Monday 30 June 2014

Note to readers: 1 July to 15 July

On Tuesday 1 July we cross into Kyrgyzstan and will be there for about 2 weeks. We are unsure of how often we will be able to access the internet as we will be camping in remote parts for most of the time.

You will be able to pinpoint where we are by going to the Delorme InReach GPS site, as described in the page about the "eye in the sky". ie, but there may not be any new posts on this blog until we get to Bishkek or Almaty.

You may be able to see the map of our planned trip here

Between Aktal and Kochkor we will be camping at the lake shown, Song-Kul, for about 3 nights. The route on the map shows us missing the lake, but that's not the plan.

Kashgar and the famous Sunday Market; 29 June 2014

Xinjiang Province is the Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Sunday livestock market in Kashgar is a showpiece of its rural commerce. Given the proximity of the Taklimakan Desert, and a seeming scarcity of green pasture, the offerings today had been pretty well prepared. Maybe there's gold in them there distant hills.

A mirage?

We're in the heart of muslim Xinjiang, the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Is this a mirage, sent to baffle thirsty Australians after hundreds of kilometres of slow, hot desert driving? It was enough to decide which hotel we stayed in that night.

Desert animals

The Qiemo museum had photos and listed local district mountain and desert animals to include wolf, snow leopard, camel, bear, ibex, lynx, mole, leopard, boar, eagle, owl and doves. We had seen what we thought must have been moles on the Tibetan Plateau. Any others seemed thin on the ground.

We saw several groups of camels on each of the desert stretches we drove. Their condition varied. Some resembled New Zealand stayers, all rib.

A pair of dogs, hunting together, had us wondering about origins. They resembled dingoes, but also fitted a description of a Chinese native Michael found in his extensive Wollombi library of canine natural history. Then again, they might just have just been pets gone feral. They were miles from anywhere and we saw no other prey, so they were definately tough.

Bill's Blog 1 (for rev-heads and tinkerers)

An adventure is when the unexpected unknown comes out of the blue, or out of the dust in the case of the Taklimakan Desert. And the B2B has been an adventure from the first day in Bangkok where the Whippet cleared customs, started first kick and loaded without a hitch, then travelled to the border in one day, to yesterday’s Turkish bath in the basement of this excellent hotel where an ugly chinaman, after putting out his cigarette, nonchalantly scratching his nuts, took a pot scourer to my somewhat less than clean body. A slightly pinker but very clean Bill presented for dinner in full B2B regimental dress an hour later, feeling a million dollars. Expect the unexpected!

Although the continuum of adventure is fantastic I think the most pleasure I have had to date is seeing a near instant sequence of expression on the faces of young kids from; true disbelief, amazement, repeated disbelief and then shear delight when they see the old cars appear in their village. The adults have equal pleasure but are not quite as expressive until they see the wooden spoked wheels which they always tap, feel, then laugh and give a thumbs up.

Our cuisine has been superb as one would imagine and reported by our resident food and wine writer (MN) but I must include the red date and chicken head soup from Sichuan shown in accompanying photograph, the chicken head and chicken feet being quite obvious.

No doubt there are petrol head vintage blog followers who are interested in the vehicles mechanical progress and would like some more detail. My conspicuous absence from blogging may reflect that I have been attending to things mechanical and not literal. So an attempt to satisfy those is made here. Both Dodge and Whippet continue to continue on and seem to be improving with every mile possibly because we have now slowed the pace by around 5 mph to around 35, this requires less fuel, less heat and not much more overall time.

The heating problems of the Whippet were because it left Australia with an exhaust leak between number two and a water way after a particularly vigorous test drive, possibly something the previous owner Stan Perry had repaired. The replacement, suspected head gasket, didn't arrive until too late and was never fitted. This should have been changed on the wharf in Bangkok but I didn't, and made the car labour over the ranges through Laos, overheating on some of the long climbs, and me swearing to change the gasket at the first opportunity each time we tipped cold water into the hot engine. This we addressed at Lake Lugu to find the gasses had cut a valley in the block about 5 thousands of an inch deep, just too much to be taken up by the new head gasket. So I annealed an old copper one and pulled the head down harder to reduce the gas in the water to a small stream of bubbles and planned to find a reco shop that could weld or skim the block in situ.

