get ready for the longest entry of your life. first of all if any of you are considering backpacking a significant part of the silk road within two weeks, i'm telling you now - don't do it. don't get me wrong i really did love it. but now i get to complain about it, but keep in mind i do realize it was the experience of a lifetime. :)
i was so excited to go on this trip when i got to china, now i never want to see another part of china again. we went to nine different cities - xi'an, lanzhou, xia'he, jiayuguan, dunhuang, hami, shanshan, turpan, and urumqi never staying more than a night in one place. least to say it was exhausting. we took overnight trains, planes, camels, buses and we stayed in yurts, villages, tents, and hotels. EXHAUSTING.
i literally felt like i was on this little excursion for about 2 months when in fact it had been about 3 and 1/2 days. we were on the move 24/7. most of that time was spent waiting. waiting for trains, luggage, people, tours, camels, etc.
the long awaited journey began in the city of xi'an, which is most famous for housing the terra cotta warriors. they in fact were prolly my favorite site of the trip. oddly enough i was extremely fascinated with something other than the real housewives of new jersey. its so crazy that some farmer just one day dug up a whole army of terra cotta warriors. i loved them. it was also in xi'an that i realized that the chinese add r's to english words. yes it is stereotypical, however i was unsure if it was actually true. luckily enough our tour guide was able to confirm this myth for me. she used words like pagoder (pagoda) buddhr (buddha) and phenomener (phenomena). least to say, she was great. another important discovery on the way to xi'an: sleeper trains. i think sleeper trains may make the list of my top 5 favorite things in the entire world. i love them. i think they are great. they're so fun. just like six little bunk beds in a little compartment, often our program took up a car or two so it was always fun to hang out with everyone and fall asleep to asian lullabyes. so wonderful.
also in xi'an, TBC (the beijing center - study abroad program i am going through) had decided to hire a few local students to take us around and show us the city for the night, and host a group of about 10 students at their house for dinner. sounds pretty cool and looks like TBC did their homework, right? false. our host student, joan, looked like she had been pulled of the street and forced to take a group of clueless, ignorant americans around. luckily her and her friend teamed up and took twenty of us around the city. after showing us some sites and forcing us to cross a major highway in the middle of oncoming traffic, it was time for dinner. my friend, mallory, took the initiative and asked how long far her house was from here. joan continued to tell us it was very, very far away. mallory continued to ask how we were getting to their house. joan looks at us with a confused look and says "whaaaa?" so joan and the other host student look at each other and ask "is this a prank." our group of TBC-er's looked at each other in confusion and quickly offered to go to a restaurant. job well done, TBC staff, job well done.
after xi'an we made our way to xia'he, which is a small tibetan village on the border between tibet and china. xia'he may have been my favorite place on the trip. we stayed in a town called labrong, which was literally a block long with a bunch of vendors, restaurants, weird stores, etc. however, they had the coolest jewelry and it was here that i had one of my favorite dishes in china! it was a bowl of soup with noodles and it was spicy and just delicious. the people here were great. i also tried yak! i know, i'm getting more and more adventurous everyday. on our last night in xia'he, a tibetan family threw us a great party. they served us great food and there was lots of singing and dancing. and alcohol. disgusting alcohol. they went into each of the rooms where TBC-ers were eating and started singing a beautiful song and then draping us with scarves. then they poured three shot glasses full of some tibetan liquor, most likely gasoline. they made us take three gasoline shots each and you couldn't say no because they were singing so beautifully. afterwards we serenaded them with don't stop believing. and yes, it was embarassing.
the next day we left xia'he for lanzhou to catch a train to jiayuguan. we visited a girls muslim school, which was really cool! all the girls were really sweet and they sang for us! we visited about a bajillion mosques, all were beautiful and all smell like yak butter. blehkk. we then made our way to jiayuguan where a few friends and i stumbled upon a carnival and treated ourselves to a few rounds of bumper cars. it was great.
after jiayuguan we arrived in dunhuang after a nauseous five hour drive through a place that most likely doesn't show up on google maps. there were no roads we just drove. people got sick which made the drive even more pleasant. however, it was worth it we spent the night in the gobi desert. thats right, how many people can say they've camped in the gobi desert? well i can. we set up two person tents and then spent the night climbing sand dunes. not the best idea when you can't shower for the next day. oh well it was prolly one of the coolest things i've ever done. we got up at 4 am the next morning to RIDE CAMELS. thats right, we rode camels through the gobi desert up to the tallest dune to watch the sunrise. it was awesome. i was so excited to ride a camel, but believe me they are not all that. they smell, they're uncomfortable, and i'm pretty sure mine had pink eye. i have spent two hours of my life on a camel, which for me is about an hour and 45 minutes too long. after making our way through loads of camel poop we got back on the bus and headed back to our hotel for much needed showers. also in dunhuang, we visited the mogao grottos which were actually really cool. they house a bunch of artifacts that are relevant to the silk road. they had buddhas there. i mean HUGE like 100 times my size. they were really cool.
after dunhuang we made our way to hami for a bit then off to shanshan. in shanshan we stayed in a uygur village where we picked grapes, danced, and spent the night. the uygurs and the chinese don't have a very good relationship. they are an ethnic minority of china and not very accepted. they cooked us great food, provided us with endless amounts of grapes, and of course provided us with the ever-present dance party.
our last stop on the silk road was urumqi where we stayed at the heavenly lake. it was beautiful. it was a hike, but completely worth it. we stayed in kazak yurts - google 'em! - that were uncomfortable and cold. they cooked us lamb and when i say cooked i mean most likely killed the lamb that day and fed it to us. also when they brought out the lamb is was a legitimate lamb laid in front of us. it still looked like a lamb. yeah right was i eating that. of course there were some double dares involved and i ended up with lamb liver in my mouth, disgusting. however the normal lamb parts weren't that bad. except for the fact that 50% of our group spent the night puking. it was either the lamb, or the gross kfc we stopped at for lunch. i guess we'll never know. the next day we spent driving to the airport and hanging out a bazaar waiting for our flight. all we talked about was how excited we were to get back to beijing. and after a two hour flight we landed in our new home. it was glorious i never though i'd be happy to see the notorious beijing smog, but i was wrong i was ecstatic i prolly would've kissed the ground had i not jsut witnessed a small child drop his shorts and relieve himself just a few feet from me. oh beijing, how i missed you and your unique ways.
so i'm officially in love with you if you read that whole thing. and i hope it was able to persuade each and every one of you to cancel all ventures you had planned to travel the silk road. stay in america and save yourself the hardship.