Tuesday, September 27, 2005

No News is Good News

I feel sorry for Ammon not only does he have four women with him, he has to deal with everyone thinking that I am his wife and that Bre and Savannah are his twin daughters. We're looking forward to seeing where they're going to fit Brittany into this picture! Really, you wouldn't believe how many times a day the girls get asked if they are twins. Ammon gets " Oh, you go talk to your wife and daughters about it!" So funny. I guess it's because I look so young and beautiful or maybe....Ammon just looks really old, hahah.
Well I guess you know we're heading up the mountain for probably, well actually, our toughest challenge yet! So wish us luck and pray. Just remember, no news is good news! Don't worry and we'll talk to you soon enough! There might be internet at the base camp if so we will try to get word out.
Should be great and beautiful in the Himalayan mountains!!
love to all
Maggie the mom


And then there were 5.......
Yep, another female has arrived to drive me crazy. Bre's friend Brittany arrived last night safe and sound (oh, but not for long, heh heh). We were in high heaven with all the great stuff she brought us from home. I think half the weight of her backpack was candy. Yep, we are junkies, but it'll be good energy for the trek. Unfortunately she is here but we are having trouble getting her any money as her bank card is not working for some reason. I don't think we are going to get it fixed in time as we are flying tomorrow morning to Lukla to start our trek.
We have spent the last week or so just sitting around here in Kathmandu getting lazy. We have a new record as we've been spending $1.25 Canadian a night each for our rooms. With Brittany now arrived it's $1! Ha, I love that. We've been spending the money saved on western food, unsuccessfully trying to fatten up for the road ahead. It has been great though. It is so different here from everywhere else we've been. Lots and lots of backpackers have been pouring in in preparation for the trekking season. The locals complain that tourism is down but it seems pretty busy here to me. We've mostly been hanging out in Thamel, the "backpacker ghetto" neighbourhood that has absolutely everything. We traded in our half dozen books finally and got a whole stack of new ones to read. You don't know how happy we were for something new to read. We have ventured out to a few sights but we are trying to avoid temples in general still. Durbar square (the center of the old town and site of the old royal palace) and Pashiputinath (the most important Hindu temple in Nepal) are the only places we've been. Guides are desperate for business and will chase you around the site which is really annoying.
Nepal itself is very Hindu and very Buddhist depending on where you are and as such have some very interesting traditions, rituals, etc. They have a little girl living in Durbar square that is worshipped as a living goddess and the temples seem to be half Buddhist and half Hindu as the religions have been totally mixed over the years. Nepal has had a Maoist revolution going on for the last decade and it is all a bit of a mess as a result (though there is currently a 3 month ceasefire and they've never targetted foreigners) with military checkpoints and soldiers and security is all over the place. We don't feel threatened or anything here though. Traffic is totally insane. There are now many many more motorbikes than we have seen previously and I've nearly been hit a million times already. Streets are very narrow, dirty and look 1000 years old though most seem to be only 300. Monkeys and cows in the middle of the city are not uncommon sites either! Pollution is really bad too and I am looking forward to being up in the clean, quiet mountains for a while. Everyone here seems to speak some english (thanks to the British presence in India) unlike China or Russia but that means they also drive on the left side of the road so we keep running into people not knowing which side to pass them on. It is also the tail end of the monsoon so we've had lots of humidity, warm weather and a few strong rainstorms too.
The craziest thing here is that apparently I have a wife and 2 kids, not a mother and 2 sisters. Now that people are able to talk to us in English and we can understand what they are thinking it turns out that everyone is saying "your wife is over there" or "go talk to your wife and decide" or "can I take a picture with your daughters", etc. Wow, do I look that old?
All is well here, we are looking forward to our next (very) big challenge.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Hmmm.... Seems Savannah is a little less popular after that last post. As group leader maybe I am to blame. Honestly though, take it for what it really is, the frustrated rantings of a 15 year old that is being dragged around the world against her will. She's actually been really good and is enjoying and learning a lot. Read her other posts. Besides, an opinion is an opinion and even an open mind doesn't always accept all it sees. I'd rather have a blog that is honest than one that is politically correct anyway.
Heh, now for my opinion.......
