IndyJunior © Bryan Boyer

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Feeling Homesick...kind of...

With our Chinese progressing at a snails pace, I think I am starting to miss the North American way of life a bit.

I have to admit the last little while has been a bit harder to deal with. I guess it's a bit of homesickness cause the smallest things would piss me off. Stuff that's not normally done in North America... ;)

I've lasted 3 months but there's only so much my 4 mini-discs worth of songs can do. James Blunt, Eminem, Green Day and Blink 182 have helped pass many sleeper train nights. I know we have a 23 and 25 hour ride coming up quite soon.

I'm sure this is just a temporary feeling and I'll be back at it full swing soon enough. We're heading into minority territory again and perhaps that will help....

The Secret to Weight Loss

We came across a scale in Lanzhou and thought we'd see if we've gained or lost any weight so far.

I was really surprised to see a 15 lbs loss since we left Toronto!

Gaining weight was a long shot especially since we do so much walking and hiking, sometimes eating only instant noodles for meals (those darned overnight train rides), and the portions here being a lot smaller than those back home.

Unfortunatly, I know a good chunk of it was muscle since I decided to try to do some dips the other day and could only manage 5 before I fell off the bunk bed, but those love handles are definitely a bit smaller these days too!

I wonder how my cholesterol is doing though. I'm sure all those dough sticks, fried bread with meat and full fat yogurts haven't helped! But darn it aren't they tasty! I'm hoping the Pu Er tea I bought in Dali will help...

At this rate, no one is going to recognise me when I get back but at least I can kind of "start over" in the gym. Oh, and the biking will be a lot easier! Sweet!

The GREAT Wall Kicked our butts!

We are pathetic! Yes we are...don't try to tell us otherwise!

There is something about China and our safety that just makes us chickens over here I think.

Here's the scenario.

Jiayuguan in Gansu province is along the ancient silk road and is home to the end of the Great Wall. The Lonely Planet mentions the original wall has crumbled and has been rebuilt. Thinking we could go all the way up to the top we decided to head out. Sure enough at the beginning it was very new. We walked no more than 200 meters to the start of the hill when we come across this mound of rocks and no more wall. I guess some of the original is still there but the only way up is through these rocks. It doesn't look too bad but I think the combination of knowing safety is really lacking here and the fact that we are scared of the hospitals that maybe causes us to think twice about climbing these things. Well, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it. Anyhoo, needless to say we didn't see the view from the top but we did get a great shot of the top from the bottom! Y-a-y! ;)

What Pollution?

My last blog said that Lanzhou was the most polluted city in the world. I had high expectations as to what this meant on our way there. I pictured a yellow haze hovering over the city all day, barely being able to see the sun, and the people with cotton face masks.

Arriving in Lanzhou at 8:00 am we were greeted with nothing but sunshine. We got into the hotel and still nothing but sunshine! What the heck man! We stopped here just to see the smog!

I guess this isn't the first time Lonely Planet has been wrong. We've run into quite a few mistakes/typos in their book so maybe this was wrong too. I've tried to look for the most polluted city in the world but can't find a list here. Maybe someone out there knows for sure?

In any event, of the two nights we spent in Lanzhou, here's a picture of one of the mornings. There is a bit of smog, but really, nothing to sneeze at. ;)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Next stop(s)

Ok, we're booked on our sleeper train to Lanzhou tonight. We first zigged over here to Shaanxi, but now our trail is zagging us back up to the Northwest but (hopefully) not through the more treacherous terrrain as that found in Northern Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

We're going through Gansu province and hopefully following the silk road into Xinjiang as far West as we can go without going into India! Didn't know it but the end of the silk road is actually here in Xian. We found it this morning. Check out Jenni's blog.

Lanzhou has the dubious honour of being the WORLDS most polluted city. I can't wait to see what that smells like and take a picture! Should try to bottle the stuff!

Our visa's run out mid-June so we've had to pick up our pace a little to get to either Urumqi or Kashgar to renew. The race is on...check back to see if we make it! :)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


We've been in Xian doing the usual tourist traps as well as enjoying a really big city. With over 6 million people here, it's a bustling town day and night. Buses are always full, lot's of night life.

Just a few pics of what we've done. Not too much to say....

