Monday, June 24, 2013


Location: Ürümqi
Counter: 2397 kms

(Second and last night at Tash and Andrea's place! Thank you so much for your hospitality and for the nice talks ;))

Ürümqi was a pleasant surprise.

Not for the city in itself, but for its interesting mix of population. There are Uighurs, Hans, Kazakhs, Mongols, Kyrgyzs, Uzbeks, Russians, Tatars, Xibes, Tadjiks, Huis... The richness of faces and skin colours is incredible! They all live together, for the worst and for the best. The worst: inter-ethnic violence explode sometimes. The best: love is stronger than all, and mixed couples are not that uncommon ;)

Streets are full of life, colours, food odors... Everything is continually in movement: shoemakers replace street barbecue stands, who replaced fruits vendors, who came just after the early fish and meat market...

There is excellent food everywhere, at anytime. Han here, Uighur there, Kazakh over there... Each more delicious than the others. After one month of cycling, the five senses are fully awoken, and appetite knows no limits. No need to say that I enjoy it. And I don't talk about all the fruits orgies: mangoes, oranges, bananas, kiwis, papayas...

I got the visa for Kazakhstan this afternoon. It means that I'll take the road to the mountains tomorrow morning. But before, I'll have to say goodbye forever to some lovely people.

I eat breakfast in a small Uighur stand, where naans and vegetables are incredible; everyday a nice and welcoming smile from the backer, whose hot bread smells and tastes like a perfect beginning of day. The girl of the fruits store at the corner welcomes me everyday with a huge smile; she has already prepared a Mango - perfect to eat right off - and some new words of Chinese, and we practice together. And what about the old woman of the biscuits store: I don't have to say anything, she already knows that I'll take a full bag of her sesame tiles and try two or three other sorts of biscuits...

Hard to say goodbye... Mais c'est la vie!


The coming 800 kms before the border are going to be really nice, I heard. The road goes south through the mountains, and then heads west to Yining, between two mountains ranges! It has three passes, a lot of rivers and surely many lovely places to put the tent!

The first pass, the highest, is about 3500 m higher than the couch where I'm lying now (Ürümqi is about 800 m above sea level). I'm trying to imagine how much it is to climb 3500 m in a row, but no, no idea... I only know, that I'll have 120 kms to understand it ;

A Chinese group making exercises. People's square.

How many flying shuttlecocks do you see?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paranoia in North Xinjiang

Location: Ürümqi
Counter: 2397 kms

(Note written on Tuesday 18th June. Thanks to the great Chinese firewall, there are no blogspot, no facebook, nearly no news... But thanks to Tash, who knows a secret to bypass it, here it is!)

After empty Mongolia, it was a great pleasure to find villages every day. No need to take water for 3-4 days. No need to cook: Chinese food is excellent and varied. Finally, vegetables and fruits!

The ride from Bulgan to Ürümqi was boring. After Mongolia and its crazy landscapes, the road here presents absolutely no interest. Rien! Nichts! ¡Nada! Once out of Altai mountains, the road goes for about 600 kms around the Gurbantünggüt desert: a dry, flat and rather desolate place.

I turned the brain to basic mode, listened extensively audio books and made big days. Helped by a light tailwind, I did a ride of 186 kms on Saturday, my longest ride ever. I'll deserve rest in Ürümqi, especially my bottom!

Luckily there were militaries and policemen to entertain me! We played hide and seek together, like children.

The last Mongolian beauty before the border.
What an incredible concentration of wonders in this country...

(Chinese government is a bit stressed because they have growing ethnic problems, here in Xinjiang. They fear journalists, and control the region through army and police. Once again, a Chinese problem between 'minorities' - Uighurs in particular - and Hans. Maybe you do remember the 2009 ethnic violence in Ürümqi, where nearly 200 people died. If you follow the news, there is not a month without clashes between Uighurs and Hans, somewhere in Xinjiang.)

Going through the border was not as bad as I heard. The chinese customs searched my panniers twice, but not thoroughly. They were actually nice and friendly. They didn't even check the photos on my camera! Just the books and my writings awoke their interest. They took the books, went to an extra room, and came ten minutes after, saying that everything was ok. For the writings, they declared that it was ok, because 'nobody can read french here'.

I had just one remark: no tent! Foreigners has to find hotel and register every night.

On the first four nights here, I spent three in my tent, but got caught the last one. A man saw me, and he probably called the police. I had to repack everything and ride about 20 kms behind a military jeep to the nearest 'hotel' room. Once again, they were very friendly, and wanted to stay with me for a beer, what I politely refused!

