June 1, 2004
Guest Columnist - Kit Maxwell
China Newsletter 3 - Tropical south
Dear All - We have journeyed through the sparse wastes of the Tibetan plateau in the North, to the rugged ravines of Yunnan province in the West, we have come at last to the verdant tropical South where climate and fertility nestle together and the Chinese peasants live a simple and rewarding agricultural life. We left early as usual and passed many Chinese children trekking their way to school. Some of them have to walk a long way to the next village. Little pig-tailed girls lead their short cropped brothers, a sense of concern showing on their young faces. The older children laugh and play on the way and all smile as we pass. Some call out ‘hi-lo’ and we call back ‘hallo’ as we pass.
On the road we encounter piles of carefully saved manure, dumped at random, ready for spreading on the fields. Everywhere in this area is peppered with small rice paddy fields, all glistening in the morning sun. Some are only 15 metres long and all are irregular in shape, giving the countryside a colourful patchwork face.
Great grey water-buffalo raise their shaggy heads and toil slowly up and down through the mud. They love water and wear a benign and peaceful expression, carrying their head back and chin up as if savouring the last of the air before they sink into the water. They pick their legs high, with surprising elegance, as they draw the plough or harrow, and at the end of each short run turn they turn, without waiting for an order, and slowly toil their way back again.
The plough usually has only one share and the work doesn’t appear to be too arduous. The ploughman wears plastic sandals, his trousers rolled up to the knees, and speaks encouraging words to his beast. The soft dialogue can be heard wafting across the silent rice pools. The only other sound is the rhythmic splish-splosh of the buffalo’s huge hoofs as he treads carefully through the mud.
China’s trademark bamboo pole is used by everyone, shouldered as it is across the back, and they carry everything from baskets of stones for road building to pans of seed plants, newly harvested vegetables, sweet corn, melons and great bunches of green leaves. The women may also be carrying a toddler on their back as well, and a pair of tiny feet would be seen hanging loose and content as the baby nods off to sleep.
We were driving down a steepening gorge where the slow-flowing river was bordered by an unbroken mantle of greenery. The impenetrable verbiage reached from the water’s edge up to the peaks 500 feet above us. Every subtle shade of green spoke of a fertility beyond compare, while the sheer valley walls prohibited any agricultural pursuits.
We left the main road and ascended into the steep hills bordering the river valley. Soon the river disappeared from view and only the tumbling tributaries remained. Great blue butterflies, the size of starlings, flopped lazily across the fields while darting dragon flies zoomed purposefully about their business. Broad-leafed banana plants waved faintly in the still air and soft willows rustled as we cruised by.
Soon we passed small hillside villages full of country activities. A flock of ducks marched boldly down a main street, with cars, bikes, trikes and carts weaving skilfully around them. Ducks have the right-of-way in China.
The houses were prettily built but unadorned, with hand-made brick or stone to window level, then timber cladding to the roof line. As we went higher up into the forested hills the houses were all timber-built, and whole trunks were used to stand the houses level on the unforgivingly steep ground.
Street vendors sold a multitude of tools, materials, agricultural tack and food, and none had ever seen a Westerner before. We wandered self-consciously in the market place while the Chinese stared in friendly curiosity and unashamed wonder.
I bought a Coolie’s straw hat at one store, and a lukewarm drink at another. Then I invested in a pretty reed-woven tool basket. The basket is shaped like a curved Saracen’s scabbard with an elegantly turned end; the rice planters in the paddy fields all have one strung over their back.
We are still climbing and the temperature reaches 97’ F, and the movement of air through the open windows of the Land Rover is welcome. Every inch of available space is terraced into paddy fields. These small irregular shapes follow the contour lines in a variety of shallow crescents.
At one high crest we saw the whole valley below us had been terraced, a terrific investment of time and labour long ago. Hundreds of pools glinted in the morning sun and decorated the valley like petals strewn from a spring bloom. It is too steep here for the water buffalo, the heavy beasts would never make it up the slopes. Girl-power is the key to agricultural success, and I saw several smiling girls harnessed to simple wooden ploughs which the men would guide from behind. What a grand statement of village unity!
The sight and sound of the workers in these watery fields has probably changed little in the last 1,000 years and here we felt transported in time to a prehistoric era.
Reality returned when we descended the hillsides again and drove the riverside trail. The road builders hew out swathes of broken hillside and cut a rough road which clings precariously to the valley wall, 20m to 30m above the river bed. There are no embankments here and no safety rails, and cars and trucks regularly slip down the escarpment and into the river. In most cases the wreck is beyond economic recovery and the vehicle will be stripped bare and carted away in pieces.
Winter rains carve big ruts across the track and we weave an ever changing route between loose shale, rock falls, mud-filled ruts and deep potholes. Every half mile there is another hairpin bend, the corner pounded into thick dry dust by repetitive use. The corner and the dust may conceal anything from an impassable landfall to a wrecked, overturned truck. The dust hangs in the still air and invades every part of the car and its occupants, filling our lungs and coating our sunglasses. Broken roads may be repaired with sharp, undressed granite rocks the size of footballs, and we drive across the punitive surface wincing for our poor tyres.
Today was a difficult drive, colourful but very slow, and we arrived at the next staging post long after dark.
(Newsletter 2 is taking longer to prepare and will be despatched soon...) Kit Constable Maxwell email@example.com
00 33 (0)2 47 59 94 34
This article will also be posted to my website at www.kitmax.com
May 29, 2004
From ShenZhen Daily, see picture under "Photos."
Rally across China ends
A foreigner waves China's national flag as two cars approach the finish line of a trans-China rally Thursday in Shenzhen. Teams from dozens of countries set off from Beijing's Great Wall one month ago, crossing 11 provinces and covering more than 9,000 kilometers. The rally route was designed to explore China's natural mysteries and beauties. (Isert) Foreign participants relax in Shenzhen on Thursday.
May 28, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan
Greetings again from Hong Kong:
This will be my final mail regarding the Great Tour of China. The GPS in the Mercedes showed we drove 6,667 miles in 175.56 Hrs over 30 days(four were rest days) for an average of 37.9 miles an hour. Top speed was 99.7 MPH.
In the beginning I didn't want to worry anyone so little was said about the dangereous road. Some sections in the road book would say something like "for the next eight miles it is a 4 lane suicide alley and they will come at you from all directions". We would be overtaking someone overtaking someone overtaking. In other words four abreast and then head on the same thing was happening in the other direction including both shoulders. Somehow at the last second everything cleared and all cars passed on. There were rocks in the road warning of a breakdown and then after they had gone the rocks were eft behind. The roads were also used for major repairs.I saw a mechanic pulling an engine in the hiway. Road closures were done by piling dirt and rocks in the road which immediately became a challenge for all to clear. We were constantly in the midst of construction equipment as the traffic must pass in the only lane as the new road is built. The roads were major commuting lanes for local traffic on foot, bikes, scooters etc. We saw lots of accidents. Many trucks rolled over. Even one 18 wheeler purched high in a tree. I am sure there were deaths in some of them.
When entering Tibet the truckers were cheating on the blended diesel and when it jelled in the altitude and cold they built campfires under the truck to heat it. When I first saw this I was sure the trucks were on fire.
Public rest rooms were avoided at all costs. The toilet was a hole in floor used in the Chinese squat position and they were dirty and smelled awful. These Chinese are expert spitters. It is everywhere.
The people were extremely hard working. There were no sitabouts. Everyone was working and working hard.
These people are busy building this economic miracle. I suppose that it compares to the US in the industrial revolution of the late 1800s
Lou Dobbs has his Exporting America show and talks about jobs going to China. I see it as a very short sided view. There are 1.3 billion people here and what is happening is they are building the largest market the world has ever known. They will dominate the economy in this region and with time the world. This market is huge and we must play with them or be overwhelmed in the long run. They need to open up their markets to us and revalue their currency to maintain a balance.
I feel what I saw was a slow deterioration of the Communist control. It will not be possible to control this capitalism and entreprenorship.
For myself I am reflecting what this trip was all about.
It is about people of some wealth spending money for this discomfort to experience adventure. The fellowship is special. We endure on rough dusty roads, hard beds, no hot water and sometimes no power.
It is about 4x4s. It is preparing them. Driving them. Repairing them and coaxing them down the road when they otherwise would have quit. It is about support from your friends even if it is sometimes only encouragement.
It is about the geography of a different land. Touching it, walking on it, and otherwise getting to know it.
It is about touching it's unique people. It is about meeting them at gas stations and restaurants. It is about overwhelming them in the afternoon of arrival at the hotel. In a whirlwind we come one by one demanding cold beer. Drinking their whole inventory and then some wine. Then in the morning we slip away at start time and their world returns to normal. Except I hope our passage will leave some mark on them and they will remember those fun-loving westerners that invaded their world for a few hours.
I have experienced the most unbelievable adventure to this strange land.I hope that I will be better for it and that my perspective is changed forever. I am thankful that I have had the time and wherewithall to participate in this adventure.
It is worrying about each other until all have arrived at the end of the day safely. It is uneasyness until the Doc and Jingers pull in and we know everyone is safe for the night.
I hope your have enjoyed my mails and that in some way I have changed your prespective of this different land and its people.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!
May 28, 2004
Well, it was a lazy day in Hong Kong, but I woke up ready to go at 5 A M and no place to go and no truck to do it in. So we took it easy. Had a slow breakfast with some of the other yingyangs. We took a walk around our hotel. It is so hot and humid it is like being in a steam bath.
Then we packed up and moved over to the Peninsula hotel, which is my favorite hotel anywhere. Checked with the desk and discovered that the Hong Kong Symphony was playing tonite, so we got tickets and went. It was a great program with Horacio Guiterez playing Beethoven's 4th piano concert. The orchestra also performed Barbers School for Scandel, Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite (0ne of my all time favorites) and Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin Suite. It was a fabulous performance. The hall is in the round, but was only about 10% full which had to be a dissappointment. But we really enjoyed it. A wonderful way to cap off the trip.
Leejun ordered a couple of custom made suits today at a good price and will have a fitting tomorrow morning . Then we plan to go up Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. Tomorrow nite we are going to a Ruth’s Chris steak house and have a good western meal. Hot is still hotter than all get out here and very humid. Most people are staying thru Sun or Mon. so we are spending some time with the others.
All for now.
May 27, 2004
Well , I can finally say it : NOT ONE FLAT TIRE. After 15 plus flat tires on the Inca Trail, I came prepared for this trip. I had a floor jack with me and every possible repair kit I could find. But we didn’t have one flat.
We left Guilin day before yesterday to drive thru the strange looking mountains, very conical. By they end of the day the scenery looked very much like the Blue Ridge mountains with smog instead of mist.
The 1st order of business was to get our front bumper welded in place. We stopped at a shop that had a welder sitting out front. He couldn’t do it but directed us down the road to a body shop. The were able to accomplish the repair in about ˝ hour. Then we were on our way.
It was a fairly short trip to Zhaoqing for our last night, where we had our typical Chinese dinner. The next morning we were off to Shenzhen for our final run, mostly on freeway. All the trucks made it earlier than the schedule so they moved the ending ceremony up a few minutes, then had lunch and on to the shipper. Wouldn’t you know we misread the road book and got lost.
But we made it, turned in the trucks and were off to Hong Kong. The trip from Shenzhen to Hong Kong involves going thru both Chinese and Hong Kong customs and immigration, which meant we had to drag our belongings off the bus twice and drag them thru the procedures. It was not fun as the weather was like a steam bath. We were really dragging by the time we arrived at the hotel. Leejun was waiting for me when I arrived and it was great to see her.