Stone Carvings - Can't be easy to write this stuff into stone!

Bell Tower at Night

Drum Tower at Night

Terracotta Warriors

What was I blogging about earpicks? Check this Jade beauty out.

Large Mosque in Xian.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Pandas

We did a morning tour of the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in our attempt to see the elusive Panda. It's almost impossible to see them in the wild and so we thought maybe we'll be lucky if we see one or two of them here.

We show up at 8:30 am and the driver who took us there was walking us around the compound when we first come across our first Panda! The morning is feeding time so this one was pretty much sitting on his butt chowing down on the Bamboo strewn about him. So cute. Lot's of pictures and the driver moves us on to another area...

Needless to say, our worries about being able to see Pandas was unfounded. Every different area we came to there were either one, two or three of them, sitting, sleeping, playing or eating! All different ages were seen too! They are the funniest little buggers you'll ever see. So playful and lazy. Makes you just want to go up to them and give them a noogie or something!

We could have had pictures taken right beside them but that was another 400 Yuan each so we decided not to! I really would have noogied him I swear!

One of the five mascots for the Beijing 2008 Olympics is actually a Panda called Jingjing. Very cute.

Tea in the People's Park...and an ear cleaning!

You are all going to hate me, but it's a hard hard life we lead right now. ;)

After a morning of walking around checking out shops, we ended up in a park to try our hand at drinking tea!

Yes, it was 4 long hours of sitting beside the man made lake, drinking our "Snow Tea", playing cards and eating our pumpkin seeds. I tell ya it was a big bag of pumpkin seeds!

Right when we got there, a few people came up to us ringing these pitch forks and showing us all these little tools with brushes at the end. We finally figured out it was for cleaning your ears!

Now, being Chinese, I grew up with the little metal picker and once in a while when I was a kid my mom would sit me down with a light and proceed to clean the wax outta my ears. I think the closest thing Westerners have are Q-tips. I have also seen the ends of matches used for the same purpose.

This guy had a hand full of tools. The little metal picker, bristles on the end of a stick and these big ass tweezers! After a while, and watching how they do it, I decided that maybe I would try it. Jenni has been getting a bit frustrated at my bad hearing lately and maybe this will help.

At first it wasn't too bad. He went in with his little brush and I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary, then he proceeded to use his little scraper, again nothing different. Next came out his little tuning fork! I don't remember what was in my ear at the time, but when he put the vibrating fork on the tool, the whole inside of my head started shaking! What a weird feeling! I think it was to give me a massage but man, it sure didn't feel like it. Just weird man....weird!

The left ear was pretty clean but the right one...boy oh boy did he pull out this huge piece of ear wax!

Jenni's all happy I can hear again!

The cleaning cost 20 Yuan, a bit steep for what was being done but the experience was worth it I think. Lot's of fun!

McDonalds is the same....

Ok we broke down and decided to go to McDonalds for lunch the first day we were here in Chengdu. I must say I was expecting something a bit different but after the first bite of my Big Mac, it was exactly the same! I was impressed. Patty, lettuce, secret sauce...everything was just like home...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Next stop....Sichuan province

We've bought our plane tickets to Chengdu in Sichuan province. We thought about another overland to Chengdu for about 5 seconds...

Home to Sichuan hotpot, Panda bears, and a delicacy of Rabbit Head....

Back in Lhasa

We're back now and I'm still recovering from my headaches and sad to say, a wee bit of whiplash from the roads. Mountain goat Jenni is fine and wondering why she married such a wimp!

Overall, this is a definite must do! Tibet has the most amazing landscapes. They change so easily and quickly. Most parts are not very developed yet so you see typical Tibet. Nomads still exist here but for how long? One group didn't really like us and were yelling at us as we passed. Roads are being put up everywhere and I personally think the trip to EBC will be paved within 5 years.
Be warned though. Only in the cities is there some normalicy ie. running hot water and toilets (may or may not flush). Outside, it's find a spot and squat, maybe you can have some hot water, and electricity comes on in the evening via a small gas generator! It was awesome, although I will be the first to admit that I am glad to be back in Lhasa.

Here's a pic of our group. Henry and Judy are from Shenzen, Ge Sang our driver, and us.

