Monday, October 27, 2008

Silk Road - Day 5 - Qinghai Lake, Zhangye

Qinghai Lake
Day 5 started with lots of expectation, because it'd be the first time in my life that I'd be riding on a horse, a real live one. I've always wanted to do it, and missed a few chances. But this time, I was really gonna do it. So excited!

We set off to Qinghai lake, intro courtesy of chinatravel again:

Qinghai means green lake in Chinese and this is the largest inland saltwater lake in China. Lying in the northeast of Qinghai Province, approximately 150km (193 miles) from Xining at 3,200 meters (10,500ft) above sea level, the lake stretches endlessly into the horizon. It has an area of 4,635 sq km and is more than 360km (220 miles) in circumference.

Horse Riding
There's a recreational facility near the lake, and that was where we went first. No lake in sight yet, it would take a half-hour on horseback to get to the actual lakeside. Half and hour on horseback! Not an on-an-off inside a small ring led by handler situation, real horse riding!

Okay, we still got led by a handler, but we were solo on the horses. Mine was called Little Plum, who was pregnant and sometimes seemed reluctant to go forward. K's was called Golden Yellow, a really lovely light brown mare. The handler, who was wrapped up from head to toe because it was so cold (2 degrees C) and had a nasty cold, told us they were named by her children. Cute.

So, how is horse riding you may ask? Mmm, it's okay. As with most things in life, the fantasy was better than the reality. It was rocky, but not as uncomfortable as I'd imagined. I stopped hypering over being on a horse and started appreciating the view. It was a little difficult taking pictures from the horse though.

We reached the lake, which was huge, and really looked like an ocean. The wind was up and it was very cold. We took a couple of pics and got back on the horse to head back.

I got to ride Golden Yellow on the way back, and the handler jumped on behind me. She got the horses moving faster but we never actually reached galloping speeds. Of course, horse riding can be dangerous. Christopher Reeve got injured in a horse-riding accident, and it paralyzed him for life. Thrills are best taken with a dose of caution.

We got back to the recreational facility and had lunch. The rec fac is actually owned by a Taiwanese, we'd seen a documentary on him before. He's an interesting guy, witness his opening a shop virtually in the middle of nowhere. The horses were his, and he also rented out sand cars.

Arduous Journey
After lunch, we set off on the most arduous journey of the trip. A seven-hour drive through rough roads, high altitude, snow and sun; where we'd experience the four seasons all in one day. We were ready, having layered up into Eskimo resembling mountains: T-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweater, down-jacket, gore-tex jacket, gloves, hat; in that order. Fully prepared.

The road was winding, narrow, and had long untarred stretches. It was really, really bumpy, much worse than being on a horse, let me tell you. We had a brief moment to play in the snow, then back on the road. We also had brief loo stops.

Zero to Five Star Toilets...
With regards to loo stops, well, I'm going for the long story here, so bear with me. My first trip to China was to Beijing, and I'd heard some horror stories about the toilets in China, that were kinda scary. The whole thought of 'doorless' toilets struck me as... horrifying. *sigh* What a greenhorn I was.

As we went to tour site after tour site in Beijing, the toilets all had doors. Some of them were pretty dirty, but the trick is 'don't look down'. And I was beginning to think the whole horror toilet thing was a hoax.

It wasn't until we went to the hutongs that I had my first experience of a 'public' toilet. No doors. Just 10 'holes' with 10cm of cement partitions between them.

I went in, saw one old woman right at the back with a newspaper, did my biz quickly and went out. Heart pumped a bit, but okay.

The next one wasn't so lucky. All the 'holes' except the one near the door were occupied. Young and old squatted and chatted with each other. It was like a social gathering! Disconcerted, I averted my eyes, did my biz and got out of there as quick as I could!

After that though, no toilet ever fazed me again. I've done it over paint buckets covered with bin bags, two planks of wood over cliff, behind bushes, in the wilds... with women beside me, in front of me, behind me... didn't matter. This is China, it just isn't a big deal here.

Which brings me back to the long bumpy trip. There were no toilets, so we had to do it in the open. Men on the left, women on the right. Like I said, no big deal.

We started taking off layers of clothes and reached Zhangye in our T-shirts. Worn out, bones rattled loose, we crawled off the bus for dinner then went to the hotel, where we encountered another fact of life.

Bad things always happen when you're exhausted and feel like you don't have a drop of energy left to deal with it.

The hotel was a dump. Our room reeked of tobacco smoke and the carpet still had dirt on it (definitely un-vacuumed). The towels were wet and the bathroom... well, enough said. K and the other tour members went on a rampage, demanding a change of hotel. The tour guide and hotel manager said it was impossible, due to some festival at the local temple, all the hotels were booked solid.

We then demanded a change of room. It took 2 hours, but we finally got changed into a bigger room that was cleaner. *sigh* Ah the pendulum of highs and lows in travelling...


hannie said...

LOL I had that kind of experience before, the one that without doors on each toilet, but the rest of the places are in tip top contition, auto tap, auto flash, auto dryer, squeaky clean and dry.

KG said...

It's true, some of the cleanest toilets I've ever been were in China too. There was one four-star one that I'd happily spend the whole day in...