Orlandini, as seen yesterday, was a rowdy Italian, who was sipping his own urine “like a vermut” (his words) when fleeing from a prisoner camp in Abisinia to Kenya.
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Orlandini started as a ship doctor, then he lived in New York for some months… but this was not really interesting, so he enrolled on a Tropical Illnesses course that was given at Bruxelles University. Doctors who got this course got an assignment in the Belgian Congo, as a matter of fact, King Leopold’s Congo, a country ruled as a company that should not have changed a lot since Conrad’s Earth of Darkness, published some 30 years before.
I must welcome the arrival of two books, Jean Bouathier “Aux confins de la Chine” (on the confines of China), and Ella’s correspondence book edited to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of her birth.
I am immersed in Jean Bouathier’s book. Bouathier is a French guy, with an Ethnology Diploma, and he studied in the “Institut National des Langues et des Civilizations Orientales” (Langues’O) which should be a guarantee. Jean speaks Turkish and Tibetan (but no Chinese), and, in June 2002 he starts an expedition in a rented Toyota Landcruiser, with a chain-smoker Chinese driver, and an interpreter, for a total amount of 25.000 Yuan (3.250 Euros). Well, as usual in China, nothing happens as he expects, the interpreter was not waiting for him at the airport, the “all-included” price did not include permits, driver had no idea on how to use a 4-wheel driven vehicle… and his international credit card was refused, leaving him stranded in Xining. Yes, definitively is better to avoid Xining trap 🙂 (more on it in another post)
Of course, as often in China, this apparently unmovable obstacles are moved, and trip starts… but Jean does not like Chinese food! or at least, the food served along the road, he is fed up of mutton and noodles. And Jean does not like Chinese music that goes on an on at full power inside the Toyota. Not he likes the blend of tobacco smoke and fuels fumes that seep from additional drums which are inside the vehicle.
But Jean has read Sven Hedin, Maillard and Fleming, he knows about the Lost Cities, and he follows the path Xining-Qinghai-Dzhoun, Golmud, Teijinar, and beyond. He talks about history, Hedin discoveries, people who has traveled this road, he references the places with texts from Hedin, or Maillard… well, the book is easy to read, and interesting.
And… “Voilà Jean”, disguised as an Indiana Jones in sandals 🙂
But, what happens to him, places where he sleeps, red tape problems, sand storms, roads that are only in the maps, rivers that are not in the same maps, makes my projected trip to seem impossible. Of course, 2002 China is not 2017 China, it has open somehow, but probably not enough. But, as Orlandini says, when someone talked about the unrest in Singkiang, with two civil wars acting simultaneously, plus the Big Game between Soviet Union, China and UK, plus Chang-Kai-Chech war against communists, plus Japanese invading Manchuria: “If one should listen to all “it is said”, one would never start a trip”.
So, let us go there and hope for the best.
Title Image: Dakar Rally bivouac in the Atacama Desert (detail) from the author
Version española al final del texto en inglés
Let us start with the name
Ella and Peter did not enjoy Lanchow (Lanzhou, in the Gansu province – China is so big that they ran short of names, so there are four different Lanzhous in Wikipedia). The one we refer to is Lanzhou (Gansu), a city on the banks of the Yellow River.
They were stopped for several days due to subtleties of local Police (probably the war in the Xinjiang had also some influence). See the link Shipwrecked in Lanzhou
This is a view of Lanzhou circa 1900. Probably it did not change a lot from there to 1935. You can see in the drawing the water wheels
This photograph shows the river and the water wheels Ella refers to.
Ella describes the city, the streets and the shops (that already have glass windows), she strolls outside of the city following the water porters while Peter only says “the streets of Lanzhou are romantic”, thus opening a path to guesswork.
This city was the last city truly Han in the Silk Road, from there on travelers going West will be in a more “exotic” country, while travelers going East jumped on rafts made of inflated mutton skins to navigate the Yellow River.
Orlandini, the Venetian Doctor we will refer to later, has a vivid description of the trip he did from Lanzhou to Beijing, with a geographer, a journalist, two raftsmen (one of them seriously ill) and a cook, all of them on a 3m x 5m raft. One of the raftsmen must blow almost continuously into one or another of the floating carcasses to restrain the raft from sinking.
A Ella y a Peter no les gustó Lanzhou, en la provincia de Gansu (China es tan grande que se quedan sin nombres para las ciudades). A la que nos vamos a referir es a la que está en la provincia de Gansu, y en las riberas del Rio Amarillo
Allí quedaron atascados, debido a las sutilezas de la Policia local, aunque probablemente el hecho de que quisiesen dirigirse a una zona en guerra podia tener algo que ver
Ver el link: Shipwrecked in Lanzhou
Se ven en las fotos primero, Lanzhou ca. 1900, con las norias a las que se refiere Ella, que están en la segunda fotografía
Ella describe la ciudad, sus calles y sus tiendas (que ya tienen escaparates de vidrio), pasea por fuera de la ciudad siguiendo a los porteadores de agua, mientras que Peter dice solo que “las calles de Lanzhou son románticas”, abriendo el camino a toda suerte de especulaciones.
Esta ciudad era la ultima ciudad realmente Han en la Ruta de la Seda, de aquí en adelante los viajeros yendo hacia el Oeste estarían en tierras más exóticas, mientras que los viajeros yendo hacia el Este embarcaban en balsas hechas con bambú y con pieles de cordero infladas como flotadores, y en ellas bajaban el rio Amarillo.
Orlandini, el médico veneciano al que nos referiremos mas tarde incluye una divertida descripción del viaje que hizo Rio Amarillo abajo, en una balsa ocupada por dos remeros, un cocinero, un periodista y un geógrafo ademas de el. Uno de los remeros debía estar inflando una u otra bota a cada rato