Four and a half days wait
So Sharon our Chinese agent in NZ had emailed us, as she wished us well for our travels. By the end of Thursday 31 March, we were definitely waiting for China! We had waited and waited. Martin and Maurice spent the day waiting with Steven and his manager in queues in various buildings, hungry, without any lunch - for vehicle warrant of fitnesses, emissions checks, brake tests, licence plates and so on. Anne and I waited in the hotel, reading, eating, writing, eating again, still waiting. At least we didn’t go hungry. We tried several unknown items on the hotel menu which proved interesting. One turned out to be a hot papaya, large and whole but cut across the side like a lid and filled with almond milk. Very filling.
Those who have been following our blog will have realised that we jumped from looking forward to 18 months of preparation for the trip, to actually being there in Shenzhen. I feel we got away from home by the skin of our teeth; it was such a mad dash with so much going on at home that the writing of the blog was left incomplete. But we did prepare thoroughly. Much consultation went on between us and the O’Reillys about the route and what countries we would pass through. The vehicles needed to be thoroughly prepared with spare parts and a complete overhaul of road worthiness. We would pack the cars with as much as we thought we would need – medical kit, emergency food, reading material and maps, clothing and footwear, cooking equipment, sleeping bags . . . .
We read as widely as time would allow and learnt that the Silk Road was not just one route, but many, over which traders and travellers made their way from China to Europe and back again, roughly from about 150 BC to 1400 AD. Caravans would not attempt the entire length of the journey, but rather would traverse their own well known section, linking with similar groups at each end of their travels. The Silk Road is regarded as beginning and ending in modern Xian, famed today for the terracotta army of warriors. We decided to begin in Hong Kong, go north to Xian, swing west to Kashgar, cross borders into Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the 3 Central Asian Stans we would tackle, and proceed through Russia, Ukraine and Poland and into Germany. The journey would take two and half months and we would be away nearly four.
New Zealanders Jo and Gareth Morgan with four other motor bikers travelled from Munich to Beijing in 2005 and told of their adventure in Silk Riders: Jo and Gareth Morgan’s incredible journey on the Trail of Marco Polo. Like the Morgans we used Silk Road Adventures in Greymouth to organise much of our route and like them also we soon found out we couldn’t just go where we liked through China and Central Asia, but were required to pre-arrange accommodation, guides and routes. Sharon of China Travel Services in Auckland orchestrated the China part of the journey. Unlike the Morgans, we decided not to go through Iran as that country required a vehicle bond of 450 times the vehicle’s value. I was relieved as I was having enough worries coping with the Stans in the middle of the night!
By the time we arrived in Hong Kong I had become wary of expanding on our travel plans. For example, conversation with a HK Chinese while waiting in the queue to use the toilet after the Vine Centre church service, where the McPhersons attend: Are you visiting? Yes, I’m from New Zealand. We are friends of Anne and John McPherson. Are you passing through? Yes, we’re on our way to Europe (big understatement!). Oh, so you are on vacation? Yes, I agree. The look of disbelief and consternation on the face of the young Chinese woman next to us on the plane had warned me not to be too explicit. She had been studying in NZ and was returning home. Her expression said it all. Was her leg being pulled or were these mad New Zealanders really going to set off into the wild west of China?
As of Friday midday, China was still waiting for us and we were still waiting for China! But as of Friday mid-afternoon, we were away, no longer waiting and off north towards Guilin and other destinations. We had our Chinese number plate, a laminated card, sitting in the front window, and Bilbo and Heehaw were licenced to drive in China.