overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Into the Dragon's Lair...

Written by Max Smith. Uploaded 28 April 2006.

China, Country 17, Diary entry 7th-21st March 2006, Total distance in China: 7610km

China isn't a country - it's a different world. Unless you have a couple of years and unlimited patience, it's best to follow a loose itinerary here, such as following the Silk Road, sailing down the Yangzi River, or exploring the Dr Seuss landscape of Guangxi Province. From shop-till-you-drop metropolises to the desert landscapes of Xinjiang, China is a land of cultural and geographic schisms. It's a one party country under two-policy rule. The fist of communism controls the poor and the rich enjoy the spoils of capitalism, mixed in with an archaic sense of duty all adds to world of mystery.

The Overland team after our discoWe left the border town of Golmud, with heavy heads, not so much from the night's line of alcoholic beverages but from the knowledge that we were leaving the lands of Tibet. It's a strange feeling to leave a place that has so many secrets but shouts so many answers. Our path was to the east, into the heart of the dragon's lair, deep into Mainland China.

The dancing diva'sOutside it was bitterly cold as we crossed the open plains heading towards Xining. We mistakenly assumed that we would quickly drop down off the plateau to warmer climes, but instead we remained around 4000m, driving through the barren landscape. The roads here seem like small black streams winding through a golden cover of sand, for as far as your mortal eye can see. As we headed east the change of modernisation was clear, mud houses turned to concrete, tracks to motorways and the rough look of Tibet to the softer feel of China. Villages were now towns and towns to sprawling cities. This was China.

Martin's brideHours later we arrived in Xining the capital of the province. It was big, no in fact it was enormous with all the sights and smells of any city. As we drove the streets looking for a place to lay our heads that night, it took a few moments for all to get used to such a hectic scene after spending so much time, so remote. With the Pitwood MacD Radar in full swing it didn't take long for us to spot internet cafes and Everyday driving in Chinacoffee shops. So in what seemed now our usual style we broke every traffic rule China has, and drove around the city to the Hotel. This policy is only possible if you believe in two fundamental ideas. The first "they will move because we are bigger than them" and the second being "I am English" both of which seem to work very well all over the world.

We spent the night wandering the street market and food stalls with a sense of amazement and just what junk they sell and weird things you can eat. The food market was a sight not to be missed with a choice of every conceivable meat on offer. From spiced earwigs, seaweed kebabs and mussel paella.

The all new China - High and MightyBy now all of us had spent a number nasty occasions on the royal throne due to trying new food groups, so we opted for what we knew or resembled known parts of the animal. No easy feat I can assure you for anybody. With dinner finished we continued our obligatory search for access to the internet. What we found was the new, lost generation. The choice is endless..Huge rooms, lines of computers and rows of cheap leather chairs. It was the kind of scene any call centre slave master would be proud of. These dens were not for work, or for outsiders, this was where serious business took place, where men became champions. Welcome to online gaming. It is the activity that has taken over China's youth. Hundreds sitting there for hours tapping keys and talking on chat rooms. What is the world coming to when its cool to be a computer geek, but hey It made Alex and Martin feel a lot better about themselves.. don't figure.

The next morning we stocked upon our own supplies, Maz making sure when had enough gallons of beer stowed away, Martin making sure his shares in the Oreo cookie company jump up 2 points and Alex sitting there stroking his laptop. Brass historyAll done we headed to Labrang Monastery, the third of the Major Buddhist sites. Again arriving late we headed to a near restaurant for some hot fodder before we looked for camp. We found what the Chinese call hot pot, where by each person has a mini Bunsen burner with a bowl of boiling spiced water on top. The plan then is to drop in whatever raw ingredients take your fancy. In truth is good fun and the food actually tastes pretty good. The food was not the unusual aspect of this restaurant but rather that each dinning table was in a separate room, with no noise or atmosphere, it all seemed very clinical. Well that was until the beers started to take affect. We headed out in cover of dark looking for a place to pull up and break camp.

Maz diving into the HotpotThe monastery itself looked more like a small town with building s and courtyards dotted all around the place. All donning the deep purple and white colours of Tibetan Buddhism. As we strolled up through the court yards the token monk / ticket collector jumped to life but this time we managed to send him packing by pointing 3 large lensed cameras in his face. He must have believed we were trying to steal his soul as we never saw him again.

What happens to buddhists when they have their picture takenWe wondered around admiring the wall paintings and pray flags but the real picture here is the devotion of so many. They say a picture paints a thousand words, its clear to me now, that in some situations a thousand words is not enough. Its hard to describe true devotion as it sparsely exists in our worlds. We live in a time of fancy fashions and disbelieving doctors. Where, to many, the word devotion is a rare as honour and belief. But here such things form the fabric of society. It's hard not to be captivated by those here, who put so much into something with no obvious reward. It must be a wondrous thing to still have mystery and surprise in your future.

