New Friends and New Adventures
China is an exciting and different part of our journey as we will be travelling with other overlanders in a convoy!.
You are not allowed to travel through China without a Chinese guide with you which makes the trip an expensive one. To help cut down on the expense, most overlanders team up with others to help share the costs, and we hope the fun! We contacted a guide called Mrs Spring around January 2015 to find out if she had a group crossing at the time we wanted to go and she did - woo hoo! September 14th, 2015 was our meeting date at the China/Mongolia border of Erenhot - back in January we could barely imagine we would get this far, it all seemed like some fantastical dream!
Our group consists of three German vehicles and one Austrian ( our Austrian companions Klaus and Andrea who we met in Russia) The famous John Cleese as Basil Fawlty quote was discussed in private and we agreed that it should not be used, but that sound advice was ignored by my husband – at an entirely appropriate humorous juncture I would like to add! - however, all was well!
So now we have a convoy! We are all given walkie talkies - which is great fun! So if we have to have walkie talkies then we must have nick-names…
Vehicle one - a huge motor home - 8 tons and 8 metres , - this belongs to Peter and Katerina and their two children and dog - Lisa - Now named the Mothership
Vehicle two - a VW LT 45, owned by Pigu - Named eLTon
Vehicle three - another VW LT 45 owners Marc and Mirijam and Diago the dog - given name Cupcake because of its white high top over maroon body
Vehicle four - the Chrysler Voyager - nickname "Voyager one" belonging to Klaus and Andrea
Vehicle five - the fabulous Tigger!
For the actual border crossing, we also met with another German couple who are Professional adventurers - they are currently attempting a completely unsupported electric bike overland journey across Mongolia and China with their huge dog. Check out their blog at www.denis-katzer.de
We meet “Spring” our guide on the Chinese side and she helps us through the paperwork that needs to be done. We then have to leave our cars overnight at customs until the following morning so we head off to spend the night in Erenhot and our first real introduction to China
Wow - after the remoteness and sleepiness of Mongolia just about all of our senses are woken up with a huge bang! It’s noisy. It’s busy. It’s bright with flashy lights and the food - oh the food is wonderful! Spring takes us to a restaurant and orders for us all. There is a revolving table and we all share - we have to cook the meat in our own little pots of boiling soup we are given and we are all stuffed but happy and the end of the meal - let the adventure begin!
The following day we collect the cars and head off to the police station for the drives to collect their Chinese driver's licences and a number plate for Tigger - The local police enforcement officer who has to issue these is a bit of a jobsworth. Apparently to complete the paperwork we have to show the VIN number. On new vehicles, it is on the dash and visible through the windscreen but on ours and the other older VW's it is still stamped onto a metal plate and riveted somewhere on the vehicle. For us, it's inside the door frame. This does not compute with madame plod and she nearly has a meltdown. But luckily for us, she lets it go as there are 3 of us with the same situation and she probably wants to go home sometime today!
Chinese Driving Licence - no test required!
Eventually we are off - because the whole driving licence thing takes longer than expected we don't get as far as we would have liked on our first day - however after visiting some model dinosaurs on the site of a fossil find, we chance upon a camp spot big enough for all of us and we settle down to get to know each other around a campfire. (The fire log that I made in from a fallen tree in a forest in the Alti region of Kazakhstan just before entering into Russia)
More than a couple of old dinosaurs there!
Log fire made from a log we found at a camp stop in Kazakhstan
We are heading for Beijing and to see the Great wall on route. As we get closer to Beijing the smog gets worse and worse with everything in the distance looking very hazy, this doesn't bode well for our visit to the wall. We camp outside the visitors entrance so we will be the first customers in the morning, a bit of an odd campsite but we put our vehicles in a circle and Spring can put her tent in the middle and it works. (yee-haa! Just like the wild west! ) We are woken in the night by a huge thunderstorm lots and lots of thunder and lightning and lashing rain - poor Spring in her tent! When we wake in the morning it is bright blue sky and not a bit of smog in sight - how lucky are we?!
The wall in the smog
Much better today
And we are the only ones here!
And some pretty amazing views as well
Next stop Beijing. It’s as mad and busy as you would imagine with a population of now exceeding 21 million. Driving is interesting , to say the least, and we all have a steep learning curve to climb. It seems that the mindset for driving in China is…’overtake and push in whenever you feel like it and someone will let you in’. As a western driver, this is very difficult to accept but the lid has to be kept on the road rage pot and try and find the natural flow. No good. There is no natural flow! These guys just don’t know the first thing about road safety and all common sense has been removed. I think it is probably due to the relatively short period of time that they have been driving and there are most likely a huge percentage of first-time novice drivers. We only have a couple of days and there is so much to fit in - we manage to visit the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, some downtown shopping, the Chinese Opera and sample the Beijing Duck meal - In fact food featured quite a lot in Beijing and not all of it good! It was a whirlwind visit but an enjoyable one all the same
Everywhere is busy,busy,busy!
One of many huge squares in the Forbidden City
Beijing food market street
Some of the yummy delights! - And the legs were still moving!!!
but they did have dead ones as well
Your guess is as good as ours!
These guys are practising writing ancient Chinese with huge brushes and water
This might say John or Suzane or possibly neither!
The Summer Palace was lovely - where the Emperor used to take his Concubines for the summer, not all 20,000 though!
it was so, well Chinese!
