This was another whirlwind week for us as we travelled roughly 3,000 miles. On Monday we said goodbye to Xiahe, which had gotten some snow on the mountain tops during the night. During the day we made a stop in Binglingi where we took a boat ride on the Yellow River to visit grottoes with Buddhist wall paintings and sculptures. We then got back on the bus to go to Lanzhou for one night before catching a train in the morning.
Our next stop was Jiayuguan, a small desert town famous for being at the end of the Great Wall. It was quite different from our first visit to the Great Wall near Beijing, since the Wall (more like a mound in some parts) was made of dirt and the terrain was flat. First we went to the fortress that guarded the end of the Wall, and the museum there. We even took the time to banish Jonathan, since this was the official place to do so in dynasties past. We also went to Jiayuguan Pass where the Wall actually ends by meeting a cliff and a beacon tower stands. Myrrl told us back in the U.S. that it was a goal of his to see the end of the Wall, since he had never done so before. As we all touched the end, I may or may not have seen Myrrl cry a single tear.
The next day we traveled to Dunhuang and saw the Mogao Grottoes. There were over 400 caves of various sizes that hold Buddhist sculptures and wall paintings centuries old. There was also one library cave that used to hold thousands of scrolls until they were discovered and sold in the late 1800′s. Among the many Buddhist scrolls were some Christian documents from the Tang Dynasty when there were Nestorian missionaries in China. These scrolls and the Christian pagoda we saw earlier show how the Nestorians took a syncretic approach to introducing their religion just like the first Buddhists in China before them.
After spending the night in the fanciest hotel we’ve been in yet, we spent the majority of the next day at the sand dunes. It was amazing to see such high land forms made out of a constantly shifting material. We got to ride camels, which was a lot of fun and another reminder of China’s great biodiversity. We also tubed down a sand dune, which was a lot of fun and another reminder of the awfulness of sand in your mouth. After eating a lunch of instant noodles, many of us decided to take on a gigantic mountain of a sand dune. While most were smart enough to take the stairs, Carissa convinced Jia, Malinda, Malika, Hattie, and I to climb up the steepest part stairless. It was an exhausting task, took us a very long time (some of our guys made it to the top, ran down, and made it to the top again by the time we got up), and we ended up “channeling camels” most of the way. Finally, the day of the dunes ended with the finding of the most adorable puppy ever, which almost licked Emma to death.
The next day (Saturday), our westward travel officially ended and we took two planes and a train back to Nanchong. We will be here with our host families again for a little less than 2 weeks before moving on to new places. But first we have another adventure: Loren Swartzendruber.
Passionately penned by Nicole Yoder