To be perfectly honest, I didn't like Tibet. It was a major disappointment. Everyone seems to think that it is some holy magical place and you will instantly feel this or be transformed by it all. Truth is, it's just another mess like anywhere else. The expectations are too high and I'd suggest that everyone not bother wasting their money unless they are hell-bent on going in the first place. I've had much more enlightening experiences in monasteries and talking to monks in other parts of South East Asia. Because of it's reputation, Tibet has become a tourist trap for all the tourists coming up to see it. The worst part is that it is completely run by the Tibetan Tourism Mafia that makes up all sorts of crazy rules and has everyone paranoid or is a scammer. See below for examples. It's a better deal just to see the Tibetans and Tibetan culture from areas neighbouring it in China or Nepal. The people are nicer and things seem more authentic actually.
I'm glad I went, I saw lots, I come away with a better understanding than I had before but don't ask me to go back because I never will. In that regard I put it in the same category as Vietnam, the only other place I won't go back to. Lovely place but like Tibet, I couldn't stand the way the system is set up to rip off tourists. It's a little bit of an exaggeration but it honestly felt like every Tibetan was a graduate of the "Hello, Money" school of annoyance. Beggars everywhere, the pilgrims, old people, villagers, and even a few monks greeted us with outstretched hands saying "hello, money". Yes I know Tibetans are poor and oppressed by the Chinese but if you think they are the only people with this problem on Earth you are sorely mistaken. The Burmese and people from numerous other poor countries I've been to (with the exception of Vietnam) did not do this to the same extent. I don't really care and it's not that which bugs me per se (otherwise we might as well completely skip India) but it seriously detracts from any "holy" atmosphere and turns something that could be really cool into a headache. Unfortunately I was expecting something very cool but never got any good vibes from the people or the place. Just the way it is.
For the record, Lhasa had the most rats openly running around than I have seen anywhere else. Don't know why, as it wasn't really that much dirtier. Kyrgyzstan (Bishkek and Osh) was also pretty bad for that with big fat ones on the streets.
From Lhasa we took a local bus to Shigatse. It's the 2nd largest Tibetan town but is very Chinese now too. I hate to break it to you, but we started looking for Chinese places to deal with because they were more trustworthy (ie. would actually give you a decent amount of food and then not try to rip you off). From Shigatse it's not possible to take local transport any further toward the border so you have to organize something else. The agencies know this so totally try to rip you off. If you talk to anyone else you'll be lucky if they don't run away screaming at the mention of the border. Seriously, they get all twitchy and paranoid.
We ran into four Swiss guys with the same problem as us. They were so mad at Tibet it was funny. We went to Gyantse together an hour away to see another big monastery. I think technically we needed a permit to go there but who knows the rules. In any case we didn't get one. On our way back to Shigatse we were dumped off the minibus just outside of town because they were afraid to take us past the checkpoints whether we had a permit or not. Like I said, paranoid. We searched Shigatse for a ride for 2 days before finding something almost reasonable. 2 jeeps for the 8 of us with 2 locals going as well. They tell you that you don't need permits to go on the road, that it is all perfectly legit, but you can't have more than 5 people in a jeep because it is illegal. If all that is true, why were we sneaking past the checkpoints with all 8 of us temporarily in one vehicle? After 2 days of driving on the worst road of the whole trip (and there are a lot of bad roads to compare to so far) they dumped us an hour's walk outside of the border town and made us walk so they didn't get busted by the checkpoints there. By the time we got across and on our way to the Nepal border the Swiss guys were seriously looking for a Chinese flag to burn on the way. By then I don't think we would've stopped them either. At least we got to see Mt. Everest from a distance on the way to the border......
Whereas Tibet is totally barren and like driving through a gravel pit, Nepal was immediately green, tropical and really humid. Such a dramatic shift was unbelievable.
Right on the other side of the border it looked like India (the people, smells, buildings and accents). They are really nice compared to Tibet.
Nepal has the Maoist rebels so there are checkpoints all along the road but the soldiers will actually smile, wave and even joke with you, unlike the stone-faced chinese guards. Much nicer feel right away. It certainly helps that they speak quite a bit of english out here too. We caught another jeep to Kathmandu where we are now. Talk about craziness. They are nice (maybe too nice) though. Everyone here is trying to get you to go trekking and if you aren't careful you'll be stuck having tea with someone in their shop. Ha, it's great. We will be here for the week getting organized until Bre's friend Brittany arrives on the 26th. Then the 5 of us will take off up the mountain to get to Everest Base Camp.
PS. We are actually in good moods even if the blogs don't sound like it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Holy Province of Tibet

