The eggs and tomatoes we ate in Kashgar, Xinjiang.
“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night,” Galileo Galilei.
I wake up, jump from the bed and try to open the door of the hotel room. But it’s blocked. I panic and destroy the lock of the door with an elegant kick. I run to the small bathroom at the end of the courtyard, open the door and…
I watch the sky. The sunrise cannot be too far.
But let’s start from the beginning.
Getting poisoned in Kashgar
Four days ago, during our last night in Kashgar, Feng (my girl) decided that she couldn’t eat any sheep meat anymore. We then went to a restaurant that also prepares Chinese dishes and ordered some sheep meat (for me), vegetables and fanjie chaodan (the eggs and tomatoes in the photo above).
The morning after we woke up at six to take the train to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province. A long trip (three nights) is waiting us before we can reach our next destination, the Altai Mountains at the border between Xinjiang and Russia.
When we arrive to the train station Feng is green. I try to talk with her but she turns her head to the other side. She’s not in the mood. An by the way we are busy trying to reach the train platform together with 2,000 Xinjiang people, their luggage and their chickens.
At some point she cannot take it anymore and tells me:
“I wanna vomit.”
“Go there!” I answer while I point a garbage bin. We don’t have many options.
She reaches the bin and vomits. Then I take part of her luggage (I’m already charged as a Xinjiang mule) and we get on the train while her lovely face regains its natural color.
At lunch time I also start to feel bad and realize that we got a bad food poisoning. Since yesterday night she didn’t eat the meat and plain vegetables cannot cause such a storm on our stomachs, I believe that we ate rotten eggs. I should have stuck to sheep meat.
While Feng was “lucky” enough to vomit and expel all the poison before digesting it, my stomach wasn’t so smart. Not at all.
I would spend the following three days and nights (the time we need to reach Hemu, a village in the Altai Mountains) in a state of dizziness, beaten by the nausea and the abdominal cramps, eating only almonds and some occasional bananas.
Finding an hotel in Hemu
My first impression of Hemu, Altai Mountains, Xinjiang.
We arrive in an overcast Hemu at 4 p.m. On the bus from Burqin a girl that took the time to research her trip told us that Hemu is packed in September: it’s the only month where you can admire the yellow leaves of the countless trees that surround the village. It makes sense, we are here for the same reason. The difference is that we didn’t book any hotel.
When we get off the bus we are worried that we won’t be able to find a hotel. And we are tired. Bloody tired. It’s a this point that a nice Kazakh man (all the locals belong to the Kazakh minority) appears from nowhere:
“We have a vacant room, follow me!” He tells us.
Maybe it’s because he arrived almost jumping. Or maybe the reason is his disproportionately large head covered by a cowboy hat. Anyway, he makes me think about Speedy Gonzales, the Mexican Rat.
We follow Speedy Gonzales for about ten minutes before to arrive to the hotel, a muddy courtyard delimited by two specular buildings on the sides, a kitchen and a yurta, that is one of those tents used by the nomads of Central Asia where Speedy and his family live during the pick season.
Speedy walks to the building on our left and opens the room number four by proudly announcing that they just built a shower outside the courtyard. What a luxury.
We check the room, which is tiny and has no windows, no floor tiles, no furniture, nothing. There are only two beds that would have been perfect for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen when they were six years old.
Also, there is an old charcoal burner that I don’t notice because it’s covered by a huge pile of dirty laundry. Big mistake.
“Duo shao qian?” How much, asks Feng.
“Liang bai kuai” Two hundred kuai, answers Speedy with a big smile.
Andale Arriba Arriba Mister Gonzales.
At the end of a long bargaining process we take the room for eighty kuai per night. We tell ourselves that it’s too late to find a decent room and, anyway, who cares if there are two cockroaches wandering on the floor. We are in the middle of nowhere and tomorrow we can change “hotels” if we wish.
How the Guangzhou monkeys tried to asphyxiate us
We go out for a walk and find some food. Even if the autumn is just starting, the nights on the Altai Mountains are cold. Also, I suspect that the poison resting on my intestine from Kashgar is not improving the situation.
