18-Sep-2006 -- This is the 11th confluence visit during a bicycle trip from China to Central Asia. The story starts from 32°N 107°E.
After a successful visit of 44°N 88°E a lot of events happened: I met Elionora in Ürümchi (乌鲁木齐) and we both visited the Centre of Asia monument. We took a night bus to the town Sāntái (三台) near the lake Sailimuhu (塞里木湖). Drop off was in the early morning and we had to wait 2 hours for the daylight to come. It was a chilly morning with hoarfrost.
We cycled over a mountain pass to the district town Wēnquán (温泉). The district is populated by the Mongolian Minority. Wēnquán means “hot spring” and in town there is a sanatorium where you can enjoy natural hot water. With its location at the edge of China tourists are rarely seen here.
The good thing about Wenquan is its proximity to a confluence: the distance is only 3 km from the town centre. We thought that this would be the easiest confluence visit in China. At that time, I didn’t know that we were totally wrong.
We dropped our luggage in a budget hotel room and took our bikes in order to go on a straightforward confluence hunt. It was already 6:45 pm, but with a remaining distance of 3 km, we thought that we had plenty of time before dusk.
Well, we didn’t get far: just after leaving the town there was a barrier on the road. Usually, these posts are only for trucks or serve as toll gates for cars. So we crossed it without taking attention to the guards, until we were called back. The guard appeared to us very strict and wouldn’t let us go though unless we had permission to do so. We explained our purpose; we tried everything to let him make an exception for us. But he insisted in having evidence of our permission. He was not even up for a quick bike ride of 2.6km with us. His reason was that behind the gate was already sensitive ‘border region’. This is hard to belive, since it is another 80 km to the actual border, if one would follow the road further west.
So we turned back and went to the border police in town. We didn’t know that we just were on our way to a lion’s den. The border police did not only refuse our plan to pass the gate. Moreover, they couldn’t believe that we had entered Wenquan without permission. Now we found out: The whole district is closed to foreigners! Now we were truly in trouble. I don’t want to bore the reader with too many details. What I can say is that the police were not used to deal with foreigners, which means that their natural curiosity was insatiable. Exploiting their authority as policemen and having little understanding of our world, the discussions with them got lengthy, repetitive and boring (at least for us). We were sent from one office to another, showing our passports a countless number of times and filling out useless forms. I only wished that we had taken our dinner before all this happened.
At 10 pm, three hours later, we were free to spend one night in Wenquan under the promise to leave the district the next morning. And that’s what we did.
I should explain why the submission of this visit comes 3 years delayed. The reason is that we weren’t able to retrieve the pictures from our memory flashcard. Four weeks later into the trip, when we were already cycling in Kyrgyzstan, our digital camera had a sudden blackout. Whatever button I pressed, the camera ignored it – until I took off the batteries. When I placed the batteries back into their slots, the functionality of the camera was back to normal. But to my astonishment, the camera claimed that there are “no pictures available”, although I believed to have taken 316 pictures already. My astonishment turned into deep disappointment when I realized that I wasn’t able to recover the pictures. Back home, I asked several photo-shops for help, I also submitted the broken memory card to professional recover-services in Germany and in China. They all returned the card saying that they simply couldn’t do it. A reasonable decision would have been to give up after 10 different attempts. But I kept on trying, because I couldn’t believe that the actual memory chip was broken. A flash card consists of many sensitive electronic parts that could also be the reason for the failure. I tried to retrieve the data myself together with a friend of mine who is an electrician. But at the end it turned out to be too complicated. But I was not willing to surrender, in particular when looking back to several day-long hikes through deserts and climbs on mountains for reaching confluence points. One day, I came across the website http://card-recovery.biz/. It appeared to be professional, so I submitted the card one more time. A week later, they delivered all the pictures to me!
CP visit details:
- Time at the gate: 19:00 p.m.
- Distance to a road: ca. 500 m
- Topography: hilly
- Minimal distance according to GPS: 2.4 km
- Weather: rain (8° felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: in Western Xingjiang Province, not too far to the Kazakh border.
- Given Name: The Sudden Gate Confluence
Story continues at 45°N 82°E.