We then cleaned up and it was off by boat to Lama Island for a seafood dinner arranged by David and Terry (Our Hong Kong team). We were all presented with our own Chop (an ink stamp, in stone, of our name in chinese characters) and a commemorative plate. Then back by boat to the hotel for some much needed rest.
This has been a wonderful experience and a fabulous group of people. HERO did a good job of getting us around China.
I wish I had brought a banner reading “FREE TIBET” to hold up at the final ceremony, but I guess it was just as well that I didn’t.
Fred and I arrived early in Shenzhen, so we snuck down the road and had a Big Mac at the local Mc Donalds. Just like home.
We will spend the next couple of days relaxing and exploring Hong Kong , then back home on Monday night.
I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the web site and please feel free to add more. I have collected a list of everyone's e-mail addresses and will send it out to all next week.
All for now.
May 27, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan
We had a good fun day before yesterday,all on tarmac. Today was the final day of the event after a 140 mile run all on freeway. At 11 AM we crossed the finish line and the congratulating and celebrating began. This was great fun.
We then all drove our vehicles (all 33 made it) to the shipper to be delivered to points all around the globe. All vehicles made it in one peace.
We are in our hotel here in Hong Kong cleaning up for the farewell dinner. I will finally wear that sport coat I brought. Kenny got to Hong Kong last night and is now somewhere over the Pacific headed home. I will be here until Monday resting and reflecting and being a tourist. Ahmad and Reza will leave early Monday morning, Alan late Sat night and Jim and Leejun(she met him here) will leave on Monday afternoon.
The emotions of separating are with us all as we have become great travelling companions and friends.
As the trip wound down I have had time to reflect on the road behind and what I have seen and experienced. I can now remember every hotel, all the routes and the many experiences we had. While on the road you could not tell whether something happened yesterday or three days ago. The days ran together and you did not know the date or the day of the week. You related only to the road book and the day out of thirty that the road book said it was and where you were starting and finishing.
I have many things to relate and will plan to send some messages from here before I go home. It will take getting over the separation of the group before I will feel I can convey what this trip was all about. We have seen China as few people have seen China thanks to HERO and John Brown. I think there is lots to tell and I will try.
Off to say goodbye to my friends. God Bless America!
May 25, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan
Greetings from Guilian(somewhere in southern China)
Tough day on the road today. 14 hrs. One of the most magnificant drives of my life. I hope my pictures come out. One page missing from the road book and tulips today and it added to the time. It was a cluster f.......... out there without that page.
This place is beautiful; too bad I arrived at 9 PM. Kenny is trying to get his reservations to Hong Kong straight but as usual it is all screwed up. He may go on with us to Shenzen and a driver to the airport day after tomorrow. Still up in the air.
I will write more tomorrow as it is late. The Mercedes has the front umper falling off. The suburban appears to have a right front wheel bearing going and I will rise very early tomorrow to define the extent of each problem. Jims is less serious but the the Sburban can mean putting it on a lorrie as I am sure we cannot fix it here. But as we all know Jingers can do wonders.
The oil problem with the Sburban is over as we changed the oil and got some real oil, not the Chinese knock off, in the crankcase. No more smoke, more power and no consumption. I really think that the allitude was much to blame.
More tomorrow when I am rested.
God Bless America!
May 25, 2004
It is midnite and I have to get up early to find a welder to weld a support for my front bumper that broke today.
Another long day. We were on the road for over 12 hours. In addition to a lot of miles that were planned we had a detour around some road work that added 50 miles to our day. The detour was a pretty bad road that consumed a lot of time, but it really took us off the beaten path and we were able to see some mountain villages we otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
The scenery was spectacular. The villages appeared to be really poverty stricken compared to most we have recently been thru. The farmers again were out in the paddies getting the spring planting in.
When we came off the detour we had a hard time finding our way to Guilin. At one point we were unsure we were going in the right direction and turned around for several miles until we realized the original way was correct. This added about 45 minutes to our day. We took out the China Lonely Planet guide and found the Chinese characters for Guilin and stopped a bus and was reassured by the bus driver that we were going in the right direction.
We were among the 1st to arrive at the hotel and it was still light. Most got in after dark and some not until after 11 P M. Despite the long day we really enjoyed the scenery. At one point we almost met a police car head on coming around a corner. Due to superior driving on his part and my part we missed. As it was a dirt road we couldn't see whether he stayed on the road or not. We didn’t get stopped down the road so we assume everything came out alright.
Kenny did a great job navigating for the 1st 300 miles then drove the last 100 miles fast enough to beat the darkness. Guilin is a city of 1,300,000 people and really moving. There were a lot of shops around the hotel. Kenny and I walked around for a while, then went to dinner as the others straggeled in. There was even a McDonald's around the corner.
They should just put up a sign as you enter China that it is one big construction zone. We again ran into an incredible amount of air pollution. Unfortunately the views are really inhibited by the smog. We passed several factories belching out smog. We are fortunate to have the environmental policies that we have in the states and should urge the world in the same direction. It seems that the money being spent to raise the levels of anti-pollution in our country could be better spent helping other countries reach our level. My eyes actually feel gritty after the day in the outside air. I’m sure that it affects the life span of the people here.
Going to bed. Tomorrow is 2nd to last day, then on to Hong kong. Leejun is leaving Chicago today to meet me in Hong Kong Thurs.
May 24, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan
Greetings from Kaili( somewhere in Southern China):
No email last night. Hotel was rather remote. We drove a long day yesterday from Kunming to some falls. 13 hr in route including a 4 hr delay in a construction area. A truck full of pigs went in a hole and the load shifted and the road was blocked. It was fun watching these Chinese try to get it righted with whatever equipment they had. They got the job done.
We had an easy day today We spent the morning at the falls. They were neat and the improvements were excellent including escalators down to the river level and a walkway behind the falls themselves. Today's drive was 4 hours on the motorway including lunch stop.
Tomorrow is a long day and will be Kenny's last as on Wed he will take a ferry into Hong Kong for Wed night and then fly home on Thur. We will drive on on Wed and Thur we leave the vehicles in Shenzen and go on into Hong Kong by bus for our fairwell dinner. I guess I can finally use my sport coat I have carried all this way.
We are enjoying ourselves after the rest day in Kunming. This part of China is now hot and tropical. It was 90 on arrival this PM. The countryside reminds me of rural Cuba. We are seeing some cemeteries and I guess that sky, water, fire thing doesn't go here.
Mercedes has no a/c and is running well. The suburban is now doing better at lower altitude. We are now at 2.000 feet. It is a lot easier to breath.
We are all safe with no further mishaps. There is now more and more traffic on the roads and getting very exciting.
Chat with you later.
God Bless America!
May 24, 2004
Yesterday was a long one, as we were caught up in roadwork for over three hours. We started off the day on good roads for over 100 miles, then entered a valley with a road being worked on for several miles. We were able to work our way along fairly well with Fred and Kurt scouting ahead and a couple of times finding an alternative route to get around mired traffic.
We got within a mile of the end when everything came to a halt. Fred and Kurt worked their way to the front. Kurt actually borrowed a motorcycle from one of the locals (he left his camera on deposit) so he could get around faster. He moved three trucks himself when he was unable to find the drivers.
Eventually they found a mud hole where the trucks were getting stuck. A front end loader was being used to try to rectify the situation. It, in the end, lifted the rear end of one big lorrie out of a hole and got him on his way.
After three plus hours we were finaly on our way again. At one point as we were passing some of the stopped trucks we passed a truck full of pigs. Just as they passed several of them started pissing out the side of truck sending volumes of pee horizontally out. We had our windows open, because of no aircon and were very nearly dowsed with pig piss. I can’t imagine trying to get that smell out of the truck or off us.
Anyhow we continued down the road finishing the last 100 miles on a great 2 lane highway. We arrived about 7 P M, some of the others didn’t get in until after 9 P M.
The mountains we have been passing thru the last two days are strange looking, (see picture). They are very steep and rocky with a lot of growth on them. They remind me of volcanic mountains on the island of Kauii in Hawaii. We have passed thru several hundred miles of this fascinating landscape.
Today we rose about 7 then visited Haungguoshu Falls. Although, much smaller than Niagara, they were interesting because we were able to walk thru a tunnel behind the falls. We then left about 10 am for a short 200 mile run to Kali, mostly on freeway.
We stopped for a great lunch along the way that included a free car wash, which we sorely needed. We are in a 4 star hotel tonite with broadband. Last nite couldn’t get on the computer. Tomorrow is another long day with roadworks ahead.
Thanks to Kit for his great entry in the journal. All for now .
May 22, 2004
Guest Columnist Kit Maxell:
Hi Jim - most of all on this trip, I enjoy hearing that great rumbling Vee-8 of yours as you hurtle past each morning!
Here are a few notes on our great trip.
Great Tour of China
We have driven some 3000 miles from the Great Wall at Beijing to Shigatse, the second capital of Tibet. Our drive has taken us on good road and 4x4 tracks. We have visited Buddhist shrines, Quin tombs, driven through steep and spectacular gorges and most notably visited the Terra Cotta warriors at Xian, lost for 1000 years until rediscovered in 1974.
On roads we are accompanied by a plethora of Chinese on bikes, carts, tractors, trucks and on foot. They are all around us on both sides of the road, in either direction. Inside overtaking is routine. Roundabout and traffic lights are ignored, and pedestrians may be seen stopping for a mid-highway chat with trucks rushing past them on either side.
We left the bustle of central China as we drove west into the central Asian steppes. The land became barren, desolate and beautiful. We reached Lake Quinghai, the biggest salt lake in the world and at 10,500 feet China’s highest. It was very cold. Next day we passed mounted shepherds in local costume herding sheep and yak. Up a steep pass we came to the Tsaidam desert where we saw wild camels, wild horses and shy little desert voles. Nick and I pulled off into the desert and lunched in the company of two nesting falcons.
For lunch we raid the hotel breakfast table and pilfer boiled eggs, bread, fruit and tsampa, a revolting Tibetan hot guey thing… but it keeps you warm throughout the day.
We left the desert and entered the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The scenery changed quickly from hills and valleys to mountain. One valley was 100 miles long and by the time we had reached the end, rising all the time, the adjoining mountains were snow-capped.
We had a 13 hour drive next day from Golmud, up the spectacular pass into Tibet, all at over 13,000 ft. By now several of our group were severely afflicted with altitude sickness.
We left the truck route and turned up a gravel piste, corrugated and potholed. Most bridges are unusable and we forded the rivers we encountered. We were climbing all the way in progressively more spectacular scenery. Snow-covered crags glistened in the bright light and the peaks soared above us. We hit 16,000 ft, the GPS giving altitude fixes as we went. The oxygen starved car emitted black smoke but thundered on valiantly. 17,000 ft and the air was rarefied and cold and we were already higher that some of the snow covered peaks.
At a dizzy 17,800 ft we reached the top of the pass, one of the highest roads in the world. We gasped at the beauty and we gasped in the low oxygen. Every step made heavy demands on the lungs.
We continued on to our Battery Operated hotel, where all power comes from solar panel and lights fade around 9.00pm! The journey was horrendous as the road was closed and we had to drive town the river bed, sevelal fords and a few undriveable slopes.
