The land of Mulan was beyond our wildest expectations and this left us no other choice but to take a day off to explore the city to buy all kinds of mysterious foods and random items. We tried to decipher te Chinese sign for 'noodles' but our experience in hand-feet communication proved to be worthless in China: while we managed to pull our plan in all previous countries, the people here almost never communicate with foreigners, so they don't even try to communicate with non-verbal language. Plus, we suspect they are shy and thus afraid to look stupid and rather don't speak with us in than to look like a fool while trying. If you desperatly need something here, you really have to push through and keep asking until they want to try to understand you, good luck with that one.
We instantly met another difficulty: nowhere in China the tap water is drinkable, and no one cares about filtering machines to produce cold drinkwater. Chinese people think cold drinks are unhealthy, so they only drink hot water. That wouldn't be so bad in the winter, but when our bodies are sweating 10 liters of body juice each day in the 40 °C cycledays, buying bottled water really becomes a big chunk of our daily expenses.
Stef decided to ride ahead, eager to explore the first part of China, 90 km's of uphill, before an endless downhill towards Urumqi. After fixing 2 flats himself, he saw Anton waving from the shotgun seat of a truck passing by. They decide to ride together after fixing Anton's bike, from sunset to sundown every day. We only have 2 months before our visa's expire, and we have to cross 5700km. No time to waste on the road, we want to explore the cities of China, in between there's only highways anyway.
The lush green landscape the first day faded to a desert landscape all the way to Urumqi, with a patch of forrest next to a dried out river every now and then. Apart from a scorpion (call it 'scorpio') that came too close to Stef's sleeping bag while sleeping under the bridge with Anton, no real issues were met on the road, and we met again in Uruumqi.
On the road to Uruumqi Oli and Yuri were hosted by a random chinese dude, who took them out for their first Chinese nightlife experience. This included a big rock paper scissor contest, a dance-off and loads of free drinking. In china people don't judge you when you drink too much, we regularly saw people crashing the night away in the couches in big nightclubs like it was the most normal thing in the Chinese world.
In Uruumqi a dutch guy gave us the solid advice of using rooftops to sleep on, because of the view, silence and just because hostels are quite expensive here - which we put to use not much later.
Anton was the first to put his advice to the test. He was refused at the hostel, and decided to head out with his sleeping bag over his shoulder. He dropped his stuff on a rooftop and went for a walk to see where the party was at. A group of Chinese guys and Brazilian girls invited him to sing Karaoke at a huge KTV building (private karaoke rooms). After a night of decadence he got into the elevator with his singstar squad, when a pack of shirtless fat Chinese lads charged at the elevator. The doors closed just in time, and security broke up the tension once the drunk people all arrived in the downstairs lobby. The sun had come up, and Anton had plenty of energy left from all the free fruits and whiskey. So he decided to leave his newfound companions behind and go for a morning run towards the hostel.
Not even a kilometer into his run, 2 taxis stopped and angry Chinese kids poured from them. At first 8 small Chinese guys charged at Anton. He wasn't sure if he'd take a stand or if he'd lift his heels. When the taxis were empty, it became clear that those same 20 drunk shirtless kids were after his skin. There would be no fight today, because Anton ran like the wind. After a 10 minute chase, he reached a police car that provided some policemen armed with riot shields to join Anton's noble cause and brought him home safely.
After Uruumqi we hit our first record day of 210 km, with a strong backwind all the way, until we found ourselves in a desert city. I still remember now how we were standing on the blazing hot tarmac, our view distorted by the hot air, and the wind blowing like an oven with an open door on maximum heat. It was that moment we decided to ride to the first train station and skip 900 km of boring sand and rocks and to go the most western point of the Chinese wall, in order to get our well earned haircut.