Today I can eat some bai mian (noodles) and tudou si (sliced potatoes) but after dinner I’m still a zombie. I just want to sleep. Thus at ten p.m. we are back to our ranch.
We couldn’t really imagine the surprise that is awaiting for us. Speedy Gonzales took the dirty laundry off the room and is switching on the charcoal burner.
“What the fuck,” I exclaim while I reach his hand in an attempt to stop him from pouring more carbon on the moster.
Our room after that Speedy Gonzales woke up the monster.
“The customers on the other rooms complained because tonight is too cold, so I need to heat their room and this is the only stove we have,” he explains in a terrible Mandarin that Feng translates for me.
Not only he can’t speak Chinese anymore, but he can’t even keep his equilibrium. I can smell the cheap baijiu that exudes from his skin. Speedy Gonzales is fucken drunk.
“Sure, Mexican mouses are not used to baijiu, they drink tequila!” I think before to fully realize what’s going on.
Now I see why this room has no window. This is not an hotel room, is just the place where they keep the charcoal burner to heat the real rooms by pumping hot water through the pipes that depart from our “room” and reach the other parts of the building.
And we must “pay” the well-being of the others customers – a bunch of rich guys from Guangzhou that came here with two Land Rovers that they probably rented in Urumqi – with our discomfort. I seat on the bed and start to think. But I cannot really focus on nothing. The rotten eggs are now boiling inside my intestine making the same noise of the grapes that are fermenting on the canteen of my grandpa.
The only fact that I can understand is that sleeping in a tiny room with a huge pile of burning carbon and no windows is out of question. They are fuckin’ trying to asphyxiate us!
The carbon will burn all the oxygen and we will probably just lose conscience before to die. I don’t have any scientific proofs to confirm my theory but I still believe that is pretty much correct.
We begin to discuss with Speedy Gonzales, which in the meanwhile has started to pump water into the deposit above the stove. I’m not McGiver, but for what I can understand the stove heats the water on the deposit. Then the pressure pushes the hot water through the pipes that run all along the building so that the other rooms start to warm up.
I keep telling him that this is too dangerous, tai weixian. He keeps answering that the Guangzhou monkeys feel cold and that, by the way, he always sleep on this room from time to time and he’s still alive. Arguing in Chinese with a drunk and stubborn Kazakh is as difficult as your fantasy can imagine.
King Kong, one of the leaders of the Guangzhou expedition, enters our room without knocking at the door to check the situation. He’s also drunk. I guess that in the jungle they are not used to baijiu either. For a moment I hope that, after he sees what’s going on, he will decide that after all they can survive without the fuckin’ stove.
“Add more carbon, our room is still too cold,” he orders to Speedy before leaving to get another banana.
I’m telling you. Never trust a drunk monkey, the alcohol make them selfish. I want to kick him on the heart and then extinguish the fire with the water of the flask that is resting on Ashley Olsen’s bed. But then I think that we are in the middle of nowhere, I’m insanely sick and I don’t know how a bunch of Kazakh stablemen and drunk monkeys would react. I’m stuck.
After all Speedy Gonzales is not a bad man and, among the vapors of the alcohol, he realizes that what is doing is not fair. He takes away half of the carbon from the stove and reassures us that by midnight the left carbon will finish to burn and let us enough oxygen to survive.
What the fuck? Would you trust a Kazakh cowboy that is trying to make the last money before that the winter comes and the tourists come back to their nice apartments in civilized China?
I resolve to act as a Chinese, that is to use all the diplomacy that my reptilian brain can afford. I smile and tell to Mister Gonzales that he’s right and that he should go to bed now. After all I can always switch off the fire after he will collapse on his yurta.
“Hen hao gege,” Very good brother, he tells me while he hugs me.
“Sorry, I’m a bit drunk” he whispers to me, maybe a bit ashamed of being so fucked up in front of a charming Chinese girl.
“I know you are drunk,” I answer out loud. This is the most diplomatic sentence I could think about on the spot. He then goes away closing the door after him.