We left at 5am, in the dark, and drove 5 hours up a steep mountain pass to 17,300ft, and arrived at dawn to see the morning sun striking Everest. A truly memorable experience. As the sun rose, Everest became sharply outlined with it customary plume of cloud. The red light of day picked out the renowned profile. On either side stood lesser mountains of immense height, all over 27,000ft high, and the whole vistas was one of the most memorable of this trip.
We drove another 5 hours to Everest base camp and trod the ground of history, so many attempts and so many failures. Mountain are a tough environment. The whole of the Everest experience was fabulous, and we were blessed, unusually, with crystal clear weather.
Now we are back on the road south through Tibet where the people are friendly, shy and courteous. We always get a wave and a smile as we drive though upland valleys. Tiny pocksts or aable land and ploughed by Yak, tended by colourful girls and young children. The men harness the yak and the girls sow the seed crop.
We have some tremendous travelling to do to cross the impenetrable ground between the high Tibetan plateau and the lower slopes of Yunnan – we are now adjacent to North Burma, and have crossed and recrossed the Yellow River several times.
E-mailing in China is difficult and next newsletter may be late. Watch this space!
Best regards Kit
May 22, 2004
Today was a lazy day in Kunming. Fred ,Kenny and I walked around Kunming for a couple of hours in the morning and did a little shopping. I spent the afternoon repacking to be ready to load when I got the truck back from the Mercedes dealer. Then spent a couple of hours in the lounge talking with some of the other Yingyangs.
Fred and I were picked up at 4 to get the truck. They were able to do everything ,but fix the airconditioning. The compresser is shot. So we are ready to go tomorrow. We took some pictures with the crew at the dealership, and showed them how to get on this website so they could follow the rest of the trip. They were very professional and well trained. They did the work for quite a bit less than it would have cost in the states.
Bernard threw a cocktail party as he is returning to Paris tomorrow. JP’s girl friend, Laura Cotton, will go with him in the Hummer for the last days of the rally. They were able to get some work done here, including new shocks flown in from Canada.
Since leaving Tibet and getting back into the modern world, the rest of the trip seems somewhat anticlimactic. Tomorrow is a long day as we head for Huangguoshu Falls. The truck is repacked and ready to go. We have all been struck by how modern Kunming seems.
Put a picture of Simon and Eric on the web site so Simon’s son can see him. We will get a picture of them with their truck soon and put that on the web site. All for now.
May 21, 2004
We left early this AM for the drive from Dali to Kunming so that we could get the 2 G wagons to the Mercedes dealer for some work. The first part of the drive was along a freeway, sometimes above the clouds and sometimes in clouds. The last 120 miles was on a very busy 2 lane road, where we had to dodge people slow moving vehicles and animals. If they don’t get the freeways finished soon this country is going to be one giant traffic jam.
The people were out in the paddies getting the spring planting in. We are still at about 6500’ of elevation.
Kunming is a modern city of about 5 million people. The desk man at the hotel (another great 5 star hotel) called the Mercedes dealer who promptly sent two men over to lead us to the dealership. After about 1 ˝ hrs of explaining what we needed done and getting a price the office girl, who spoke passable English, dropped us of at a restaurant where we were able get a steak and French fries. They will pick us up at our hotel at 4 tomorrow so we can pick up the trucks. The dealership is modern and computerized, so hopefully they will be able to do what we need. The office girl at one point made it clear to us that she was not Chinese , but a member of the Naxi minority group. She grew up in the Lijiang area where we were 2 nites ago. We weren’t sure why she was so intent on telling us this as she was very upbeat about it. She actually told me twice.
We then walked back about ˝ hour to our hotel thru the streets. It is a bustling city. I always seem to get a lot of looks because I am so much taller than most of the people. Not most all. We are back in the smog again. I think it will be this way until we reach Hong Kong. The pollution is terrible. China has a population of about 1,300,000,000 people so as we travel now there is hardly a time that there are not people around.
When we traveled thru Tibet and waved to the people most waved back. In China that is not the case. Most people simply stare back at us.
Tonite we ate in the western restaurant in the hotel(took a chance and had a big salad, which I have missed) and tomorrow will spend some time repacking our stuff for the trip home, also will do some exploring around the city. All for now
May 21, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan
Greetings from Kunming, Yunnan Province (somewhere in Southern China):
Yesterday was a short day and I rode with Jim in the Mercedes. We were 5+hours enroute. All rural areas with the rice plantings going on and they were using water buffalo. We are back in heavy population. It seems there were people everywhere for the whole 225 miles. With the people comes pollution as well as heavy traffic. We are seeing expressway now but the route Hero picks is not necessarily the shortest or the fastest. They are doing a great job of giving us that tour of China we all came for. Everyone is here and all cars are moving.
The Mitchell’s got a new rent car in Jijiang and are no longer bumming rides. It is a little anticlimactic for all of us after leaving Tibet. But with the rest day today I believe that we will be in good spirits tomorrow on the road.
This town is 5 million people and as modern as the cities in the north. Hotel is first class. I have done a lot of walking around the city this morning and yesterday a long trip to the Mercedes dealer. These people are industrious and have money to spend.
The suburban appears to have a failing engine as it is consuming large quantities of oil and smoking badly and losing power.. We have no choice but to carry on. We probably have about 1,500 miles to go. Mercedes is being fixed now and we will pick it up in a few hours. I hope they fix the A/C. Finally warm weather and short sleeve shirts and some are people are wearing shorts.
We will be bussed tonite to a good restaurant for a Chinese meal. How about that - Chinese again.
God Bless America!
May 20, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan, Greetings from Dali (somewhere in southern China):
We had a great run today. It was short, only 4 hours. We are truly in Shangri La. This place is beautiful. Lush vegetation everywhere and snow capped peaks surround us. The run today was in a farming valley with continuous population for 100 miles. The crop is rice and it is in the planting. We passed hundreds of thousands people planting millions of rice plants. Just incredible.
Last night we had a dinner in the western restaurant in our hotel. The only thing western was the forks and knives that we all are a little bit clumsy with after so long with sticks. The visit to the old town this morning was neat. There was an indigineous population that dates back 3000 years in Jijiang. They were called NAZI and have beliefs and customs much like the Amish in Pennsylvania.There is also an old town in Dali which we will see tonite. Also a native group dating back to the same time frame.
Back up the road we passed over many pieces of sheet metal on the hiway. It turned out that between two sheets was tobacco that they were using passing cars and trucks to crush up for them for cigarette making. Well in this valley they fill the road with the chafe from the rice. It is smashed by passing motorists and them used as cattle feed or maybe put in the chinese food we are eating.
These hotels are nice. As I said in my last message we always had a clean bed and restroom in Tibet. What I failed to mention was that sometimes we had no electricity and no running or hot water.
We are still at altitude. I don't know when I can bring out the short sleeve shirts or shorts. I wonder what the big deal over malaria was but I guess that is down the road.
Both vehicles are doing ok. Jim and I leave early tomorrow to get to a Mercedes dealer in Kunming for a long list of repairs. The suburban will wait for the US for its repairs. I am looking forward to our rest day in Kunming on Sat and them the final
push on to Hong Kong.
Chat with you later. God Bless America!
May 20, 2004
The drive today from Lijiang to Dali was very short, about 125 miles. On mostly good roads. So we spent the morning in old town in Lijiang, which turned out to be mostly a tourist trap.It was filled with tourists from Japan and Europe. We are definitely out of the back country and more into mainstream China. We were able to climb to a temple at the top of Old town and get a good view of the city and the surrounding mountains. The road to Dali ran mostly thru farm country where the farmers we out getting in their spring planting in the rice paddies. It appears that a lot of the hard work is done by women. The other day we passed a man leading a donkey that was laden with hay with his wife walking behind also carrying a load of hay on her back. He wasn’t carrying anything and was content to just lead . We have dropped to a much lower elevation, about 6500’ tonite. We arrived in Dali in mid afternoon and near our hotel was a park with three pagodas. So Kenny and I spend about an hour and a half walking around the ground, which contained a lot of flowers and a reflecting pool that the pagodas could be seen in. it also had a nice view of a near by lake. It is amazing the difference in the features of the people in just about 200 miles from Tibet into China. Also we have seen little or none of the army since coming back into China. There is an old town here as well, but some of the others went this afternoon and said it was more junky than Lijiang, so we are not bothering to go. Tomorrow Fred and I and the guys with the other G wagon are taking off early for Kunming where there is a Mercedes dealer. We hope to have the trucks serviced , brakes checked and maybe get our airconditioning fixed if it doesn’t involve too much. We are taking Sat as a rest day then into the home stretch. We’d like to hear from you in the guest book.
May 19, 2004
We left Tibet today. Since leaving we have not seen one army convoy. Tibet is basically an occupied country. Again we left in rain and fog that turned to snow as we gained elevation. We were on the road today for over 11 hours. Our reward at the end of the day was a 5 star hotel in Lijiang. With a high speed internet connection. We again passed thru beautiful alpine scenes , although restricted by the weather. I think we are all ready to get out of the mountains and on to some level ground. We stopped in Zhongdian for lunch across from the monastery. Fred and I 1st climbed what felt like a thousand steps to do the tour. There were a lot of Japanese tourists as well. I think I have visited enough monestaries for awhile. This one was going thru a renovation that spared no expense. We then took off back into the mountains to visit Tiger Leaping Gorge. We ran into about 35 KM of road works that took time to negotiate. When we got to the gorge we realized that to fully appreciate it we would have to climb down into it, but we didn’t have the time. One place we stopped had bearers with chairs that you could hire to carry you down to the gorge. As we drove in they all stood up hoping for some new business. When they saw my size they all sat back down. We stopped at a place called Woody’s for tea and fried peanuts. We ran in to a young woman from Ohio who was there hiking with her class from an international school where she teaches , Near Beijing. Tibet , I believe will leave the most lasting impressions on us. All for now. Lots of new pictures in photos.
May 19, 2004
Guest Colunmist Fred Nelan, Greetings from Lijiang--Somewhere in southern China:
Great run today! 280 miles in the Mercedes and it took 12 hours. We were at 15,000 feet in heavy snow and rain at lower elevations. We are now at 9,000 the lowest we have slept in two weeks.
The drive was beautiful taking us through Shangri La. Except for 25 miles of construction the road was tarmac. It was like driving to the Ruidoso Ski area only it was 280 miles long. We had a lunch halt at a monestery. I am just about monesteried out. We also drove through the Leeping Tiger Gorge. I have not seen many gorges like that one.
This town is very modern. The hotel is 5 star. Finally a very nice place. We never used bed rolls as Kenny and I always had a bed and a bathroom. Everyone else did also.
Tomorrow is a sleep in and a noon start with only a 3 hour drive. We will see the old town here in the morning. The GPS says we have driven 4,900 miles from Beijing at an average speed of 38 miles per hour.
The trip is winding down as on the message board we are receiving car packing instructions for delivery to the docks. Our last rest day is Kunming day after tomorrow and our packing must be done there.
Off to dinner(chinese again).
God Bless America!
May 18, 2004
By Guest Colunmist Fred, Grettings from Beqex in Greater China:
We arrived today here in Shangri La. It is the real one that is in the novel Lost Horizon. It is beautiful.
Tibet is in the rear view mirror as we crossed into China today. I leave Tibet with a heavy heart. Possibly because I may never pass this way again and for sure I will never pass as I have just passed. HERO has done a splended job in chosing the route .
Tibet is full of beautiful people and the geography is spectacular. We have traveled many hundreds of miles in Tibet and gone places where few foreigners have gone since the Chinese invasion in the early fifties. I cannot and will not try to describe the beautiful scenery we have seen. It is marvalous. I was told by a friend that I was going to one of the most facinating parts of the world. It is that and more.
