China – Wensu Grand Canyon & Kuqa & Turpan

From Kashgar we drove due east and made our way towards Kuqa and Turpan. The journey was supposed to take 5 blazing hot days, bush camping en-route. However, those plans quickly went by the wayside on the evening of day 1. We had gotten as far as Wensu Grand Canyon and planned to bush camp in the park, but the unhelpful staff told us that it was too dangerous due to the wild animals. So we drove a few kilometers away from the park and set up camp, with the only visible wildlife to include a herd of sheep and a couple of deer. Little did we know it at the time but the park staff actually called and reported us to the military, who showed up in full force to have a long discussion with Kate, Kyle and Tom (our Chinese guide). We were blissfully unaware, with cook group 4 (Connie, Greg and Ant) preparing dinner while we set up our tents. Over dinner, Kate broke the bad news to us…the military was refusing to grant us permission to bush camp anywhere in their district because it was too close to the border with Tajikistan. So we had to break down the campsite and make our way to a different district (fingers crossed they wouldn’t move us along as well). The good news was that due to the increased scrutiny with our bush camps, our 5 scheduled bush camps were a thing of the past. The new plan was to bush camp on day 1, head to Kuqa tomorrow and sleep in a hotel for day 2. Then bush camp on day 3 near Turpan, followed by 3 nights in a comfy hotel in Turpan. There were no complaints and everyone worked quickly to get to another bush camp before it got too dark. Luckily, we found an alternate spot by the roadside and were in our tents before midnight. Kuqa was hot and pretty dull, so after stocking up on supplies from a nearby supermarket, we sought refuge in our hotel room for the rest of the day. Day 3 was a long, hot, and sweltering drive day. Kyle drove for almost 13 hours, setting the record for longest drive day of the trip. We had only 1 pee stop since we were sweating all the water we were drinking…that’s how hot it was! Cook group 3 (Andy, Molly and Daniel) weren’t keen on serving up dinner at 11 pm when we pulled over to our campsite, so peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to the rescue. The morning of day 4 we visited the old city of Jiaohe and the Karez irrigation channels before heading to Turpan. Here we spent 3 nights enjoying the air conditioning (a must have in the summer). We also got to visit the excellent Turpan museum, bazaar, Emin Minaret and nearby mansion. We’ve still got just over 2 more weeks of the trip before our group splits off into different directions…time is flying by!

11 Jul – Goodbye Kashgar! Everyone was geared up mentally for 5 bush-camps in a row. After the TransAfrica trip, 5 bush-camps in a row is no big deal, but we had been so spoiled on this trip thus far. It’s gonna be interesting to see what challenges the next few days bring. Today we had a big push east, driving as far as we could through the Taklamakan desert. It was a scorcher with warm summer temperatures that were supposed to keep going up as we made our way to the hottest place on earth (Turpan). In the evening, we pulled up at the Wensu Tuomuer Canyon. Our plan was to bush camp in the canyon itself, so we could squeeze in an early hike in the morning. However, a long discussion with Tom and the staff ensued, and Kate later told us that the staff said no because it was too dangerous due to “wild animals”. So we drove further down the road and attempted to bush camp. Attempted is the right word because the snitches at the Wensu Canyon called the police and reported us to them! Chinese military and police showed up in force while we were busy setting up our tents (and cook group was preparing dinner). Another lengthy discussion with Tom and the police/military took place and we thought we were good to go because they allowed us to continue setting up our camp site. However, over dinner Kate broke the news to us that we were forbidden from bush camping anywhere in the province! Supposedly because we were too close to the border with Tajikistan and it was for our own safety or some nonsense like that. So, at 10:30 pm, we were unceremoniously booted from the area and had to hurriedly pack up our campsite. Kyle drove until our escort fell far back behind us and then he pulled over by the side of the road. We were told that we would set up in the dark and leave at 0-dark-thirty to prevent another issue with the authorities. What a crazy turn of events…it certainly put our original plan of 5 bush-camps in a row in jeopardy!

