Sat 20 Oct 2007
A 14 hour bus ride, living in a yert, an over optimistic tour guide who can’t estimate driving time to save his life, riding horses and camels, the same food every meal, staying in the ‘Baolou Aluminum Smelter Hotel’ , breaking down 100 miles from Beijing, and 11 Dickinson students. What an amazing trip to Inner Mongolia. It all started when I told my friend Joanna that I was planning to go to Inner Mongolia by myself through a travel agency but my host family wouldn’t let me go alone. So once Joanna decided to go other people soon decided to go as well and pretty soon 11 Dickinson students were headed to Inner Mongolia for 5 days. But we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
We were told to arrive by a hotel in Wudaokou (an area in NW Beijing) at 5 in the morning on October 1st. So I reluctantly set my alarm for 4am and took a cab there. Once I arrived I soon found other people from my group who had already gotten on a bus. After realizing that we had gotten on the 4 day tour bus we got off and looked for our 5 day tour bus. After seeing the 3 and 6 day tour buses down the road we soon found our 5 day tour bus. But it was noticeably smaller, dirtier, and more cramped then the other buses. Surely there had to be a mistake. This couldn’t be our bus? Alas it was. We boarded the bus and then got underway an hour late.
According to the broucher it used to take 11 – 12 hours to get to Inner Mongolia but now since constructing the new freeway you can get to there in 4 – 5 hours. However we failed to realize that we were also leaving for Inner Mongolia on Oct 1st. China’s “Independence Day”. A day when everyone in China including their mother, grandmother and grandfather, uncles, aunts, and cousins are all traveling as well. The traffic made NOVA look like a joke and LA look like minor delays. So after what should have been a 4 – 5 hour bus ride we arriving in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia sometime around 8 or 9pm. I don’t remember exactly when and I don’t really care. It adds up to 14 – 15 on a bus that I wish I had a brought a book along on. Once we arrived we moved into our yerts and then had dinner sometime around 11pm.
The next day was when the trip really got going. We got up early and then around 9am we saddled up some horses and trecked through the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. It was a beautiful day for riding and up in the highlands where we were there was not much pollution making for some clear autumn weather. Being in a part of China where there’s more livestock then people was a good change of pace as things started to slow down and we began to relax. After 3 hours of riding we headed back, grabed some lunch and then were able to watch some Horse Racing and Mongolian wrestling. Watching the racing and wrestling was a good experience but there was a part of me that was let down by the touristness of it all. The racers and the wrestlers were the same people and they didn’t put too much effort into it. I was tempted to tell them I’d give 100 kuai to whoever won the events to make it most interesting but I decided it would be better not to. After finishing up we then boarded the bus and headed for the desert.
We arrived at the hotel I thought we were staying at just after dark, grabed some dinner and watched some entertaining dancing and performances by the local people, once again there was a certain touristiness to the event that I noticed when people watching joined in a cha-cha line with the performers that eventually turned into a dancing mosh pit. After this it was starting to get late and also began to rain. We grabbed our stuff and headed for the hotel but then realized that we were not staying at this hotel but another one. So we then procedded to board these half truck, half boat, half tank looking things. When you look at the pictures (facebook) you see that, yes, it does actually add up. So we boarded and drove off into the night. Unfortunately there was not enough room on my truck so I had to stand for what was a much longer ride then I thought it would be (about 25 minutes) We drove down into a valley, over a 10 foot wide stream in the middle (I guess that’s what the truck/boats/tanks were for) and then up over the side. It was then, when we started driving over sand dunes, that I realized we were actually in desert. Sweet. After arriving at our desert “hotel” we spent a good hour trying to figure out who was sleeping where. After much craziness I found a room with my friend Nick and we settled down for the night.
