Sadly, based on my schedule, i couldn’t stay in Turpan very long. In fact, i could only stay one day… not even overnight. I really was loving this town though, and i decided to try to cut a day from my next stop so i could stay here one day. I called the airline and surprisingly they said it was no problem at all, i just had to pay the $25 fare difference. Unfortunately though, if i wanted to pay with an international card, they would need to send me a form, have me print it, then sign it, and then send it back to them. Um. Whaaa? That clearly wasn’t an option. They said i could use a Chinese credit card, but clearly i dont own one of those. I went out to ask the hostel people if they could put it on a card of theirs and i could give them cash. But, none of them had a credit card… they only use WeChat. Dammit. So, i wasn’t able to change my plan after-all.
And my plan was a horrible one. I would need to (after already getting a shite night of sleep the night before on the train) take a taxi an hour back to the train station, then take the 12:30am train out to this random city called Hami which was only a 5 hour train ride, not giving me much time to sleep, and then wait around for 5 hours until my 10:30 am flight. Fun!! But what can you do?
Our awesome taxi driver picked me up and we drove to the station. He was bumping music super loud and his taxi had lights that flashed in time to the bass. As we drove through the darkness, little field mice would scurry across the road in front of us. It was one of those wonderful and surreal travel moments. Eventually he stammered out with a struggle, the only English words i had heard him say ever, “I like music”.
We got to the security checkpoint. It’s pitch black. There is a storm brewing and the wind is howling like crazy. Here are the guards with the crazy assault rifles. We are asked to get out. The wind is blowing so hard that i am almost being knocked over. I’m called inside. They fiddle with my passport. It didnt feel like such a big deal earlier when it was daylight, nice weather, and the Taiwanese woman was with me… but being back at this checkpoint, alone, at night, in this storm, with all the guns… it was really starting to creep me the fuck out. I stood there nervously as the guy spent what seemed like ages entering my passport data into a computer. I was incredibly glad/relieved when i was waved to go back to the taxi.
We get to the train station . There is a search, metal detector, and xray. Then there is another one. Then there is a third one to get into the ticketing area. They are not happy with the xray. I have to open my luggage and they look through my toiletries. They seem concerned by the spray-on sunblock, the insect repellant, and the shaving cream. They look confused and talk back and forth rapidly, but of course i understand nothing as always. I pantomime mosquitos flying around and biting me and me spraying them. I pantomime the hot sun burning me. I pantomime myself shaving. The guards seem placated and let me pass. I buy my tickets and then there is yet another (4th!) round of inspections to get to the waiting room. During each inspection, they make me take a big swig of my water so they know it’s not explosives or something. By the end, my water is almost empty.
I finally board my train. After only 4 hours of sleep, i get woken up by the train attendant. I reach for my phone. Um. Where is my phone? Oh god. I feel around everywhere… my pockets, my bed, my day pack. I feel all the cracks between the bed and the wall. I turn the blankets and pillow upside down. No phone. I do those things again and again. No phone. I am *freaking out* at this point. Not only would replacing a phone be expensive as hell, but I literally could not survive here with no phone. My flight confirmation is in there. I cant translate anything without it, or buy train tickets, etc etc . I’m getting frantic now. And my stop is hella soon. What am i going to do if we reach the stop and I haven’t found it? Finally i leap out of bed and there it is. It had fallen 9 feet down from my top bunk to the floor below. I felt so relieved.
We get into Hami at 5:30 am. I order a DiDi to the airport. We start driving, and the driver texts me through the app (it automatically translates back and forth which is amazing). The airport is not open yet. It doesnt open until 8am. Oh great. I ask if there is anywhere nearby that i can wait. No, it’s in the Gobi desert and there is nothing. Shit. He asks if he should take me to breakfast and i say yes. It’s still dark out, and basically everything is still closed, but he finds a tiny little hole in the wall dumpling spot.
We go inside. I order some dumplings. While i wait, i notice a “health inspection” card for the restaurant (they have those here??). This place gets a C, the lowest grade. I look down and i see a cockroach frantically trying to unsuccessfully climb out of a trashcan. I look at my dumplings. They looked yummy just a minute ago, but now I am grossed out and slowly force myself to choke them down. The driver leaves and i still have a ton of time to kill. I hang out and read my book for the next 2 hours, with people coming in and out of the restaurant looking at me weird, wondering what the hell this white guy is doing in Hami at all, and why he is reading a book in this tiny hole in the wall shop. Finally, it’s time, and i get up to go. The owner smiles ands waves me goodbye.
Finally i get to the airport and catch my flight. Oh man. I am *exhausted*. My tiny excursion into Xinjiang was fascinating and i’m really glad i did it. This is definitely the crazy traveling that you end up always remembering and looking back on. But damn… i really had to work for it.