On the civilian side of life, there are a few notables from Xingjiang. The Han Chinese are more playful than the many of the nomad peoples we've encountered: winks, jokes and indecipherable laughter spew forth. Faux celebrity photos are a duty we have to perform more than every hour, although there is a little more etiquette in the ritual here. Often people will give us a gift: water, ice tea or some melon before soliciting the selfie, certainly preferable to the aggressive sleeve tug. Several times we've spoken to people here about what we were doing and within the day they've donated to our Lotus fund. This has happened more frequently than anywhere else on the journey so far.

As mentioned in brief before, the road infrastructure is up there with the best of Europe, albeit not designed for cycling. All roads are built up elevated above the surroundings, this ensures their durability but also means they are punctuated regularly with concrete houses for us. These storm drains run the length of the road, and most of the time are large enough to happily store us and our bikes, that is when they are not full of refuse or varied feces. Despite being a meter or two from the vehicles overhead, they're also quiet and hidden - we were rather concerned about being discovered at night.

The food has been a revelation after the nomadic non-cuisine we've endured this side of the Caspian Sea. Vegetables appear to exist again, as do a whole host of other unidentifiable foodstuffs that often taste like you can't imagine, and sometimes like you would't want to. When exposed to a Bao-breakfast (steamed rice buns), we created a leaning 8-tier tower from the wooden steaming trays, each round brought with ever more disbelief and faux-awe by the waiter. A standard serving is one tray. The return of spice has been with a fiery vengeance, and hasn't been for the best for those blonde ones with weaker bowels. 

On entering China we had a decision between a desolate diagonal cut-through mountains head-to-wind and an oncoming storm, or a softer southerly route adding distance along two sides of the triangle. We took the easier route, which likely added a day and a half to the time in China. Whilst we were peeved at the time with the poor decision, on reflection I'm glad for this, against all assumptions and anticipations the country has been an exceptionally enjoyable cycle-touring destination.