speed records. The downhill went on for 55 km and it got warmer the further down I got. I started out with t-shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, jacket, fleece jacket and gloves. And by the time I was all the way at the bottom of the hill I was only wearing shorts and t-shirt. I stopped at a small restaurant in a village for lunch and got a course in how to eat with chopsticks. It was tricky at first but I eventually got the hang of it. The owner first gave me a plastic fork but I thought it was better to learn right away since I’m going to be here for a while. And I can’t ask for a fork every time I’m at a restaurant.

I knew the ride to Urumqi wasn’t going to be the most exiting road. Usually there were two roads to choose from, the highway or the smaller on that many times ran alongside the highway. I choose the small one as much as possible but sometimes I had to get up on the big road when there were no other or when the small road was really bad. But the highway wasn’t that bad and always had a wide shoulder to cycle on. The only problem with that road was that it had fences by the side of the road almost everywhere and therefore difficult to get off for a break or when I saw a nice place to camp for the night. But I found an okay place every night and it was great setting up the tent in the dessert with no one around and just look up at night as the stars became clearer. The worst part about cycling desert isn’t the heat it’s the wind, and the first three days on the flat land I had to fight a head wind. It was less wind earlier in the day so I tried to push on as much as possible before lunch and take it a little slower in the afternoon when the wind picks up.

The last two days of cycling towards Urumqi there were more trees along the roads which is great for giving shade and also some more cities along the way. And even if they look like small towns on the map they are often quite big and growing fast. The negative about this part is that there were lots of industries and coal power plants. One afternoon I passed a place with lots of coal trucks passing by and by the end of the day I could scrape of a black layer from my skin.
Yesterday I cycled the last 120 km to Urumqi and getting in was a bit crazy. It’s a huge city with over 3 million people living here and it is the capital of Xinjiang. Luckily I have my GPS and was able to find my way through the city to Ren Min Square where I was meeting up with my warmshowers host later that night. So with about two hours to kill I just sat down with a book and watched the lively square. When it got darker they lit up the square and music started playing and people were dancing on groups all over the square.

I met my host Natasha who is from Britain and working as an English teacher here through EF. Over dinner I got to meet some other of the teachers also working here. Some from Britain and others from Mexico, South Africa and Russia. We had a great evening and it felt really good to be here and taking a break from cycling for a while. Even though the last days my butt had gotten more used to the saddle again and I wasn’t as sore as I was the first couple of days.

Yesterday I had a relaxing day strolling around town going to some parks one of the on a hill with a view of the city. Later in the evening I met up with another couchsurfer who was very nice to help me with tickets at the train station since no one there speaks English. The train station felt like a crazy place and I was sitting outside for a while waiting for Venessa and just watching thousands of people walking by. And there were no break in the stream of people, it just never seemed to end. When Venessa arrived we first went to the cargo place to send my bike. And even if I have a recite and that it will most likely be in Beijing when I get there it didn’t feel great leaving the bike. Now I just really hope it gets there in one piece. But I couldn’t book my train ticket since I had forgotten to bring my passport with me. And when we looked up tickets online we realized I had a bigger problem than that. Because tickets to Beijing was sold out for the next couple of days and the first available ticket was on the 13:th, and that was just a seat. If I wanted a bed I would have to wait until the 18:th. And since my time here in China is limited I don’t have the time to wait that long. Another option was to take a flight, but that’s a lot more expensive of course. So now I have decided to instead get on a train to Xi’an, see that city and then another train from there to Beijing.

After the madness at the train station I and Venessa met up with her friend for some food at an very interesting and busy street. All along the street there were different stands with all kinds of food laid out. We picked out a couple of dishes (too many) and sat down for a nice and tasty meal. I also hung out with Venessa yesterday since my host was working all day. EF teachers seem to be working a lot, yesterday she was at work from ten in the morning to ten at night.

We visited the grand bazaar which felt a little bit like going back to Turkey or Central Asia. The bazaar is in the Uighyr part of the city and felt very different. The Uighyr is a Turkic ethnic group living in Xinjiang and since there have been some tension here you can see a lot of military around in the city, especially in the Uighyr part of town.

I’m now as prepared as I can be for my train ride to Xi’an. Unfortunately they didn’t have any sleepers left until the end of this week, so I had to take a seat witch won’t be very comfortable on this 35 hour train ride. But at least I’ll get there.