The country is occupied. The army is everywhere. There is a garrison in
every village and the big cities have many garrisons. Those in the big cities have 24/7 centuries at there doors. We saw few troops. On the roads we passed over 2,000 troop transports and tankers in convoy. They were covered but empty. We could not tell where they were going as they went every direction. I think it was just a show of force since all there were in the trucks were two drivers. We meet these convoys on all our trips in all parts of Tibet. The only resistence we saw was passive. It took the form of prayer flags everywhere. They were in every mountain pass, bridge, power line, house and everywhere else they could be placed. The bumper sticker on my daughters car FREE TIBET now has new meaning to me.
The trip has been very hard on the vehicles. As in South America the Toyota Land Crusier seems indestructible. The Hummer is a joke. It has been towed over most mountain passes. The owner sayes it was made to go from Bel Aie to Hollywood and no further. END PART ONE
Part Two: I have lost my message twice and I am sending in two parts. All the vehicles are showing need of repairs. Of course I am right there helping. Yesterday when I was driving the Mercedes down a cliff hanger of a road and after I had passed 90 out of 100 troop transports my brakes failed completely. I was luckly passing inside and after a struggle to stop we were safe. We let the brakes cool and crept down the mountain and I bled the brakes at the evening stop. We are still not sure what actually happened and Jim and Kenny were very careful today. The suburban had a total electrical failure today about 60 miles out and we spent 3 hours working on the problem. The problem could have been disasterous but in the end a few simple solutions and we were back on the road.
The driving is treacherous. We have had no accidents since I last told you of. As a group the drivers with us are world class for this type driving. At dinner tonite or Tibetian guide said fairwell and congratulted us on our driving. He compared us to Pavarote in his singing in our ability to drive in these mountains.
I will write from the next stop as they are getting more modern. You know hot water etc.
God Bless America! Fred
May 18, 2004
We left about 8 A M as we had to hit a road section that is under heavy construction. It is only open between 12 and 2 PM . We arrived about 10:30 and they let us thru about 11. I think because it was raining today and they weren't working real hard they let us thru early. I have phone contact again , but an unable to hook my computer up, so no Photos until I can get a hook up. We mostly followed the Mekong River today, the river that ends in the delta in Vietnam. It originates in Tibet then flows thru China. The river where we are has carved a very deep and steep valley, in some cases it is a gorge. Ther eis wonderful whitewater for rafting although, at least this time of year, very muddy. We followed the river down low part of the time at about 7500' then twicw had to climb, once to 14,000' to get to our destination for our over nite stay. We passed from Tibet back into China today and are staying at a mountain town at about 13,000'. It is a bustling town and full of life. The hotel is a palace compaired to what we have been! staying in for the last several days. They scnery was more of the same, steep slopes and cliffs rising above the river with some water falls and snow capped mountains, some with glaciers. At one point we took a diversion down to the river were there was a well producing salt water. The had laid out pools to evaperate the water leaving the salt. It was a narrow and windy road with steep drops. We were glad that only a few decided to make the side trip as it would have been a chore with trucks going both ways.Our brakes seem O K now, but we had a problem with the mount for the spare tire breaking. We now have three spares on the roof rack. One of the guys in the other G Wagon has a friend high up in Mercedes, so he documenting the problems we are both having to give him a report. Tomorrow we have a long day as we head further back into China. Will get some more photos on the web site as soon as I can get a connection.
All for now
May 17, 2004
The lst two nites we have stayed in Bomi and Basu and tonite in Mangkang , Tibet. No of which are in the "Lonely Planet " guide to Tibet So you can imagine how small these towns are. Despite terrible hotels and some pretty bad food, and a lot of road consructin complicated by many army convoys. Theee last three days we have passed thru the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. I don't even think that pictures can do it justice.( I'm in an internet cafe and the computers do always accept every letter that I type). In 10 or 15 years this area of Tibet could become one of the top tourist attractions of the world. It is unbelieveable. We have learned a few things as well. Our Chinese guide told us that in 1949 Mao decided he needed Tibet, ( her words). So he attacked killing in a three year period over 1,300,000 Tibetans. No wonder they don't like China. We have seen loads of prayer flags all over Tibet. I believe that the Tibetans use them as a passive statement expressing their feelings about China. Today our brakes over heated and failed way up on a mountain road , so we had to drive several miles in low range 4 wheel drive to get down safely. We then bled them and they appear to be O. K. The Hummer had to be towed up thru a pass again today. Good old G. M. I'm pretty tired and am going to bed . Will post some new pictures as soon as I can get a hook up for my own computer. Talk to you soon
May 15, 2004
By Guest Colunmist Fred, Greetings from Bomi Tibet:
Great run today. It was only 150 miles and we arrived early because we left at 5:45 AM since the road is one way and changes directions after 7AM. We have arrived in Shangri La. The drive here is as beautiful a drive as I have ever seen. Memories of the rain forest in north east Australia and the road to Batopilas in the Copper Canyon. We are now down to 8,000 ft in altitude. What a relief, I can breath again.
The roads still take their toll. I changed the fuel filter again on the Mercedes this afternoon. The suburban took several hours of welding on the fenders yesterday and I have just come from another 2 hours today. We will get it to Hong Kong but it will limp in.
This place compares in beauty to Vail and Aspen. It is a small town and the people have never seen tourists. No trinkets nothing but local shops. What a trip, we are like animals in a zoo. They are studying english in school as the young teen age girls will say Hello, nice to meet you and then giggle and run off.
Kenny was last seen with 10 teen age boys in tow on two motorized three wheelers. He had a pole and bait and they were all going fishing.
Tomorrow I hear we will see monkeys and baboons. Another short run but more hours. HERO has really given us the flavor of China so far. I am looking for more down the road.
Off to dinner. The lunch here was nice and I hope dinner will be the same.
God Bless America!
May 15, 2004
We left in the fog and dark this morning so that we could make it onto the road to Bomi prior to it closing at 7AM. After the sun rose we slowed down to enjoy the beautiful scenery. We drove thru valleys high above fast moving streams and rivers surrounded by snow capped mountains. Most of the road was pretty good, but parts were rough. We were on roads built into the mountains with sheer drops to the rivers below. In many cases the roads were one lane. We had to stay alert and take it easy. Again the Chinese army was around we passed two convoys of 2 ˝ ton trucks going the other way. We went up thru one fairly high pass. We came to a suspension bridge that could only accommodate one truck at a time and it was one lane. We had to wait as a road grader crossed from the other direction. I think that bridge couldn’t have taken anything heavier than the grader. It really sagged with the grader on it. As we waited we encountered an old man in a Mao coat and hat. He wanted his picture taken in the worse way , so we did. He is one of the few Tibetans that didn’t have his hand out for money when we took his picture. I showed him his picture on the digital camera and got a big smile. When we were able to cross the bridge I decided to get out part way over and walk to
the other side so I could take a picture of the truck on the bridge. There was a Chinese army sentry at the end of the bridge. He kept pointing at my legs. I thought he was referring to something to do with my legs as shorts are rare in this neck of the woods. I finally looked down an d saw a leech attached to me just above the ankle. I knocked it off, but several hours later I’m still having a little bleeding. We continued on to Bomi arriving in time for lunch. The white water people would have a ball in these rivers, fast with lots of rapids. Bomi is a small town above 8000’ in what could be described as the Chinese Alps. Kenny is already talking about buying a bunch of land up here and turning it into the Tibetan Vail. I think he is getting some “For Sale” signs made right now. That’s if he can’t make enough money driving a peddle cab. There is a square built by the Chinese right in the center of town, which is true of any town of any size in Tibet. I’ve been meaning to mention that in Shigatse and Lhasa they have built large modern squares directly across from the monastery and the palace. They seem to be wanting to make a statement of some kind. Bomi has at least one and maybe two army installations. It is pretty obvious that the Tibetans do not like the Chinese, despite what they are doing for the infrastructure of Tibet. The truck has been running rough for the past few days so Fred put a new fuel filter on it. Anumber of people left the rally in Lhasa ( preplanned) and were replaced in their trucks by others. We wish those that left “safe journeys” and welcome the new comers. Tomorrow we travel over rough roads for less than 150 miles. Then we should be leaving Tibet for China.
All for now.
May 14, 2004
Today we started the second half of the Rally. We left Lhasa and the high dusty desert about 9 AM As we headed east we descended in altitude ending up at slightly higher than 10,000’ . The air seems lush and rich. We expect to feel better as we descend further. We did pass over one mountain pass at around 16,000’. ( Pics in Photo sec). We traveled about 240 miles, mostly thru river valleys. As we drove the ecology completely changed from high desert to alpine valley surrounded by snow capped peaks. At first there was just scrub brush growing and the vegetation increase as we traveled. By the end of the trip we were surrounded by full forested snow capped mountains. Many areas reminded me of Colorado. We wonder how the fishing is in the rivers and streams we followed One area we passed thru is where the Bonpo religion originated. Bonpu was the predecessor to Buddhism. All along the road were pigs with young piglets , sheep with lambs, yaks cows etc. They were allover the road so we had to drive carefully. We actually saw some Texas Longhorn Yaks. We wondered why they were not under more control. In the high desert there was always herders with the flocks keeping them under control. The other thing I noticed was that the roofs on the buildings went from Flat to pitched, obviously because of the greater rainfall. We saw a lot of lodges that seemed to be summer homes for the rich, some looked somewhat like Swiss Chalets. The army is still very much in evidence. As we sat in the hotel lounge we watched at least 100 army fuel trucks pass in convoy. We are a little concerned about tomorrow morning as about 15 miles down the road we have to enter a road before 7 AM . the road then closes until after 6 PM. We think the fuel truck convoy could hinder us getting thru the check point in time. We stopped in a small village on the way today. Shopped a super market to stock up on water and other things. Some men were selling some kind of root that they had laid out on the sidewalk, maybe gensing. We still have a few more passes to cross over and we are told that the next couple of days will be slow going. I don’t have cell service. Most of the Europeans have not had any problem. T Mobile has not lived up to their sales pitch. Anyhow it is good to be out of the dust and the desert. More later.
May 13, 2004
Today we visited the palace in Lhasa. This where the Dali Lamas lived. The Dali lama is now in exile. The palace is huge, many of us thought that the monastery in Shigatse was more interesting. We spend a couple of hours touring it, then returned to our hotel. Fred and I took the truck to a shop hoping to get the air conditioning fixed and the exhaust system back in brackets to keep it from falling off. We ended up spending most of the afternoon at a shop getting the airconditioning worked on. They were very resourceful in replacing a part and adding some hose sections that fixed the containment of the 134a. But then they couldn’t get the compressor to turn on. After they worked on it for several hours I realized that the problem is a broken switch. I was unable to get across to them what the problem was, plus it was now 8pm and the exhaust system was not fixed. Kurt showed up with other g wagon and we left mine and went to have dinner returning at 10pm. and they were just finishing up. Plus we had several people washing and cleaning the truck for over two hours. All this for less than $200.00.
My thanks to Fred and Kurt. For the help beyond the call of duty You will see Fred in the pictures with his University of Tennessee hat on. Hard to Imagine he’s from Texas. We’ve been told that there are more Chinese troops in Lhasa than there in any place else in China and that there are more Chinese troops here than there are Tibetans. You see their presence everywhere. This is a very controlled society despite what they try to portray themselves as.