Namtso Lake and Winter Camping (Almost)

The last leg of our trip was to go to Namtso Lake. It's one of 4 holy lakes in the area but is the highest lake in the world at 4700 m elevation.

Getting there was fun. Shigatse through country roads where we seldom saw another Land Cruiser. From huge open valley fields, mountain passes, and snow covered mountain passes.

Jenni and I were able to have a snowball fight and build a snowman at the top of one of the passes. My thoughts turned to snowboarding and how I'll miss it next winter and this winter for that matter since we didn't go out that much.

We arrived at the park entrance to the lake and thanks to the barganing skills of the couple from Shenzen, we were able to get in under student pricing. Saved us 30 Yuan per person!

Everything seems to climax at a mountain pass. At the top of this one, Namtso comes in to view and as usual, is beautiful.

Arriving at the lake side, there are many large tents and yurts set up for visitors. We set up in a four person tent dropped our stuff and went for a walk by the lake. It was sunny and warm and we ended up just sitting by the lakeside until we saw some storm clouds brewing. We thought it prudent to go back, and since I was having a big headache from the altitude, I went to rest up.

The storm came over us but it wasn't rain. Hail and snow with thunder and lightening! Something I have never seen before! Check out us two wimps in this storm.

Needless to say we called it a night.

I've never been winter camping before but I never imagined it would be pleasent. I believe I was right. We were in fairly comfortable beds, with 3 huge blankets , thermals, base, fleece jacket, down jacket and I was still miserable! Cold, tired, cold. Maybe it was the headache but I can't say I'll ever try winter camping in Canada.

Next morning we were supposed to get up early and watch the sunrise over the lake. Can't see the sun if it's cloudy and snowing still can ya now? Nope....more sleep!

We decided to head back to Lhasa since the storm wasn't passing soon.

Highest and Biggest Rip-off Post Office in the World

So our lonely planet mentioned about a post box at Everest Base Camp being the highest in the world. Cool we thought. We'll send some postcards from there.

When we got to base camp we saw the post office.

OK let's try to mail our postcards...

We go up...."Ni hway swor ying wern ma?"

Yes says one Tibetan.

Great, how much to send a post card to Canada? 16 Yuan was the answer! Wha??? Really? The normal rate is 4.50 Yuan International. Almost 4 times more? We decided to forgo the cool postmark and said forget it. Just another cash grab! Sure it's high, sure it's remote. But what a rip off. To send the post cards, we could have stayed a few more night here in Lhasa! Oh well...

Everest Base Camp

That night at Rongphu, standing right in front of Everest being lit up by the moonlight was the most amazing site. I wish we had a tripod to try to capture the moment with. It was so peaceful. The mountain so white with snow. I could only imagine the expeditioners trying to decide whether or not to go for a summit push. From what we saw on discovery, anyone at Camp 4 would get up at 10:00 pm, trek for 18 hours to summit Everest the next afternoon.

Jenni and I were secretly willing them to go since it was such a beautiful and clear night! For us, it was enough to be where we were knowing it will be the highest point in the world we will ever go!

Sleep that night was terrible. A combination of a really bad bed, cold weather and lack of oxygen. The entire night, when I thought I was falling asleep, I would be jolted awake feeling like I couldn't breathe! A few seconds to take deep breaths to get over that brutal feeling and the cycle would begin again. Morning couldn't come soon enough for me....

Next morning we had our snickers bars and started our 8 km hike to base camp. But when I say hike, I mean, follow the horse cart road...

The sun hadn't come over the mountain yet, so the valley was very cold still. My batteries in my camera were almost dead (real smooth) and Jenni's was down due to the cold but we still got some enroute shots.

I think Jenni has some mountain goat genes cause she really kicked my butt up here in the high altitudes. While I'm huffing and puffing, she's slow and steadily making it there!

In any case, about 2 and a quarter hours later, EBC comes in to view. It wasn't quite what I thought or what you'd see on TV. There were hotels after hotels...restaurants, souvenier shops and the famous highest post office in the world.

We were thinking, where are the expeditions? We soon found out that they are at a more advanced base camp. This one is for the tourists! And if you try to go to the advanced camp (like we did) you get fined $200 USD! We we're warned so we turned back.

