Jiayuguan – China
It’s funny how one day can be as uneventful as a bag of sugar, and the next day, all hell breaks loose. The two days after leaving Lanzhou were as such, the entry in my diary being blank for the first, and covering some 7 pages for the second.
I had a hard start to the second day, finding it difficult to get motivated, but once I left the busy main road packed with gigantic, dirty, noisy trucks and headed off into the mountains, my mind began to clear and I began enjoying the day. I ascended along the narrow winding road which I shared with a few 3 wheeler vans and perhaps the odd small truck. The rolling mountains were covered with short green grass, kept in check by the flocks of sheep that roamed about happily. I spotted a particularly comfortable looking spot and decided to hold off on the cycling for a bit, and lay down to chill for a while. I could see jagged peaks in the distance framed by the vivid blue sky, and listened to the gentle sounds of the insects going about their business, the wind blowing and sheep bleeting. The sun was strong but because I was quite high, the air was cool and refreshing. It was the first time since arriving in China that there was no sound of people or cars or trucks. As I lay there with the sun on my face, I felt relaxed and soon drifted off into a peaceful slumber.
As I started climbing again, a van pulled up alongside and they asked if they could get a photo with me. One of the guys, named Luo Ben Gui (for the purposes of this story, I’ll call him Ben) got out and walked alongside as I cycled to the top of the pass. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a 3 wheel van zooming down the road, which narrowly missed Ben, and careered down the steep road. At first I thought it was another crazy Chinese driver but when it showed no signs of slowing I figured that it’s brakes had failed. It bounced on the bumpy road and the rear wheels actually got airborne like a bucking bronco, sending some of it’s overloaded melon cargo bouncing out of the back. When it came to a set of S-bends, I knew by the speed it was doing, that it would not make it through so I headed back down the road. The trail of smashed melons led me towards the crash site, but when I came around the corner, I was unsure what to expect.
The crumpled van was in a ditch, surrounded by it’s cargo that had been catapulted due to the sudden stop. The passenger was out and unharmed, but the driver was trapped inside of the battered cabin and was bleeding, but conscious. The van had run off the road and into a deep ditch, then skirted the bank which luckily reduced it’s speed before it dug into the mud. The left (drivers) side was mangled, and the steering column and framework had been smashed inwards, breaking the drivers leg, and leaving him trapped inside. After clearing the mud, we managed to get a rope around the shredded metal, and with the help of some others who had since stopped to help, we gave a good heave ho, trying to free the bashed front that was trapping the drivers leg. But with the rope quickly snapped on the shredded metal and I was nearly sent tumbling backwards. After prying the door loose with a crow bar, padding the rope with some rubber, and giving another good tug, we managed to free the drivers leg. Even though he was free, we didn’t take him out, as we didn’t want to cause further damage by moving him. The ambulance had been called nearly an hour earlier, but as we were in a remote area, it still hadn’t arrived.
My new chum Ben was chuffed that I helped and so invited me to stay with his family in a nearby town. With nothing left to help with, we headed on. We stopped for a quick climb up the hill overlooking the 3030m pass and the view was breathtaking, the long evening shadows accentuating every crease and ridge of the surrounding mountains.
Ben’s father is a foreman for a Chinese road contractor and the whole family lives in a temporary portacabin village, complete with restaurants and small shops, that moves from site to site as each job is completed. I’m told an average road tunnel takes about 4 years to build, working day and night. It is hard & dangerous work, indeed on the last site they were on, some 20 men were killed, but despite the dangers it’s seen as a good job, because it “is good for the People of China”. I was given my own room on site, and then whisked off to dinner with his family, who fed me dish after dish until I was absulutely stuffed. His father didn’t speak any English so made up for it by making me drink shot after shot of beer, each with a loud, “gambay” (cheers). At breakfast, as their guest, I was given the “best bit” of the whole boiled chicken, the leg with the scaly feet and claws attached.
I don’t think chicken feet will take place of the Cornflakes on my table at home, but the rice porridge they gave me set me up for the day, and I was ready to take on another days cycling.