May 13, 2004
Guest Columnist Fred,
Greetings from Lhasa:
We arrived this Afternoon after an enjoyable 7hr run. Start time was 7AM.
I was with Jim today and Kenny with Ahmad and Reza. Lhasa is a large city and the capital of Tibet. The red army is everywhere. There are thousands of troops. The first with guns we have seen. I feel sorry for these Tibetians. We have finally decended in altitude to 12,000 feet. Think of that! We will now start down day after tomorrow but have five passes of over 16,000 to crossover the next few days. The accomodations are rough the first two nights after here and then back to 5 stars. After the last week or so we will welcome this. I have already started my Malaria pills. We will stoe our winter clothes and get out the shorts.
The Mitchells from New Zealand as well as the sweep car with the Doc, Jingers and an interpreter are about 5 hours overdue. I hope they can fix their car here in Lhasa tomorrow and continue. We will go tomorrrow to see the monestery here . It is the main palace and
I hope it lives up to the one in Shigatze. The road today was full of construction. Ah........ to have that much labor with picks and shovels at the Coal Mine Ranch. They don't need machinery it is incredible what they do by hand and a few crude tools. Actually they do have some machinery but most work is by hand.
I am getting very good with my chopsticks. I can really fling the food around. The meal tonite was a poor attempt at western food. For lunch today I did get a Yak Cheese Burger with french fries at the Hard Yak Cafe. This Lhasa place is full of Westerners and there is a lot of english spoken here. Not so many Americans but many Europeons. This is the half way point in the trip and there are many comings and goings. There will be some new faces on the road.
I am in an internet cafe with 200 computers. It is full of Tibetians but no one is on the internet. They are all playing games. They serve food,tea and beer for all these game freaks. I am looking forward to a rest tomorrow and then the adventures that the road ahead holds for us.
God bless America!
May 12, 2004
We left Shigatse about 7 A M for the drive to Lhasa. The 1st part of the drive was easy on tarmac and good gravel roads. We then ran into highway construction that lasted for nearly 100 miles. We were weaving in and out of on coming traffic and passing traffic going our way all the while following detours around hugh culverts that were being built,and fording streams. A good part of the route followed along the shore of a lake, in many cases one lane with no guard rails and hundreds of feet above the water. It got pretty nerve racking. We were glad to get back onto the gravel road. The construction is done mainly with manual labor, which China and Tibet have an abundance of. There was some heavy equipment, but very little. We also passed thru several villages, where the people were getting their spring planting in. The lake is at about 14,300 feet and was quite large. The shoreline looked a lot like the northern California coast with out the surf. Actuallly we passed another lake earlier where the 4th Panchen Lama studied for five years on an island in silence. After following the lake we rose up thru another high pass, probably our last following many hairpin turns both up and down. The drops off the road were higher than any we experienced on the Inca Trail. After coming down to 12,000 feet, where the air feels really thick, after being at the higher altitudes, we joined a tarmac road for the last 50 miles to Lhasa. The airport is out this way, quite away from Lhasa. We figured that the runway must parallel the river so the planes have some room to clear the mountains. It is still very mountainous all around here. We arrived in Lhasa at our hotel about 2 P M. After a shower Fred and I had a Yak cheeseburger with fries. It was super. Everyone ,it seems, has some work to do on their trucks, us included. In addition to trying to get our air conditioning fixed, one of our mufflers broke a bracket so we need to take cars of that as well. Again the army is very much in evidence here. We were caught in another convoy on the way into town. Our hotel was originally built by Holiday Inn. But the with drew due to political pressure several years ago. Pressure coming from groups objecting to the treatment of Tibet by China. The “Lonely Plant “travel guide says that the hotel has gone steadily down hill since, but it is a lot better than some we have stayed in. Tomorrow is a rest day so we will visit the Monastery in the morning ,have a Yak burger and fries for lunch then take care of our cars..It has been so dusty for the last week, that I will have to soak in a tub for an hour or two when I get to Hong Kong to get clean. All for now
May 12, 2004
Guest Columnist Fred, Greetings from Shigatze Tibet: We have returned here for one night and we continue on to Lhasa tomorrow.
There are some things in a mans life that he will always remember up to his death. His wedding, birth of his children , Certain deaths and some other special things that happen from time to time. Yesterday was for me one of those memories I wll carry with me for what is left of my life. We had a 5:45AM start time. We drove one hour to a 17,000 ft pass. There we stopped in the dark, all 34 trucks and 80 people. We watched the dawn come and the eventual sunrise. There before us was the Himalayas 20 miles distant. Not a cloud in the sky and Everest with a whisp of cloud trailing from its summit and also as beautiful was K2. We then drove 2hrs to base camp and continued to not believe we were there. We spent two hrs at base camp talking to climbers and other tourists. Drank yak butter tea, had our pssports stamped with a base camp postage stamp, took lots of pictures and otherwise acted like 80 people living a dream.
Shit is beginning to happen. On our way out of Shigatze a truck hit a pedestrian. No serious injury and the cost was 50 yuan($6 US). Alan crisp had a head on on a mountain road when he was in the wrong lane on a curve. No serious injuries but it cost him 10,000 yuan($1,200 US). Where is the justice? Alan has his story but the control car was witness and said clearly it was Alans fault. Kenny has now named him Crash Crisp.
On our return from Everest I towed the Mitchells from New Zealand over the 17,000 ft summit from the 14,000 ft level. I just saw Jingers towing them to Shigatze. I hope the can continue.
For you Hummer fans I suggest you tell your friends not to bring their Hummers to Tibet. The Hummer also was towed over a pass it could not climb. The shocks are toast and they brought no spares. The suburban toasted its shocks and I have just spent the last two hours showing some energetic chinese how to change the shocks, which I did mostly myself. The suburban has another loose fender. On close examination it looks like it has been at the Coal Mine Ranch for several years. I have promised Ahmad that I will get it through to Hong Kong but it is seeing its last rally.
Kenny is now fine and we both are continuing to have a great time. Jim's Mercedes is doing well but all vehicles are under stress at this altitude and on these roads. A little like South America.
As for the stress on the people the altitude is taking its toll. I was fine until last night after 3 or 4 hours at 17,000 ft. I took some medication upon departure this AM and am now felling great and ready to find the disco tonite.
Our Tibetian guide explained why we see no cemeterys in China. They have three ways for funerals, By fire, By water and By sky. The survivers and what they can aford make the decision. By fire is just outdoor creamation. By water is they just throw the body in the river. By sky they take the body up a mountain then chop it into bite size pieces. They place it on an alter and surround it with a special burning incense that attracts buzzards. This is called by sky as they then are flown to the paradise in the sky. Well I am off to dinner, chinese of course. God Bless America! Fred
May 11, 2004
Guest Columnist Lindy Shallcross visited on 5/11/2004 at 5:04:49 AM
Hello Leejun, I am so sorry that were unable to join us, and I know that Jim wishes that you were here. If you coould please put this in the journal, thanks and I hope to meet you soon. OK I am going to start from two and half days ago and take you all up to Everest and then back to Shigatse. We had dinner on on rest day in Shigatse in a Tibeten restaurant as we were tired of the food we were getting. It was fabulous and we met three different young folks each travelling the world separtely and they had just been at Everest that morning and they showed us their digital photos. We knew imediately that we were in for a treat. Well we started off for Tingri where we would stay at the Everest Hotel run on a generator. It was a tough day on the rally. One car had a head on collision on a very dangerous mountain pass, extremely narrow and 15,00 ft altitude. Luckily nobody was injured, but it cost a rally member $1200 dollars. Another car struck a highschool year old young person and immediately took them bck to a hospital and fortunately, he or she4 as I do not know was not badly injured. As far as the H2 is concerned, we lost complete power trying to get up the pass over 17,000 feet. We had to be towed the last 400 meters. We had doubts about driving the H2 to Everest, but Malcom said we had to do it and that he would personally tow up back out if needed. Well, the car worked and we experienced one of the best days of our lives. We drove up the pass and stopped and waitied for sunrise. We left at 5:30 AM and went up steep and winding cliff roads in pitch darkness. I had the biggest smile on my face as I looked behind us and saw the caravan of the rally cars making their way up the mountain. We sat in freezing cold weather and watched the sun ris4e over Everest on the whole Himalayan maountain range. Words can not begin to explain how we all felt. Then we worked our way down the maountain and with every turn we could see the beauty of a mouhntain with this clear blue sky. It brought tears to my eyes. Bernard stopped the car and let me take the H2 into Base Camp. It is amazing to think that people climb this majesty of a mountain. We did not stay long as we were worrid about crossing the mountain passes as the sun heated things up. The H2 does not like to climb at great altitud4es as it warms up. We all celebrated last night with the exitement. I think that between all of us, over 8000 photographs must have been taken. Today we made our way back to Shigatse and we were like a bouncing ball as we have broken shock absorbs in the front and have been trying to get some for Lhasa. Hard to believe that I am leaving in Lhasa, but it is time for me to go home. I hve met so many new terrific friends and will remember this for the rest of my life. I hope I can acclimate back into normal sonn after my return. Love to everyone. So wish you all could have experienced this. It has been aq trip of a lifetime for me for many reasons. Thanks Mom and Dad for helping with the H2. Big Kiss to everyone. Lindy Lou
May 11, 2004
Day before yesterday we left Shigatse on and uneventful drive to New Tingri where we checked in to a surprisingly nice hotel. The drive went thru several traditional Tibetan villages and over 2 passes ,one over 17,000’. The whole area is very dry but the Tibetans are busy getting there spring planting in. The valleys have rivers that meander thru them and the locals have set up an elaborate dike system to irrigate their fields . They star the dikes far up stream from their fields and flow the water at a lesser pitch than the river , then branch off into the fields. The Peruvians and Bolivians could learn a lot from these people. The area is extremely dry and it appears that the only source for water is the glacial melting. The peoples homes are large and well kept.People wave back to us as we pass thru. We entered the everest park thru an over head banner,and a short time later had our 1st glimpse of Everest miles away. That night we had a great meal at the hotel. They even Served French fries, which was a big hit with us westerners.There we some men staying there from a Russian group of climbers that were attempting to climb the center of the north wall. Which I believe is one of the hardest routes.. The Hummer had trouble getting over one of the passes , it just quit. Good old G M. They finally we able to get going after a tow to the top.
