I left an abrupt ending to my last post. I guess the trip kind of ended abruptly, so the last post fit that mould. The last few days felt just as abbreviated. ‘Now you’re on a bus, now you’re running around Ulanbaataar, now you’re home.’ There wasn’t some glorious ‘last night looking over the steppe and pondering the experiences of this trip’. After a few weeks back in the States, I’ve had some time to reflect on this voyage and so I’m going to write a post reflecting on my time in Central Asia. Also, now that I’m back on a computer with a decent screen to edit photos on, I am going through my photos for ones that I may have missed along the way. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites and some of those that didn’t make the posts for whatever reason.
“You appear to be moving very slowly into the Gobi Desert. Are you sure you want to do this?” – Things Google Maps isn’t designed to say.
After almost two weeks running from Police in China, using various mapping resources that run acceptably well through the Great Firewall, I completely missed how close I’d be coming to one part of the Gobi Desert. I guess by some definition, you could say that my route, unbeknownst to me at the time, had me crossing it. I’m not sure where the precise borders of the Gobi are, or if there even are precise borders of such a monstrous geographical feature. Regardless, Google gave me no warnings when I crossed into the region about how absolutely desolate the area would be. When I finally zoomed out a few days into Mongolia, I discovered just how close my route had gone to the ‘Great Gobi B’ on Google Maps, it in all honesty came as a surprise. I had planned this leg thinking it was just another barren steppe, one of many I’d crossed since leaving Kyrgyzstan about a month ago.
Xinjiang, Xinjiang. Where to start with this absurd place. Xinjiang shares much with the oppressive political situation in Tibet, but doesn’t get nearly the coverage. And the Chinese Government has a vested interest in keeping it that way. Geographically, it is a vast province spanning most of Western China. That fact alone should raise red flags on its own about potential political troubles in the region. The province is sandwiched between China and the predominantly Muslim Turkic peoples of Central Asia, and this creates an obvious conflict. The Uygur minority is kept under constant surveillance, with “abnormal” (real term!) beards and head scarves banned. It’s known to be a nightmare to cycle through, but I think I’ve found a very good way to do it and I want to share that information. So this is a writing-heavy post. But first, back to the last few days of riding in Kazakhstan. The long days riding in Kazakhstan are so crucial to understanding why eventually entering China felt a little like getting hit with a bag of bricks.