I just want to quickly add that I feel sorry for any country that's official language isn't English because most of the foreign countries have over-reacted acting and sucky music! Also, this morning we, as normal, were able to spend a grand total of $2.00 for breakfast to stuff the four of us (including 1 pop) and we even managed to leave left overs! It was good food too. I must say that I am Buddha'd out. I have had my share of monasteries in my life time and find no need to see another one!! I don't particuarly enjoy the dim lighting, kindergartener fabric and drawing styles, unrealisic features of the buddha statues and clutter of it all. I much prefer the look of Catholic Churches! Rest assure none of us will be converting to Buddhism any time soon!
For interest's sake.....
- It is quite a task to find shaving cream and the times when we luck out it turns out to be bad quality. (Ammon's going to be stuck with a beard for a while, haha sucker)
- Deodorant is impossible to find in China.....and certain (necessary) feminine products!
- Showers are always a surprise. You're either get stuck with a lame little dribble, cursed with cold, it may or may not have a door, don't know if the right or left knob is hot, and sometimes you'll get a perfectly fine shower (good pressure and hot) that is in the same tiny room with the dirty, Chinese squatty......fun!
- Oh yes, and we've also had our variety of good and bad toilet papers. It ranges from recycled cardboard (almost sand paper) to soft like home.....the worst being in Russia!
-China still has the prize for nastiest toilets!!!
-We're still paying $2.00-$4.00 a night and they really aren't as bad a you guys think for being so cheap. They just don't charge a lot....
- As for smoking.....We've probably lost 5 years of life because they smoke in restaurants, bathrooms, buses, stores etc. etc...... 24/7 I'll tell ya. Even, next to me in the internet cafe at this very moment.
- The beggers are annoying but smart to hang out around all the "rich" tourist!! I think when the kids start coming into the restaurants and ask for your food it's pushing it though!!

I should end this now. Haha, when I started I said it was only going to be a quick note. I guess I got a little carried away.
I'm looking forward to getting out of China and seeing new surroundings!

Tibet Is so Cool! - Breanna

Wow, all you poor guys back home, sitting on the couch watching T.V. ahahah, while I'm out here in Tibet! Suckers. heheh
I went to the coolest Monastary! (Drepung) It is the biggest in Tibet. 10 000 monks used to live there. Now only 700 live there after the communists killed them. It's built on the side of a mountain. They have lots of prayer flags and scriptures carved into flat rocks. They use solar panels to heat their water. Never seen that before. It was so beautiful looking down on the city while standing on the roofs of all the different buildings. So peaceful and quiet. It was awsome because there were no fences or boundaries. You would never be able to go on a roof of a building so high off the ground without a fence surrounding the place. We even got to see the monks during one of their debates. They would all gather around and debate with each other, in groups of two or three. Of course we didn't know what they were saying and they looked pretty funny because they were waving their arms and slapping their hands in front of the other guys face. Still interesting to watch. There was one thing that bothered me, the way there are pilles of money everywhere, all over the floor, over-flowing the counters and donation boxes, in the candle wax, stuffed in the edges of the glass surounding some statues, in cupboards, stuck on the walls etc. Seriously they should be using the money instead of letting it be wasted or having the possibility of it being stolen. (By me) heeheh just kidding. Really it's annoying.

The Potala Palace was cool because I got to see where the Dalai Lamas lived and their tombs. Amazing how much gold and jewels they used on their coffins. I wonder what each of the Dalai Lamas thought about when he looked at the previous Dalai Lama's tomb. Considering that he WAS the previous Dalai Lama. The inside was actually dull and boring because it was so repetitive. I got attacked by ladies trying to sell me beads and prayer spinners. They literally shoved something into my hands and refused to take it back. I was thinking about just putting it on the ground and running away but I managed to quickly toss it into one of their pockets and bolt.
I got a sweet Tibet shirt!!
I feel like I have altitude sickness (in a happy way), it is weird how Savannah can't finish our leftovers, Ammon has been dragging behind and the only thing I've noticed about mom is that she can't throw cards across the room with out them scattering everywhere.