The next morning we left the hotel at 5:45 to climb to the top of a pass 28 miles, as the crow flies from Everest and the Himilayas. From there the sun rose behind us shining on the mountains. It was a site I will never forget. As the sun rose higher the colors changed second by second.It was truely magnificent. There was one small cloud at the summit. We were lucky to have such a clear day. I was told that there are only about 85 or 90 days a year that Everest is not obscured by clouns and we had one of the best. Many people come all the way here and never appreciate its majesty. We then drove the rest of the way to base camp.where we spend a couple of hours . It is quite basic. There are several tents where the locals serve tea etc, and try to sell trinkets. Then there were 4 or 5 groupings of tente of the different parties that are actually trying to climb the mountain now. I took close to three rolls of film. I can put into words the feelings I had being here. It is a day I will treasure the rest of my life. We had passed into Nepal on the way . The Nepalese have set up a small post office where, for 100 yuan, about $12 we got our passports stamped with a picture of Everest. They also sold us post cards with the stamp and another stamp commemorating Sir Edmund Hillary’s 1st climb to the top in 1953. We stopped in one of the tents and sampled Tibetan butter tea, which is pretty good , but I’m sure, not too good for you. After awhile we headed back TO New Tingri for our over night. Going up the pass we encountered the Kiwi couple , the Mitchells. They were having problems with their china Jeep, they had rented here for the trip. So we pulled them to the top of the pass fromm 15,000’ to 17,000’ I think our truck was one of the few here that could have done that at this altitude. I know the Avalanche I used in South America for the Inca trail would have struggled to get itself over much less pulling another truck. We over knighted at New Tingri and drove back the same route that we had taken two days ago to get there. Kenny suggested that we stop at one of the out of the way monasterys along the way so we did. We drove thru a small village and as we approached . They opened the gates for us. I was wearing shorts and reached into the back to find some long pants to put on, as the monks don’t allow shorts in the monasteries. Meanwhile, a young monk came out and introduced himself to Kenny. He then took us on a tour and allowed us to take picture inside , which the bigger ones don’t allow. We got the impression that they didn’t get many western visitors. After the tour we made a small donation and he presented us with prayer scarves, a red ribbon tied around our necks and a small packet of dirt, which I don’t know the significance of, yet. Then on to Shigatse, arriving about two o’clock. The air conditioning in the car is out so Kenny took off with one of the bell men to try to get it fixed. They found which part is broken, but unable to get a part here. A project maybe for Fred. Tomorrow we head to Lhasa, which will be a long day, although not far, the road is being worked in a major way. All for now.
May 10, 2004
From China and Tibet on
"Ode to the Egg"
By David Hughs car 8
There were mornings at the breakfast stand--
That dishes displayed were not known to man--
Strange the sight, smell and textures--
Eating such things was a dangerous adventure--
And so it was over time--
We relied on the product of the chicken's behind--
For week after week to our dailey surprise--
Eggs were all we could recognise--
Eggs became our staple diet--
Cooks would scramble, boil it and fry it--
Chopped up boiled eggs on toast we laid--
A poor substitute for marmalade--
Concealed in clothing or a napkin wrapping--
Boiled eggs were the currency of lunchtime snacking--
Sometimes with a banana bunch--
A feast could be made for a rally lunch--
But there is a price that you have to pay--
If you eat eggs every day--
But rallyers see advantage when keen to compete--
For you need stop but once for the toilet each week--
May 8, 2004
Guese Columnist Alan Crisp visited on 5/8/2004 at 10:23:07 AM
This day of rest in Shigatse in Tibet is not only a time for settling problems with the cars but in reflecting on the trip so far.You can only have a warm affection for the Chinese people and an inability to comprehend the changes they have experienced in the last few decades. For now China is on its way to super power status and in our travels from Beijing through the Northern plains we have seen much. The mad overbuilding, extensive polution, but an organised and disciplined working hard in the fields. The drive yesterday was one of the best I have ever experienced from Nagqu a most unforgetable town, to Shigatse through some of the most countyside I have ever seen. One moment we were in Scotland, then the Alps and then the Rockies. Hihn plains one moment green and then desert. The bright, bright blue skys and the steep snow covered mountain are unforgetable to this motley crowd of travellers. Great winds blow over miles and miles of scrub, bog and warm brown rocks and what look like English Larks go crying in the empty space; for away from the railroad gangs and the road builders we are on our own. These same birds and these plain saw the armies of Gengkis Khan come this way. In summer you could wander away from the road and never meet a soul but in the winter if you lost your way you would perish within and hour.But the people in this part of the country survive, creat villages and through intense hard work create fields, irrigation systems all of which we saw yesterday. We have seen many religeous shrines in this Great Tour of China but the monestry at Shigatse is impressive and still alive. Its setting just below a high cliff set off the ornate gold domes. The streets reflect a medieval street plan with wide streets and squares and narrow lanes leading of. Behind the main pogoda I sat under a tree with a monk and thought of what was ahead. Sure there will be rough roads but days even better than today. This truely is a great tour of China.
May 8, 2004
Fred and I visited the street market this afternoon. All the stalls are run by women. they bargain hard. all with a hand held calculator. I f you show any interest at all in an item they grab you and don't want to let you go saying "how much you pay'. I got kicked in the ass three separate times when i broke away from one of them. When we were done one followed Fred [part way down the block trying to sell him something he didn't want.
May 8, 2004
By Guest Columnist Lindy: Thank you so much Leejun for putting up my journals and if you could up this one as well that would be great. Day 10- rest day, Thank Goodness even though I have not had time to rest at all outside of the fact that I slept for 9 hours for the first time on the trip. OK, Day 10-This had to be to date the best day of the tour. The sky was as blue as one can imagine without the first cloud in the sky. We were climbing to our highest point on the trip, almost 18,000 feet. I had the priviledge of driving the H2 up to that point. I took the car first through a deep gulley and our frinds in car # 30 were kind enough to photograph me getting through it. Then I took it up a gravel, dirt, narraw road with haripin turns through the mountains. Beleive or not, I was not scard Mom. It brought tears to my eyes to see this amazing landscape. We drove through the most beatiful villages . In any event, I walke up the rest of the mountain to be assured that I was over 18,00 feet. In these villages they are planting and using the yaks to help with plowing and we took a great deal of pictures. As I drove into Shigatse, we took a small barge to cross the river and the river ran along side with us into this city. It was turqoise blue, absolutely fantastic. We are staying in a lovely hotel. Day 11-Rest Day Another amazing day on the adventure. We visited the Tashilunpo Monastary, out first Tibeten Monastery. It was stunning and the Monks were quite something as well. In the large temple, we took pictures of the enormous Buddha and we paid 75 Yuan to be allowed to do so, and then the head Monk would not let me leave. He wanted me to stay and he wanted to explain everything, but he only obviously speaks Tibeten. However, my LOnely Planet book came in very handy and I was able to communicate. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Afterwards, we had another grand picnic lunch in the countryside with the ususal suspects, the French-Swiss, Italian- American(me) and today Kurt, from Mexico joined us. We had spagetti and we made a fire and made a grill to put on top of it out of wire hangers.We grilled sheep and it was exellent. The true Macgaver Method. We spread out blankets, drank wine and enjoyed today's weather which must be 80 degrees outside like Summer. School girls came up to me, highschool age and they were exetrememly bright and I spent about a half an hour with my book with them. They could read Mandarin as well as Chinese and then read the English and they picked it up like sponges. They could be fluent in a month given the chance. We had so much fun together. The children here are incredible. All of the people of all ages smile and touch me and make me feel welcome. I am making a huge effort to speak Tibeten. I love this language and I love this country. Well, as far as the rally is concerned, everyone is feeling better from the altitude, but unfortunately, Paul from the Netherlands was bitten by a dog in the local market in town today. He was frightend but the Doctor came immediately back from the Monastary to give him aid. The dogs can be aggressive here so you have to be cautious. I must say that there are not that many of them, but I did myself pass two in the market today. Tomorrow will be a short day of driving and I am told that it will be sunny and hot again. We will enjoy this reprieve from the cold weather before going to Everest day after tomorrow. Hard to believe that I will be leaving in Lhasa. I have made some great friends and am lucky for this opportunity. I hope that everyone is well at home, Jay, thanks for the message. The H2 is performing like a champ. Knock on wood. Tashi dele to everyone. Lindy
May 8, 2004
Yesterday was a real high light as we traveled from Nagqu to Shigatse. We drove along paved roads for about 150 miles encountering 100’s of Chinese army trucks headed to supply there troops in Tibet. They have a huge presence in Tibet . They have garrisons everywhere, because the Tibetan people aren’t real happy to have them here. This is a very controlled society. As we drove we passed a lot more construction on the Golmud to Lhasa railway. They have worker camps , field hospitals and cement factories staged all along the way. At this altitude the working conditions are really bad. We’ve been wondering who this guys pissed off to end up working here. We then headed up a beautiful valley toward the 17,900’ pass. We passed a power plant using hot springs.Passed many traditional Tibetan farms and small towns. The people really deck themselves and their animals out in bright colors. We had to content with a lot of traffic on this road because it is a short cut to Shigatse. We passed buses , trucks going both ways. Many locals in cars drove the road very fast.When we reached the top we stopped to take some photos a car filled Chinese also stopped . The driver got out to visit the shrine and the car started rolling toward the edge with the rest of the people still it he had all he could do to jump back in and stop it before it went over the edge. Then we headed for the ferry, which we were told could be an hours long ordeal to get across., but it took only five minutes. We then had to change a fuse. Fred took over had had it in hand in a matter of minutes. We then headed in to Shigatse arriving about 2;30 in the afternoon. Fred and I rented a bicycle rickshaw for about an hour for a tour of the town. The poor driver was really beat when he was done with us. At one point he got out and pushed it by hand . we tried to get out and walk to give him some help, but he wouldn’t let us. A matter of pride I guess.Communications in this country are a real challenge. I’ve spent about 2 ˝ hours typing journal entries the last few days that have cancelld out before they made the web site. This morning My cell phone told me that my service had been canceled. One of the tour directors call China telacom and they couldn’t explain why. Then I discovered it only was doing that on certain #’s like Kait’s and Leejun’s cell phone. Now appears that I can dial all #s. We will be headed for Everest tomorrow and don’t knoe whether we will have any phone contact or e-mail for the next 4 0r 5 days. We enjoy hearing from you in the guest book.
May 8, 2004
This morning we found that our Tibetan guide had found all our permits for Tibet that he had misplaced yesterday, so tomorrow we head for Everest. Fred, Kenny Derek and I walked to the Tashilunpo Monastery this A M. We spent about 2 hours walking through it. Words can’t describe it. The are 4 main temples dedicated to different Panchen Lamas. I can’t give you all the history here ,but after the Panchen Lamas were formed they were in rivalry with the Deli Lamas. It is said that the last few Panchen Lama were under the control of the Chinese. The one that died in 1989 actually rebelled against the Chinese and spent many years in house arrest in China before returning to Tibet to die. The present one is thought to be under Chinese control. No one around here mentions the Deli Lama , who resides in India when he is not traveling. Any how we wandered from room to room encountering Chanting, music playing monks along the way. We must have visited 30 or more Chambers. At one point a monk put a prayer scarf around my neck. As I was the only one he did this to we assumed that he thought I was either the most needy or the one who looked the most like Bhudda.. It was a wonderful morning. We then came back to the hotel and freshened up, then drove to a rug factory where several of us bought rugs, all hand loomed. Althogh we got a tour of the factory today, they were not working today . they said that they gave 28 % of their profits to the monastery. Kenny who is some what of an expert said the prices and quality are good. We are back at the hotel now getting a little rest. Hiking around at 14,000 tires you out pretty quickly.We are going to visit an open air market in a few minute. ONWARD TO EVEREST.
May 7, 2004
Journal by our Guest Columnist Fred.
Greetings from Shigatze in Tibet:
We have just arrived here a few minutes ago. Not eveyone has checked in yet and I hope they will be here safely shortly. I drove with Jim today and Kenny and the rest just arrived. Yesterday we entered Tibet at a 17,200 foot pass. We were stopped behind a 20 kilometer line of trucks for 3 hours. It was our hardest day of the trip and it was 12 hours. The last town was without internet and a rough place. No disco. But we were all tired from the long day and being at 14,000 feet. To bed early. Yesterday we all had to pass at least 500 trucks headed for Tibet and probably a lot more. The army is present as there are many convoys of trucks on the road. They are new and empty but nevertheless present.