Pass control at least once a day. Can I see your telephone?' 'Give me your camera!' 'Where are you going to sleep tonight?' I was surprised how good in English and how smart they are. And noooo, I'm not journalist, just a normal tourist!

On the last part, I was taking photos of an incredibly huge power plant on construction, when a car stopped at my side. Oh! Here you are my friends! Pass control... 'No photo!', told a military. This &!%**+@7 started to play with my camera, deleting some photos and... he accidentally deleted all the photos of the card. Nothing tragic as I saved all Mongolia on an extra card, but I lost my first four days in China. He felt sincerely sorry. And I was sincerely p*ss*d off.

Luckily - and once again - the food here is so good, that I took comfort in it and in a huge Wusu beer, a few hours later ;)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bye Mongolia!

Location: Bulgan (Khovd Aimag)
Counter: 1685 kms

Oh Mongolia... Thank you so much, it was so rich and intense.

I feel really happy to have done it, but I'm also sad to forsake this beautiful country after only one month!

I will never forget the terrific landscapes. The light playing slowly in the mountains' forms, changing constantly the view and the colors. The huge sky and its strong personality. The animals, wild and lively like nowhere else. The grandiose places to be found every day for the camp. The magic moments with shepherds when they came to visit the camp in the morning. The hospitality in the countryside...

I will try not to remember the abruptness, brutality and racism of all these men who have chosen vodka and idleness, and behaved them bad with me or others. And the way most Mongols treat the nature by throwing everything away: all along the ride in Mongolia, I saw vodka bottles, beer cans and plastics lying along the road.

All those long lines of road, particulary in the desert, are the best places I've ever found to go deeply in thoughts and remembrances. Nothing to perturb, you are just free! It was meditative to cycle here. What a great chance, once in life!

It was definitively not easy and I had quite a while of extreme situations. But the nice in it, is that I chose and wanted it. I enjoyed this adventure like none before, by far. What a chance I have! I remember it every day, in every moment, be sure of that!


Now it's time to look further west, for the next ride in Xinjiang, the semi-autonomous Uyghur region of China. I'm really excited to ride in China again, after the great tour we made 7 years ago in Yunnan with Alina.


Thank you once again for your notes, mails, comments, photos, I enjoy it so much. Keep sending!


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Sharga depression

Location: Tonkhil
Counter: 1410 kms

(Entry written on saturday 8th, but internet connection was too low. I'm now in Bulgan-Khovd, I did it!?! I put here only the text and will try to upload the pictures as soon as possible.)

What a great trip! I love you Mongolia, and will definitively miss you...

Here are some pictures of the Sharga depression. A beautiful ride of 6 days: one to come inside, five to find an exit ;)

Desert, mountains, rocks, lots of sand, and THAAAAAAAT much of fun. What a great experience! I feel definitively alive, eat for four and enjoy to fall asleep in the tent in five stars spots!

It was the occasion to meet camels and antelops, the only animals to see in the desert. Camels are quite curious, come near to see what happens, and then run away quickly when they understand. They have a pretty cool and esthetical gait. Antelopes run kilometers away when they see something wrong coming.

And I saw wolfes in a canyon where I got lost, in the Darviyn Nuruu (mountains). They saw me first, but I had time to see three of them, two adults and a young. They ran away 200 m in front of me. I was riding with music (Deftones, thank you guys!?!) full volume in the pocket of my shirt, as I was told to do in those kind of places. All the specialists told me that a wolf would never attack man, so I trusted them, but I got f****ck*ng scared...

I saw one jeep in 5 days, and that was all! Inside: 4 men, on their way to "shoot some wolves in the mountains". It was 11am, and they were totally drunk. Proud to show me the first two empty vodka bottles. We opened the third together, and I had to politely refuse the second shot ;)

I'm now seating in front of the mighty Altai mountains, the next and last pleasure before China. See you in a few days in Bulgan!


PS: big up for Katia & Hugues, who just turned parents! Welcome on Earth, Andreas!
Thank you Hugues for all that we did together, I wouldn't be here without it!

Beginning of the Darviyn Nuruu, in the morning light.
Camels in the morning sun, Sharga depression.
On my way to Sharga soum (village)
I slept here! Sand is really comfortable... Sharga depression.
I rode two days, dreaming of a fresh drink and some food in this village, shown on the map. Fail!
View from the tent, after great cooking, and before a good night! Darviyn Nuruu.
Darviyn Nuruu, where the road goes good.
Darviyn Nuruu.