The shimmering heat woke us up early, and this day was destined to be a great one. The border was only 90 something kilometers away, and we were set on making it. After pulling our rides back to the road through the dry desert sand, we climbed on the sun-warmed saddles towards the Far East. There were some problems to overcome though; first, our gps navigation was way off, probably due to the fact that the highway we were on was still nog registered on Google Maps. Also, this brand new tarmac led straight to China, we assumed, thus there are no villages on the way. This meant we either make a 20 km detour for food or we bite the bullet, go foodless and set for China. After some consideration the four riders chose to meet their hangry alter ego's again and got on with it.
It's hard to describe the impact of such decisions. While this might seem insiginificant to you, our readers, this is often a cause for major discussions. For example, this day it took some hours for Stef and Oli in order to get convinced to cross the border today, after carefully weighing the options: undergoing the nerve wracking process of a bordercrossing on an empty stomach and enjoy the adrenaline rush of finally reaching China after 1 year, or: allow ourselves to eat in Kazakhstan, regenerate and cross the border in the morning. The argument of a chopstick noodlefest as a reward tonight was a breakthrough, and we all agreed to go for it.
Luckily, we bumped into some more roadworkers, who pointed us to a cold water stream to refill our bottles and refresh ourselves adequatly, after a way too hot swim in a brown river. This 'natural' water source was in fact a 10cm wide iron pipe rammed deep into the Earth's surface next to a bridge, where we found some more road works snorring the day away in the shade.
We climbed back up to the hot tarmac, when our working friends called us over for lunch! Although we just ate next to the spring, we never say no to free food so we didn't decline the kind offer.
Just like the last leads are heavy, the end of our day was heavy too. Why? Instead of a straight road of 500 meters, the nomandsland between the two borders was a 10 km zigzag nomans land for fuck sake! So, to stay postive Yuri and Oli broke the world record of 'Cycling without hands while sticking your tongue out'. We celebrated with an average 'Hurrah', as our champions set the time on 5 minutes, more than double of the previous world record time of 1 minute and 56 seconds. Another event that took place on the border was Stef smoking his last cigarette for at least 5 years. He made a bet with Oli to smoke a last cigarette on the border. The loser of the bet will have to pay for all expenses in the strip club, when the first born sun of one of the lads turns 18 and the pack takes him to the titty bar.
Before we knew we were greeted by some guys in an army uniform shouting some random Chinese words at us, while pointing at some Chinese writings/drawings. 4 full body scans later, and not to forget one satisfaction survey later, we were officially on Chinese soil. Mission almost completed and boy did we feel invincible!
Our first experiences with China were the following:
- At the first hotel the receptionist pointed at a picture of a man with a turban and a Turkish flag, with a red line across. We were denied acces because we looked like muslims. Terrorist beard-level achieved.
- We bought a Chinese sim card at a shop without someone speaking even one word of English. That was not for the pussy
- Enjoying all the mysteries and weird tastes of random chinese food at the supermarket
- Last but not least: Chopstick dinner mothafucka!!! The guy next door in our hotel bought us some beers and using Google Translate to converse, and in exchange we invited him for dinner. Of course menu's were in Chinese signs so we just played lottery.
In short: this was the biggest culture clash of our whole trip. Yuri and Oli even placed a bet on this one, because usually we experienced that the transitions were more gradually than this extreme black and white difference. We're talking dragon gates, Chinese rooftops and lampions and many more.
We were too excited to take more than one photo today, but this is a good one to start our Chinese adventure with.