Sunday, 10th October...
A cafe owner arranged a cheap taxi share for us with two other people (a lively 60-odd year old Argentian property developer, who spends 6 months of the year travelling and a local Chinese man). The only sleeper tickets we could get for our overnight journey to Lanzhou went from a tiny town called Liuyuan 200km North and at 3 pound a person it was well worth the extraordinary drive. We drove through the edge of the Gobi Desert with the sun setting behind us and black mountains to our left, Outer Mongolia just over the other side - it was a wonderful sight. Gradually the landscape changed and then we were faced with miles upon miles of coal slap heaps on either side. Liuyuan, it seems is a industrial town made up of mining workers - with the desert frosting over and evening drawing in, it was quite a depressing sight. We decided we did not want to get stuck in this town and with 20 minutes to go before our train we were getting edgy. When we arrived, I tried to buy some crisps but the train guard hustled us onto the platform looking quite panicked. We ran over the to the other sides with our heavy packs thinking we were about to miss the train only to find nothing there. While we waited, suddenly all the lights went out and a freigh train pulled slowly up in front of us. At nearly 20ft high, looming over us in the dark and almost exactly like the trains used to ship detainees to concentration camps in the world war (and probably just as old), it was pretty eery to say the least.
When our train pulled up we were faced with the reality of the hard sleeper - 11 of so open compartments with 6 beds in each. No privacy. People coughing, spitting (oh the spitting), shouting on their phone, snoring. It was an experience to say the least!
Monday, 11th October...
We were soon arriving in Lanzhou, after a reasonable sleep considering.
Things we've learnt....
- everyone spits, everywhere, all the time.
- we discovered how the baby trousers work: a mother in Toby's compartment (we were sleeping separately) picked up her baby after it woke up, placed it on her lap with her legs apart and waited. Soon enough the baby peed on cue and directly onto the carriage floor. We were horrified but no one even blinked. The other downside (apart from all the others we can think of) is that often babies get blamed for inexplicable puddles that didn't even do, poor little blighters.
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