Some years back I took a trip to China. We headed all the way out to the Northwest to the city of Urumuqi in the Xinjiang province. From Urumuqi we hired a driver with a 16 passenger van rental to take us across the desert to Altay, which is about 60 miles from Mongolia.
The van was like a 16 passenger van you would see at an airport. It was a dual wheeled mini bus rental. It was clean and rather comfortable. The morning of our ride to Altay, just before leaving, we were told that it would be a 14 hour ride. It was one of the longest rides I had been on in any vehicle; topped only by the airplane ride to China and a train ride across China. And it was one of the most interesting rides I have ever taken; only beaten by the ride back from Altay to Urumuqi in a 8 passenger van rental.
So, we loaded all of our things onto the passenger van and headed out for our 14 hour ride. The beginning of the ride, as we left Urumuqi, was on a nice, new highway. The scenery was of rolling hills and mountains in the distance. It seemed that this would be a long, but bearable ride through the desert.
About an hour or so into the trip, we noticed the road had a lot of people working on it. It wasn’t the kind of repair work you see in the states. We would see one guy with a pick axe and then a half a mile or so later we would see another guy with a wagon full of pieces of the old black top. Then we would see two guys shoveling new black top rocks into odd shaped pot holds that probable had been created by a guy with a pick axe. This one or two guys and sometimes girls continued for miles.
Somewhere along the way we stopped seeing workers and just began to see massive amounts of pot holes. Some of them looked like they had been filled in, but many had nothing but air and dirt in them. The ride in the 16 passenger van began to become very rough. As we drove, the road became thinner and thinner and the pot holes worsened. Then, to our surprise, the road ended. There was only desert in front of us.
At this point we thought the drive might turn around; maybe we made a wrong turn somewhere. But it was not the case, the drive continued as if he knew where he was going. As we rode in the sand, we saw cars stuck in the distance to the right and left as sand devils spun all around us. It was a very surreal scene. We drove for two hours in the sand. And then it was like the drive had a homing device setup to locate the other end of the road, we had found the other side of the highway.
We finally made it to Altay, a beautiful little city set in the hills. Our driver and 16 passenger van rental had gotten us there safe. It’s a trip I will never forget.