Today’s distance / ???????: 44.4 miles / 71.4km
Average speed / ????: 9.5mph / 15.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 4h 40m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5506mi plus 377mi (?) / 8861km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 400m
Descent / ??: 885m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 10′ 26.10″, E100° 14′ 53.90″
Today I had two choices. The road forks at O-po. To the direct south, Highway 227 continues directly on to Xining, 200km away. To the west, there is a longer detour of nearly twice that distance, 380km, along Qinghai Provincial Roads 304 and 204. Highway 227 to the south I know is paved all the way. I also know that there is a 3,800m high pass in there somewhere.
The longer detour however is not so certain. Most people say that it is all paved, and the highest pass is 3,400m.
In the end however, there is not much argument about which road to take. From the direction of Highway 227, there is a constant stream of jeeps and cars. From the direction of Provincial Road 304, there is nothing but the occasional motorbike with a warmly wrapped up Tib*etan in traditional clothing gripping the handlebars.
Provincial Road 304 it is.
It begins with a rough start…literally.
The dirt road is smooth however, and a slight downhill and tailwind aids progress on the slightly spongy surface.
After 5km of dirt, the pavement resumes with only occasional road works. The pavement is not as smooth as Highway 227, Provincial Road 304 being mostly moderate chipseal.
I am in my element however. How long have I put up with busy roads?! My original intent when leaving Japan was to get off the beaten track. Ever since I got onto this skateboard, I have been well and truely on the beaten track. For the first time in well over a year, I feel back in the environment I love the best. Away from it all. An environment where the road is the intruder. An environment where the environment itself holds dominance, not human influence.
Towards noon, I spied an interesting looking structure surrounded by some low-lying buildings. Upon closer inspection, it was the Arou Tib*etan Buddhist Monastery. I rolled up for a closer look, and soon became the center of attention.
The younger monks were naturally very interested in the longboard. I waited in suspense for one of them to get their robe caught in the wheels, but thankfully they escaped their test-rides unscathed.
“How old do you have to be to become a monk?” I asked one of the monks who could speak Chinese.
“Ten years old, and you can become a monk,” he replied.
As we were chatting, a few of the monks had their mobile phones out, taking photos of us talking.
I was given a tour of the fantastic monastery. Photos do much more justice than my words ever could.
The monastery’s claim to fame is the world’s largest (Guinness Record for 8 years running) yak fur tent. The whole thing is made from woven yak fur.
It was not until 2pm that I made it out of the monastery.
I continued skating west along Provincial Road 304, along the wide descending river plain.
About 10km out of Chiling, my destination for the day, it began raining. The smart thing would have been to put on my waterproof trousers. I kept skating.
The road into Chiling was gritty and covered in a fine silt that was flicked up onto my clothing. I arrived in the city a sodden dirty mess, but stoked with a great adventurous day!
Arrival in Chiling did not spell the end of adventure however. After checking out a few cheap hotels, I finally found one that gave me a room for 30RMB (3 Euro). It was a small family business, and they were delightful.
“You came from O-po today?! That is so far. Look at you, you’re all dirty and wet. You can pay once you’ve got all cleaned up. Here is your room…”
In the evening I visited the local internet cafe to upload photos. I was there two hours before two police officers arrived.
“Can we speak to you a second, please sir?” they asked in Chinese.
At this juncture, I should have just played the “I can’t speak Chinese” card. However, the day was going great, and I wanted to be friendly.
“Sure, just let me gather my things,” I replied in Chinese.
I followed them to their car just outside the internet cafe.
“Where are you from?” they began.
“Where are you staying?” they asked.
It was here that I knew I was ruined.
I told them that I was staying at a place up the road. No, I can’t remember the name.
“You can show us the way,” one of the officers said.
There was no way out, so I directed them to the small, clean family-run travel inn. We parked outside, and after just one look at the outside of the inn, they said “you cannot stay here, we will show you to another hotel.”
This was all I needed. I cracked. I got annoyed.
“This is rediculous! The place is just fine. It is clean and new, the staff are helpful! All my gear is there, I am comfortable. It is 9pm, and it will take time to go to another hotel. Plus, I have been on the road for 2 years. I cannot afford to stay at expensive hotels!” I said very firmly.
“How much can you afford?” they asked.
“20RMB, and no more,” I replied.
“OK, we will find you a good hotel for 20RMB,” they replied.
No way that would be happening I thought, but I had to go with it. We dashed into the travel inn and removed all my gear, me none too happy about it, and the owners of the travel inn also giving the police an earful about how they should not harass their guests.
The police took me to one hotel, and sure enough, it was 100RMB a night.
“100RMB?” the young officers asked incredulously. Obviously they were not expecting it to be this much.
One of the officers made a phone call on his cell phone. “Hello sir,” I overheard him say. I did not catch all of the conversation, but did hear the words “two years travel, needs cheap place to stay, New Zealand”.
It appears that their boss was understanding towards my plight, and told the younger officers to take me back to the original inn. I continued to show my displeasure at being uprooted and driven around the town, and they left me at the original inn, them apologising profusely.
What a palava.