Travel Journal

Reaching the end of the Great Wall (China)

(Tuesday 18 March 2008) by Lynda
Sand dunes near Dunhuang
Sand dunes near Dunhuang
After my long wait in Chengdu I'm very happy to be on the road again. I'm on my way back home!!!!! Oke, it will take me some time and a lot of kilometers to get back home but I'm heading in the right direction now, traveling west!!

I met the Swiss in Lanzhou and we continued our journey by night train to Jiayuguan, a little city (only 130.000 inhabitants) in the Hexi corridor in the north of China. This narrow strip of land bound by big mountain ranges in the north and south was once the sole western passage in and out of the Middle Kingdom (China). Jiayuguan also marks the end of the Great Wall and the beginning of nowhere. And indeed, standing on top of Jiayuguan fort, the last major stronghold of imperial China, it feels that I've reached the end of the civilised world. As far as the eye can see only desert, more desert and a lot of emptiness. The nearby overhanging great wall is also a great sight, snaking over the mountains and disappearing in the far distance. To get there we cycled through the desert and that's also a great experience especially if the tune of the day is: "We're on the road to nowhere!"

And ofcourse we had to explore this big emptiness and we hopped on the bus to Dunhuang, an old desert town surrounded by dramatic sand dunes. The best way to explore these is on the back of a camel. The first part of our two day trip was great untill we reached the river and it turned out that my camel was very afraid of water. The river was already reduced to a little stream but it was still too much for my camel, so we had to find another way. After a detour we found a place to cross
The end of the Great Wall
The end of the Great Wall
with only an icefield, but I my camel, being a clever camel ofcourse, decided that ice is also no crossing again. In the end we settled for a camping spot just in the middle of nowhere, in between the sand dunes. So we set up our tents, watched the sunset and ate our instant noodles (yuk, getting a bit tired of instant noodles after all my train trips and the Transsib). The night in the tent was quite windy and sandy and unfortunately no lovely sunrise, but still a great experience to sleep in the desert and see the sky full of stars.

From Dunhuang we got the sleeper bus to Urumqi and arrived the next morning. We already left our passports at the Kazak embassy but unfortunately this morning at the trainstation, the counter for international traintickets was closed. Must be Chinese because the sign on the window said it would be open.... but we will try again tomorrow.

I have mixed feelings about leaving China, after the news about Tibet I don't feel too positive about the country and I'm glad to leave but on the other hand, I had a great time in China. Spend already 5 months in this country and it has grown on me. I still can get annoyed when they try to pass me in a qeue, when they talk on their phones oh no correct, when they scream in their phones in the sleeper bus or when they drag their feet to help you. But I love them when they stare at you, curious as little children, when they do their best to talk English to you or when they almost split their face when they return your smile.

China, the motherland of Asia, yes I do love it!


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