KASHGAR TO IRKESHTAM

02/06/12 - On the road 0930, altitude around 1400m above sea level. Met 6 local chinese cyclists who were out for a weekend ride on their western mountain bikes decked out with boomboxes pumping out some chinese music. They escorted me for about 5km to the turnoff to road S309 which I'll be following all the way to the Kyrgyzstan border. 30, 35 and 39km marks villages with cold drinks and goat herders. 2km unsealed road, the rest was smooth bitumen. 59km mark servo. 65km mark started getting cramps (hadn't ridden the bike with a load for over a month now) they came and went for the rest of the day. 1600 - 15km gentle descent after 70 km of climbing (reached high point of 2310m) At 1730 entered village at 2110m and decided to setup camp on concrete at front of  locals house. There was a nearby stream where I was able to bath and wash my clothes after almost a week from Beijing. Headwinds were on/off, grades were pleasant at under 4%, sunny 24C.

03/06/12 - Hit the road 1015, 7km mark town. Greeted by half a dozen guards and told to wait till tomorrow for passport check (which was closed today being sunday) Turned around and headed back into town to get some internet access. There were 2 internet cafes and I was refused internet access by both establishments - wasn't a tourist friendly town this one. Grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to where I was stopped by the red army about an hour ago. To my surprise they were all gone, so decided to push on as it was now 1200 (didn't fancy staying in this place and wasting a day - later though I would find out that this was actually where I needed to get my exit stamp out of China!) don't know which genius came up with the idea to put the exit stamp 150km away from the actual border? With these road conditions it took me 3 days to reach actual border - see 00/00/00 for more details) 35km mark village. 41km mark very rocky dirt tough road - it was as if I had passed through hells' gate. Various changing landscapes ranging from lunar, grand canyon like to himilayan snow capped mountains. 1630, 45km mark abandoned huts (no roof) 50km mark farmhouse, 55km mark asphalt returns in bits (new road being built over new one) 1945 camp at base radio tower out of the westerly winds. Alt 2735m.

04/06/12 - On the road 1100, fuel can problem - been sealed since oz, managed to de-thread lid and wasn't able to remove - managed to drip most contents out into main 1L fuel canister. Countless roadwork sites, climb up to 2970m, 31km mark cool off in lake (wash up, freezing water) to little avail as a few kms down the road encountered very dusty site. 41km mark village with no shops. 53km mark village with no shops, 54km mark, 1800 passport check & village with shop - stocked up and found place to camp at 1845 alt 2490. 18C, bed 2230, headwinds, 4% grades some 12%. 45km unsealed road.

05/06/12 - On the road 1030, 16km mark village with no shop. 25km mark village with shop. 29km mark steep switchbacks for 2km up to 2870m altitude. 38km mark, 1500 overtaken by 2 bmw gs motorbikes waving. 1600 reached Irkeshtam border and met the 2 german riders of the motorbikes that over took me earlier. They were seasoned riders, completed trip in Africa and New Zealand and had come all the way from Germany this time around. They were required to have a guide to lead them through China and now they had reached the border and no longer required his services. Check out their website (www.reiseQ.de) It was then that I found out about the required exit stamp 150km back. He was heading back to Kashgar and offered to give me a lift back to the customs checkpoint. Turns out that one of his friends works at the checkpoint and they were expecting an aussie cyclist a few days back - ooops! I was told to leave my bike here (I locked it up) and take all my gear back to customs, so piled all my gear into the back of his 9 year old Landcruiser. Was good to just sit back and enjoy the scenery for a second time from the passenger seat (his mate was sleeping on the back seat) - although even by car the road was rough - we rarely hit 50km/h. His muffler got a hole in it from a stone being flung up so we continued with his car sounding like a rally car. Arrived at customs 2030. Thanked Taher for his help. He organises guides and all permits to travel across china (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) The site is still under construction (apparently been operating for about 6 months, previously located at the more sensible Irkeshtam location) Found a near complete small building to camp inside out of sight from the few remaining officials. There were construction workers that took up residence in a similar little building but they didn't want to share space with me. Thanks to the construction works there were numerous water sources around, so was able to clean up properly. Cooked noodles and went to bed 2300. 40km unsealed & no wind today!

06/06/12 - Got up nice and early, packed everything up, moved all luggage to entrance of customs ready for 1030 opening. Got stamp no problems - didn't even check my bags. Hitched a ride back to Irkeshtam 1045 (many lined up and stayed overnight waiting for customs checking) 1400 stopped at village at passport checkpoint for a good hearty truckers lunch of meat, potatoes and bread. We reached Irkeshtam at 1630, gave truckie 300Y. Stocked up on water and store owner also changed my remaining yuan into som (kyrgyzstan money) Packed everything back onto bike and finally passed through border at 1745.

 

BEIJING TO KASHGAR WITH THREE TRAINS

28/05/12 - On the road 0800 and rode out to Beijing West train station to catch the 1059 train to Zhengzhou. Made it there with an hour to spare, grabbed a second breakfast and headed to platform. The staff were making folding motions towards me (indicating to fold bike) I just nodded and got through (I had similar experience with my previous train journey from Xichang to Beijing as well) I could only get a standing ticket for this leg as all seats were sold out. Apparently there is no limit to standing spots - the train was totally full. Somehow I got the bike and luggage on board - storing it in the usual place opposite the toilet where it was somewhat out of the way. Wasn't a comfortable journey as I had to stand for over 5 hours with no room to move. At least there was air conditioning. The train rolled into Zhengzhou about 10 minutes late, got the bike and gear off with the help of some locals and went out to grab something to eat. A random girl who also got off the train gave me a postcard saying I was cool and a local comic? Grabbed a bite to eat and headed into station for the second leg of the journey to Urumqi. Zhengzhou train station was a fortress - fenced off completely with bikes off limits. Still I found a way to get in with the bike fully loaded. Again the staff were making folding motions so nodded as usual. One of the staff members called the manager over who refused to allow my bike past the security check point. After about 15 minutes, I was directed over next door to a private transport company (CRE - China Railway Express) who ship larger items by truck for train passengers. Not too sure why they don't use a baggage car on the train (every train I took had an empty baggage car?) Paid 473Y for bike and 4 panniers, took other 2 bags with me on board. Had to take accessories and dismantle some small bits on the bike but nothing major. Train left on time at 2126. I had secured a top bunk hard sleeper on this train. It was good to be able to sleep in air conditioned comfort - although the top bunks have the vents very close so had to blanket up as it was quite cold. The people much more civilised than those in cattle class. The only thing in the back of my mind was that the bike and gear arrive at Urumqi safely.

29/05/12 - 1130 train rolls into Lanzhou. 1330 snow topped mountains. 1450 we arrive in Wuwei.Scenery is grey, dry and desolate. Camel herders can be seen randomly. Factories in the middle of nowhere. Sunset 2200.

30/05/12 -  0235 we arrive in Hami. Approaching Urumqi there are big wind farms. Scenic brown/green mountains. Arrived in Urumqi 0845. First order of business was to visit transport company to pickup bike and gear. They didn't open till 1000, so caught a taxi to the nearest bank (I wasn't expecting to have to pay to transport bike so I was low on the local currency and had to change some for the final leg) Got to the bank which was also closed, waited for it to open then got a taxi back to train station. Picked up bike and gear - no issues, panniers and accessories were still sealed in blue sacks so arranged for them to be driven to Kashgar. Paid 280Y and was told they'll arrive the following day at Kashgar. I made it to the train just 10 minutes before departure at 1158 and was hot and sweaty. This train had older carriages with no air conditioning and the fans didn't work. At least the windows could be opened. Train was also very slow, stopping every 15 minutes or so. Was able to get off at some early stations to buy snacks. 1345 we roll into Tulifan. 1600 strong winds - had to close windows to stop dust from being blown in. 2000 - great snow capped mountain scenery, we were now climbing and up at 2500m - maybe that's why the train was stopping - to help us acclimitise? Sheep herders, changing scenery with green mountains looking like endless putting greens then grey rocky landscape with football sized rocks. 2045 we reached 2940m - the highest I've ever been! Mountains resembling those I came across the molesworth road on the south island of new zealand but better. Horses, cattle and donkeys grazing. Remnants of villages long gone. Sunset 2200. An Ughur journalist who was in my cabin shared some of his naan bread with me.