An initial search in Xichang found a mechanical shop who were unwilling to do the work but sold us a special copper coat high temperauture head gasket spray, something I had not seen before and but they strongly recommended. So the head was removed again to find a small crack had also developed in the block from the water way, which I drilled to stop it propagating further. We annealed an old copper gasket on the primus stove in the hotel car park and torqued the head down again using copper coat gasket cement to 65ft/lbs. This did not fix it to my satisfaction so we by-passed the mechanical work shop and went to the machine shop directly.

These guys were well fitted out with mills, lathes, presses and most importantly, experience. They also had a mechanical and spray shop next door where I did the work with assistance from the local boys. I cannot say I enjoyed the work but I did enjoy working with the enthusiastic Chinese lads. The Whippet suffered the indignity of being towed through a busy town by the Toyota to this shop. On arrival the head mechanic recommended patching the block by cold welding a thickness of shim metal over the depression in the block in stages which we ground down slowly by hand with a grinding wheel. This I had never seen before but it seemed plausible. We rubbed in the valves on two and three, and had the radiator flushed and reassembled. I poured in my supply of new oil, only to find gas still in the coolant. Not too happy I may say. We then torqued the head down to 50 ft/lbs and stripped two threads in the block. We removed the head once again and used the 7/16 helicoils and new set of head bolts I had brought with me. Torqued the head down to 70ft/lds and, at last, no gas in the exhaust.

On a rigorous test drive with my delighted Chinese offsider in the passenger seat we found still too much heat but basically acceptable if not driven at full throttle even on this quite hot day. I retarded the ignition somewhat although the engine was not pinging this seemed to help too. We had only flushed the radiator as I would not let them strip the top tank off and rod it, and was still quite concerned about the stop leak (I had put in in Australia) stopping flow in the radiator.

Peter had carried a spare radiator, taken from Ted the other whippet, with another wheel, in from Australia which we fitted before tackling the big climbs onto the Tibetan Plateau. On the first day with the new radiator the ambient temperature was very low (see photo) and the engine temperature never exceeded a 120F, which I felt was somewhat damaging to be developing full power and revs on a cold engine all day. We then covered the radiator with a pillow slip and operated at 160-180F and happily (apart from having to back out of a motor way 2kms as we had overshot the turn off) progressed toward Xining. The car is now returning 6kms/lt and running well.

After dropping down into the Taklimakan some 2000m we have reduced speed and the whippet is returning 7kms /lt which I think is consistent with what this car can do. Unfortunately I think I can hear a big end knocking at low revs and the engine is using a pint of oil a day on the long runs across the desert and some blow-by is evident in the breather.

We have now run out of the Penrite 40-70W oil and have changed over to a synthetic 20-50W, oil pressure is still good at 30psi, but the knock still( just) audible, and we will see what the usage is like (just put in a Wynnns product) climbing out of China tomorrow. The water pump requires a tighten every day or so but all else is fine, gear oil still fresh (now nearly 6000mls travelled) diff oil black but full, rear uni will not hold oil but quiet and cool running, front uni greased, thrust bearing talks occasionally, the timing chain is just audible. So lets hope the next 500mls are as uneventful mechanically as the last.

I think everyone enjoys driving the little car which responds well when required to keep up with the better pulling power of the Big Dodge and handles well on the tight steep roads.

Horace's PBs

Highest climb: 3800m

Climbs in a day over 3000m : 2

Distance travelled to 1 July : 11,000km (Ed. note: this is the Toyota's total; due to crew slackness there is no logbook evidence to credit Horace and Stanley with more than an estimated 9000km)

Breakages : 2 rear wheel bearings

Repairs : footbrake linings renewed

Longest day : 580km

Longest tunnel: 10.4 km
Longest descent : 45 km at 3.4 degrees including a circular tunnel then on bridges and road viaduct two lanes each way.
Biggest crowd puller : Hotan swarm and wooden wheels

Highest speed : 80 km/hr (downhill)

Punctures : 0

Dings: 1 - backed in to a wall , pushed a taxi

Narrow escapes : 100's in traffic at intersections when its a relative free-for-all from all directions.