The next morning we rose at 6am and boarded the “vehicles” once again and headed back to the other hotel to have breakfast. On the way back we once again had to drive down through the valley. The stream actually used to be a river that was probably 100 – 200 yards wide, but now has dried up to nothing more then 10 feet wide. (Which is why they had the boat trucks to begin with) When driving through northern China and Inner Mongolia there were several valleys we drove over where there clearly used to be water but are now dried up. In Northern China the only river I actually saw that was still flowing was the Yellow. Apparently there has been severe misuse of China’s water (especially during the time of Mao Zedong) and now today they are paying for it with a severe water shortage throughout the north. So severe in fact, that China is building a canal hundred of miles long from South China to the north to provide them with water.
After breakfast we headed back across the dry riverbed to the desert where we hoped on some camels and then rode around (fairly slowly) for the next hour. After that there were lots of other tourist attractions (none of which I decided to do) but they included: going ATVing over the dunes (for about 5 minutes), sliding down the dunes on a sand sled, or rolling down the dunes in a giant ball (seriously). But after the camel riding, and taking some action shots in the desert we decided it was time to head back to the bus.
After boarding the bus, and waiting for another hour, we headed for the GenghisKhan Mausoleum. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because I remember back in my high school freshmen history class studying Ghenghis Khan for maybe a day or two. Not nearly enough for me. I thought he was really interesting. He did conquer 80% of the known world at the time even though his empire didn’t last for too long. Once the Khans conquered you they actually imposed a fair rule of law for the time period, including a good justice system, and also respected local customs and religions. So getting to see the Masoleum was pretty great for me.
After the Masoleum we headed to Baolou City, the biggest city in Inner Mongolia. It reminded my friend Nick of Dodge City in the old west and I thought that was a pretty good description. Very dirty, very sketchy, and in the middle of now. It also made me continue to puzzle about why the Chinese have such a fascination with Neon lights. An obsession really. After finding out that we could not stay at the hotel we were supposed to because they were overbooked (figures). We headed over to the industrial part of the city and then arrived at the “Baolou Aluminum Smelter Hotel”. Don’t let the name decieve you like it did me at first. Apparently its the hotel where all of the executives in of the factory would stay. Much nicer then the slums all around the factory. But that’s capitalism for you. (Don’t try to tell me it’s Socialism with Chinese characteristics China).
So after spending a night in the nicest hotel we stayed in Inner Mongolia we headed off to Huhot the next day, the capital of Inner Mongolia. We were supposed to visit a dinosaur museum but unfortunately it was closed, at least according to our tour guide. I would have actually really like to visit the museum because Inner Mongolia has some of the oldest and most well preserved dinosaur bones anywhere in the world. But alas we visited a factory instead and got to see workers making hats, knives, clothes and other things that they sell at the tourist destinations. From what we saw the working conditions were great! But I’m sure what didn’t see more then made up for that. I thought because we were buying directly from the factory it would be cheaper. No. Of course their prices were more expensive. Whoever had the idea to turn a factory into a tourist attractition is a great businessmen. After visiting the factory we headed to dinner and then the hotel for our last night in Inner Mongolia. We visited the bar upstairs where I got my first taste of Chinese Kareokee, which they really really like by the way. There’s more to that night of Kareokee but I think I’m going to leave it at that.
The next morning we finally headed back to Beijing. It was really a relief to be finally heading back. But this is China and we of course couldn’t have made it back without a little more craziness. About 100 miles from Beijing our bus’ engine decided to overheat and this is what the bus driver did to fix it: He asked everyone on the bus to give him their water so he could pour it into the engine (possibly the coolant) I don’t know nor do I want to. And then he proceeded to ask us for some gum which he then chewed and combined with a metal poll and a plastic bag and stuck it all in the engine (No joke) . Somehow the bus managed to fuction and we made it all the way back to Beijing.
So that’s the story of my crazy trip to Inner Mongolia. It pretty much sums up China. Most of the people on our bus were westerners and a lot got really frustrated and angry with our tour guide because of all of the problems we had. Granted, there were a lot of problems but I went into the trip expecting some difficulties because, well, this is China. Take it with a grain of salt and just enjoy it for the blessing that it is to be here. And I still have at least 8 months here! Sweet.
P.S. I’m not going to be posting as much in the future because I’m trying to do more emersion and limit my time spent doing things in English. Sorry.
Thought of the day: Life is short. Play naked.