31/05/12 - flat, grey and very green fields of crops. Desolate, down around 1150m, overcast, drizzle. Shared flat bread and hard boiled eggs with cabin mates. Sand dunes. Train rolled into Kashgar 2100, found CRE next door closed (wasn't an issue as I was only expecting bike and gear tomorrow) Hotel at train station but was asking 150Y/night which was out of my budget so wandered around and found local shopkeeper with big beds under the awning of his shopfront. Only wanted 10Y/night so I settled in. There was a baker making fresh flat bread for 1Y which was delicious. The people here seem to be of the ughur variety - outnumbering the chinese. They seem to live very simple lives. Like a little town here, with shops, restaraunts and accomodation. Kashgar city is a few kilometres up the road and I didn't bother visiting it - everything I needed was here.

01/06/12 - Waitng  for bike and gear to show up. 1130 showers, 1400 picked up bike and gear from CRE. Assembled, replaced chain, cleaned and packed everything ready to leave tomorrow. Showed the locals my photo albums, pretty soon people were coming from all round to have a look. About a kilo of photos I'd been carrying since Australia dissapeared. I was struggling to give them away till now. Had a bit of a borat moment when the shops' owners mate came around and they started wrestling on the bed. Thankfully they didn't put on their mankinis  - all in good fun though. For some reason my host thought that in Australia we speak our own  language other than english. Had trouble explaining that we speak english. He was furiously going through his DVD collection trying to find something for me to watch in english. He finally found some WWE wrestling from america. The family live very simply lives. They only ate bread and water once/day. The mother would go out to the bus station to try to find some travellers to fill the beds at night. Their shop was a bit away from the entry/exit of the train station so wasn't frequented by many people. The baker next door made some delicious breads next door - was good to go to bed and wake up the next morning with the smell of fresh bread in the air. Water was limited, so I only washed my hands and face, bathroom was the vacant block of land behind the shop fronts.

Made it to Dechang. Again didn't look like much on approach with apartments going up on the outskirts, but a nice little town once inside. Hit the road 0830, again a tough day of heavy undulations - slow up slow down, following the river, valley floor and G5 highway (which looks very quiet, 2m shoulder and more favourable grades - I might try cycling on it in the coming days even though bikes aren't allowed) Rolled into town at 1600 drained. Will have a rest day here to recover. Found some accomodation after 4 attempts, a nice friendly mum and daughter put me up in their hotel and let me use the internet. Wandered around town, ate and relaxed.

09/04/12 - Rest Day, wander around town, relax, recover.

Made it to Beijing after a painfully long train ride of about 2300kms amongst the locals for 39 hours (would have taken me over a month to cover this distance by bicycle) I asked for the cheapest ticket to Beijing (paid 311Y, didn't have to pay any extra for the bike although it had to go through the vigours of the locals on board) - I actually ended up not being allocated a seat - which was OK until the train filled up - although this wasn't until the 24th hour when I had to sit with my bike on a double sink which wasn't used. The carriage was quite comfortable though with 3x2 airplane type seating and air conditioned. We basically coul;d sit whereever we wanted until the train filled up with passengers with allocated seats got on at the many stops. There was a drunken old bloke in my carriage and being the only foreigner on board guess who he sat next to! He wouldn't shut up and I couldn't understand a word he was saying. Everyone else in the carriage was just laughing. After a couple of hours he eventually fell asleep only to awake a little later with grog in hand for round 2. They sell hot food on the train for breakfast, lunch & dinner at 10Y a piece and consisted of noodle soup in the morning and rice with 3 types of stir fry for lunch & dinner. Drink and snack carts came around every couple of hours selling over priced stuff though together with a lady selling toys for the kids. I had some snacks with me and most locals bought bags of noodles in a bowl which they just add hot water to (available free on board) Next came the salesman selling leather belts after a lengthy explanation, out popped a second selling a chinese imitation shamwow chamois (he soaked up about 250ml of water out of a mini kids beach bucket and half the carriage had gathered around  and were amazed and wondered how the hell did he do that?) We rolled into Chegdu at 0015 and most people got off, but refilled with new arrivals - I was still able to secure a seat though. Sleeping is difficult if you don't have a window seat as there is nothing to rest your head against - most people rested there heads on the centre table. The locals are a wild bunch - smoking (males only) go at it non stop (even though we were in a non smoking carriage). Spitting by male and females is normal (with big build up before expolsion), as is speaking loudly unneccessarily. Blowing snot out your nose is OK too. Picking your nose is fine. Staring endlessly at foreigners is normal. Not looking where you are going and bumping into others is normal (seriously just fill their bags with explosives and you have the ultimate suicide bomber) Throwing all rubbish on the ground is normal - thankfully the staff came around hourly to sweep and mop up, although by the 2nd day they weren't coming around as often and the rubbish was piling up - they didn't look too happy cleaning up after all the grots either. Tinkering with property that isn't your own is fine (my bike ran the gauntlet, touched by many hands - found a bloke sitting on the front rack and another on the rear, as well as an old lady sleeping on it, blowing boogies out her nose and wiping it on my hand grips - mmmmm, great. Bulwinkle, the little stuffed moose that has sat atop my headlight since pedalling out of Australia over 10 months ago was knocked off by someone - no surprise really with the locals unrelenting fasination for small furry things (RIP mate, you're arguably one of the worlds most well travelled small stuffed mooses' on the planet!) - apart from that no damage to the bike - now I have to find a new mascot for the remainder of my journey though! So basically apart from the smoking carry on like a 5 year old and you'll fit right in with the locals. The scary thing is that actual 5 year olds are better behaved than their parents! I didn't have any kids fondling my bicycle.

Day 2 (13/04/12) was thankfully a little tamer - the drunk bloke gone replaced with locals selling cans of beer illegally, hopping aboard at various stations and sneaking around the carriages oblivious to staff on board. Arrived at Xiang Yang 1400, train filling up and by 1530 all seats were gone so I stayed with my bike to stop locals playing with it endlessly. The salesman were flogging bending toothbrushes and toothpaste today as well as the wonder creme - tiger balm. I was able to get some sleep sitting on one of my panniers and resting my head on another sitting on the rear rack of the bike, with the old lady hugging the frame and resting her head on the front rack, grinning like an idiot everytime she looked at me. The staring was really getting to me now with these 2 blokes standing a metre in front of me looking me up and down endlessly, I had to push the homos away.

Day 3 (14/04/12) the train arrived at Beijing West Railway Station at 0600 (25 minutes late). I started looking for accomodation, after finding some breakfast and as expected was a real chore - I finally found one at 1330. Tourist hotels are expensive at 150-350Y ( i haven't paid more than 50Y for the past month and wasn't giving up.  I had to settle for my first chinese guesthouse (I've stayed in hotels thus far when I wasn't camping) Definately a new level of filth for the trip, a basic room with 4 walls, exposed pipework, bed and 34cm TV, shared smelly bathroom, all for the princely sum of 70Y/night - not including a shower which is an extra 5Y? I couldn't camp as I needed a secure place to store my stuff as I apply for visas in the coming days. After riding around town I ended up about a 15 minute walk on the south side of the station I landed at in the morning - which is good as I'll be catching a train back down south to Xinxiang (from where it's a days ride to the Guoliang Tunnel - a road carved literally out of the mountainside - which I want to ride) spend a day or two here and then catch another train to Xian - spend 2-3 days there sightseeing and from there I think it will be back on the bike heading along the southern Silk Road through the desert to Kyrgyzstan.

