Day 19: Return to SagaThe next day dawns with all the cold and damp of last night's squall but none of the excitement. We decide to head back, but first Dorje has to negotiate for and purchase a dried fish. The fish is about eighteen inches long and of course looks absolutely repulsive, but Dorje obviously has aspirations to make some money by reselling it in Lhasa - does it have some kind of medical or religious value?
We head off in a different road from the one by which we came and are apparently lost in endless sand-dunes. Finally we pick one sand-dune and head straight up its face: once on top it's an easy drive to the spot where we first saw Mansarovar and our alternator belt broke.
We have all decided not to stop in Pariyang even if it means a very long day, but to continue right on to Saga. I think all of us are feeling that this pilgrimage is about complete. We are looking forward to a shower and definitely not looking forward to another night in Pariyang.
The Pariyang 'garage' doesn't have a hydraulic lift, but it does have an inspection well that can be driven over so someone can work underneath. This being Pariyang, of course, it is full of human excrement. We take lunch without much optimism while waiting for word of our vehicle's fate: however, we are very pleasantly surprised when after an hour or two (enough time for a leisurely lunch and quite a few games of Shithead) Dorje comes back and tells us that the part has been welded back on and we are good to go. Pablo, by the way, having initiated us into the game of Shithead, is now losing pretty regularly. The Swiss have got pretty good at it, and even I am starting to catch on.
A few miles outside Pariyang there is another problem. Part of the hood latch assembly has sheared off, meaning that the smallest bump could cause the hood to fly up and blind our driver. We limp on once more for a few miles before stopping at a small room in a small lodging-house in the middle of nowhere. The boy who appears seems to be about 16 and pretty wet behind the ears, but he has a small portable arc-welder and welds back the hood latch for 20 yuan, so we are good to go again. He keeps his tools in his bedroom and his business is completely unadvertised: nevertheless there is a pile of broken Landcruiser suspension struts outside that is almost three feet high. Walter jokes that he probably has someone come along every week to remove that week's pile of broken suspensions - or maybe it's not even a joke!
Our next car mishap is when one of the fuses goes out. It controls a lot of the electics for the vehicle, including the headlights (which we will need very soon) and the dashboard. Our driver tries to swap out some fuses, but these divide into non-vital (all broken) and vital (all jerry-rigged with single strands of wire) so there are none to spare.
We stop in a giant gas station in the middle of nowhere to refuel. There is wide, smooth, impeccably marked black-top for half a kilometer either side of the gas station, after which you are back in the dirt. Our driver asks in the gas station for a fuse, but despite its size it does not sell a single item other than gas - no oil, no transmission fluid, no windshield wiper fluid, no belts and hoses, no unspeakable coffee, junk candy, lottery tickets, cardboard pine tree air fresheners, or fuzzy dice, and of course no fuses. The Chinese are embracing capitalism very enthusiastically, but there are still some things they have yet to pick up.
In the end our driver and I sort through the gas station's garbage heap until we find a piece of wire out of which we fray a single strand to short out our fuse.
We have one more car mishap: our gearbox is starting to seize up, so our driver removes the gearshift and looks inside. The oil in our gearbox has boiled dry. After much discussion Dorje and our driver fill it with regular 30-weight engine oil (rather than the specialized and much thicker 90-weight oil that the gearbox actually needs.) The risks of overloading your vehicle on these roads are starting to become pretty clear to us.
We make it in to Saga around 10 p.m. and dash for the shower (our first since we were in Saga on our way out), but the water has been shut off even though normally it should be on. The hotel start working on it, and in the meantime I watch the English-language business channel on cable TV. The stories are about the government's mostly vain efforts to discourage foreign investment and to keep the annual growth rate under ten percent (or eleven, or twelve...) Any other nation on earth, of course, would kill to have such problems.