Siubo took us to breakfast in Minfeng (民豐) when we got up that morning. By now, we have concluded that all hotel breakfasts are the same and not to our taste. Most hotels would come with breakfast vouchers that were buffet style, but the choice of food was to us, strange. It'd usually include some very bland congee, corn congee, plain steamed buns, assorted spicy greens and milk. We'd be lucky if there were hard boiled eggs, or warm soy milk. Bleh If there was time, we'd get Siubo to take us to breakfast, but if he was tired, we'd just resort to eating snacks in the car. On this particular morning, Siubo took us out to have soy milk, steamed meat buns, and onion pancakes. :) We had a long drive ahead of us to Korla (718 kilometers for 18 hours), and most likely skimping on lunch, so breakfast was crucial.
We drove on the Tarim Desert Highway (沙漠公路) that was built through the Taklamakan Desert (塔克拉瑪幹沙漠). The highway was funded by China Petro linking Minfeng in the south to Luntai in the north with a total length of 562 kilometers. A good 446 kilometers of it was through uninhabitable regions due to desert sand dunes making it possibly the longest highway of its kind. The highway allowed truckers to cut through the desert as opposed to driving around the outer rim. Siubo informed us that to prevent the desert sand from eroding the highway (or burying it for that matter), they had to build a massive irrigation system using ground water to plant bushes and other vegetation at the side of the road to hold everything down. Cool eh?
Left: We entered the highway from the south. Note the 562km marker on the side of the road.
Right: The entrance to the highway!
And of course, we had to take some silly pictures! You can see Annie jumping for joy in the picture on the right as Kel jumped over Flo.
Not far after entering the highway, we saw two overturned cars on the side of the road. The first was a car on its roof some fifty feet from the road. There was another car with people helping them as we passed. It looked out of place as it wasn't something we're used to seeing. Further along we saw a second car, which was an SUV, overturned on its roof. The driver was a young kid now crouched at the side of the road looking devastated. We asked Siubo if we should stop to help and he told us that a tow truck was most likely on its way already. Siubo said this highway was very straight, and the surroundings very flat. As there's not much around, its very easy to speed on and lose focus from boredom or fatigue. Siubo said these accidents happen a lot out here because once the car goes slightly off road, the tires would be in dirt and sand. The surface difference plus the high speed would likely result in the car tumbling. Inexperienced drivers tend to underestimate this stretch of the highway.
When we got to the end of the highway, we had to take a picture with the 0km marker! Oddly enough, besides information on the construction of the highway, there were also billboards put up to warn people not to speed, documenting past major accidents on the road with pictures of the victims...
At the end of the highway, we stopped by the roadside to take pictures of a cemetery of popular trees. It was strangely eerie to see so many dead trees randomly and sparsely laid across the desert. The ground water must have receded over the years. We trekked around, taking pictures of our surroundings when we spotted a dust devil in the distance. Kel and I were still at the top of a sand dune at that point, while Flora and Annie had wandered down. We called out to them to turn around to see the dust devil, but pretty soon, we realized they were right in its path! The girls ran as the dust devil seemed to chase after them for a bit before changing directions. We thought it disappeared and died off when it hit a line of bushes, but soon we saw it take out a bush! If only we caught that on video! The bush went FLYING.. :P
Flora and Annie turns around to see the dust devil in the distance.
Flora and Annie running up the sand dune to us as they realized the dust devil was headed straight for them!
A bit further down, we saw live huge popular trees in the desert. A sign we were close to civilization once more!
We had a late lunch of more yummy lamb skewers. We rated this place as second place of our entire trip. They made the skewers on Tamarix sticks (红柳), which adds to the flavour. Mmmm...