Of the little riding I've done around Beijing so far seems very quiet for 22 million people. Most roads have bike lanes too and it's good to see plain dressed locals riding their bikes, even though most are electric. Drivers seem more courteous to bicycles here than in the many other smaller towns I've visited thus far.

15/04/12 - Being Sunday, embassies closed so will research embassy locations and requirements and prepare for applications tomorrow. Wandered around town and relaxed. I've been here before so not going to do too much sightseeing as I've seen it all before.

16/04/12 - A very long day today. Went to Tajikistan embassy first as it's open Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays only (0900-1200). Line ups for buses are massive and all are packed. Roads grid locked, so ended up walking to nearest underground Metro station - a good 30 minute walk (there is a link currently under construction from Beijing West Train Station where I'm situated to join the other lines) The metro is good, the automatic ticket machines much more useful than the non english speaking staff. Dirt cheap too at 2Y for any single trip (you can basically cross the whole city for 30 cents!) The downside is that it is packed, with dedicated people pushers on the platforms to squeeze you in like sardines. Arrived at 1000, just had to fill out application form (there is no english version but luckily there was an english speaking employee here to assist me filling it out), write a letter stating my reason for travelling, supply copy of passport, schedule and 1 photo. I ended up paying 820Y for express service of 3 days (as I need my passport back ASAP so I can apply for other visas) Normal service takes 7 days and costs 410Y. Since I'm applying for at least 4 visas (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and possibly Azerbaijan), I don't fancy spending a month here - even doing it express it looks like I'll be stuck here for a couple of weeks with a much lighter wallet. Anyway the Tajik visa will be ready for collection on Wednesday between 1400-1700. The Kyrgyzstan embassy is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday (1500-1800) so once I pickup my passport from Tajik embassy I'll head straight over to the Kyrg embassy to lodge my application.

17/04/12 - Rest Day, went in search of better accomodations - current place is a real dungeon. Met up with Yuan (through warmshowers) a chinese university student and cyclist. Unfortunately he lives in a dormitory on campus so wasn't able to get accomodation but he did treat me to lunch at the uni cafeteria which was very good. We also went for a ride around Beijing (great cycling here with most bike lanes a full car size lane wide making the going easy, most red lights don't last longer than a minute, although you need to be careful at intersections where traffic comes at you from all directions) and met up with a friend of his in the Salitun area where they directed me to a YHA hostel which had dorm beds for 60Y. My passport/visa is at Tajikistan embassy getting a visa issued and the hostel wouldn't accept my photocopies - they had to see the original! Crazy chinese beaurocracy at  work here. They did offer to let me sleep on the couch in the foyer from midnight, but this was packed with backpackers accessing the wifi in the area. It was almost 2000 now, so my chinese friends and I went to grab some dinner and wandered around the touristy shopping area here and hit a bar for a beer. On my return to the hostel the foyer was still chocas so decided to setup my tent in the emergency exit stairwell which was out of sight and unused - I didn't want to stay up any later. On closer inspection the stairs only go up one level to a locked door which seems to be part of an office suite and is never opened. There's also a landing here which can fit my tent at a sqeeze, but decided to setup in front covered foyer area instead which was a little more spacious. There is a security guard at the front gate but he never questions you as he assumes your just going to the YHA. He never leaves the comfort of his dog box anyway. There were plenty of foreign backpackers here so I was able to blend in and use the shared bathroom to have a hot shower and shave - the staff didn't question me. Even hooked on to the wifi for internet access! 

18/04/12 - Got up early to pack up the tent to avoid detection from a possible insurgence of staff/backpackers in my hiding spot. By 0700 I was back in the foyer of the hostel blending in and on the net, hehe, the perfect crime - gotta love when it all comes together. Relaxed, researched visa info on net and prepared Kyrgyzstan visa application. Picked up Tajikistan visa/passport at 1400 and lodged application/passport at Kyrgyzstan embassy at 1600. Took about an hour as there were about a dozen other applicants. Straight forward again, just needed copy of passport, a letter stating reason for travelling, a photo and 735Y for 3 day processing. Only hitch was that you can only pay visa fee through Bank of China, only at Dong Cheng branch. Won't make it there before closing time today so will have to go tomorrow. I left my bike and gear in the stairwell at the YHA (my secret hiding spot) which was safe while I took care of the visas today. Got back around 1700, had a quick shower and gathered everything together as I had to ride across town to Dong Cheng district to meet my warmshowers host at 1830. Will keep this place in mind if I get desperate for a place to stay - I reckon if you're cunning enough you could probably stay here for a week for nothing - just turn up after dark and be packed up by 0700 the following day. Met Yaojian and her family who have graciously taken me in at there 2 bedroom apartment. Nicole speaks limited english and her parents not at all but we are able to communicate with sign language and the help of my phrasebook, albeit slowly. She gave up her bedroom for me to sleep in, even though I could have easily slept on my inflatable mattress on the floor. Dad even cooked me some dinner! Wasn't expecting this level of hospitality!

19/04/12 - Yaojian and her mother had to work, dad had a day off so decided to join me in taking care of my visa business. This is a cycling family - one of the smart ones who don't own a car. He has a near new western Giant hardtail mountain bike so had no issues keeping pace. Hit the road around 0900 and headed to the Bank of China Dong Cheng branch to pay for the Kyrgyzstan visa. No issues here, just had to queue for about half an hour. Then we headed for the Azerbaijan embassy where I had to confirm the requirements and pickup an application form for the visa. By late morning it was all done and was now free to roam. Dad decided to take me sightseeing, acting as my tour guide. We went to Olympic Park first, which like Sydneys' is now deserted and a great place to cycle. Visited the famous "birds nest" stadium and aquatic centre and cycled around a bit. Got stopped by about half a dozen asian tourists who wanted to take photos with me which I found a bit weird. We then hit a local restaraunt for some lunch. Then it was on to Jingshan Park which has a temple/pavillion on top of a hill with 360 degree views of Beijing. From up here you can see the large amount of pollution/smog in the air, reducing sight distances to less than a kilometre I'm guessing. Yonghegong Lama Temple was next, a large tibetan temple complex with sweet smelling incense in the air, laughing buddhas, giant buddha statues and exhibits - well worth seeing. We then stopped at a local "fixie" bike shop. Excellent shop with cool and colourful single speed bikes. Will hopefully join some of their group meetings/events when I get a chance while I'm here. We ended up cycling over 50km around town. I'm very impressed and surprised with how easy it is to cycle here - until you come to an intersection at least - but even these aren't too bad once you get the hang of it. No doubt the large number of cyclists and the 2008 Olympic games here helped with the infrastructure. I dare say Beijing is the Amsterdam of Asia in terms of commuting by bike. I really don't know why anybody would want to drive a car here with such good facilities for bikes. The day wasn't over yet, we returned to base to dump the bikes and walked to the nearby Temple of Heaven - large parklike surroundings and again came across Asians wanting to hold my hands and get photos taken with me? I'm not the sight here people. Anyway spent a bit walking around and then back home for a cooked dinner around 1900. I'm really being spoilt here and is a little uncomfortable. Dad wouldn't let me pay for anything! Everytime I got my wallet out he would rush ahead and pay for everything, everytime! I have to make sure I get the family a nice present to thank them for their extreme hospitality before I go. Was an overcast, cool day at 14C - perfect for riding, didn't even work up a sweat! Lovin' it!

