Alex and I are in Xinjiang now. We were really surprised that the flight wasn't delayed, but that's only because they didn't tell us there was a delay. We sat in the plane for four hours before taking off. When we got to Urumqi, we checked into a hotel that a friend recommended.
In the morning we decided to go to Heavenly Lake, but it was more like the day from hell. We're in the far-west part of China, but all of China runs on the same time zone (Beijing time). In Xinjiang, though, the sun doesn't come up until 9, people don't eat lunch until 2 and dinner until 8, so they have local, unofficial Xinjiang time. I woke up three times thinking that we were late, but it was only because I got confused about which time everything was. We quickly checked out of the hotel, found the bus station, and negotiated a reasonable-sounding price. Our tour book said the trip would take two and a half hours, the guy we bought the tickets from said it would take one and a half, but the bus seemed to circle around town looking for more people and we didn't get there until five hours had passed.
Alex and I started to hike up to the lake, and this part of the story was okay. We saw really pretty scenery and had time to decompress from not being able to use our Chinese (all the natives in this province speaking Uighur, which is in a different family of languages from Chinese). They had yurts at the top which we rented for the night.
Then the real adventure started. That morning on the bus we realized that the hotel hadn't given us our passports back. Alex hadn't wanted them to keep them in the first place, but we figured that since Urumqi is famous for pickpocketing, that maybe it was safer to have the hotel keep them. We were already out of town, though. I called the guy who had helped us find the hotel. He said that we didn't have to worry because nobody checked passports at Heavenly Lake.
The day Alex and I went, they checked passports at Heavenly Lake. We pleaded in our most polite Chinese (which the guy may or may not have understood) to let it by, but he was unswayed and evicted us with instructions to go back to Urumqi. All the tour buses had left, so we had to take a taxi that charged us each five times the bus fare.
But then when we got back to Urumqi, the taxi driver couldn't find the hotel that had our passports. Even my friend, who spoke English, Uighur, and Chinese couldn't give him instructions because our taxi driver didn't speak any of those (maybe he was Tajik, my friend speculated). Alex and I were tired and told him to forget it. Getting out and walking didn't help, though, and we wandered the roads looking for the hotel for maybe an hour.
Of course, I was still used to have language skills available, so I went up to a group of people and asked in Chinese if they could tell me where to go. They looked at me for a few seconds and then said roughly, "Ruska?" For all I knew, that meant "left", "right", "straight", "I don't understand", or "I don't know." I figured out later that he thought I might be Russian and wanted to try that out.
I was so frustrated. I told Alex as we wandered some more that this was the most frustrated I'd ever been in China. We picked up this guy who spoke a lot of English, but he didn't know where to go either, and couldn't help us much.
We walked and walked, with our hiking packs on and no way to talk to people and no answers to be had and no passport in our hands and no lake out our yurt window, and much fewer kuai in our pockets. Eventually my friend talked to this guy and we got it all worked out.
It was a good thing I wasn't paying attention when we got our passports back, because the lady just looked at us and asked why we hadn't gotten them this morning. After being kicked out of a village that day, I think that would have set me over the edge.