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Xining to Dawu (aka Machin): deep into Tibetan territory


stunning Qinghai scenery, my first stay in a traditional nomad tent, and altitude sickness at around 3,753 meters

Days three and four were when our trip started getting really interesting, when we start meeting the locals who gave us so much help and were so interesting, and where we started getting to experience Tibetan culture first hand (my first time, but not Val's since she'd been all over Tibetan territory for a while).

After a couple of nights in our cozy hostel and running around Xining buying supplies and sampling the food and beer we wake up one rainy morning, throw on the packs (yep they were heavy) and grab a bus to the edge of town. It didn't take me long to get a little depressed, walking down a wet gray highway with trucks blowing past us, spraying us with water and it seeming like we might never get a ride.

Had to remind myself that you always will get a ride and then next thing you know you're halfway across a country to a new landscape and better weather. Which is what happened.

First a short ride from a nice lady, a little more walking in the rain and mud and then a hellava nice guy who was going a good chunk down the road. He was so friendly that he kept pulling over at scenic areas so we could take pictures.

I had seen some stunning scenes from the plane a few days earlier (reddish color dunes and mountains making up the Danxia landform) but didn't know I'd be driving through them. The sad part was that we couldn't stop at all of them. The whole time we were like "wish we could camp here!".. but we had to keep on moving. Saw some interesting little towns (Lajia being one little monastery town we drove through and made a point of coming back to on our way back home) and plenty of uniquely Tibet highway scenes - i.e. yak jams....

We showed up in our destination - the little town of Dawu - after dark, with no idea where we would stay or what we would eat. Our gracious driver told us he had a place we could stay but since you never know how these things will work out - especially considering the language barrier, we were a little skeptical and had a quick chat over whether to take our chances with him or go it alone..

Luckily we went with him because a few minutes later we were in a tent eating on a big bowl of meat (I think he said it was goat) and a pile of homemade bread (momo) and drinking hot tea with yak milk and being warmly entertained by a jovial Tibetan couple, friends of our driver. A short while later that were putting us to sleep in our own private tent, the type we'd see hundreds of over the trip, that the nomads use as homes and city dwelling Tibetans use as summer or farm homes.

To top it off, we woke up in the morning within view of our ultimate destination - the snow-covered and very sacred Amne Machin.

After our morning taking in the scenery around our tent, it was time to hit the small town of Dawu for a few more supplies and then start hitching rides to Amne Machin. One small problem: I started getting really sick with a massive headache and nausea. Walking through the cool little town full of Muslim and Tibetan shopkeepers and nomads in town to pick up supplies or sell yak meat, yogurt, milk or whatever, I was hardly able to enjoy any of the exotic sites and sounds.

I threw down all the meds I'd bought to stave off the altitude sickness but they weren't working. Ended up in a pharmacy sucking on an oxygen tube and looking for other remedies. Didn't take long to realize I was not going anywhere that day and knew it was dangerous to keep going to higher altitudes until I'd acclimated. We grabbed a hotel room and I climbed in bed for the next almost 24 hours.

Weird scenes inside Dawu.... (well not that weird.. the town was full of exotic looking Tibetans with amazing faces in all kinds of costumes but I was too sick to care about taking photos..)

After a day and night of wondering if I could even continue on or if I could handle the higher elevations (pretty sure I understated my worries to Val) I was surprised to feel great the next day we hit the road as soon as we could (after checking around for more oxygen cans).

Next up... dirt roads into the mountains, Tibetan Elvis and the sherriff who gave us a lift...

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