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China 14: Alone in the desert

Copyright Elaine Canham 2015

Copyright Elaine Canham 2015

Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China

We’re properly in the Gobi Desert now. Saw two camels trotting along in fine style all decked out in bright red  harnesses with tassels. They look woolly and cute. Never thought I’d say that about a camel.

Felt better this morning. Elspeth and I sliced up the last of the apples and bananas and mixed them into an interesting sludge with the last of the biscuits. Cheryl declined to join us for breakfast.

Talk about blasted heaths. This is just empty, brown land. Any water, and there seems to be precious little of it, is frozen solid.

The train stops for Liu Yuan; the guard opens the door, but there is nothing here. No station. Nothing. We drop our packs on to the ground and then climb down from the panting dragon. People hang out the windows and wave at us. Nobody else gets off.

‘Are you sure this is right?’ Cheryl shouts up at the guard.

The guard shouts something back and then slams the door, and the train puffs and heaves and slowly clanks away, gathering speed as it leaves us. We are alone in a vast landscape.

‘What did the guard say?’ I ask.

‘She said there’s a bus,’ replied Cheryl.

‘Right,’ said Elspeth looking around at the emptiness. I never realised before, just how dry a Scouser’s sense of humour can be, and the wealth of meaning you can put into one word.

We move away from the tracks and sit down on our packs. We can still see the train, a tiny disappearing clockwork toy in the vast landscape, and I begin to remember all the B movies I have ever seen about ignorant travellers coming to grief in the desert. I particularly think of the one with Sophia Loren where she finds a skeleton face down in the sand, but still grimly clutching a handbag.

I begin to wonder how regularly this desert bus is supposed to run. If it is anything like the service in Milton Keynes, we’re done for.

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