12 Jul – Early morning excitement was Robby getting up early for a poo and finding a massive dildo on the side of the road. Of course he simply had to pick it up and bring it back to camp for everyone to admire! And of course somehow it made its way into the bottom of the locker which Becky accidentally discovered much later….eeeww! From our impromptu bush camp, we drove directly to the town of Kuqa where we pulled into the Kuche International Hotel. Kyle was instructed to pull the truck up behind the parking lot (to the rear of a dance club that was part of the hotel). Cook group prepared a truck lunch which we ate quickly (it was way too hot out) before checking into out hotel room. Apparently, Kuqa has several nearby cave options to visit and Kate asked us if we were interested. Since we had pulled into Kuqa so early, we figured we might as well check out the caves since Kyle was offering to drive us on the truck. Thus ensued a wild goose chase. We drove round and round in circles until Tom finally told us that it looked like the caves were no longer where they were supposed to be? We did get to check out a massive nuclear plant and watch as Kyle filled the truck with gas (the gas station was behind a razor wire perimeter complete with a guard shack…it felt a bit like we were entering a militarized zone). Back at the hotel, we were keen on finding a supermarket to stock up on supplies so we walked around with Kate P until we found a decent sized underground store. Robby’s flip flops kept dying on him so he found some Chinese slippers large enough to slip into…score! The snack section of the market left a lot to be desired but we did manage to find some things to munch on. On our return walk to the hotel, we ran into several of our group and they pointed out the nearest convenient store that sold ice-cream. It was well worth the short detour to grab a couple of ice cream bars on such a scorching hot day. Back at the hotel, we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon but did hear of Denise’s crazy adventure on the fifth floor of our hotel near the elevator waiting area. It was the only authorized smoking section of the hotel so Denise was chilling with her cigarette when a creepy Chinese dude walked up to her and said how much he liked black women and how he wanted to f*ck her. In complete disbelief and shock, Denise stared back at him until it dawned on her that he did indeed say what she thought he said and then she ran back to her hotel room where she called on Ant to serve as her bodyguard in case Mr. Creepy decided to stalk her at her room! How very bizarre and completely inappropriate. Poor Denise….she has gotten so much attention on this trip but today’s incident was absolutely out of control. Our impressions of China and the Chinese we meet is taking a huge hit….first some guy walks up to our lunch, picks up our serving spoon and inspects our food and now some creepy guy trying to be super forward with Denise…not cool!!!

13 Jul – Today was a super long, hot and sweaty drive day. Thank goodness we had lovely air conditioned rooms last night as today would have been unbearable if we had slept in a sweaty tent all night long. We spent the entire day on the road driving east towards Turpan. The temperature soared around Toksun, which is just outside Turpan. To help pass the time, Kate created “pass the parcel”, which were multilayered gifts that were passed around as music played and when it stopped, the person holding the parcel would unwrap one layer to discovery the mystery gift and start passing the parcel around again. There were some good prizes (candy, chocolate) but some gag gift ones too (chicken feet, stinky tofu). Kyle earned his paycheck today since we drove until nearly 11 pm, bush camping right by the road in a village that had lots of grape drying huts strewn throughout. Hands down, this was the hottest day of the trip so far.

14 Jul – It was fairly hot throughout the night, but by 8 am, staying in the tent was unbearable. Immediately after breakfast, we packed up and headed towards the Jiaohe Ruins. The ruins are considered Turpan’s most famous historical site, and we were able to wander around the natural fortress ruins. As we were to soon find out elsewhere in China, Jiaohe was packed with domestic tourists. The ruins were somewhat underwhelming, but since we were in the area, Jiaohe certainly warranted a visit. After a quick truck lunch we decided to fork over the money to visit the nearby Karez underground water channels which were OK. Sightseeing complete, we then drove into Turpan and checked into the Gaochang Hotel and chilled for a few hours. Thank goodness for air conditioning! This is the hottest area in China and we definitely felt the difference. We linked up with Lars and Ichi for dinner and were happy to discover that Ichi can read (and understand) Chinese characters. With Becky handling the verbal portion, we were now able to order our own meals without Tom’s assistance…yay! Back at the hotel, Lars wanted us to try his horrible bottle of rice wine. Let’s just say its on par with the bottom shelf Senegal rum! Lars decided to film slow mo videos of us gagging on the rice wine which were quite hilarious and we started recruiting others to join the rice-wine party. Poor SCUBA and young Gill, Kevin, Kate F and Kyle were dragged into the mix and everyone was forced to help consume some of the vile liquid Lars was pouring. End result: Lars accomplished his goal of finishing off the horrible tasting rice wine!

15 Jul – After a horrible hotel breakfast (flavorless congee soup, one boiled egg and flavorless dough ball), we were set for our morning excursion to the nearby Turpan museum at 10 am. It was already hot out by mid-morning but the museum was well worth a visit…highlights were the dinosaur bones and well preserved mummies. Afterwards, we decided to check out the Turpan bazaar which surprisingly was devoid of good eateries. It was a no brainer to be back in our room before 1 pm as the outside temperature kicked up a notch or two beyond the comfort zone. By 6 pm, we were starving for dinner so we head out to a nearby dumpling eatery…yummy lamb dumplings. The rest of the group was on a beer quest so they hit the rooftop bar that we had explored yesterday with Ichi and Lars. We were more keen on chilling with some air conditioning, so we skipped the group activities and stayed in, catching up on some tv shows.

16 Jul – Another free day in Turpan…what to do? After our missable breakfast, we decided to walk over to the Emin Minaret. While there, we visited the Mansion of Turpan’s Prefecture since their entrance fee was reasonable. Next, we walked through the nearby vineyards, marveled and snacked on a few of the massive grapes, and scaled the mud packed walls for a decent view of the minaret. Then we backtracked towards Turpan and hit its central park. There were quite a few murals at the park which were worth a quick view. Then it was dumpling time! We ordered our usual (lamb dumplings) and stuffed ourselves silly before finally returning to the hotel to escape the heat. Turpan has certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the hottest places on earth. We will always remember Turpan for its heat and its numerous soundless electric scooters – be wary while walking this city because the scooters can unexpectedly sneak up on you! We had another Quantico tv marathon back in the room. We will be ready to leave this city tomorrow.

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