Xingjiang, like Tibet is a very sensitive area for China. We had been used to Facebook, Instagram and Youtube access being blocked for the duration of our stay in China, but for many of our group who were using Wordpress for their Blogs, that also was stopped in Xingjiang.
As we were preparing to drive to the border we were aware that there were an extra number of cameras on us. Plus on every corner (it was only 2klms to the border) there was a cameraman filming. We were told that they were from the local TV station. How they found out about us and marshalled the resources, were questions that were unanswered. At the border gate interviews were requested and given.
Then we were off into the frey. Our agents had their freight people working on the export of the cars for a couple of days, so we were hoping the process would be smooth. We were waved through, drove around all the trucks and asked to line the cars up in order in a special marshalling area. The TV camera were still with us. In the Immigration hall, the staff had their camera out and were more interested in taking photos of us and then the cars and the cars with all of the staff and then all of the staff and us. Bugger all the other people who were patiently waiting in queue for their documents to be processed.
It was then off to Customs for the cars. Cameras still rolling. The customs guys checked our Passports (again) opened the boot of a couple of cars for the cameras and we were off. Through the Chinese border in a record 30 minutes.
It’s a 5klm drive across to the Kazakhstan border. The buildings were old, the paint peeling off and repairs probably had not been done since the Soviet empire imploded. There were no TV cameras, no hired shipping agents, we were on our own. No one on our side spoke Kazak or Russian, and no one on their side spoke much English, yet we managed to muddle through the process of getting the cars into KZ in a couple of hours. There were the obligatory photos of cars and officials. They had very little else to do, so this time no one else was inconvenienced. One guy even managed to persuade Mike to let him drive his car around the parking lot.
There were no guard rails along the road into KZ. Infact there was not much of a road. The difference was stark.
We met up with our guide in Zharkent a small town 30k from the border. Our new CCTV cameraman joined us their also. Lunch was BBQ meat and bread and coffee. The team had been transported into a new world.
Our destination for the night was a hot spring about 70lkms from Shonji. The population of towns was now measured in the thousands, not the millions. Dust and decay hung over all around the place. One of the group suggested that things would be better in the richer Stans. I reminded him that the oil rich Kazakhstan was by far the most wealthy and things could only go down hill from here.
We picked up a new passenger in Shonji. Simon joined the team as Tony’e new navigator. I think he only managed to pack a tooth brush in his bag for himself. The balance of the space was full of spare parts for the team.
The car did not like the pot holed and dirt roads. The engine kept on flooding and stalling. Not sure if it’s the fuel pump or the SU carbies bouncing about or a combination of the two. A number of the others experienced a similar issue to some degree.
We drove across a wide, open grassland. The Tien Shan rose as a dramatic backdrop. Across it and a world away, China. Sheep, cattle, horses and men on horseback with dogs at their side, dotted the landscape.
The hot springs were a welcome relief. I don’t think we had been for a swim since Luang Prabang. The beers were cold, and the meat and noodles were local.