Braking and entering

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Friday, July 13, 2007

We rode for two more days skirting the edge of the Taklamakan desert. This is not the land of rolling sand dunes, and for the most part even seemed quite fertile. There was a 50km stretch with no water available, which I had not foreseen (there had been regular drinks shacks and villages, which came to an abrupt and unexpected halt about 5km before I started feeling thirsty...). This stretch hammered home once again one of the main lessons I've learned from this trip: skipping breakfast is a rubbish idea. By the time we finally reached another village I was ready to eat my own face and drink anything liquid.

We camped one night next to a crystal clear canal. The site was too sandy for me and the Poles, but naturally Stefan was carrying special 'sand' tentpegs. This was where Sandra, who had appeared quite grounded, revealed her darker side. She and Magda went to the canal for a wash, but she reappeared after only a few minutes, striding into 'camp' wearing just a t-shirt and knickers. Without a word, she pulled on some shorts and strode out again, only to re-emerge two minutes later chasing two shepherds shouting.
"why you looking! Why you looking! I call police!"
I had a fair idea why they were looking, since it was pretty clear that she'd been exposing culturally inappropriate amounts of flesh in a public place, but still she asked. And chased them about half a mile through the fields before storming back in high dudgeon.

We reached Yecheng, the last legal staging point before we reach Ali. At Yecheng the Xinjiang - Tibet highway, highway 219, diverges from the  southern silkroad. About 100m down Hwy219 we passed a banner signpost reading 'No foreigners without permits allowed beyond this point'. We carried on. After a few days, we had internalised what we'd been told: the police and the army don't care what foreigners do, and the Public Security Bureau are less ubiquitous and tend to turn a blind eye. On this first day though, every time a police car or army convoy passed us we felt as if the game must be up, and refused to stop and ask for water at the army camp we passed. The truth is that while crossing into Tibet this way is illegal, the law evaded us far more than we evaded it. There was even a checkpoint in the first 100km, at a village called Kudi, where we were asked for our passports.
"Where are you going?"
"Mazar" -the name of the next town
On this occasion, we were expecting the spanish inquisition, and recieved a less invasive grilling than most online registration forms.

We'd lost Sandra, who had decided to catch a bus to Ali (further proof of the lax enforcement of the permit requirements for this road) in order to extend her visa or finish her trip quicker. Stefan had cemented his place in my bad-books. The morning of our departure, I was woken from a deep sleep by the sound of his voice saying
"Tim! Tim, do you want to get up now?"
Being awake, I submitted to the inevitable and roused myself, stifling the urge to shout
"NO! I'M ASLEEP! If I wanted to get up, I'd be awake wouldn't I? If I'm asleep, you can probably take it as given that I do not, in fact, want to get up now!"
But I never forgave him.
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