Thursday, October 8, 2009

Primordial Soup

After the hostel yesterday afternoon, we went back to that Tibetan market. It really is the best place in Xining (西宁) to hangout - even if you're not buying anything. I got a necklace, and helped the boys pick out jewlery. Then we had early dinner at a Muslim restaurant and hit up the bus station.

I asked about 5 people how long they thought our ride would be from Xining to the hot springs in Wenquan (温泉). Responses literally ranged from 3 hours to 15 hours. After some initial excitement (on my part) about a night bus, we ended up boarding a regular bus (bummer). Turns out the ride was actually 7 incredibly uneventful hours. I bet the scenery out the window would have been beyond beautiful, but it was dark the hole ride. We watched some horrible Chinese amateur plays for teh first few hours, and then this crazy movie called Chaos. Then I pretty much slept. The bus did have an hour break fro dinner around 9, although no one told the foreigners what was going on so we wasted a good deal of the break wondering where everyone disappeared to and worrying about leaving the bus.

Anyways, around 1:30 AM we pulled into Wenquan. Thank God there was one restaurant still open so we could ask for help finding a place to stay. Turns out there is a truck stop in town were we were able to stay for 25元 per night. 3 beds per room with 2 comforters and heated blankets. Absolutely necessary - it's freezing here! It's been snowing since we arrived, and all is mud and iciness/sleety rain.

Woke up this morning and went to the restaurant that saved us for breakfast. Delicious friend rice, and really really nice guy running it. Asked him where the hot springs were. Should have been more suspect when he told us the springs were free.

We followed his directions 200 meters past the last house in town (the town is approximately 400 meters long) and came upon a giant steaming pile of trash. We though, "oh, maybe the springs are BEHIND this trash pile!" Yet, behind that is just more steaming trash. Not a Turkish bath in sight. Turns out the residents here dump their trash in the hot springs, creating a primordial soup of interesting plastic bits. The water was warm, probably 80 degrees, but a bit stagnant with algae and trash. So, we decided to follow the stream a bit further down to where there was a rock structure that we were hoping might be some sort of outdoor bath.

It was, but for sheep. Of course you need to wash your sheep every day! We came upon a corral of sheep that a few men were desperately trying to herd into a hot spring bath to be bathed - I guess. We joined in the pushing and stick beating until all the sheep were through. Then we decided to wander down river a bit.

We hiked for a ways up into snowy mountains, and then Anna and I turned back while the boys continued their hike. On the way back we figured we'd check out the source of the hot spring and came upon a pool where a couple of little boys were having a bath. Their older brothers were sitting on cinderblocks with their feet dangling in. Anna and I followed suit and pulled up some cinderblocks and sat for a while. The water felt really nice at the time, although my feet haven't really warmed up since that hike.

Then we walked back to town and wandered into what looked like a pretty happening restaurant. It was pretty happening. We asked if we could sit and drink tea with them and pulled up a seat by the stove. Thus part of Qinghai it seems people are just really into chilling out, and they just sit around doing this for hours. So we sat and chatted with them - all Tibetan men, mid 30s, for hours until the boys came back. They especially enjoyed checking out the photos of Sudbury I have on my itouch, and were super excited to see my photo of the Dalai Lama (so glad I downloaded it for this trip, now).

Boys finally came back around 4, too late for an afternoon excursion which was disappointing. We went back to the room and rested/chatted over some Grape Wall wine (yes, it tasted like it sounds), and then went to dinner. Had some of the most amazing soup ever and saw lots of the friends Anna and I made this afternoon (like I said, Wenquan is small).


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