Well, we finally all got the energy to take a look at town. Still huffing and puffing our way along though (maybe this is usual now that I am old?). Interesting to say the least. We are staying in the Tibetan part of town. It's obviously the most interesting part though a little depressing when you think that most of the city is Chinese now and within a very short period of time the train will arrive (they are currently building a route up from Golmud that is rumored to be nearly complete) and all Chinese hell will break loose up here and it probably won't be worth visiting anymore. As it is, there is tons of Chinese propaganda everywhere with the entire Tibetan quarter covered with Chinese flags on all the buildings. Hmmm...... at least they still have monks and Tibetans with funky ornamentation making their pilgrammages running around so it is interesting at street level still. My advice to you guys is to get up here soon or face the reality that it won't be worth it soon.
There are a lot of tourists here too, maybe the most westerners since Ulaan Baatar, so that of course means more expensive, more touts and more beggars, probably the worst of the trip so far. Fortunately we need the practice for India so it's all good. We've mostly just wandered around a little, though we did make a short trip out to Drepung monastery yesterday. It was the largest of the monasteries around Lhasa and some say in the world! Housing up to 10000 monks in its prime, it's like a small town to wander around in. It's up on the hillside so Mom, Bre and I (Savannah stayed home in a bad mood) had a time of it for a few hours checking it out. What makes it interesting is the lack of planning. The buildings and different levels are all totally out of whack but then this seems to be a common theme with the Buddhists because everything we've seen so far has been totally warped or crooked. Maybe that's what you get when you build everything in these climates without nails.... The Potala palace was much the same though actually a bit disappointing. The biggest drawback is it's such a hassle. It's pretty hard to get tickets because they sell out their limited number pretty quick so you have to wait in line the day before. Then when you get in you are not allowed to take pictures, the lighting is pretty bad and you get lost pretty quick as it is a maze with little direction a lot of the time. It was interesting to see the tombs and thrones of previous Dalai Lamas though most of the place is like the inside of yet another monastery.
At this point we are ready to leave and start the next phase of the trip so tomorrow we are heading west toward Nepal. It'll take us up to a week to get there as we will stop in Shigatse and Gyantse on the way and, continuing along in our normal fashion, we are going to wing the transport issue as tours are prohibitively expensive.
Back to up and up and over the mountain passes again.......
For those wondering about it, yes we all had some form of altitude sickness. Here's the proof:
1. Ammon - Struggling to keep up with the walking speed of the girls. They were thrilled.
2. Bre - Seen posing for pictures while hugging little Tibetan kids. They were thrilled, we were shocked.
3. Savannah - Failed to out-eat all the rest of us. Her voracious appetite has mysteriously disappeared......
4. Mom - Well, in light of my new found adherence to the Buddhist principle of respecting my elders I'll keep this one a secret 'til I die......

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Breanna Up High!

The nights are definately colder. Even when arriving at Golmud at 6:30am in the dark we were swarmed by taxi drivers who were trying to rip us off. They must have thought we were lazy wallets. They were surprized when we laughed at them and started walking towards the hotel after consulting our map and compass. At leaset six taxis followed us half way along the mile long walk to the hotel, honking and laughing at us. Really, we were the ones laughing at them because we didn't mind the short walk and they were the ones losing business.

The drive to Lhasa was Exciting! The 20 hour drive didn't seem very long at all. Time flies. Actually I was the only one who wasn't affected by the altitude. Ammon is having the worst time and is still feeling terrible. Poor baby. We always knew women were the stronger ones. . Then again lets call it even because we were the ones sick in Kashgar. Serves him right for calling us wimps. The difference is that we are taking good care of him. We hope he will be better by his birthday so that we can go to the Potala Palace.

Even when arriving at 1:00 am in the morning we can always count on someone sleeping by the door of the shops and guest houses. I wasn't shy about hammering on the front door. The guy who let us in was very friendly but half asleep and in his long johns. He said " Here is your key, pay in the morning". We were all too tired too function.

I just realized that I havn't worn a seatbelt in what seems like forever. The saftey rules are lacking. WOW. There are no seatbelts or limit to how many people can cram themselves into a vehicle.

