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China, in the immensity of silence

Not a peep. Kind of like when it snows and the sounds aren’t able to express themselves. I guess sand also has that effect. We rode along in a muffled atmosphere, with only the wind whistling along the car. We arrived in northwest China five days ago, but it feels like weeks. Time doesn’t go by the same when you’re busy exploring.







The city of Zhangye isn’t that beautiful but we hadn’t come for her. Rather, it’s a quest for adventure that drove us so far from everything we know. To cross a desert never explored by humans. We’ve come to do some reconnaissance, and we know that our journey can come to a halt at any time as we have no information about our destination. We have to wait until we get there to determine what we can do.

I’m accompanying Olivier Coste, an unshakeable, sturdy man. He’s a man of action who likes to search for the impossible or the unfinished. He could well have sailed beside Christopher Columbus for example, well, if only he didn’t get seasick. But anyway, I’m just saying he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t let anything stop him, if not common sense. You’ll notice I didn’t say reason, there’s a slight difference.






The 4×4 dashes into a crazy ascent, our zealous driver traces a curve at the dune’s limits, a few meters to the right and we would have been sent violently flying over to the other side of the ridge. You have to imagine that there’s no half-measure around us. The wind shapes the summits like the cutting edges of a hundred knives. We knew the Badain Jaran desert was special, but we could never have guessed what we were about to live.

We drive over sand ramparts that lead to salt lakes; by car, it’s perilous but feasible. Olivier is thinking about what he will be up against in a few days. When I will be leaving the country, he will be beginning his expedition, with his provisions and his guts for company. Hundreds of kilometres to cover. Far from pains in the ass, fake information, petty wars and real wars. A breath of fresh, dry and dusty air.






I could feel him excited and anxious for the imminent arrival of his vehicle. He had made it with his bare hands, allowing him to go long distances in total autonomy; it took him months to build, years to think up. And it all could have ended there, suddenly: customs problems, the load had been blocked. We had to bring ourselves to abandon the project… But no, the enormous machine turned up in front of our hotel and we were over the moon with excitement. We became the talk of the town, most probably looking like funny eccentrics. We had a good laugh and our cheerfulness awoke our spirits. Everyone helped us as much as they could to complete our journey successfully. Everyone we crossed paths with was incredibly kind to us. Maybe because we came to their country with a project, that we were not doing the usual tourist attractions and trying to blow all our money on luxury hotels. And anyway, here, the luxury hotels are for the Chinese. The country is slowly opening itself up to Westerners in this remote region, very slowly.







I get out of the car and step onto silver glitter. You don’t sink into it. It feels like we’re on the beach at low tide. The dry cold isn’t very generous, it kills the smell of the hot sand and freezes my fingers onto the camera; it only takes me a few seconds to feel a sharp pain that forces me to put my gloves back on. It’s intense. I try not to think about the nights Olivier will have to endure with these temperatures. The temperatures can easily drop down to -20 degrees Celsius without sun and climb up to +20 during the day. It even snowed the other night. I had always pictured China as a near-tropical country, a kind of prejudice on Asia in general. I was wrong. We might be on the other side of the world, but there are still seasons here.

We travel for miles across this silent landscape, we eat, we sleep, we taste its starry sky braving the icy air of a dark night. There’s not a soul around besides the dromedaries and two shepherds. It’s a calm and serene landscape. The thought of it gives me goosebumps and I now regret not staying until the end. I start to envy the man that will live those moments alone. Alone in that immense desert. I understand him better now, and I can finally put real emotions on that need for adventure at the other end of the world…

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