20/04/12 - Relaxed. Payed 204GBP to overseas travel agent to organise Letter of Invitations (LOI) for Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, as I need these before I can apply for the visa. I also need to have Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan visas before I can apply for 5 day transit visa for Turmenistan - which I'll be leaving till last. Will be a slow process now as I need to wait 2-3 days for Azerbaijan LOI and 10-14 days for Uzbekistan LOI. Once I have these I'll need to apply for their visas and only then can I proceed to get Turkmenistan visa. The waiting game begins.......... Hit the road at 1515 to ride across town to pickup Kyrgyzstan visa from embassy at 1700. Wasn't sure how long it would take me, got there early at 1600 and sat in waiting room as there were about half a dozen people applying for visa. Eventually got it at 1730. Back to base arrived around 1830. for another delicious home cooked dinner by my hosts. Again great riding, was drizzling when I set off and built up to light showers on the way back. Was quite cold too at 12C. Had a ball though , for the entire 30 odd km journey only had to get my feet off the pedals 4 times! On the few occasions I hit a red light, it was usually green in another direction so was able to string together an almost non stop journey. This in Beijing city traffic, peak hour on the way back. Superb, I have never been able to accomplish such a feat, and definately wasn't expecting to do so in a city of 22 million lemmings. Pity the fools in their cars gridlocked - well actually I don't! hehe suckers.

21/04/12 - Rest Day, spent the day on the bike, riding round and sightseeing. Went to Forbidden City first and joined millions of lemmings to wander through Ming Dynasty builidings and squares (60Y entrance fee - don't bother paying extra 40Y for audio guide, it's dead easy to hook onto the back of any tour group in the language of your choosing) Also checked out treasure gallery and clock hall (10Y each) which had detailed marble sculptures, artefacts and cool clocks. Spent about 3 hours pushing, shoving and wandering around, avoided the tour groups as they were moving too slowly for me. I'll have to remember to pack my shoulder pads next time - on a few occasions had to pucker up and mow through the crowds, the little critters bouncing off me like dodgem cars into other tourists. Was nice to go to nearby Zhong Shan Park to get away from the crowds, they had a spring tulip festival on with hundreds of different coloured plants on display. Next was the 798 Art Centre via some Hutongs (narrow lane ways where life goes by at a slower pace). Plenty of art galleries (most free, some 2Y, some offer free refreshments) cafes, shops, interesting sculptures and buildings and the odd arty emo freak with coloured hair around this old, ex industrial site. Spent about 2 hours wandering around, found a cool bike shop selling moulton bikes with disassembling frames and brooks bits although at over $9000 each very expensive. Back to base around 1800 for dinner.

22/04/12 - Rest Day, another day on the bike riding around and sightseeing. Off to Summer Palace (got the all inclusive ticket for 60Y which included entrance to gallery, Suzhou St and Buddhist temple) first joining millions of lemmings again pushing and shoving. Large area around a lake, once passed the palace was a little quieter on the west bank. The palace is on hilltop but unfortunately you only get a view of the nearby freeway. The gallery had much the same artefacts as the Forbidden City. Suzhou Street is a scenic collection of small shops on the riverbank. Ended up walking all the way around the lake, was nice and shady for most parts (allow about 4 hours all up) there are ferries taking short cuts if you're not up for a long walk. Headed back to Olympic Park to ride around some more, although there was a parkland area where I couldn't get into by bike so I skipped it as I had already done enough walking today. Ended up riding around the perimeter on the deserted smooth cycleway which was boring travelling next to the freeways. Headed back to base via the Hutongs around Dong Cheng District and a ride through Qiamen Walking Street (collection of touristy shops and eateries) Another nice home cooked meal around 1900.

23/04/12 - Rest Day, taking it easy today to recover and will probably ride out to Great Wall tomorrow as I await Azerbaijan LOI. Rode around Qiamen Street hutongs which are full of cheap little eateries and shops selling all kinds of trinkets. Did a lap around Qianhai Lake and rode around the hutongs there as well. Very touristy area this one, full of western style watering holes and fat ass tourists being chauffered around on pedicabs. Next was the Drum and Bell towers which also included a tea ceremony where I got to sample a variety of local teas. Didn't stick around for the drum performance as millions of lemmings were making their way up the steep stairs. Good views of the surrounding city and hutongs from both - albeit short sight distances from the smog which doesn't seem to disipate at all. Explored some more hutongs in Dong Cheng District as well as those close to base. Conditions here are very poor, butthe people  seem very content and happy going about their lives, eating out in the lanes, sitting on infant chairs watching the world go by. So much for a rest day, still covered over 50km. Back at base for dinner around 1800.

24/04/12 - Awoke to showers so postponing my ride out to the Great Wall. Spent the day indoors doing sweet fa. My host family took me out to dinner at a local restaraunt minus mum who was at work. Had a nice hotpot/steamboat dinner - similar to the ones I had in Thailand only better. Nice selection of meats and vegetables you cook yourself. The condiments were excellent, I especially liked the pickled garlic and local fruit juice. Luckily the showers had stopped so we had an enjoyable ride out there and back. -

25/04/12 - Rode out to Great Wall near the small town of Mutianyu -85km northwest of Beijing. Setoff early as it was going to be a big days ride. On the road at 0615, the city streets just starting to come alive at this hour. Nice clear, sunny but windy day. Had headwinds all the way. The road was flat except for the final 10km or so with a gentle climb up. Traffic wasn't too bad, mainly tour buses full of tourists. Arrived at 1115. Bought entrance ticket and return chairlift ride up to wall (45+80Y). Last time I visited the Great Wall was at Badaling (much more touristy) about 20 years ago. Not too crowded here - mainly americans, asians, aussies, germans, frenchies and a few arabs wearing a bottle of cologne. The wall is mostly original here too. I walked along the wall as far as I could go south east till I came to a "no admittance" sign. From here you can see it continue up and down the mountain tops in the distance, overgrown and crumbling amidst the forest. Was funny watching fat ass tourists huffing and puffing, moaning and groaning up the stairs - I didn't find it that difficult. In all spent 3 hours up there , really is an amazing structure with many guard towers and spectacular mountain scenery. On the ride back I took some different/back roads. The wind was more favourable and was I belting along in the high 20s, mid 30s. 20km north of the city there's alot of development going on with blocks of apartments going up. Dozens of cranes litter the skyline. Eco, sustainable, parks seem to be the buzz words. Back at base 1845 for a well earned dinner and rest. Over 170km ridden!

26/04/12 - Rest Day, ride around town, sightsee, relax. Picked up a program at the Performing Arts Centre (I might take in a bit of culture while I'm here) then pedalled to the Poly Art Museum - great collection of bronzes and sculptures, well worth the 20Y admission. Rode around the hutongs near Ghost Street (full of eateries amongst red chinese lanterns hanging from the shopfronts - grabbed some lunch here then spent the rest of the afternoon at Behai Park (10Y admission + various sights/temples 10Y admission each) similar to summer palace with a large lake. No bikes in here (like most parks in Beijing) walked around lake and visited all the usual sights. Chinese fanilies visit these parks to relax, dance, sing, picnic and hire a motor/pedal boat to cruise the lake. Quite busy for a weekday. Back to base 1800 for dinner and rest. Recieved Azerbaijan Loi via email so it's off to embassy tomorrow to apply for visa.

27/04/12 - On the bike 0900, off to Azerbaijan embassy. Arrived 1000, queue of about a dozen waiting. Small 3x2 office with lineup outside. Took about half an hour. All paperwork was OK but told to go to bank to pay 60USD before I can progress. I wish they had told me this and given me bank details the first time I enquired about application details (I have to make sure I ask about payment methods from now on) This place seems intent to make things as difficult as possible. Back on the bike to the bank, luckily wasn't too far only about 7km west on the main road (big bank of china building) Paid and back to embassy as it closes 1330. The bloke went through my papers about half a dozen times, had to answer the usual questions and finally by 1200 I had lodged my application and passport. Was told to return Friday morning 4th May to pickup visa/passport. There's a 4 day holiday here in China starting 1st May, so everything will be shut down with all the lemmings hitting the streets - should be interesting. I hadn't eaten anything all day, so grabbed some lunch and back at base 1330 relaxing. I also need to find a new place to stay as the family I'm staying with at the moment is going away for the holiday period to visit relatives. I'll search the usual places on the internet but I don't like my chances, as many people are going away. Although I do have a couple of options. On my roaming over the past week I've managed to uncover a couple of spots where I can camp, and there's always my hiding spot at the YHA to fall back on. Waiting for Uzbekistan LOI now, which should arrive around 10th May so I can apply for Uzbekistan visa. Then the final hurdle will be the Turkmenistan transit visa. It's a slow and expensive process indeed, and looks like I won't get to do too much more cycling in China. I was originally going to ride the southern silk road, but looks like I'll have to take the train for most of the way (which runs parallel with the northern silk road) Oh well, I'll make up for it in Central Asia I guess, with 5 visas in hand and fixed dates for border crossings it will be non stop, intense cycling hehe.