Looking forward to getting another visa and seeing Lhasa!
Not to brag or anything but I have to go do some more cool stuff!
P.S. Just because I say random things all the time doesn't mean I have the altitude sickness that Ammon is accusing me of having.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I just couldn't take the credit for the great work the kids did on their poems. I had privy to the poems as they were being written and after reading all of them, I decided that I'd better throw something in too. I am not a poet and I know it. I found it interesting that most of the poems had very similar themes even though the kids kept them secret from each other. It also makes sense since everyone is having similar feelings lately. Anyways they want to stay anonymus still but I can tell you this, Bre wrote 1 poem, Savannah and Ammon both wrote 2 and I wrote the shortest one #4 (I am forever the optimist) about sunrise.
Again my imagination and reality are not in sync. The pass to Tibet was very open, dry and rather boring. It really didn't seem as though we were going though 3 super high passes, except for the breathing. I was expecting mountains and spectacular snow covered peaks. Oh well I think we will get that on the way to Nepal.
This trip is still well worth it. We have seen so much, the only problem with that is, you discover there is so much more to see!!!! We are very good at doing our laundry in the sink in cold water with smiles on our faces because, we don't have to vacuum, do dishes, cook, cut the lawn, clean the pool or make our beds, hehe!!
We (girls) went for a massage again the other day because we couldn't help ourselves at $7.35 for 90mins. could you? It was still out of Ammon's budet he claims. China has great massages, maybe Nepal does too.
Food has been good since Mongolia so we are healthy and of good weight, even Ammon is doing better then if he were alone (which he would never admit).
Lots of love to all of our followers on this blog.
Maggie the mom
P.S. more posts coming soon!!!!

Into Tibet......Illegally

Yup, it's true. I'm pleased to announce that we have done our part to undermine the system and promote corruption. It's to help all our fellow backpackers of the future. I am also worth more now because now I am "smuggled goods". Heh heh. But I'll get to that in a sec.
First, from Dunhuang we caught a sleeper bus 11hrs south to Golmud. We got absolutely no sleep on this bus as the roads were so bumpy (but the stars were great). But we did meet a Japanese backpacker named Daisuke. As a quick side note I just want to say that although Japanese backpackers tend to do their own thing we get along great with them. Having had all the students for years and knowing a few phrases and songs, not to mention our card game gives us a lot in common.
Golmud is a nothing town in the middle of nowhere but again we can see that the Chinese government is throwing tons of money into the farflung reaches of their country as it was very nice looking. More important to us, it has the distinction of being our cheapest stay so far on this trip at $1.25 a bed (my personal record is $0.75 in Laos though). The only reason anyone goes to Golmud is because it is the launch pad to Tibet by road.
Tibet is a messed up thing here in China because in order to get there you must have a special permit. There are also only a few ways for foreigners to get in. Most go by air from Chengdu or by road from Golmud. For the Chinese a bus ticket from Golmud to Lhasa is 180Y (~$22US) for the 24-30hr ride. For foreigners with a permit it is 1700Y (~$210US) on the same bus. It doesn't take an economics major to realize this leaves a ton of room for a transportation black market, especially considering there is nobody checking permits once you get past the checkpoints on the road and are in Tibet. In Chengdu there is no such black market as it's much easier to control aircraft so basically the majority of people going to Golmud go illegally as this black market is very well established now.
It still cost us 660Y (~$82) each but most of that supposedly goes to bribing the police at the different checkpoints along the way. I'm still not convince that they actually bribed the guys. We took off (5 of us in 2 cars, Daisuke came with us) under the cover of 5am darkness and sped out of town and through the first checkpoint with our heads down hiding behind tinted windows. The rest of the ride and checkpoints went well and we have made it to Lhasa without problems.
Our other worry on that road of course was altitude sickness. Tibet is a plateau, with most of it sitting between 4000-5000m (13000-17000ft). Obviously oxygen becomes an issue. We had to pass over a couple of passes with the highest point on the road being 5300m (~17500). I am happy to announce that none of us had any major problems.
Minor altitude sickness is still really wierd though. It's like just coming out of surgery. You're constantly yawning, your heart is beating really fast (my resting heart rate went up to ~90/min from my usual 60), you've got a headache in the front of your head and in the base of your skull lurks the evil lightheadedness. And you can't really move around because you are too tired. The whole time you are just sitting there wondering if you are still sane and how long before you pass out. You don't know if it'll get worse or better or even how high you are to estimate if you are doing well or not. We were fine but it's not really something I'd like to do many times again....
After 20 hrs on the road we made it to Lhasa at 1am. The hotel we had planned was full so at 1:30am we had Bre bang on doors to wake people up and give us a room. This morning we are still feeling wrecked. Mostly just lethargic but that is understandable as we are still at 3700m (12000ft). It is sunny but down to a freezing 22C today. If the altitude doesn't kill me the cold surely will....
From what we've seen very briefly today, Lhasa is really cool. I can't wait to get out and see it but that will be a few days off I think. We will probably be here for about a week with a few days to acclimatize and then a few to sight-see. We also have to pick up our Nepal visas here.
Hope all is well out there....

