During our 7 day Qilian mountain leg, the cold nights started to get to both of us (well more me than Jared) so we decided to take a night off of the tent and find a hotel. We spent the day climbing over a beautiful mountain pass and had a well deserved 30km of downhill. We were making good time and were hoping to be in a place and cleaned up by 4pm.
As we made our way into the town we were hopeful because it was a decent size and thought we could have lots of options for places to stay. That was until we stopped at our first hotel to ask if we could get a room. Jared went in and asked for a room for two people, something he has gotten quite good at. Right away the hotel worker turned him away and told him foreigners couldn’t stay there. This had happened occasionally during our first month in China but not too often. In China, hotels have to have a certain license or permission with the government for foreigners to stay and if they don’t have that license and they let foreigners stay, they can get heavily fined. In towns like Qilian there are always “foreigner friendly” hotels but they are usually double what we are used to paying.
After the first hotel we tried many many more, all with the same result. This went on for about an hour and a half until it was time to change plans. I was upset because all I wanted was a shower and a warm place to sleep that night but it was not in the cards. By this time it was close to 5 and we needed to get going if we were going to camp. We decided to resupply and get dinner in the town so we could cycle until sundown and not mess with dinner and clean up at camp.
As we were eating a woman approached us and asked (in body language and hand signals) if we needed a place to sleep. She gave us a business card and we asked (through our Mandarin phrase book) if foreigners could stay there. She said yes and we said we would go after we were done eating. I was stoked! Hot shower and bed after all.
We followed the woman after we finished eating to check out the place. It turned out to not be a hotel as much as another woman’s house and she was renting out her room to us. It was a bit more than we are used to spending (120 Yuan/$20) but we were happy to have a room to ourselves and a place to clean up. We would have been happy to call it a night then but we needed to resupply and wanted to get it all done that night so we could get out of town early the next morning. We were trying our best to keep a low profile but we sort of stuck out and people wanted to talk to us. As we were walking around and getting supplies, a policeman started talking to Jared. He was asking us where we were staying but we pretended to not understand and just went about our business. We took a long way back to the “hotel” and hoped no one saw us.
We thought we were in the clear but just as I was about to get in the shower, the cops showed up. I quickly jumped in and as I was showering I could hear Jared pleading with them to let us stay where we were. They were not having it. After I got out of the shower we had to pack all our stuff up and go to the one “foreigner friendly” hotel in town. The cops were very helpful and loaded all our gear in their van.
The woman was very understanding as we tried to apologize for the inconvenience, and I was happy because I was clean. They took us to the hotel and somehow Jared haggled them down to 100 Yuan/$15 for the “4 star hotel”. I use quotes because the hot water took 2 hours to heat up that night and we had no water the next morning.
It was my first experience getting denied again and again and also my first time getting kicked out of a place. I will admit, there were a few tears that day. A combination of hunger, exhaustion, and denial after denial got to me when we were on our hotel hunt. I learned to never think a night in a hotel is a sure thing in China and always expect to camp. Then when it does work out, it’s a pleasant surprise.