Old ChinaAfter numerous feet stamping, toys thrown and tantrums Alex took his finger from the camera and left the poor people of this small town alone. We mounted up and started to head south towards Jiuzhaiguo. The guidebooks describe the area as a must see tourist site, of blue pools and perfect waterfalls. Its location was quite remote with the nearest major town and airport being hours away so we thought it would be a quiet day trip away from the hordes.

The crystal blue watersWe were wrong. Through the winding valley you hit it, hotel after hotel, after hotel. Neon sign after neon sign, what have we come too. We parked the trucks and strolled towards the main entrance. Once we had battled past the tour groups with their matching hats and flags and the marching workers parade, we hit it. The most advanced ticket office in the world, you would have been forgiven to thinking you were purchasing an airline ticket. The only true way to describe what we saw would be to ask you to watch Jurassic Park. Huge electronic ticket booths, CCTV everywhere and aircon buses shipping you to each site. In the normal way we jumped ship as soon as possible and set off around the park on foot, which is the only real way to see these great sites.

Pools from GodThe national park consists of snow capped sheer sided mountains running down into a lush green valley. Throughout which lays hundreds of small pools and streams to which the aqua blue snow melt rushes down. It truly is a spectacular site with water a colour not thought possible.

there are thousands of these scenesWe trekked for many hours along river banks and trails, on numerous occasions finding the need to jump the high fences restricting access to the public, but with our "I'm British" philosophy, as our get out of jail free card we would be fine.

This area really is a must see site and well worth any trek to get here, you just need to loose the million or so tourists that come here each year. You sometimes forget that China has a population of Europe and America together and so has a huge amount of internal tourist movement.

Back to the trucks and back to the road, we had many miles to our next destination Chengdu and were in need of a little down time. The existing roads were in shocking condition made worse with the new high way being built on top. Tinfish was showing some where with a blown tire and a cracked rim, we where close to getting stuck. Tempers were being tested and the team was tired, but we made it. We limped to the metropolis of Chengdu and found some guy with a blowtorch and puncture repair kit and let him loose. Martin had his continual punctures fixed on nearly all his wheels, I had began to wonder if he thought it was me going around the truck letting the tyres down simply to whined him up. It began to rain, the first we had seen for months now, but never a welcome situation on the one day you have to relax and wander.

Goldfish in a CanChengdu was like any city, big, expensive and busy. You could shop till your hearts content here, but none of us have any need for more clothes or fashion accessories so no real point in this. Max takes a break from driving!So the day was spent sorting kit, writing post cards and chilling. This was all except Mark, who decided to drink a little bit of wine for breakfast. So off he went on the search for a wine shop. A couple of hours later we saw him on his way out to get more bottles, and this time he was walking with a swagger to his step. Later on in the afternoon, knock, knock at the door, Mark stood there decidedly unsteady on his feet declared to us all he was hungry and going for noodles. A good idea we thought, our blind drunk guide wandering around a city he does not know. We laughed at first then realised if he gets arrested that we were stuck too, but before we could stop him he was gone, the hunger calling had taken him. The hours passed and no Mark until walking past the room you could here what can only be described as an elephant sneezing. On further inspection it was actually mark snoring like a champion next to his 3 empty bottles of wine.

Raw Eels for dinnerBad Hair DayIt's clear that China is changing quickly and the pace of advancement is increasing. Now is the time to see China still with its rustic charm and country people, as soon this will be hard to find. Tourists will be sped along new motorways to modern metropolis after metropolis, never having the luck to see wild China. The people are charming and friendly with a genuine desire to help when needed. Underneath all this charm you just know there is stone faced commissar watching ever move.

They say China is one of the safest countries in the world. In part I agree, but its only safe if you play their game, by their rules. Freedom here means something quite different. A lot of effort is going into promoting the Olympics, why China wanted it and even more, why they won it seems a mystery to all. A country that spends so much time hiding so many things, asking for so many wandering eyes.

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Comment from The Mother
Martin, she's beautiful!! You make a lovely couple but you haven't mentioned her in your emails.

Matalan have a good range of wedding hats...........can I tell everyone yet?

The Mother

28 Apr 2006 @ 14:16:02

Comment from Martin
What Max doesn't mention is that she was merely the siren sent to lure the unsuspecting Westerner back to the table where her gay friends were eagerly waiting. When hat shopping, maybe go for something very flamboyant?
29 Apr 2006 @ 06:07:20

Comment from The Mother
Is there something you are trying to tell me here?? I've sent The Father out to meet up with you to make sure you are behaving.

The Mother
01 May 2006 @ 10:27:57