The people here look different. A bit like those in Bolivia and Peru. Dark round faces that could be indian. They wear the dress just like you see in the National Geographics. The geography is now rather interesting. Again not unlike the Andes. The houses in Tibet are adobe but until now they were all made of brick The best is yet to come when we head for Everest. One interesting thing is that they all speak some degree of english. We should be able to get a cold beer now. It has been a real challange so far. These people don't appear to be identified as Chinese, they are Tibeten. They appear poorer than the rural Chinese we have seen thus far.
There are very few dogs here in China just like I had heard. I have eaten many things that I have no idea what they were but have not yet identified dog. Cannot rule it out however. With few exceptions the food has been very good. I will be ready for some enchilades and menudo soon.
Todays travel was quick and only 8 hours. We will rest here a day and then the next few days will be towards Everest and also short but interesting. We reached the highest point in the trip 17,900 feet. Jim and I were out of breath just getting out for pictures.
Kenny and I are having the time of out lives. Riding seperately has helped
prevent what is called cabin fever. It comes with to much togetherness. We see each other only at the end of the day. And them we are ready for action. The whole arrrangement has been great for Jim as well as Ahmad and Reza. We have variety every day. The last few hotels are like South America, clean beds and rest rooms but nothing to write home about. This one is ok and the town is nice. We had a little trouble with the Mercedes today but nothing I couldn't fix. The suburban is going right now with Ahmad to have the fender welded as it appears to be falling off. The suburban has 80.000 miles on it and I know what that means when they include London to Capetown and the Inca Trail. It will see Hong Kong I am sure even if we have to push it. It really is doing well..
Kenny and Jim's stomach problems are better yet not behind them.
The chinese are building a railroad from Golmud to Lhasa (600miles).
We followed the route. It is awsome what these people are building in this country.
Well Kenny and I need to go find the disco in this town. Chat with you tomorrow. God Bless America!
May 7, 2004
Our Guest Columnist Lindy Shallcross visited on 5/7/2004 at 6:24:22 AM
I am back. Jim's journals don't seem to be going through. Pleas excuse my typos as I was at over 18,000 feet altide today and we lept last night at over 15, 000 and I was a little loopy, but will get back to that soon. Day 9 now. We had ver high and steep driving and had to pass a lot of trucks-not for the fainthearted. At 3:37 PM we enter Tibet- first time a Hummer has been here. At over 15,500 feet the HUmmer also experienced altitude sicknes as our horn was making new tones and the fuel gauge temporarily was out of whack. It wass truck after truck after truck as it is the only way to get supplies into Tibet. It will be globalized very soon as they are builing a very impressive raillway system. Tibet will be forever changed like China is now. The military presence is everywhere. Convoy after convoy of Chines military trucks. It is 5:39 PM and there is still 80 KM of tough driving togo. We left at 6:20 AM so it ws a long day. Bernard did most of the driving. Very long day. We finally arrived in Nagchu a terribly depressing city. It is sad. The people are amazing beautiful. Their face structure and smiles. Everyone is so friendly and kind. The hotel was preety bad. The Tibeten lnguage is beautiful. The altitude made us all a bit off. We had stopped for gas and they did not have any and then 2 minutes later I had asked Bernard what our fule capcity was and totally forgot that we had not gotten gas. Tht is what altitude does to people. We however ironically enough had the best fuel mileage of the trip that dy despite the altitude. I am very tired so I will journal today's events tomorrow as it is our rest day. Oh yeah, Dad the cave dweeling were great. I hope our picures turn out as today wsa the most beautiful day of all. Tibet is like nowhere else in the world. Love to all. Lindy
May 7, 2004
Lindy Shallcross is our Guest Columnist, she did the S. America trip a couple of years ago, she and Bernard both are on this trip. Jim is having computer problem, it's nice of her spending time documenting the trip, here's her message: visited on 5/7/2004 at 6:07:14 AM
Hi This will be a long posting as I am helping journal this most amazing trip. Thank you for your messages everyone. Greetings from China/Tibet. Last night we finally arrived in Tibet, but I am going to start from Day 8 as we left the Tent Hotel on the lke, as it was most incredible with a full moon and a very cold chill in the air. So we left the Hotel and we encountered verydangerous cutouts in the ground, so we had to py a great deal of attention. We had blue sky and a great temp. after climbing through the mountains we made our way back sown. As we started climbing again, we passes Caka Salt Lake and saw herds of wild camels- they were pretty ugly, but cute at the same time, Mom. We also saw our first yaks- and we have seen plenty more since then. Also lots of sheep. Then we had to fuel up as we embarked through the Tsaidam desert. I have never driven through a desert befor and it was a great expeience. There is no gas and no help, so you better go prepared with extra gas and food and water. The road was in exellent condition. I had a bit of trouble driving that passage as I am near sided and I had trouble judging distances for passing trucks, but mnaged as Bernard was pretty tired. We stopped and had the most elegant picnic of picnics in the desert with our Italian-Swiss-French friends. We had penne pasta as we boiled water in a big ppot with a stove that was brought and Clay had brought amazing tomato sauce with garlic and we had fresh parmesan, and Bernard had brought black truffel. We had 1988 Sauternes and red wine to drink. It was rallying at its most lavish to say the least. We are truely privilegded to be driving on these roads without escort or caravaning. We passed a Hummer today can you believe it? On the same rod in rural China. Incredible. Well we seem to be having Internet problems so I will cme back to submit information on Day 9 and Day 10. Big Kiss to everyone and wish you could all enjoy this adventure with us. Lindy
May 6, 2004
No internet, no phone line, Jim is trying to document his trip in Word documents. He is having trouble locate two files, there’re missing. I recommended finding a note book start writing notes on a piece of paper instead of messing with modern technology. The place he will stay tonight is called Naqu, not a nice place, rough looking people, and many beggers in town. They’ve reached 17,000 feet elevation; will be in Lhasa on May 13. Leejun
May 5, 2004
I am at an internet cafe in Golmud. Two young girls on their bikes led me to it. I have already done entries for the last two days put am uable to get them on line because I can't connect my lap top. We are going to over 17,000 feet tomorrow. I have some pictures to put on when I am able. Thanks to those of you who are sending us messages on the guest book.
May 4, 2004
Jim called middle of the night his time, having trouble sleep and having stomach problems. He is in Qinghai, staying in Tent Hotel next to the Qinghai lake, the largest lake in China. Having trouble sleep? maybe Jim is having high altitude reaction. He said there’s no phone line in the hotel, and he can’t post journal on line today. He is not sure how much longer it will be without phone. Leejun-Guest Journalist
May 3, 2004
HERE IS FRED AS GUEST COLUMNIST:
Greetings from Xian (West Peace)
We arrived yesterday after much excitement. We are all here safe and sound. The only accident was a bent door from slowly sliding into a stuck truck by one of our trucks. The roads are great but we take side trips to the country to see all aspects of China and we see some rough ones. The people are well dressed. The young women are dressed exactly like any place in the world. The peasants in the country are well dressed. The cities are a surprise to me as they are as modern and clean as any western city. There are beautiful malls that are full of first class stores and the people are there in mass and spending money. What a market this country is.
Kenny delivered Julie to her husband here in Xian. Her husband delivered the fuel filters for the Mercedes. We will begin to shift off with each other to help Jim Taylor get to Hong Kong. One of us will be with Ahmad from now on.
Yesterday while leaving the city of our over night we passed three of our cars stopped in a traffic circle. One of them gave us a subtle signal to travel on. About ten miles down the road the Argentine and myself were flagged down by army/police and we saw others of our group already stopped and lined up. We stopped at the front of the line and the officer began walking over to me. I noticed in the rear view that some of our group was signaling for me to drive on. The Argentine and I sped off leaving an irate cop or officer. They quickly pursued but could not catch us. We did not know what this was all about. About 10 more miles down we approached a bridge with an officer in the middle of the bridge signaling a halt. Behind him was a human blockade with about 500 chinese. There was no getting away this time. After the halt we realized that the rest of our bunch was there in a car park and the whole group was being denied access to the road ahead. After several hours and much negotiation we were all allowed to pass. The group is bonding now and we are becoming a band of brothers.
Kenny is having great fun and is being himself. He is enjoyed by all.
The weather is colder than expected. It was snowing today 48hrs down the road. The way this works is we have a car ahead 48hr to check the road for any changes since the last route survey. We are lead by a car with all paper work and a translater and they check lunch stops as well as prepare for our arrival at our hotel. In the middle of the pack runs a car with a paramedic and translater. At the rear runs the sweeper with a physician and a mechanic as well as a translater
May 3, 2004
We had a good day today, about 400 miles thru mountains most of the way. The mountains are all terraced and they use every inch of tillable ground. Most people are out doing the spring planting despite the May Day holiday. We went up to about 7500 feet in elevation. We saw snow at the higher elevations. We passed a building that appeared to be a mosque, but am not sure. I’m putting a picture of it on the web site.
We are staying in a decent hotel in Lanzhou tonite. We stopped at a gas station as we pulled into town because it showed that it had 97 octane gas. I pointed to the sign 3 times and the ended putting in 90, so we will see how the truck does with 90 . That’s all we will probably be able to get later on anyway.
The people were even friendlier today as we passed thru the small villages, smiling and waving and giving us the thumbs up. Lanzhou is a large city. Not sure of population. Tomorrow we go to 9000 feet and have lunch at a monastery. Should be fun.
May 2, 2004
We got up early today to beat the May Day Holiday crowds to the site of the Terracotta Warriors. A farmer found a hand sticking up in his field in the mid 70’s and reported it to the government, who came in and protected the site. We were happy we got out there early as the place was filling up when we left to return to the hotel at 11 A M. The crowds were huge despite the rain. 6,000 warriors, their horses and other things were buried about 1 ˝ miles from the tomb of Qin Shihaung, an emperor, who was buried about 250 B C. They were buried to join him in his next life, where he would need them, not to protect the tomb. I think I will have a fast car buried with me. There are 3 sites that are being excavated. The government has built huge buildings over the sites. You can’t really get the scope from the pictures , but they are taken in a building that is at least 2 football fields long, maybe 3.
Fred replaced the fuel filter on the truck today, so we should be O K going forward. Fred was able to get his hands dirty, so he's happy for another day. I think he got pretty wet, too, because it has been pouring. Thanks Fred and Jingers. The guys that prepped the truck were supposed to change the filter and put spares in to go, but somehow missed it. Thanks to my new friend for life, Hugh Brogan, from the U K, who was able to bring some over with him.
Tomorrow we have an 11 hour drive and plan to leave early so that we can finish before dark. Went to the local super market this afternoon to get film and some food to help get us thru the trip ahead. The visit to the super market was a trip in it self . Luckily, we found a staff person who spoke English and was able to help. More Later
May 1, 2004
I want to make clear that Fred and I were winching not wenching yesterday.We got off to a great start this morning, visiting the Dragon Gate Grottos which were carved out of the cliffs along the Yi river around 400 A D. We had a nice walk along the river to get there.Then we hit the road.
There were May Day Celebrations going on in all the towns we passed thru. We eventually passed some of the others stopped by police. Our friends waved us on. Several miles later we came upon another group also stopped by police. We were waved over, but one of our group said to go ahead, so we did, only to get stopped in a village down the road with the rest of the group. Turns out we had entered a forbidden zone and the local police didn't know we had permission to do so. So after a couple of hours and bringing in the chief and his boss, they let us proceed.
We had a great time interacting with the villagers and showing them our trucks. I have taken a lot of 35 mm pictures in addition to the few I have posted on the internet. It just takes too long to do it the computer way. So if anyone is interested at the end of the trip I should be able to bore you with loads of other pictures.