The door of our room (notice the dirty laundry on the courtyard).
Our long night
I’m alone with Feng now. She seems exhausted. And I guess I don’t look very well neither. We hug each other, then she tells me:
“You are sick, go to sleep and I will check the fire.”
Such a sweet girl. I admit that I would love to collapse and let her handle the situation. But my ancestral chivalry instinct cannot let this young girl awake while I pass out. Or at least this is what I love to think.
“It’s eleven, I will set the alarm to midnight so that we can switch off the fire when everybody is sleeping.”
We could have left the door open, but we were freezing. And anyway I don’t want to sleep with the door wide open knowing that the square is full of cowboys and drunk monkeys. If I was alone it would be ok, but I’m with Feng…
I tell myself that, no matters what, I will document this story. So I take two pictures of the room. Then we lay out on the bed and sleep.
I’m still on my early REM state when the rotten eggs complete their cycle causing me a series of terrible abdominal cramps.
I had experienced such a pain only once, when I was seventeen and I got an attack of acute appendicitis. The difference is that at that time I was at home and my parents brought me to the E.R. Today the closest hospital is located in Burqin, seven hours away by car.
I hope for the first time on my life to get diarrhea so that I can expel the poison. But you shouldn’t never wish, because your prayers may be fulfilled…
It’s not midnight yet when I wake up again, jump from the bed and try to open the door, which it’s blocked. As I don’t want to shit on my pants (sorry for the metaphor) I kick the door and destroy the lock. I smile. Kicks are the solution for any problems. I should have kicked King Kong’s ass when I had the possibility.
The five star bathroom at the ranch.
I run to the small bathroom at the end of the courtyard, open the door and…
Diarrhea. A lot of.
I come back to the room, stare at the destroyed door and say with a tone of perverse satisfaction:
“At least we will not die suffocated.”
There is no need to switch off the fire anymore. We try again to sleep but it’s too cold and I have to go to the toilet for a new diarrhea party every now and then. Sweet.
The Devil’s alternative
I do have some medicines against diarrhea but I rather don’t sleep and expel all the poison than rest and wake up sick another time. Instead I keep drinking a lot of water to avoid dehydration and hope for the best.
Now I know that the sunrise cannot be too far.
The day after
The morning after I feel much better. We pay the eighty kuai and leave our beloved ranch to find a decent room. Nobody mentioned the door that I destroyed. Probably Speedy Gonzales and his friends are still too drunk to notice it.
After about two hours we are able to find another hotel. This time we pay 270 kuai, but only after that Feng cut the price from a starting point of 540 kuai. We don’t have a stove but we get a private bathroom with a shower (which is nice as we took our last shower three days ago).
Our new room. Not bad uh?
More reading about travel chaos
As a friend of mine like to quote:
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay then it’s not the end.”
If you wish to leave for a wild travel but you find yourself procrastinating because of the fear to run into a horrible situation as getting robbed or sick, then make you a favor and buy your ticket. Better if one way.
Yes, if you travel long enough shit will happen. This is why I want to share with you three horror stories that I read awhile ago. In Hemu I thought about it and they helped me to keep my coolness (well, more or less) even when, about four a.m., I started to worry that if the diarrhea wasn’t going to stop I could get completely dehydrated and die:
- What happens when you get food poisoning in Asia? by Dave of The Longest Way Home.
- Getting Sick in India by Christine of Grrrl Travel.
- Belle Vue Clinic, Preventable Medical Disasters, and Stoic Lessons by Tim Ferriss of the Four Hour Work Week. Heck, even a man that wrote a book on how to become a sort of modern superman gets sick in India, why wouldn’t you ; )
To be honest, I don’t travel anymore to see the Egyptian Pyramids or take a photo with a Thai tiger (though I would love to take a photo with a drug-addict tiger at the zoo of Bangkok and brag about that on my Facebook Wall).
I mostly travel to get in touch with different cultures and live fucked up experiences that I will remember all my life.
Have you ever been sick during a travel? I would love to hear your story!
[King Kong's Photo Credits: Kuruvata.]