28/04/12 - Rest Day, ride around town,went museum hoppimg. First off to Beijing Police Museum (5Y entry, allow 1hr) 4  levels including history, CSI, weapons and equipment. Great value and interesting. Next was China Railway Museum (20Y entry, 4 levels, allow 1hr) lots of great photos, equipment and models of trains and rail lines including the high speed trains. Had some lunch at nearby Qiamen Street hutongs - a bit touristy here and the shopkeepers try to rip you off (I'm guessing their used to dealing with muppet tourists that don't know the local prices) I wasn't falling for their tricks. Rode around Tiananmen Square and surrounding hutongs and then off to Beijing City Walls Relics Park (entry 10Y, allow half hr) which has the rebuilt remains of Beijings City Wall, about 2km long with a 3 level corner tower housing an art gallery. Also rode along length of wall and found some original unrestored sections. 3x3 lane highway and railway lines occupy both sides of the wall now. Last but not least off to the China National Museum (free! allow 3hrs) big 3 level place, full of lemmings and extremely boring. I was falling asleep after 2 hours. Confucious says give this one a miss unless you have nothing better to do. Back to base for dinner 1800.

29/04/12 - Rest Day, ride around town & sightsee. Off to Beijing Ancient Observatory (20Y, allow 1hr) nice old instruments on rooftop of coner tower, part of Beijings old city wall. Next I rode past the CCTV building (the locals call it big underpants) then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around 798 Art District after grabbing some luch on the way. My second time here and still haven't seen everything here. Lots of little nooks and crannies to explore and very interesting so will return again sometime. Back at base 1800 for dinner.

30/04/12 - Rest Day, Farewell Yaojian and her family - they gave me a cool rotating bicycle bell and buddha necklace for good luck! Ride out to Haidian District to meet up with my new host Xiaoyan. Single mother living with her son in a 2 bedroom unit. She's on the 16th floor but luckily there's a lift and I was able to roll the bike in fully loaded which made things alot easier. After unpacking and settling in we went out for some lunch and off to the Watercube Waterpark (the ex-aquatic centre in Olympic Park) for some splashing around in the water. Waterslides, wave pool and music - was a fun atmosphere, but being holidays was jam packed (60Y entry via the internet, 200Y at the door)

01/05/12 - Rest Day, Go to Beijing International Motor Show with Xiaoyan and her son. Like lambs to the slaughter house, these are the days of our lives here in Biejijng. Millions of people herded like cattle through to the various exhibition halls housing the cars and glamour pusses. Pushing, shoving, bumping into others and general stupidity is the norm, again. Locals jostle for position to get photos of the female models like a pack of paparazzi vultures with their massive cameras. Funnily enough the models seem to get more attention than most of the cars. (Some of them didn't look too happy either, I guess having to pose all day in heels, next to hyundai excels, cameras in your face and blokes drooling at you day after day isn't too great - quite similar to the feelings I get when travelling through here on my bike I think. All chinese cars seem to be copies of western cars, just with some minor front and rearend restyling that the locals like - hideously large lights mainly. Even cult cars like the mini and smart cars have not escaped the wrath of the copycats. Very few bicycles on display which was a dissapointment. I only saw two, not counting the couple of road bikes (which don't interest me) One was the smart electric bike, which I've been following. People here obviously don't have much of an imagination - I guess being under the red armys' finger for so many years has dulled peoples' minds. I'm sure this, along with many other things here will change as this place westernizers and people get more materialistic. No doubt they will eventually suffer economic meltdown like the rest of us. Had my first negative experience with a host. Xiayan ditched me for the second day in a row (yesterday she left me at the waterpark, apparently her son wasn't feeling well) and today we agreed to meet at 1600 to head home, but she didn't wait for me (again using her son as an excuse saying that he was sleeping and couldn't wait another 5 minutes for me) Obviously she's not being 100% honest with me and she's definately hiding something and I wasn't sticking around to find out what. I headed back to her place, got there around 1700 and she wasn't home. After a number of unanswered phone calls and text messages she finally replied saying she'll be back around 2030. She turned up at 2100, apparently at a business meeting with her son and small dog - which she neglected to inform me about, mmmmmmm, ok. I packed my things and was on the road 2145 and headed to my safe haven - the YHA (see Beijing 17/04/12 for more details) Xiaoyan was very apologetic and wanted me to stay, but my gut feeling was to leave, as I felt that I couldn't trust her. The lady that rejected me the first time I came here was working the front desk so I had to time my entrance (I didn't know if she would recognise my face after a couple of weeks or so) So I waited for a group of backpackers to show. I setup my tent and got my sleeping gear ready for bedtime. It was very quiet tonight, know one else around so decided to walk in and avoid eye contact. It worked! Had myself a hot shower and by 2300 I was comfortably in my tent.

02/05/12 - Got up at 0600 to pack up tent and sleeping gear to avoid detection, as employees start showing up around 0700. Another successful stealth camping mission completed! By 0700 I was in the foyer, surfing the net, having breakfast and blending in. I now have to find some alternative accomodations. Back when I contacted Xiaoyan I had a couple of blokes offer to host me, so I'll try them - otherwise I'll stay in 007 mode. I also recieved the LOI for Uzbekistan via email from my travel agent. Unfortunately my passport is still at the Azerbaijan embassy till Friday morning when I pick it up so can't do anything till then. I'll prepare as much of the documents as I can in the meantime. Found a new host - Henry, and will be meeting him and a group of couchsurfers at their weekly meeting at 2000. Met some very interesting people including writers, journalists, businessmen, students and other travellers. Some have been here for around 3 years and love it. Most are studying chinese. Me, I wouln't live here. The number of cars, people and pollution (which hangs around like a thick fog - like you see on the scooby doo cartoons) is enough to keep me away. We chatted and mingled at Henrys' bar which he just opened a week ago. It was 0115 by the time everyone had left and we shut up shop. Rode back with Henry to his place which wasn't very far and hit the sack around 0145.

03/05/12 - Rest Day, ride around town, criss cross the hutongs around Dongcheng district. Went to a free cultural movie screening of "Red Light Revolution" organised by couchsurfing (CS) at 1430-1800. Was a good comedy about a chinese man who opened a sex shop in Beijing. I'll be attending more of these CS events as I'm running dry of things to do now. Just need to keep myself occupied in between visa applications. Back to base 1830 to rest and relax.

