Tues, Oct 8, 2013
We have a very early leaving time of 7:30 because we have 700 Kms to cover today – the most miles of the trip. I skipped the breakfast of the hotel that involved ordering and paying the night before and instead bought some Muslim bread at the local market yesterday. It was sort of like a giant bagel without a hole – very crusty and very good. I also picked up a couple weird fruits at the supermarket yesterday but they were weird and not very tasty.
The drive today was LONG and the scenery wasn’t very interesting. We have left the Gobi Desert and entered another desert in western China. By afternoon, some people started to play drinking games but they weren’t doing a very good job keeping score so I offered to help.
We arrived into Kuche city (also called Kuqa) after 6:30. We tried to use the swimming pool, but it was cold and we were forced to buy a swimming cap if we wanted to use the pool so I skipped it.
For dinner, most of the group ate at the hotel restaurant but Mindy, Sam, and I headed out to the local night market and tried some of the food there. I had a lamb meat pie, warm soft bread filled with glass noodles and pickled vegetables, a lamb skewer, and cold spicy hand carved rice noodles. Very filling and about $2.
Wed, Oct 9
An even earlier start of 7am for the remainder of the long drive to Kashgar. This is supposed to be one of our longest drives of the trip. In the morning, we could see a large, snowcapped mountain range called Halke Shan. We spent the rest of the day crossing the Taklamakan Desert. Our biggest excitement of the day was stopping at a local market to buy local bagels and watermelon for lunch. The scenery in the afternoon was great. Although we were driving on flat lands, there was some interesting mountains with all sorts of mineral colors near the road so it stayed interesting.
We arrived at the hotel in Kashgar after 7pm. The hotel was really nice – a former Russian Consulate with extremely ornate decor in the hallways and rooms – think cement figures painted in gaudy colors and with glitter!
We had a meeting at 8:00 but it was to just get our tour T-shirts. A few of us went out to find a night market for dinner but we weren’t successful to find much so we stopped at a couple little restaurants outside the hotel. I had a chicken leg (I think it was chicken but some people thought it might be another bird – apparently pigeon meat is common here).
Then we stopped to have a couple mutton steamed dumplings. I’m not too fond of the mutton meat – hopefully there will be more choice for central Asian meats.
Thurs, Oct 10
Had my longest sleep-in of the trip by sleeping until 9:00. For breakfast, I went out on the street and got a local bagel – looks and tastes like a bagel but no hole in the middle – very good and cheap at 17 cents apiece. Barb, Anna, Chris, and I headed out on a walking trip to the local mosque. We stopped to see some camels kept in the city – since the local animal market is only on Sunday, this would be our chance to see the two humped camels today.
We stopped on the most interesting street where locals were baking, grilling, and selling all kinds of food items. We each bought a few items and shared with the group. This included:
* large baked bread shaped like a pizza crust that had a slight onion taste
* bread filled with spinach
* meat pies filled with mutton
* locally churned ice cream
* a pancake with sugar on the outside that was rolled up mutton meat
* locally grown green grapes
* a fancy coiled dessert that tasted a bit like pretzel
* a bar that was a mix of peanuts, honey, and raisins
We got to the famous yellow mosque but decided not to go inside.
We continued walking through the fascinating old part of town looking at the locals’ market which included lots of fruits, whole hanging lamb carcasses, and a whole street of hat salesmen. A long walk took us to the famous Kashgar “Sunday Market”. Although the market is largest on Sunday, it operates 7 days a week and was still very large on a Thursday afternoon. Barb and I walked aisles and aisles looking at all the dried foods, fabrics, furs, musical instruments, head scarves, shoes, etc. You can buy nearly everything here. I bought a couple gifts, a baby blanket to keep warmer when camping, and a fur neck scarf. The baby blankets were all made using remnant pieces of fleece fabric, so most of the blankets were a picture of the back end of a tiger or giraffe or a part of a big rose. I found one blanket with a whole wolf’s face so I bought it for a few dollars.
Barb and I continued to the large park in the center of the city. There was a small amusement park and we rode the Ferris wheel for some nice views of the old city and park. We bought some icy Pepsis and sat in the park for a while and then walked back towards the hotel via the large Mao statue. I stopped at the supermarket to spend my last few yuan’s and then back to the hotel to relax after a full day of walking.
I really liked Kashgar. It was an interesting city and for once, I didn’t feel like the locals were trying to overcharge us for everything. We had asked a price for a hat in another city and they quoted 450 yuan (about $75). Here, they were asking 100 yuan for the same hat. The snacks we ate all day were very cheap. The weather couldn’t have been nicer. It’s hard to believe that the hotel is in the process of closing for the winter – it was sunny and probably close to 80 degrees today.
We should be leaving China tomorrow morning and heading into Kyrgyzstan, assuming we don’t have any trouble at the border. I won’t be able to update the blog as frequently for the rest of the trip because we will be camping more with less internet access.