No foreingers please.
I set off this morning determined to make the distance to Hami Kamul. A light breeze and slight downhill saw me cover over 70km in less than two hours.
Morning in the desert.
I stopped off at a truck stop after about 100km and feasted on some nice, hot, fresh mantou. The owners of the restaurant were very interested in my trip and in particular the older male who insisted on trying to ride my bike. He didn’t get very far before almost veering off and crashing into a couple of bins. Luckily no harm was done to either him or the bike, I still wish people wouldn’t insist on trying to ride it when my back is turned. He was very friendly though so I could forgive him for his show of youthful exuberance. He was interested in all things England and was seemed a little disappointed that I didn’t have any English money to show him. The next best thing I could muster up was a nice crisp US one dollar bill which I presented him with. He was so happy that he insisted on giving me the mantou and a Pepsi for free. Everyone was a winner here.
By now a very familiar sight.
You can just about make out the snow capped mountain range.
The reappearance of the 312.
Hami really is an oasis in the middle of the desert and I was very much looking forward to a bit of civilization. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find lush green parks and trees lining the streets.
I’d made really good time in getting there and immediately set about the task of finding a place to stay. I also came across a Merida bike store and popped in to have a look around. This is where I met Damon, a very friendly twenty something Chinese guy who insisted on being my guide to finding a hotel.
It would sound terrible and rather ungrateful of me to say that I’d have preferred to have gone about this myself but if I’m being honest then this would have been the case. Damon and I rode around in search of a place to stay. He wasn’t from Xinjiang and instead came from Gansu and it wasn’t long before he was telling me about all the things I should be careful about in this part of China. It’s a story I’ve now heard a million times over and, so far nothing has come to fruition regarding these tales of danger and woe.
I’m not sure whether it was because it was a holiday weekend but finding a place to sleep in Hami was very difficult. I came to the conclusion that actually having Damon with me was proving to be a hindrance rather than helpful . I’ve found that it really pays to pretend you have no idea of what the hotel staff are saying when they inform you that it’s not really possible for you to stay here. Sometimes they simply tire of doing so and reluctantly allow you to take a bed for the night.
Having someone who could converse freely with them seemed to create all number of problems for me. Having been rejected by at least five hotels and having ridden nearly an extra 15km around the city I was beginning to get a little cranky.
By this stage all you want to do is find a hotel and cost isn’t really such a big issue. I found one and was pleased when the porter said that they did in fact accept foreigners. It was only when I went to the reception that I found out it was in fact 580RMB for the night! There was no way I was going to pay this.
My search was proving to be really unproductive when Damon suggested I try the Hami Hotel which I believe is a government run hotel. It was very nice and set in a very leafy part of the city. I’d ridden around for what seemed an eternity and by now I was willing to pay whatever for a bed. The staff at the hotel were excellent and in particular the porter who was the first person of Uyghur descent that I’ve met and chatted with was especially helpful. The cost was certainly high but my frustration was offset by the fact that the room had a bath!
That evening I took a walk around Hami and witnessed for the first time the different mixture of people on the street, the majority of people being Uyghur thus giving the city a more ‘ethnic’, perhaps this is the wrong word, feel.
I took the opportunity to visit the supermarket and stock up on supplies and a couple of small bottles of the excellent Sinkiang black beer most commonly found in this region of China. I headed back to the hotel, tired and heavy legged thinking about the prospect of a beer in the bath. I obviously hadn’t taken that good a look at the bath earlier as it certainly wasn’t designed for anyone over 6 foot.
So a day of mixed emotions, on the one hand I managed to cover 175km but my mood was tempered somewhat by the time and effort I’d wasted in looking for a place to stay. At least the numbers are getting smaller to Urumqi.