04/05/12 - Busy day today. Picked up AZ visa. The embassy opened 30 minutes late again at 1000. The imbersiles managed to get my entry and exit dates wrong , so was told to return at 1700 to pick up the ammended visa. Because of this I can't lodge my Uzbekistan visa application as the embassy closes in an hour. I'll have to leave it till monday. So rode around town and had some breakfast. 1430-1600 met up with some couchsurfers for a tea ceremony in one of Beijings' most famous tea houses (apparently the japanese PM comes here every time he visits China) I had to leave early though to pickup my visa, so missed the papercutting session (not too sure what that was about) Waited another 30 minutes for the councillor to ammend my visa on the spot. I was invited to go to the nightclub "Chocolate" apparently one of Beijings sleaziest clubs with a group of 10 couchsurfers. Arrived 2230 and stayed till 0200. Posh 15th century setup with antique furniture, paintings on the walls and ceiling. It is in the russian district of town, so was treated to russian pop music and gorgeous women. There were pole dancers, go go dancers and even shows featuring a fat marilyn monroe and supermodels. Apparently this is the hangout for mafia bosses. After 2 mojitos I was gone (they were a massive 500ml each) so didn't notice any characters. Stumbled out of there at 0200 and weaved my way back to base on the bike. Henry my host wasn't home, as he too had gone out to a bar with some friends. So I fell asleep on his neighbours front doormat, not before throwing up a couple of times - definately not my finest hour. Henry turned up around 0400 to let me in.

05/05/12 - Struggled to get up and wasn't feeling 100%. No surprise really as I only had about 4 hours of sleep. I didn't want to miss todays bike ride around the hutongs though with my fellow couchsurfers.  Made it to the meeting point on time at 1000 where we met each other while waiting for some late comers. It was a great turnout with 25 of us. Was a hot sunny day around 28C. Was great to cruise around at a leisurely pace - it was just what I needed after last night. As the day went on I regenerated and was feeling normal by lunchtime. We stopped to have lunch at a restaraunt. We ended up at a cafe around 1600, where we went our own way. I stayed with the ride leader Keith (who's a young expat from Australia) and a friend of his as they were going to see the movie "Avengers" which I was also keen to watch. Back to base around 2230 after a light dinner at a cafe.

06/05/12 -Ride around town, watched a local culture movie with CSers (Beijing Taxi) 1430-1600 which told the story of a local taxi driver on the lead up to the 2008 Olympic games. Found it a little boring though. Rode around town and met up with my next CS host - Panic? for dinner. All chinese people seem to have an english name - usually given to them by a teacher. Panic must have to chosen his own? My current host Henry is going to NZ in a couple of days so I had to find a replacement host. We met up with a friend of his and they took me to a spicy chinese restaraunt around 1930. The food was very good, had some new dishes that I haven't tried before - including oily fish, tofu like bean dish and sweet pineapple rice. Again they refused to allow me to pay - apparently it is chinese culture to pay for invited guests. Cool. Panic was happy with me and I'll be moving into his place on Tuesday sometime till Friday when I will ride north to Changping district to meet up with another host. Back at base 2100 to relax. 

07/05/12 - Got up early to go to Uzbekistan embassy which opened at 1000. Had some breakfast and was there at 0900 to secure first place. By opening time there was about a dozen people queued up outside. I had everything ready (2 page application filled out, 1 photo, LOI  and passport) I was surprised when the lady said to wait a few minutes. Within 10 minutes I had recieved my passport complete with Uzbekistan visa! On the spot! Wasn't expecting this as the noticeboard outside states 7 days processing, or 3 days express? Only charged me the lower amount too of 600Y. With passport in hand I quickly checked the opening times for the Turkmenistan embassy. I was in luck, it was open today from 0900-1200, so headed out there. Stopped to photocopy my newly acquired visa as well as a few other things to fullfill their requirements. Arrived around 1100. I just had to write a letter explaining why I want to travel through Turkmenistan. I included this together with copies of my Uzbek and Azerbaijan Visas (as I'm applying for 5 day transit visa, they require entry point and exit point visas) copy of passport, schedule and 1 photo. Handed it to the councillor (who I had met a few weeks back when I enquired about requirements) After about 30 minutes I was told to call him next Monday. I asked for express service and he said that I should have visa by May 15th. Also enquired about 7 day transit visa but he said 5 days is the longest possible. Was back at base by 1200, had some lunch and relaxing. Good news then, looks like I'll finally be able to leave Beijing and get back on the steed after over a month of acquiring visas here. I want to enter Kyrgyzstan on June 1, so that gives about 2 weeks to cover over 3000km. Unfortunately it would take me about 2 months to do this on a bicycle, so I will catch a train to Urumqi (which travels parallel with the northern Silk road, about a 3 day train ride)  then ride to Krygyzstan from there or somewhere beyond depending on  how much time I have left. Definately will be cycling across the border - they are always a highlight. Got invited to dinner tonight by another couchsurfer who has been trying to meet me for the last 2 weeks or so but either himself or me were busy with other things. Met up with Gilbert and Simon, a couple of locals who will be moving to Australia next year. They treated me to a nice dinner and Italian style restaraunt. Had a nice variety of foods and used a knife and fork for the first time in China. We had a good discussion about things. Back to base 2100.

08/05/12 - Rest Day, relax, thanked Henry for hosting me and wished him luck on his trip to NZ. Also donated my thailand and laos lonely planet guidebooks to the library in his cafe, as I 've been lugging these around with me for a while now. Rode out and met new host Panic at 1400. He lives very close to "big underpants" (CCTV building) in Chaoyang district. He's a journalist, writing articles for a local business magazine. He seems to have a pretty good job in that he doesn't need to go into the office very often - gets to sleep in and stay up late - so i took advantage of this over the next few days. Unpacked and went for a walk around. This is the CBD area of Beijing, not much to see or do here. Found a nice little park with a lake. Walked around it then found a bench to relax on and did a bit of people watching. Back to base 1900.

09/0512 - Easy day today, slept in and rode around town. Went to weekly CS meeting at Henrys bar. Brought Panic along as he's never been to one of these meetings, and being a first time host was keen to meet some new people. Six of us setoff to do a nightride through the city. Turned out to be a bit boring, as I knew most of the other attendees from previous events, and we managed to steer clear of the bright lights, glitz and glamour of Beijing. Back at base 2315.

10/0512 - Rest Day, slept in, rode out to Cao Chang art centre (about 3km NE of 798 art distrist) Small complex of about half a dozen galleries, nowhere near as commercial as 798. Nice and quiet, but didn't see anything to my taste. Rode back into town to watch "Beijing Bike" a free screening at a local bar/cafe organised by CS. Was a good movie about a young beijingers' love affair and hardship with his bicycle (1600-1800) Back at base 2000.

11/05/12 - Rest Day, sleep in, pack up gear and ride north to Changping District to meet new host after 1800. Arrived a bit early so rode around town for a bit. 1830 met up with Jiandong at his nice 2 bedroom apartment. Unpacked and chatted while we waited for his wife Donghua to come home from work. We sat down to dinner together around 2000 and chatted till late.

12/05/12 - Rest Day, on the road 0800 to meet CS'ers for bike ride out to Old Summer Palace. Started at 1000 Xicheng District, didn't set of till 1100 as we waited for people to hire bikes. Eight of us all up, with mostly new faces - some singaporeans, italian and a canadian. The overnight showers and morning drizzle cleared to a nice sunny day by the time we set off. We followed the canals mainly, which was nice and went through some very poor neighbourhoods with rubbish piled up everywhere. Definately saw a bit of real Beijing today. Another 2 singaporeans joined us for lunch near the Old Summer Palace. We found a local entrance (over a broken perimeter wall) and avoided paying the 10Y entrance fee, however there was no way around the 15Y entrance fee to see the ruins - safeguarded by 2 lines of perimeter walls. Most of the ruins seem untouched, with many artifacts sticking out of the ground, while others look like they've just been stacked on top of each other randomly - many carvings don't match up. Has a strong european influence too. We left around 1700 and the group started to seperate and people went their own way. I left Keith and Kevin (the ride leaders) around 1800 to head back to base. Arrived around 1930.

13/05/12 - Rest Day, On the road 0900, rode out to Changping city centre, took the scenic route, about 50km north of my base. Then continued north to the Ming reservoir and did a loop of it. I couldn't find the turnoff for the tombs though, the locals useless as usual. Was a cool day, about 17C and by noon the wind had really picked up. Was a nice ride around the reservior, saw about half a dozen local cyclists but all were up themselves. Back at base 1700 to rest and recover.

