Across Continents

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Low point

December 9th, 2011

Brawley claimed to be the largest town below sea level. I doubted this. My money would be on Turpan – pronounced Turvan – in the deserts of Western China. I’d felt especially confident on this point. I’d stopped there the previous year. I’d arrived at dusk. Another strip town. Less fast food outlets than some. Set in Imperial Valley, a strip of artificially irrigated greenery amongst otherwise inhospitable desert. A short ride over from my previous stop at Ocotillo. Past ramshackle trailers, some I thought abandoned, others probably not. Hard to tell. A State Prison. Brief stop in Seeley, an old man rummaging in the bins for discarded cans.

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Quarter complete

September 17th, 2010

I doubted if few coming this way even knew, let alone appreciated, that, across an unremarkable strip of tarmac, lay an imaginary line. Longitude. Ninety degrees east. One quarter of the way around the world. Taken almost a year. Actually, I’d gone a bit further than that, starting a little to the west of the Greenwich Meridian.

Desert - web

I’d left Turpan earlier in the day, descending for a while. Further into the Depression. Brief respite from the harsh sun at a truck stop. Already in the thirties. Check of the altimeter. One hundred and fifty four feet below sea level. Further east the road climbs steadily, either side sandstone cliffs replacing the rough, rocky scrub of the Turpan Basin.

Oasis - web

The occasional strip of green, sometimes close, sometimes distant. Small settlements. Mud brick buildings. Inaccessible from the carriageway, a stout barbed wire fence either side. Not even the smallest of gaps.

Stall - web

And then, eventually, a break in the fence. Across dusty, rough ground, a stall. Beneath the straw roof, tables stacked with melons, grapes drying on racks, a freezer filled with bottled water, a TV flickering in the background. Lunch. Then a return to the road. The earlier cliffs, imaginatively shaped by the wind, replaced by loose rocks, devoid of vegetation.

Later, beyond the ninetieth line of longitude, swirling dust clouds, whipping up debris as they crossed the carriageway. Further towards Shanshan, the night’s stop, thunder. Then huge globules of rain. Cold. But not the expected deluge. And not unpleasant.

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