I thought we should try out our oxygen that we bought here so after figuring out how it worked, we took a few breaths to be met with indifference. We weren't sure if it worked or not. Oh well, let's ham it up for the camera. You'll have to read Jenni's blog for some pics.

A couple hours at base camp and we headed back to Rongphu for the next leg of the trip...

Rongphu Monastery

Mt. Qomolongma National Reserve or something like that. Another series of crazy switchbacks and we were at the top entering into the park! But not before paying the 405 Yuan car fee and 65 Yuan per person entrance fee in Shegar!

Everest still wasn't in sight but we saw a lot more Tibetans asking for money and food here! A quick picture and GPS reading (5254 m) and we were off.

One more mountain pass and Everest came into view.

It was cloudy unfortunately so the mountain isn't in view. Too bad for us.

We finally make it to where we have to change to an "environmentally friendly" bus to take us up to Rongphu Monastery. That cost another 80 Yuan per person.

I think my idea of environmentally friendly is just a wee bit different from here. I saw before me a 10 year old, sagging, dusty Dodge Cargovan. Nice. Ok I thought, maybe it runs on batteries, or propane, or hydrogen or something other than petrol!

Nope. Driver gets in, starts her up....gas! So I'm thinking cash grab at this point. 405 for our car, 130 for both of us, 160 to get driven in an even crappier car. Ya think?!?!

I do have one thought though. Perhaps this cargovan is equipped with a catalyitic converter? You decide!

One more bumping hour and Rongphu comes in to site with Everest it's backdrop! Amazing! Can't believe I am here!

Our fun isn't over. Since we arrived so late the guesthouse was full so we were being put up in the Monastery! Cool....I thought, until I saw the room. 8 people in a cold, dark room with barely any blankets and a washroom to end all washrooms!

Didn't matter, I'm 8 km away from Everest Base Camp. I just hope I don't have to go #2 until I leave this place!

The Accident!

The next morning promised to be a long day. The itinerary was leave at 8:00 am, 5 hours to Lhatse, 2 hours to Shegar, 1 hour to Rongphu Monastery.

Bump bump bump....shake shake shake....rattle rattle rattle....we arrive in Lhatse for lunch. Thinking we may need stamps for our postcards we were going to send from Everest Base Camp we went to look for a China Post. Unfortunately they were closed and we thought we'd have to forget about sending the cards from the "Highest Post Box" in the world.

Somewhere between Lhatse and Shegar on the side of a mountain, we come across a huge line of Land Cruisers. Looking to the front of the line, we see a big red dirt truck and land cruiser head to head. It was a blind corner and guess they didn't see each other.

Luckily no one was hurt, but we felt for the people in the Land Cruiser heading back to Lhasa. One gung ho driver of another Land Cruiser thought he could drive around the outside of the wrecks. Nope. After some debate, they decide the best way to go is destroy 3 cinder blocks which protect vehicles from going over the ledge and then what I thought was to drive around the outside. I had originally asked if the dirt truck still worked cause they could just reposition it a bit closer to the inside, then everyone can just go around. I was told no...doesn't work.

Destruction of these blocks was amusing to watch. Everyone was really in to it! Hammers, pry bars, all sorts of tools come out and I think within a half an hour, they were done. It was funny to watch them throw the pieces over the cliff. I even saw the bumper of the dirt truck go over!

I'm thinking, there's no way I'm in the car while the driver goes around this crash when what do I hear? The fricking dirt truck firing up!!! It still worked! They decided to reposition it on the outside of the ledge for "safety" I guess. I still don't think they needed to destroy those blocks but my guess is the Tibetans wanted to destroy something the Chinese made.

After an hour delay, we're on our way again...

Yamdrok Lake, Gyantse and Shigatse

Our first day on our overland started out great. Paved roads, nice and smooth...I even didn't mind the mountainside roads...maybe I'm getting more used to the heights, who knows.

The car kept going up and up and up, switchback after switchback until I could swear we were even with the tops of the surrounding mountains.

The first mountain pass was Kangbala Mountain. From the top was an amazing view of Yamdrok Lake below.

We stopped and were exposed to breathtaking scenery and also locals trying to get us to ride Yaks or give them food or money.