Rewards : new points

Petroleum usage : about 7km/Lt

Coldest day : Snow on the Tibetan plateau and in Hexian corridor pass and south of Dunhuang

Best rain : Tropical downpour in Lao for 50km.

Drinks : China 93 octane fuel, clean and readily available.

Most Scenic spot : Lake Lugu

Best Lunch spot : smoked pork n noodles

More desert: Huatugou to Ruoqiang, 17 June 2014

Huatugou to Ruoqiang was 340 km of stark landscape, with a sandstorm thrown in. The general bleakness was heightened by the appearance of a dust-producing asbestos mine looming behind a grim village, home to the mine workers.

We were delayed by police because of high winds and a sandstorm in a mountain pass ahead. Trucks with wide and wider, or long and longer loads were also halted.

After an hour and a half we were all allowed to depart. Ever tried to beat 50 semis up a hill? We decided to go last. A further steady climb to 3600m, then the wind came up, or we arrived at the scene of the sandstorm, so we put the curtains up on the offside of each of the cars and continued to crawl up the hill. Then a long descent through gorges to 1200m, followed by a straight flat drive of 150km.
This started off well until the wind swung round, gusting to 80 km/hr, blowing sand across the road into the cars, as well as every crevice in the body. Windows went on the other side of the Dodge, but the Whippet ploughed on. After 150 km of this we arrived at the cross road of the northern and western highways.

Ian, Michael, John

Poor goat, by Michael N

In the Uighur area of Kashgar I was sitting resting on a bench when I heard a goat bleating and looked across and saw a goat on the footpath with legs tired and head hanging over the gutter in a large metal bowl. Kneeling beside him was a man who proceeded to cut the poor goat's throat with the blood running into the bowl. Another man brought an air pump that you pump with your feet, slit a leg, pushed the rubber hose up the leg and proceeded to inflate the goat to at least twice it's size. He then turned the goat on its back, skinned it and completed the actual butchering on the footpath. After all, this was outside a 'butchers shop' and with late night trading he had to prepare his stock.

All this time people were walking past ignoring what was happening while another goat that was tethered to a nearly pole was bleating very loudly; understandable, having witnessed his own fate. It sure is a different world here.

Michael Noyce

How to survive Uighur truckies: Michael Noyce

We, together with over 150 trucks and their drivers, were stopped at a police road block due to heavy sand blown across the road about 10km ahead. Our ever friendly blogger John found the perfect way to pass the time and build goodwill with the locals.

Note his audience of 3 out of a possible 200 or more. Perhaps it says something about the tuning of the Uke, or is it something else?

Michael Noyce

Dancing in the Streets

In every town and city we have visited in China, the evenings bring out the dancers. The town square has music, and people dance. The men are a bit shy but the women really turn out. Sometimes it’s traditional or particular to the local ethnic minority. Sometimes, such as here in Hotan on the longest day of the year, we see the graduates of the local Arthur Murray school.

Excuse the photo quality. I only had my phone with me that late in the evening.

If you would like to brush up on your steps look HERE

Friday 27 June 2014

Hotan market

Just a small selection, typical of this prosperous Uighur oasis city.
And even the kitchen sink!

Chinese Wine, by Michael Noyce

Driving through China we were surprised at the extent of grape growing and the wide availability of wine in supermarkets and all sorts of small 'neighborhood' shops, even in the smallest, main road village. While sometimes a little creativity is apparent in names such as 'Chateau Aroma' or 'Les Champs D'Or', the wines were generally quite drinkable, if often a little thin. We saw most of the common varietals we would expect in Australia, but nevertheless discovered a new varietal 'Piont Noir'! Perhaps this was simply a misprint? One description on a label read “Le Vin du Desert de Gobi“ and it was interesting to see grapes being grown as we traversed the desert. One problem we found is that bottles could often stay in a restaurant or shop, upright, for a considerable time in temperatures exceeding 30c. Pretty well all the bottles had corks, not screw caps, so China has not yet widely embraced another great Aussie innovation.

Michael Noyce

Hey, I can do this

Just hold my bag and I'll bend it like Beckham!