14/05/12 - Rest Day, 0930 on the road back to the YHA in Beijing city - I'll be spending my remaining time here as it's in a good location, close to embassies and metro. Called Mulate from Turkmenistan embassy at 1030 to get completion date of visa. Seemed like he forgot about it, and I was told to call back tomorrow after 1600. The waiting continues............Arrived at YHA around 1130, took it easy and stopped for some lunch on the way as well. Parked the bike in my usual hiding spot, had a shower and relaxed on the lounge in the foyer. Can't book my train ticket to Urumqi till I know the date my final visa is finished.

15/05/12 - Rest Day, hang out at YHA, call Mulate at Turkmenistan embassy at 1600 for visa completion date.

16/05/12 - Rest Day, hang out at YHA, wait for Mulate to call about Turkmenistan visa. Managed to secure some accomodation with another CS host at Xincheng District. Rode west to meet Antonio - a young italian expat. Met up at 1800. He lives in a big 4 bedroom apartment with 3 other flatmates. We went out for dinner at a local restaraunt were we had frog (tastes like chicken but is soft meat that melts in the mouth). Returned to his place to relax and chat. Met his other roommates as they returned home as well.

17/05/12- Rest Day, relax, wait for Turkmen visa, call Mulate and enquire about progress, wander/ride around town.

18/05/12 - Rest Day, meet fixie riders at local fixie shop 1000 for ride out to Olympic Park. It was 1100 by the time we set off. Slow pace with stops for refreshments. About 15 of us, me the only foreigner. Did 2 fast laps around the park with the others, went alright considering my bike weighs over twice as much as these colourful fixies - definately surprised a few of them with my turn of speed. We had lunch together (which they paid for), a couple were interested in my trip, but most were too busy trying to look pretty (even a couple of cute biker chicks) - it does work, they draw attention to themselves and the bikes and definately helps to promote cycling here as a fun activity and not just a way to get from A to B.

19/05/12 - Rest Day, sleep in, do sweet fa, relax

20/05/12 - Rest Day, sleep in, do sweet fa, relax.

21/05/12 - Rest Day, sleep in, ride out to Turkmenistan embassy to pickup my passport. Arrived just after 1200, spoke with Mulate, still waiting on invitation letter from Turkmenistan immigration office before he can issue visa. He reckons he should have it by next week. The waiting continues.....14 days and counting, all this for a measely 5 day transit visa. It is possible to get a 30 day tourist visa but you can't travel independantly - that is I would have to hire a guide, put him on a bike, feed him and accomodate him - that's assuming he would be able to keep up - simply out of my budget. Ride around town and return to base. 

22/05/12 - Rest Day, On the road around 1000 to the YHA. Had a shower, rest and relax before meeting up with my new host on the outskirts of Chaoyang district (near 798 art centre) at 1930. Hit the road at 1730 to give myself plenty of time to meet my host Xuehua. Lucky I did as I arrived right on time, although it turned out to be the wrong place. Xuehua only gave me the compound name and building number, no street names and apparently there's a few here with the same name. A maze of high rise apartments here, block after block - wouldn't want to be a pizza delivery boy here. I was in the vicinity though and she was nice enough to drive to my location and escort me to her place. Got to see how the other half lives here in Beijing. Up on the 20th floor of her luxury apartment - I eventually made it up once I figured out how to get the bike and gear into the elevator without dismantling everything. I met Alex here, a dutch CS'er travelling through China on his way to the US. I unpacked and had a shower. Xuehua had prepared some dinner for me as well which was delicious and timely as I was planning on grabbing something on the way but never got a chance as progress was slow in the heat of peak hour traffic. Alex and I decided to go to a nearby restaraunt to grab a beer and discuss our experiences. A short time later Alex recieved a text message from Xuehua saying that she wanted me out of her place because I was dirty! - which really surprised me. Obviously she had a preconception of me in her head (perhaps a spotless bike and luggage smelling of roses ridden by a gentleman in a suit sipping a brandy while riding amidst the chaos that is Beijings' peak hour traffic?), and when she saw me it must have been shattered - hehe. It turns out she has never ridden a bike and is obviously living a very sheltered life. This woman hasn't lived a day in her life! It would be very amusing to see her walk through the hutongs here, amidst all the garbage and squallor - it might open her eyes to see how the majority of her fellow people live. I get the feeling she drives everywhere and doesn't do any physical activity - the nanny taking care of household chores. Sad really, she seems happy, content and blissfully oblivious to what is going on outside, the world crumbling beneath her feet, and eyes wide shut. So rich yet so poor. Her 4 year old son on the Ipad is sure to suffer the same fate. This experience has really made me realise how fortunate I am to be able to travel this way, and how much travel opens up your mind, heart and soul to the complexities of life and nature..........thanks mum and dad.

23/05/12 - Rest Day, decided to pack up and leave Xuehuas' elevated birdcage and step back into the sights and smells of reality, hitting the road at 0730 for a comfortable ride back to my safe haven - the YHA - needless to say she was happy to see me go. Tried to seek out a new host but it seems I've reached the maximum number of requests on couchsurfing - so will stay here. Research central asia, twiddle thy thumbs, really keen to get moving again.

24/05/12 - Rest Day, relax at YHA, research central asia, rung Mulate at 1230 for visa update - told to ring back after 1500. Rang back and now told to go see him 1000 tomorrow. Seems like he wants a bribe or something? If I can't get visa tomorrow I'll just have to get it somewhere in central asia - which will probably mean getting a bus/train to another big city and waiting. It's been 17 days now and I can't wait anymore - need to get moving. I need to be out of China by June 10. I was planning to cross into Krygyzstan on June 1, but that now seems unlikely to happen.

25/05/12 - Rest Day, relax at YHA, caught the metro out to meet Mulate at Turkmenistan embassy 0930. The head honcho also attended to explain the situation. Apparently everything is good, my visa application has been accepted by the immigration office in Turkmenistan, but unfortunately they're experiencing "technical difficulties" - apparently updating their computer systems and they have suspended the processing of all visas till June 01, 2012. Unfortunately I can't hang around and wait as I need to make a beeline for the border as my visa expires June 10. Luckily Mulate was very helpful and will get the immigration office to send my completed invitation letter to the Turkmenistan embassy in Tajikistan where I'll be able to pick it up and proceed with the processing of the visa - just hope I get special treatment as I've already waited 18 days (the usual processing time is around 10 days). Mulate assured me that they'll issue on the spot - but I'm not convinced - we'll see. Anyway with that sorted for now, I caught the metro straight to Beijing West train station to secure a ticket to Urumqi. Arrived 1130. There are daily services to Urumqi, but unfortunately with so many people the train fills up quickly. The first available train wasn't till 30th May, and that is only a seat (I was hoping for a hard sleeper for some peace and quiet) but no, all full, so it's back to cattle class which promises to be yet another memorable train trip amongst the grots. Looking forward to the silk road scenery though. Not sure if I'm on the slow or fast train (will take 3-4 days to get to Urumqi) from there I have to get another train to Kashgar (which is the end of the line and another 2-3 day journey. Unfortunately you cant purchase a ticket here in Beijing, only at Urumqi) then back on the bike for a 3-4 day cycle to the border at Irkeshtam (which sits at around 3000m above sea level). So as you can see I'm going to be hard pressed to cross the border by June 10, when my chinese visa expires. (and that's assuming I don't have any unforeseen "technical difficulties" - fingers crossed - may be some long days in the saddle ahead me thinks. Also just realised June 10 is a sunday - have to research to see if this border is open on weekends - hope so!) Not much out this way either, so I'll be loaded up with food and water, using the cooking  gear again - which I haven't touched since leaving Australia. So I guess now is the time to mention the safety warnings in accordance with oh&s regulations and discourage any wannabees from following in my tyre tracks. Kids, don't try this at home. These people are trained professionals? - relax, still got 4 days of r&r before the mayhem begins...or should that be resumes...Sorry, off track a bit....by 1230 had the train ticket in hand after handing over 316Y. Decided to visit the military museum which I was meaning to check out but haven't been in the vicinity of late - it's right next to the metro station here. Free entry (just need to show ID) about a dozen large sheds housing military tanks, vehicles, cars, motorbikes, trucks, aircraft, missiles, rockets, launchers and the like from a bygone era. Also a gallery housing war themed paintings and sculptures in one of the buildings. The other large buildings were closed - not sure if there's anything inside - I was the only foreigner here amongst millions of lemmings today. Back at base at 1400 for a shower and relaxing.

