I have just set up my bed for the evening. On this particular occasion this happens to be on the dusty floor of a room attachedto the shop of a 24-hr highway road stop. The room appears to at some point have housed a restaurant. A number of old tables and chairs are dotted about. Remnants of a kitchen line the rear wall, replete with giant wok. SVB points out what I had at first glance taken to be a deep fryer cage, it is in actual fact, a giant rat trap.
I am unsure why my two companions prefer to camp on the dirty floors of road stops, which bustle all night long as trucks roll in and out. I prefer the more private and rustic elements of drain camping. Rebecca tells me she prefers the amenities at the road stops. But from those we've used so far, I feel it is more hygienic peeing behind a bush.
My air mattress still has a hole in it. I had attempted to find the leak a few nights prior but that had only resulted in a sopping wet mattress and a flooded bathroom floor. I am resigned to a somewhat uncomfortable night. Being the slowest at seemingly everything of the three of us, whilst the other two are tucked into their sleeping bags reading, I am still sat on my semi inflated mattress sorting my solar phone charger when Rebecca lets out a squeal, sits bolt upright and evacuates herself from bed at an astonishing pace. I turn to spy an enormous spider scuttling it’s way towards the end of her sleeping mat. I am on my feet just as rapidly.
We have all removed our shoes ready for bed, but thankfully they lie close by. I snatch one up. I am already set for a rough nights sleep, but I will get no rest if I know this thing is somewhere in the room. I swat. I miss. The spider scurries. I make chase. I cannot afford to lose this spider under the drainpipes and benches. I need sleep. My second strike hits home. Contact.
I give it a few extra whacks to be sure.
Unfortunate timing really. A police vehicle had arrived outside just a few minutes earlier, lights and siren ablaze, the policeman striding into the adjoining shop. There is only a wide doorway separating us, our sleeping mats and bicycles hidden only by the darkness. I am nervous noting his arrival. We had read earlier in the day of the strict regulations regarding the hosting of foreigners in this region. The rules are tight, the punishments harsh, the police must be notified.
We are bunked down in this side room thanks to a friendly Chinese man from Chengdu. A fellow cyclist who spotted us while stopped at the rest area. He is well versed in English and in addition to discussing his hometown which we will reach later in our journey, he has helped us negotiate with the shop owner our sleeping spot for the night. But I am almost certain our presence has not be registered with the local authorities. With the policeman’s arrival I cease my chatter, keeping as still as possible in the darkness, hoping he won't notice our presence.
Except, that is when the spider makes its grand entrance.
Once we have ascertained the spiders demise, I remember the presence of the policeman. I turn to look back through the doorway. And there he is, mouth slightly agape, trying to take in the sight of three tall foreign white women in their underwear, beds laid out on the dusty floor, dancing about the room, shrieking, with running shoes held aloft. Perhaps that is enough to deter him from asking any questions. He simply turns on his heel and departs.
I settle back into my sleeping mat. Trying not to let my mind stray to what other creatures may lurk in the darkness. I find myself wishing I had a tent to zip up. But a night exposed to the creepy crawlies it is.
All part of the adventure, I tell myself. All part of it.
The truck stop is alive with activity all night. Light flooding constantly from the adjacent shop. Our darkened sleeping space also houses the boiler and we discover in due course that we will endure the comings and goings of drivers all night as they fill their thermos and noodle bowls. What they make of finding three white women asleep on the floor I do not know. At some point the shop door buzzer is turned on, uttering an electronic ‘Nihao' with each arriving and departing customer. I stir in the darkness to find the shop owner also asleep on the floor, nothing but a flat piece of cardboard to provide him respite from the cold tiles. The truck stop fills with rows of tightly parked trucks as drivers pull in to get some rest.
Sleeping wherever you can find rest in this expansive desert is simply a part of life here. It may not be peaceful but amongst these fellow weary travellers, we do feel strangely welcome.