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Along the silk road

Well, here we are in Dunhuang now preparing to leave.
From Kashgar we took a 23 hr bus (with cages of chickens and pigeons underneath the bus crapping on our bags) up to Urumqi. Urumqi is the provincial capital with nothing really of interest to us (it's claim to fame is as the world's furthest city from any ocean, over 2200km!) so 15 minutes later we were on another bus 3 hrs to Turpan. Turpan is china's hottest city so we were back up to 40C again for a few days. There are a few ruins around the town so we got a taxi for the day and drove around to see the ancient capital of the Uyghurs (1200 years old) and graves. 2 mummies were present, a first for us all except mom (she's a mummy expert apparently). Turpan is also a world famous grape growing area so lunch was up in a grape valley with open restaurants covered with vines and grapes hanging everywhere above us. Sweet. Lots of free fruit for lunch too.
I know UP in a valley sounds wierd but in this case it is true. Turpan is right at sea level but just outside town is a depression. It's 154m below sea level, the 2nd lowest spot on earth! Normally people don't go out to it but we did anyway (the joys of having your own wheels and not being on another Chinese tour). Okay, we have a new contender for the title of End of the World. Mom thinks it's the ugliest place on earth. It was cool but totally messed up because there are actually a few people living in a deserted town beside the lake digging random holes in the ground all over the place. The landscape is just a continuous upturned mess with salt at the bottom of the holes. The only green out there was a piece of broken bottle we drove by. Can't believe people were living out there. So depressing (Pun intended), but totally worth going to.
We also saw another set of ruins that were better but none of them were in really great shape. Our day also included a trip to a museum about wells. Okay, I know what you're thinking but our trip has not suddenly gotten very boring. The irrigation system here, known as Karez, is one consisting of wells and underground reservoirs and canals unique to this part of China. There are over 160,000 wells and 5000km of canals above and below ground (some as low as 90m below the surface). The best part is that this system has been going on for 2000 years already and we were able to walk along a 1200 year old canal 10 m below the surface! It's the best way to conserve water in such a hot and harsh environment.
The food in Turpan was so cheap too. The girls were eating ice cream cones for 6 cents! A big plate of veggie and meat noodles (like a local pasta) was only 5 Y each, about 65 cents US.
From Turpan we took off on another sleeper bus to Dunhuang. That was only 14hrs I think. The best/worst part about these buses is the movies. Old Chinese Jackie Chan movies are awesome! All the rest are so pathetic it's comical.
Dunhuang is in a different province so we are now back in the Chinese part of China where we can use our 10 words of Mandarin again. Dunhuang is another silk road town with lots of ruins and stuff nearby but the main attraction is the Mogao caves and old carvings and art inside them. There are also some huge sand dunes just outside of town. Unfortunately, we have heard a lot of mixed reports about Dunhuang and it's attractions and I am inclined to agree with the more negative ones. Of all the places in China it is becoming the biggest tourist trap it seems. Everywhere around here advertises tourist information available but whenever you try to ask a question nobody speaks English so can't tell you anything. Go figure.
We've met a bunch of people that have been ripped off here and the entry fees to the sites are pretty much the highest in the country with relatively little to show. Maybe we've just seen too much lately to compare it to. So we've actually done nothing here but eat. Yesterday we got on bikes and rode out to the sand dunes. Yeah they are cool but it's a Disneyland show out there. They've actually tried to fence off a huge portion of the sand dunes so they can charge you to get in. Inside they have tons of camels, paragliding, sandboarding and ATVs. The place is swarming with Chinese tourists (red-hat tours as we've come to call them) with megaphones and trams driving them around the sand. Wow! While we were standing there shaking our heads we were met by some other Westerners who felt the same way and we set off along the fence to find another way in, just to touch the sand. At one point, one of the guys crawled under the fence and got up the dunes but the rest of us were stopped by park security. The guard was actually pretty good about it and the whole thing turned into a rather funny incident for us all. But we never did get to the sand...... I'm glad we got to see some unspoilt sand dunes in Mongolia.
So we've decided to leave tonight instead of tomorrow. Another overnight bus, this time straight south to Golmud where we will stay just long enough to get permits for Tibet (fingers crossed) and then head directly to Lhasa. I think I am ready to leave China and am looking forward to a change in scenery. Something green would be nice but I think we'll have to settle for mountains instead....
PS. If anyone is still reading this and doesn't know about the pictures go to www.watkinstravel.myphotoalbum.com