It was cold and my GPS was reading 4800 m. We were so happy that we could make use of our North Face jackets!

A quick stop at the lake for some photos and we were off towards Gyantse, which our lonely planet said was one of the least Chinese influenced towns in Tibet. I guess a lot can change in the 7 months the book has been out because it looked very Chinese and pretty much no Tibetan!

A quick stop, Jenni snapping a quick photo of the local monastery without paying and we were off to Shigatse.

My thoughts of why they needed Toyota Land Cruisers for this trip soon came apparent as our driver (Ge Sang) steered towards some dirt and pebble road. Needless to say, the remaining 5 days were full of non-stop vibration and spine compressing bumps!

Shigatse is the second largest city in Tibet and once used to rival Lhasa as a captial. It is pretty big, and the city blocks are long. And since we got lost on the way back to the hotel, it made it even longer!

We thought we'd try some local Tibetan cuisine while out here and so we went into a Tibetan restaurant. We were greeted with stares from everyone! I don't think I've ever felt more uncomfortable. It was almost a "What the hell are you doing in here" type of stare. I know there's no love lost between Tibetans and Han Chinese but shoot man I felt like I was going to get my butt kicked! After perusing the menu, we settled on Sheep sausage and a fried rice. Well, at least the fried rice was edible. When the sheep sausage came out and I saw it, I pretty much gagged before I even tried it. After trying a little piece I really really nearly threw up. There was no taste and all I could think of was that to make the sausage, they just take the intestine while full and fry it up! Gross! Needless to say the plate was still full when we left. We had debated to give the food to some beggars but I'm skeptical they would even eat that stuff!

Friday, May 05, 2006


Altitude schmaltitude....

We're ready to head out on our 5 night overland trip around the Southern Central part of Tibet. Some of the areas we will hit will be anywhere between 3500 - 5600 m elevation. We are a bit worried about altitude sickness but since we've spent at least 2 weeks already above 3000 m we should be ok.

However, the Chinese being ever so good entrepreneurs, have loaded stores in Tibet with bottled Oxygen! Yup. Good old O2 for 20 Yuan a bottle. Being the suckers we are, we bought a bottle. Check it out!
I was very surprised when I picked up the bottle that it was super light. I think I made a weird face cause the lady who owned the store started laughing at me. I can't help but think we got swindled! :)

The cap becomes the face mask used to inhale the oxygen. There's about 14 L of oxygen in there. What that comes out to be in breaths I have no idea. I can't wait to try it. Ever since seeing this, I've been wanting to send a few bottles home but I don't think we can send these via post....please correct me if I am wrong!

Hopefully we won't have to use this on the trip, but you can rest assured that before we leave Tibet, this bottle will be empty! Will let you all know how it smells, tastes, feels etc...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some Pictures

If you haven't seen yet, we have uploaded some pictures we have taken so far. The links can be found on Jenni's blog on the right hand side under the Photo title.

Hope you enjoy them.

Update on North Face....

Well, it's been warmer than we thought it would be here in Lhasa so unfortunately our jackets haven't been put to good use.

We've both only worn them once. But I've got some pictures to show the great quality of jackets we bought!

1. The elastic on Jenni's hood had come out before she even put the jacket on.

2. This grommet also came out before she had a chance to wear it.

3. The stitching on the inside of the right arm is already coming out. Again before I wore my jacket.

4. I tried to put something into the inside pocket today. While I was trying to pull the velcro apart, the stitching came with it!

At this rate, we are just hoping the jackets will last until the end of our overland trip!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Lhasa, Tibet

We've been in Lhasa for 4 nights now and I must say that it is a really amazing city! Definitely one of the top places so far.

The views are amazing, the people are very friendly, the culture is so great to watch. Pilgrims, temples, tibetan momo's (dumplings)....all really cool.

Here's a video of a pilgrim making his way around the Bakhor circuit on his way to Jokhang Temple. This temple houses the most sacred statue of Buddha (it's solid gold!), which was supposed to be blessed by Buddha himself. We weren't supposed to take a picture but I snuck one anyways.... Here it is....don't tell anyone....please!

Anyhoo...our overland trip is booked...can't wait. This is one of the things I wanted to do on this trip. Will have lots of pictures to show in a week or so.