26/05/12 - Rest Day - mr miagi says.....wax on.....wax off. Research central asia. It appears Irkeshtam border is only open M-F between 0900-1100 and 1400-1800. Closed on weekends. That means I now have to be there between those times, no later than June 8 as my visa expires June 10 (which is a sunday) - the pressures on! Apparently busy year round as well, as it is a major crossing point for trucks trading between the two countries. 1930 recieved a message from Gilbert (met him a few weeks ago) who invited me to spend my remaining nights in Beijing at his place. I accepted, packed my things and hit the road at 2030 for the short ride to his place in Wangjing district. Arrived 2100 to his nice 2 bedroom apartment, unpacked and cleaned up.  He was concerned about my lack of time to get to the border and had worked out a solution for me. I was to catch a train to Zhengzhou first, about ?km south of Beijing, then another train to Urumqi, and finally a third train to Kashgar. This arrangement, although longer, will get me to Kashgar by the 1st of June and the Kyrgzstan border around the 4th of June - as there is a train tomorrow morning, taking the pressure off. So we went ahead and booked the tickets online using his credit card. I couldn't have done this alone, as the site is in chinese, so am very grateful for his help. The train to Zhengzhou is a fast one with no stops but is full so I only managed to get a seatless ticket (departing 28/05/12 at 1059 and arriving at Zhengzhou 1634, 5.5hrs, cost 94Y, train no.T15). For the second train to Urumqi we secured the second last hard sleeper top bunk ticket, which was very lucky (departing Zhengzhou 2126 on 28/05/12 and arriving Urumqi on 30/05/12 at 0735, 32hrs, cost 532Y, train no.T197). For the final train to Kashgar I purchased another hard sleeper middle bunk ticket (still plenty left - departs Urumqi 1158 on 30/05/12 and arrives Kashgar 31/05/12 at 2037, 32hrs, cost 177Y, train no.7556). Was about 2300 by the time I got to bed.

27/05/12 - Rest Day, 1200 head out with Gilbert and run some errands - bought food to fill front panniers and sampled cross bridge yunnan noodles for lunch - which was delicious. 1430 rode out to Beijing West train station to pickup all 3 train tickets - as wont have time to do so tomorrow morning, and also wanted to see how long it takes to get out there by bike. Also got a refund on my original ticket (beijing - urumqi) Back at base 1800 for shower and haircut. Gilbert had prepared a nice home cooked meal using local vegetables to see me off. Heating up here now, summer is on the way, 30C.

Made it to Miyi. Didn't look like much, but when I went down to the riverside was surprised to find nice big wide boulevardes that you could actually cycle along. On the road at 0800 after a comfortable night in the tent (I'm actually able to get away earlier when camping as I don't need to unpack bike and drag gear up 3-4 flights of steps to a hotel room) Another tough day of constant undulations through the mountains. Road was rough concrete but smoothed out to bitumen as the day went on. Rolled into town at 1400. I refueled at a restaraunt and went down to the park on the riverside to find a camping spot. I don't think I'll bother going to hotels as much now as it's a hassle (except on rest days) Funnily enough ended up setting up in front of a hotel fronting the park which rejected me. I used there facilities and they didn't even wink. Went for walk along boulevardes. Locals gather in square to dance at dusk. Nice friendly town this one.

At Xichang now. On the road at 0830, relatively easy day today with light undulations, mainly up to town at 1530m. Bumpy bitumen road (G108 which became  S107) Rolled into town at 1200 and went about extending my visa - which expires on 14/04/12 (4 days). Visited local police station which sent me to the major police station in town. I arrived around 1330 but everyone was on their lunch break so I had to return at 1430. I grabbed a bite to eat  and filled out my visa application form and returned. Just had to fill out an accomodation form and register with the police - I actually did this a while back with one of the hotel owners as they already had my details on file. The 2 female officers were very helpful and spoke a little english, they even took my photo! The next step was to visit the entry/exit of aliens office, which was about a 15 minute ride away so off I went. I was greeted by Ma, an english speaking officer. He was very impressed with me cycling all this way and I was very lucky to get a new chinese visa which expires on 10/06/12. Procedure states 30 days max with a 5 day processing period - I got 60 days on the spot! (although I lost 4 days as they count the 30 days from when you apply for the extension and not when your original visa expires, but hey, I'm not complaining - I was very lucky.  I can relax now as I have free reign in China till June 10. Ma also gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I had any questions or problems - absolute champion! So fellow cyclists, make sure to come to Xichang to get your visa extended - just ask for Officer Ma! I actually red on the warmshowers forum that a couple of french cyclists got turned around at Boten 2 weeks ago (the Lao/Chinese border I came through almost a month ago) - gees I didn't realise how lucky I was as the officers' didn't even flinch when I told them I was on a bike? It was 1600 by the time I had finished posing for photos, so went in search of some accomodation. My luck continued, with the first place I visited accepting me at the price I was after, so by 1630 I was resting comfortably.

11/04/12 - Rest Day, ride around lake and town. It's only about 40km round the lake so easy to do in 4 hours. Nice and quiet once you get out of town.You pass through plenty of  Tibetan minority towns. Bought train ticket to Beijing - not sure if it is direct or what class I got, but I asked for cheapest ticket so will probably be cattle class. Relax.

12/04/12 - Rest Day, run errands, catch 1450 train to Beijing. Will spend about a week here organising visas for the Stans. 

At Panzhihua now. Bigger commercial town this one. On the road at 0800. Tough day of non stop undulations (I find this type of the terrain the toughest, as it seems to take alot more constant energy - I prefer a big climb followed by a big descent. Rolling hills that you can string together are very rare - that is your momentum down carries you up the next incline) 15km mark road turned to custard, with broken, dusty, stoney sections (these all seem to be around factories). This went on for following 25km as I was in a constant cloud of dust from trucks belching out black smoke. Traffic was heavy and slow going too. Wasn't expecting to see factories in these big valleys flanked by giant mountains. The road did improve and I eventually rolled into town around 1500. Accomodation is getting harder to find. I spent almost 2 hours trying to find a place but couldn't, cycling up and down the steep streets. These bigger cities require pre-arranged bookings in tourist only hotels which are 3-4 times more expensive than the local hotels (out of my budget). So I went to the local park to do it hobo style. I had a feed of snacks around the bus station nearby before I found a sports stadium where I was able to setup my tent under the concrete grandstand seating relatively hidden from passers by. The stadium was open for a local school group so I was able to use the facilities to clean up properly. I was surprised to see my face was totally black from all the pollution I encountered today - I looked like a chimney sweeper - probably explains why I was rejected at reception of the hotels too. Getting alot of stares too, which makes me a little uncomfortable as most seem to look at my groin. There's a massive gender imbalance here - apparently as high as 35:1 (that is 35 boys born for every one girl) in some regions. So looks like the coming generations will be a bunch of homos, as they won't be able to find a wife. Lets hope that they don't find their way out of the country - although it's pretty much inevitable, as these guys together with the Indians make up the largest proportion of the worlds population, so it's a case of you can run but you can't hide - eventually they are going to hump you! In the meantime I'll refrain from wearing my superman undies on the outside!

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