An amazing giant silver butterfly! That’s the toll gate between Ningxia and Gansu. A huge wave of achievement and excitement rolls through me as I pass.
The outskirts of the capital of Lanzhou is a dirty mixture of grey brickwork one the way in but it doesn’t dampen my expectations of what it’s going to be like to finally be there. I’ve always assumed that Lanzhou consists of waterways lined with willow trees while locals take it easy in the warm evening air but as per usual my hopes are quickly dashed.
The way on is across the river though the bridge is already virtually static with Saturday rush hour traffic. It curves round to the right forming three lanes you are unable to move out of. Unable to escape, I’m forced to take the Land Cruiser smack bang into the centre of town. Not quite the vehicle of choice when it comes to heavy duty intercity navigation that’s for sure.
I admit to having ditched the old method of using my eyes and a dash of common sense to find somewhere to stay early on in this excursion, having switched to using Trip Advisor and then the GPS to lazily get to the destination of choice. There are times though when one pays the price for such reliance on technology. The GPS routinely directs me into wasteland, through fruit and veg markets, pedestrian areas, up one way streets and towards large buildings that aren’t on the map. Through Lanzhou centra,l it’s blank robotic voice continues to tell me to u-turn and go into the busiest areas for maximum mind melt. Certainly painful driving in such a large motor
After fifteen intolerable minutes I happily shut the GPS up, deciding to just get out of the area as soon as possible pulling the first right at the next big junction. There are now three main factors that will determine the nature of this interesting driving soirée:
1: Lanzhou is the capital city of the Gansu Province population 3.5 million and as we already know it’s Saturday early evening rush hour traffic.
2: Lanzhou is sandwiched in between mountains in the north and south squeezing the traffic to run two ways through a valley.
3: At this moment the new underground rail system is under construction though unlike Beijing which is built in small stages, in Lanzhou it’s being built all at once. Nice planning there! Miles of road from east to west have been torn up forming temporary lanes causing traffic pandemonium.
Passing a female traffic police officer, she smiles and waves me across the intersection. I pull another right to get out of the queue. The turn sends me into a flyover and back to the same intersection where the same officer smiles at me and waves me across again. On and on, stuck in traffic that goes from static to 2mph whilst immersed in swarms of pedestrians, bikes, mopeds, motorbikes and motorized carts. It’s a sensory overload thats really wearing as you focus to the max on trying not to run into anyone, especially having already driven for seven hours.
At some point the jeep is unable to move, hemmed in by people going in every direction and a stream of lane jumping traffic moving across my bow going back the way I came. How come there aren’t multiple accidents all over the place? That’s what I want to know.
With no other options I inch forward forcing the traffic to a standstill with multiple horns sounding off from irritated drivers and, finding a gap in the temporary barriers at last there’s some space and a way on into a narrow back street area. With at last a modicum of breathing space I park up, resurrect the GPS and set it up for a hotel at least a couple of miles away. Taking on water, I crack open the blueberry travel sweets for a sugar hit, turn the keys in the ignition and we’re off again.
Maybe it’s just down to tiredness but I have however unknowingly made a single glaring error. This is not to look at the route as a whole but just follow the map a few streets ahead and I soon find out that the way on is predictably all the way back past the centre of town and out the other side, AAAAAAGH. Passing the traffic police woman she laughs as I go by for the third time. Should have got her number. Love the hat!
At last the GPS tells me “You have arrived”. Burnt out and utterly drained I climb out of the cab. Such a relief to be outside. Turns out though that the Sapphire Hotel is five stars and the only room they have left is a massive 1,800 RMB a night. That’s about 200 pounds or 270 dollars. Talk about out of place or what; the Land Cruiser is utterly filthy and the parking valet looks decidedly uncomfortable. Climbing back inside I summon the energy for another round.
Best bit of driving I’ve ever done!