Monday – the road to Lanzhou

It was a very early start for our 11 hour journey to Lanzhou. The truck was leaving at 7.00 am so we were breakfasting at 6.30. Taking advantage of the facilities, I knocked up Kraft cheese slice and onion sandwiches for lunch from the western breakfast table as a treat!

We settled into our journey for the long haul. One of the things you have to say about the Chinese is that they are engineers of some distinction. As we left Xian behind, the pattern of our progress commenced as our route took us west to Lanzhou. I lost count of the tunnels we past through when we got to 33. As we emerged from each tunnel the road continued on viaducts over the valleys. These vast bridges spindled across the landscape on tall cement columns. Invariably there were three parallel viaducts spanning each valley. A two lane roadway for each direction of traffic and another for the railway line to accommodate the long trains carrying coal that seem to accompany us very regularly. They are the longest trains I have ever seen!

Down in the valley bottom the usual neat rows of crops fill every nook and cranny. What is mysterious is that we never see anyone working the land or indeed working on anything else. All the towns we pass through bristle with high rise tenement blocks. A lot of them are window less and are obviously not finished, but others look complete but are obviously empty. Can there really be too many for the number of people to fill them or are they just too expensive? Apparently property investment is popular for those who can afford it, but it cannot be a good turn on investment for them to stand empty.

As it is a day of little action to report, time fora little commentary on life on the road. I have already mentioned that, while basically comfortable, we have no seat belts or air conditioning in the truck. . Our luggage is kept in two metal cupboards with mesh doors at the back of what is the travel accommodation section. The drivers cab is separate with communication limited to a ‘walkie talkie’ phone. There is a ‘fridge with drinks purchased by the drinks ‘monitors’. In addition, people buy their own drinks which they mark to indicate ownership. I have to admit, in my usual tum-te-tumming fashion, to have fallen foul of this particular rule and drank someone else’s coke. A cardinal sin. I was mortified!

Lunch stops are at the motorway service stations where the facilities leave a lot to be desired but the food options are varied and usually more palatable than service stations on our motorways. There is usually a full eat-as-much-as-you-like meal for a nominal charge of circa £3.50. Alternatively you can go for the big pot noodle option. For this you buy a jumbo sized pot of noodles in the shop and when paid for, you can pour on hot water provided by the cashier. I am told they are quite good. Final choice is the snacking option of nuts, seeds, sweets and very sweet buns and biscuits …… hence the cheese and onion sandwich when we had the opportunity. Nectar of the gods!

I was premature in my assessment that Xian was our last big city experience for some time. As we crossed the yellow river (something of a misnomer as it is a sludgy sandy brown) into Lanzhou we realised we were in a vast metropolis. The traffic was crazy but after a lot of hooting and jockeying for position we passed through the narrowest gap between buildings to emerge in the car park of our hotel. With more skilled manoeuvring by Simon our very able driver, we effected a three point turn and were settled. By this time the usual large crowd had gathered for a sighting of these weird looking people who materialise from the big orange box on wheels.

Lanzhou is very much a Muslim enclave of Hui Chinese (our experience to date has been mainly of Han Chinese) and it’s main claim to fame is its night market of street food. It does not open on one night a year for a thorough clean. This year they chose the night we were in town!

A little disappointed but not deterred we set off to find food and a beer – well deserved after 11 hours of sitting. Several kegs of beer later consumed at a table set up in the gutter on a corner outside a very enterprising cafe with traffic careering round us, we revived. We had just finished our meal when it started to rain. By the time the bill was settled it was pouring and we arrived back at the hotel very soggy. Luckily work had finished on the building site behind us so peace reigned.

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