Thursday 26 June 2014

Lovely old man: Yarkand, 25 June 2014

When we stopped for water at Yarkand this morning Ian and I saw this old man collecting bottles (there is a very modest “pension” that needs to be supplemented). We smiled at him and he then smiled at us and kept his smile on us. Ian gave me a kangaroo pin which you can see I pinned on his lapel. Was his cheer just about being recognized as a fellow human being? Ian reckoned the bloke had probably not done any wrong in his life and this is his lot. It was a very moving experience. I bet he is still grinning.

Michael Noyce

Wednesday 25 June 2014

The comitatus

Desert, 540 km of it, in one day of spectacular landscape. From Dunhuang to Huatugou, a town unknown to Google, where the police chief was so helpful, escorting us to his “recommended” hotel, with an armed comitatus (look it up, it's got Silk Road roots), while he personally supervised our check in.

Huatugou looks like a desert garrison town, but more recently an oil town. Many of the men on the street wore the red or black work gear of the Sinopec oil company, and many were quite threatening, wanting to shake hands, take photos, offer us a drink or even have their photos taken with us. Just as well the police were around.

Market day

Keriya is an oasis and market village on the S315, between Qiemo and Hotan, on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. It had rained heavily the night before and the weather was cool, and the market was muddy underfoot. These two gentlemen chatted with me (amazing how much communication can be achieved with good will, a couple of words, and hand signals), then were happy to allow me to photograph them. They were there to trade their goats.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

My Favourite Story Teller: Sat 14 June 2014, by Ian Neuss

Commercial activities in the new old fort at Jiayuguan are mostly serious and entail a lot of souvenir rocks, 'jade', wood carvings and lollies, but one item caught my attention. An ancient picture show with silk screens in a box and a story teller who literally and metaphorically pulled the strings. She gave a wonderful rendition, even though it was in mandarin, her tones inflections and efforts made it worth the 80cents for 4 short stories. I'm sure she pulled the strings to suit the audience as one was about a couple caught in bed by someone who was very stern and wielding a sword. I think she was great and paid for Bill to see if he was as thrilled.

Fred Astaire

We stayed 2 nights in a swanky hotel (the first since we began the trip 6 weeks ago with a 20 metre pool) in Qiemo . On the way back from dinner I began videoing a group of 50 Uygur (Chinese pron. - weeger) dancing the evening away in a local park, a regular event all over China. However the dancers were so intent on their routine I could not get them to smile. So quick as a flash I thought I'll do my Fred Astaire number. They must have been very impressed because not only did some of them break into peals of laughter, just after this photo was taken, but several cried, both expressions forever captured on digital camera.


Monday 23 June 2014

Sat 21 June 2014: Minfeng to Hotan

China always seems to surprise. We are on the edge of a forbidding desert, the Taklamakan. There are some dotted blue lines on our maps, running from the mountain range in the south and petering out in the desert. Their source is the Kun Lun Shan, rising to over 7000 m and forming the northern boundary of Tibet. Permanent snow and glaciers provide a constant, though modest flow. Then there is the seasonal rain, mostly in summer, and the occasional storm from the west. The Taklamakan occupies what is known historically and geologically as the Tarim Basin. The waterways run into the basin, disappearing via irrigation channels or feeding aquifers. The cities, towns and villages along its edge are located at oases, areas of green, orchards, gardens and trees, both desert natives such as desert poplar, and many such as poplars and bamboo (yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a grass not a tree), planted along the road for beautification and wind and sand breaks, and harvested for building timber. We left Minfeng at first light, expecting that we would see a lot of desert and maybe a few small oasis villages.

But it’s summer, with a grey, overcast sky and a cool breeze after a big storm last night. One town had a flooded street. The highway is elevated about a metre above the surrounding plains, but the avenue poplars were standing in water alongside. Eventually all traffic stopped. People had left their cars and were wandering in the desert (prospecting for jade?), and some cars were a couple of hundred metres away from the road. Hundreds of cars, trucks and buses were held up in each direction as heavy machines pushed half a metre of mud off the road. Time to try out the off-roader -- a bit of Paris-Dakkar. The Toyota’s 4WD got us through the greasy former waterways, but several adventurous drivers were sunk. The classic cars, further back, claim to have negotiated the desert. These claims are unconfirmed by photographic evidence, though will no doubt be trumpeted in the corporate media. Chinese truck drivers are very skilful, but impatient. If you want a break in traffic to get back on the road, follow one of them.