Our dragon boat for the trip across the lake
And time for the Opera
Not quite the same as European Opera Have a listen here
John decided after all the sightseeing he had earned himself a massage at the hotel but it didn't look anywhere near luxurious enough for me, I left him to it.
Well, here’s the low down of my first Chinese massage…. It was a little basic. Not seedy exactly but, well, it was not the spa experience we have usually gone for. A glass fronted shop unit with a big curtain that is drawn over when I enter to premises. The price menu A board is brought in and the door is closed and locked. Just as well. Don’t want anyone else walking in and spoiling my peace and quiet time. As massages go, it's ok. Half an hour on my front then turn over for the front half. After leg 2, a very light touch where it’s not supposed to be makes me look up and I have a face in my field of vision whispering in my ear “ you want some more?”!! When “ more” is explained to me I have to press home my negative answer several times with the only explanation I could think of.. “ I’m married!” and this seems to work. Phew. Not the relaxing end to a massage that I was hoping for but I have to admit, It was funny. We can’t use the expression “more” without a giggle now.
The others in our group had chosen to camp in a public park around 40mins from the city centre - for those of you that know me given the choice of hotel in a city or a park - well there is no choice! (I have known you a long time and remember when you were happy in a park, car park or…oh dear, I think we are at cross-purposes!) I don't mind wild camping in the "wild" but camping in Tigger without a toilet in a public park was not what we wanted to do. We plan to meet with the others at our next destination , however as we drive out of the city we spot the Mothership, who would have thought , so we are a small convoy again.
Next stop Yungang Grotto. We don't get there until quite late and it’s been a full on days driving and everyone is tired - we camp just behind the entrance to the grottos where it is very quiet and peaceful - well that is until around 5am when we are woken by the Chinese going through their early morning exercise regime. One of the games they are playing involves a ball with feathers on top - this gets kicked from one person to the next a bit like a game of keepy-uppy with a shuttlecock - it looked quite easy so John joined in - hmmm not so easy then! (thanks babe!)
We didn't really know much about the grottos and it was a pretty miserable day cold and rainy, but we were there felt as though we should make the effort to go and see some Buddha’s in caves, albeit a bit unenthusiastically - wow what a surprise these grottos were really impressive. 252 caves and 51,000 statues from tiny to enormous, dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries - well worth the visit should you happen to be passing!
That's one big Buddha!
Our convoy makes for an interesting spectacle, or at least the Chinese seem to think so, we are constantly waved at and cars are always slowing down beside us and taking pictures - which can be a bit unnerving if they are in the process overtaking and there is oncoming traffic! We usually have a morning meeting with Spring to discuss the days driving etc - this usually consists of our group standing in front of our vehicles with Spring facing us and talking and behind her are about 20 Chinese peeps taking photos of us! Did feel a little odd but it’s amazing what you get used to!
Next stop Pingyao. Pingyao is in central Shanxi province, and roughly 715 kilometres south-west of Beijing so we can't get there in one day as its too far. Up until now we have mostly been using the motorways which although expensive at an average of £10 per motorway trip, the roads were very good, and fairly empty allowing us to make good progress. Today however we think we might try the "National Roads" which are equivalent to A roads in the UK -hmmm this was a huge mistake!
My bit again? Usual boring stuff for the driver to talk about. Yes, it is a mistake leaving the calm of the motorway in exchange for the free national roads. It’s truly bonkers here. All the lorries use these roads because of the cost of the motorways I guess, which means miles of slow or stationary lorry convoys with the impatient car drivers over and undertaking with nowhere to get back into the line. Effing idiots! Overtaking into the path of oncoming traffic with no consideration for others. Just the short term solution to getting a few metres ahead. I tried. I really did. For many hours. In fact many days. But eventually, I couldn’t let it go any longer and stopped letting people in. Actually, I have to admit I really enjoyed it. I like to think I was helping to educate the Chinese drivers and show them how dangerous and selfish it is to attempt an overtaking manoeuvre when there is no safe place available to complete the move. Ah. Wifey is now telling me not to write too much so that must be my cue to bring this mini rant to a close. Bye!
The upside to the rubbish roads was we get a bit more off the beaten track and get to camp next to part of the great wall for the night, the next morning we even manage a small run along the wall - this part of the wall hadn't been restored so it's not the easiest of runs but still amazing
Some DubLove at the great wall camp
Harder to run along than you might think
We arrive in Pingyao and decide to treat ourselves to a hotel - ahh a shower! During the Quin Dynasty Pingyao was a financial centre of China. The ancient city, whose history dates back some 2,700 years is renowned for its well-preserved city walls, is a UNESCO world heritage site and is very pretty, especially at night - our hotel is set in one of the old buildings but fortunately has modern conveniences!
Our Bedroom from the outside
And the bed - fit for an Empress!
The old town buildings are so pretty
Even the roof tops are pretty
Famous for its Vinegar - which comes in huge pots
And at night it all gets better
Pingyao was a lovely treat what with the hotel and pretty city, but time waits for no man - and neither does our China convoy so it's on the road again heading for the Terracotta Army.
This will have to wait until next time as this blog has taken soooo long to upload John is fearing for his life as I get more and more frustrated not to mention angry - ahh for decent wifi, the trials of an overlander - next blog coming soon - well as soon as good wifi turns up anyway