We took off from there and proceeded up thru some beautiful mountain vistas on some very rough roads. We stopped along the way for a late lunch then proceeded on a freeway to Xi’an, where we have an extra day stop over so we can visit the Terracotta Warriors. We waited at a toll booth on the freeway for half an hour, and we were in the fast lane. They have some work to do to enter the modern age.
We hope to have a new fuel filter for the truck here. Knock wood, so far the old one is working. We continue to drive carefully. People enter the roadway on foot and with all kinds of vehicles without a look. When you have driven a couple of hundred miles under these conditions, you feel it.
I put the picture of the truck we pulled out on the web site today, so you can see that he was pretty stuck. Fred was extremely disappointed that we didn’t get to play with the winch today.
Going to dinner now (we are in a great hotel tonite with high speed internet.) and enjoy Xi’an. I wish Leejun were here to show me around. The trip is fun, but would be much better with her here.
Talk to you later.
April 30, 2004
Anyone that wants more info on the rally can go to the Hero link on our website or www.hero.org.uk
April 30, 2004
Fred was really the super Hero today. He and Jingers figured out how to blow the water and the crap out of the old filter.They put it back on and we did the day. That was after Fred rode off in a rickshaw with one of the Chinese staff to try and find a replacement filter.
We got off late and headed down the road. We arrived at a bridge after it was blocked off for construction so ended up having to follow a track along the river and fording the river twice. The way they block a road here is to drop a few bucket loads across the road.
Then we ran into another blockage, so we went around a bunch of trucks to the head of the line. We discovered several good size boulders across the road and a lot of Chinese guys standing around trying to figure out what to do. Fred had the idea to use the winch to move the rocks, which we did and then got the Chinese guys to roll them off to the side. Then we weaved our way between a bucket loader and some dump trucks to get down the road.
A little further on the road turned into mud, so we went to 4 wheel drive and then came upon several of our fellows stopped trying to get one of the guys unstuck. So out came our trusty winch. And out he came. Later stopped for a late lunch, then on tour over nite stop at Louyang, a city of several million people.
We travelled thru a beautiful gorge that had cliffs that would rival Yosemite. We also crossed the Yalu River today which was 650 meters across where we were. A mighty river! Hey people we met and see along the way are really friendly and love to eyeball the trucks. Don’t see a lot of dogs so we figure that to stay alive as a dog here you gotta be a really good dog.
These people have no concept of what a 4 lane highway is. They go in all directions in all lanes. Fred said it’s like playing a video game. And he’s right. Fred was really in his glory today with all the winching. I told the guy we pulled out to get stuck worse tomorrow, so Fred would have more of a challenge. The truck is doing a great job other than the fuel problem. More later.
April 29, 2004
Easy drive today. We stared first thing with a visit to the Wutaishan temple. And ended in the old city of of Pingyao. The temple was fascinating. Leejun, it was loaded with prayer wheels. One of the buildings had probably 50 brass prayer wheels that people walked around and spun them all for good luck.
We then took off thru the mountains for several miles thru beautiful scenery then into a valley where everyone was doing their spring planting. If you’re lucky you have a mule to pull your cart to the field then pull your plow. If not some one pulls the plow, more times than not it is the woman’s job to pull the plow (we don’t need any comments from the male chauvinists out there). We then traveled on an expressway for awhile. Then on regular roads thru a lot of small towns until we reached Pingyao.
Pingyao is a UNESCO world heritage site and it was fun to walk thru the old streets and visit the shops and restaurants. The wall around the city was originally built from 627 BC to 728 BC and rebuilt a few hundred years ago.
We are still having some problems with the truck, but hope to have it fixed soon. If anyone from GM is reading this site Lindy says that the Hummer is doing great. I really appreciate Fred Nelan serving as my navigator. Fred had the other Avalanche on the Inca trail. I hope the Hummer holds up better than the Avalanches did.
You can see I'm having a little trouble getting some of the pictures right side up. More later
April 28, 2004
We had long day today. Started off from the hotel with a wrong turn. Followed our noses for a while til we got back on track. We drove to the Great Wall and climbed a ways along it.. Then back to Beijing then headed west. The weather was foggy all day, so despite the fact we drove thru some beautiful mountains it was hard to appreciate them to their fullest. We drove some rural areas, which were beautiful. It seems like all of China is under construction. Cities , country side , everywhere. Trees and flowers are being planted along most of the roads. It is very beautiful. You have to wonder whether there is a master plan or if it’s hit or miss.
We stopped in a town for lunch and had the best Chinese meal I ever had. Then we stopped and visited a tomb of an emporer from the 18th century. He was one bad apple. He is said to have poisoned his father, and killed his brothers, which caused his mother to commit suicide.
Then continued on to our hotel which is up in the mountains next to a temple. They don’t get many western visitors here, so we are finding it hard to communicate with staff. We think we got some water in the fuel today so when we arrived at the hotel we asked if we could find some rubbing alcohol to put in the tank, to help dry out the gas. I was lead down the street out the back of the hotel to the “good baby treating hospital” where I was able to buy some alcohol for 6 yuen. The hospital was not a place I would want to be admitted to. Any how we are off again tomorrow.
April 27, 2004
Jeff, oh yee of small confidence.
April 27, 2004
Picked up the car today, got the GPS working (thanks Jason), got the trip odometer going, the China rally signs on the truck, and made a trip to the store to stock up on water, soda. wasabi peanuts, and film. Everyone is itching to get going. Weather is great.
Invited the guys at the American embassy to our dinner tonite. They begged off saying they had a situation similar to Leejun’s going and hoped I didn’t read about it in the paper. The truck made the trip in excellent shape. So we are ready to go. Still waiting to hear whether Herb will be able to join me. More later
April 26, 2004
Made it to Beijing.There are enough extra people on the rally that I should be O k for a Navigator. Fred Nelan , who was on The Inca Trail will help me out. Herb may still join me if we are able to get the paper work to get him into Tibet. Leejun is returning to the states, but will meet me in Hong Kong at the end of the rally. We pick up our trucks in the morning. The rally starts on Weds morning
April 26, 2004
Well, we heard from the American Embassy that the Chinese position is that Leejun is not welcome to China anytime soon, so she is preparing to head home. She may stop and see my sister Peggy in the Seattle area on the way home. I’m headed to Beijing and get things sorted out. Herb is preparing to come over and maybe meet me in Xi’an. Leejun and I were really looking forward to doing this together , so it is a real let down for us both.
At least we tried.
Here's Leejun's farewell notes: Well, my trip to China has hit a wall, the great China wall! I hope to change airline ticket and going back to the States tomorrow, visit Peggy and Rick on the way home. I figure that I’m not the first person being put on black list by China and I will not be the last one. My personal belief is being challenged and many others rights are also being challenged and violated. Since I’m an American citizen, I’m able to leave China, many of my Chinese friends are being tortured to death and being put in prison just because their spiritual practice. Hope Jim will enjoy the trip, too bad I won’t be able to travel and share the experience with him.
April 25, 2004
Not much going on today, we both are exhausted from yesterday! Jim went to exercise room and came back did half hour yoga while I meditated. Will keep you posted when there’s new development.We are working to get Leejun in, At least the U S embassy will try on Monday. In case she is unable to get in, Herb is getting ready to meet me in Xi’an next weekend. I am going to Beijing tomorrow to meet with the HERO people to see what can be worked out. Leejun will stay in Hong Kong for a few days then return home if she can’t get in. This is not the ideal situation, but we will go with what we are able to do.
April 24, 2004
Well, we arrived in Beijing around 3pm today. There were a few very long lines at the customs (border control). We stood in line, and our line was hardly moving. On the way to immigration, there were two occasions of loud arguments in the hall, one was at the health control counter, (SARS is attacking Beijing!) people working at the desk were yelling at an elder man who seemed to be a passenger. When we stood in line trying to get through immigration, there was another loud argument between a group of mid-eastern looking people and the customs agents.
As Jim and I discussed we should hand in our passports together, so we did. While the desk agent was checking my passport, he picked up the phone and mumbled some secret codes to the other party on the line, and then yelled out to another agent in the hall. I was being taken to “Border Control Interrogation Room”. They tried to separate us; Jim insisted he should coming in with me. I saw a customs agent running back and forth in the hallway with my passport in his hand, so we called the American Embassy and reported the incident. A duty officer said he is on the way to airport.
There were 5-6 customs agents, most of them were male and there was a female. Everyone was yelling at us, one kicked our luggage, and others were trying to pull us out of the room and trying to force me to leave China. They were totally rude. They tried to send me back to Hong Kong without my luggage, so Jim reasoned with them, and they got very angry with Jim. One agent was furiously, he said repeatedly, they received instruction from high authority that I won’t be allowed to enter China. I said to him, "Look! We’re here for an organized tour visiting China, if you didn’t want me into China why did you even issue a Visa?"
They forced me to go back to Hong Kong on the same flight; Jim travelled along with me. Flight attendance were happy to see us, when we landed in Hong Kong, we had lots help from the airline agent. We checked in a hotel, and just had a hot shower.
Following is Jim’s note:
We’re in Hong Kong; Leejun was denied entry into China when we arrived in Beijing. So we had to return to Hong Kong. Despite the fact that they had issued her a Visa. The American embassy is going to see what they can do on Monday. So we have some choices to make. I have e-mailed HERO, but have not heard from them yet. Leejun wants me to go ahead without her, which I'm not crazy about doing. Our choices as we see them, assuming the American embassy can't get her in are: 1) Pack the truck back up and ship it back, 2) try do the rally alone, 3) see if there is some one already signed up that can act as my navigator, and 4) see if we can get Herb a visa and have him join me enroute. I have to get another visa my self because my one entry visa was used today. I will be able to do that Mon. morning. I will have to go back to Beijing in any case to make sure the truck is taken care of. If anyone has any ideas we'd love to hear them.
Jim and Leejun
April 24, 2004
Greetings from Hong Kong! Hong Kong security check was tight; they confiscated my nail file, and a small glass repair kit, the kind that you can buy from any corner store for a dollar. They think the tiny glass repair screwdriver is dangerous. They took the tiny screwdriver away, and returned screws and plastic container. There’s no use to keep the screws without the screwdriver, so I handed the complete kit to them, told them if anyone needs to repair glasses, this works well. I looked up; both the security guards were wearing glasses. I hope they can put the kit into good use, and hope Jim and my sunglasses don’t need any quick maintenance on our trip.
We’re waiting for our flight to Beijing. A few more hours, we’ll be heading to Beijing via Dragon Air. Jim is reasoning with Cathay Pacific Airways manager because they won’t let us use the lounge this time. We got in anyway.
It was a long haul from London to Hong Kong, we both had good rest, and we’re ready to face the world.
Jim requested not to send us emails with attachment files, because some of the places we stay do not have broadband service, it will take forever to download.
Just read an article, Beijing reported five SARS cases recently, I’m sure SARS is still around but we haven’t heard much reported cases until now.
Thank you for signing the guest book, and we’ll try to write everyday and take some photos as well. Leejun and Jim
April 22, 2004
We are off. Flew to London yesterday. Then on to Ireland today to visit the factory and Barbara ,Eugene, and Laura Ellen . Eugene looks like his old self. Tom picked us up at the airport and brought us back tonite which is much appreciated. We are off to Beijing tommorrow, due to arrive Sat. afternoon.
The new windshield operation looks great. The sales people have to get busy to fill it up. Hopefully we will have no problem geting into China.
Talk to you soon
Jim and Leejun