Serge Martineau's Diary

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007 Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 Thursday, July 26, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007 Saturday, July 28, 2007
Sunday, July 29, 2007 Monday, July 30, 2007
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Thursday, August 2, 2007 Friday, August 3, 2007
Saturday, August 4, 2007 Sunday, August 5, 2007
Monday, August 6, 2007 Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Wednesday, August 8, 2007 Thursday, August 9, 2007
Friday, August 10, 2007 Saturday, August 11-13, 2007

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Yesterday, I received one of the most exciting emails of my life.  I was very excited when I saw CONGRATULATIONS. Everybody around me was surprised. Where is Mongolia?

I called my wife and my two young girls to tell them about my selection for the Earthwatch project. They were also very surprised.

After I talked about the project with everyone around me, I started receiving a lot of  information from everywhere. I became very open to everyone and everything—Internet, TV—that was speaking, thinking, or writing about Mongolia.

I received email congratulations from many Alcoa employees. That’s why I would like to say thank you very much, Alcoa.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007 After I wrote my first diary entry, somebody asked me why I applied for an Earthwatch expedition. There were also many other questions that I will clarify today.

I worked for 10 years in forestry, five years protecting and preserving wildlife, and another five years studying tree plantations. Since 1993, I’ve worked for Alcoa Deschambault in the shipping department. A part of my job is loading railcars and trucks, and the other part is handling paperwork (shipping manifests).

Now with Earthwatch, many old dreams are coming back.

My favorite interest is spending time on my family’s land—learning about natural habitats, hunting, fishing, and playing hockey.

Day after day, I am getting more prepared for the China project.

Monday, July 23, 2007 The time has arrived, and the ultimate trip is coming. I have worked on it for four months.
I just left my family, and it was an emotional moment. I have a long flight—Québec to Toronto, Toronto to Beijing, and finally Beijing to Xi’an.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 I missed my plane in Beijing because the flight took too long between Toronto and Beijing. There was someone from airport personnel waiting for me, and we ran to catch my next plane, but we were too late. I had to take a later plane at 1:30 p.m.
It took 25 hours to get to Xi’an from Québec. Xi’an looks like a typical city, just like many people told me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 Today, we took a one-day tour of Xi’an, including a visit to a museum in Banpo Village that contains Neolithic ruins. These village ruins can be traced back in history to 6,000 or 7,000 years ago.

We also visited the Qin Dynasty’s terracotta warriors and horses (the eighth wonder of the world) and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

Tomorrow, we will start the Earthwatch project.

Thursday, July 26, 2007 Today, we took the train from Xi’an to Dunhuang, which is located on the west side of China, close to the Gobi Desert. We spent the entire day (24 hours) traveling, but the panorama was amazing. We ate a lot of real Chinese food, and we had to use chopsticks. I am sure I will master this art of eating.
The compartment on the train was small but okay.

Friday, July 27, 2007 We arrived in Dunhuang around 10:30 a.m. We spent some time in the marketplace, where we could see many spices. It smelled very good. We also could see chicken, fish, and pork that was roasted and sold on the street. It was amazing.
In the afternoon, we went to the Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Spring site, which is situated five kilometers (three miles) south of Dunhuang. Having sand and a spring at the same place is a marvelous phenomenon in the desert.
We climbed to the top of one sand mountain, which was about 400 meters (1,312 feet) high. It was amazing.

Saturday, July 28, 2007 Late in the morning, we left to go see the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang. Commonly know as the Thousand Buddha Caves, the grottoes are located in the eastern foothills of the Mingsha Mountains, about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) southeast of Dunhuang.
Construction of these caves began in 366 AD and ended in the ninth century. The caves contain some 45,000 square meters (53,800 square yards) of murals and 2,400 painted sculptures. In 1987, the caves were listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Sunday, July 29, 2007 This morning we went to Jiayuguan Pass, first built in 1372 BC during the Ming Dynasty. It is one of the greatest and best protected passes along the Great Wall. Afterward, we started to cross the Gobi Desert, traveling from Jiayuguan to Ejin Qi.
This was a ride of around 280 kilometers (175 miles) across the desert, and a big part of it was off-road. I was amazed not only by the scenery but also by the driver. The road was in a very bad condition every moment. Later, we could drive 120 kilometers-per-hour (75 miles-per-hour) on a smooth surface.
I was with Cella from Romania and Tim, an Earthwatch employee. Sometimes we would burst out laughing.

Monday, July 30, 2007 In Ejin, our itinerary changed due to military maneuvers in the grasslands and the high level of the Black River. Professor Gu had to speak with the minister responsible for water resources to get authorization for our visit, but we couldn’t go to the grasslands. Due to this, we will stay 10 days in the Black City, visiting this ancient place and sampling the water near the Mongolian border.

Water sampling consists of checking the water temperature, pH, dissolved solids, electron transfer activity (EH), and dissolved oxygen. We take different sizes of samples—two four-ounce samples, one one-liter sample, and sometimes a four-gallon sample.

This sampling helps the Chinese scientists determine if the quality of water has changed, why China’s massive Gobi Desert is growing at an alarming rate, and where the water is going.

This evening, we had a big typical Mongolian dinner. The meal was very good compared to what you can find on the street. The Chinese government needs to make an effort to have this kind of food available on the street.

Dinner finished with two ladies in ceremonial dresses singing Mongolian songs to each of us. Everybody greatly appreciated the dinner.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 We visited Ejin City, which might be the last place where we can send email to our families since we’ll be in the desert for 10 days.

In the afternoon, Professor Gu was interviewed by China Radio International. This gave him good exposure to share his views on Earthwatch and water conservation. He discussed the problem of transporting water by canals, because a lot of the water is lost.

Nick and I were also interviewed as Earthwatch volunteers. For my part, I focused my discussion on the Earthwatch program and my help with the water study. The interview could be broadcast on Nepal radio.

Afterward, we started our 1.5-hour journey to the Black City. After arriving, we set up our tents in an amazing spot that was very close to the city’s ancient ruins.

The ruins of the once mighty Black City are silent testimony to the effects of desertification. Set on the banks of a long-vanished river, the city was once home to thousands. Now, it is surrounded only by sand and populated only by ghosts.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 The first night in a tent was nice. Breakfast, which we had in a Mongolian house (yurt), was basic but good— instant coffee, porridge, and eggs.

We only had to walk about 90 meters (300 feet) to get inside the wall of the Black City. On the right side, just before the wall, was a mosque. On the left side, we could see domed–shaped religious structures.

Within the city, we saw more than 1,000 ancient artifacts, including broken pottery, ceramics, carved wood, and animal bones. These artifacts bear witness to human life in 1038 AD, and it was a very special feeling to be there.

The Black City eventually died due to a territorial dispute that caused the water wars. The enemies rerouted the Black River to starve the city’s inhabitants.

At base camp in the evening, Professor Gu taught us about dams and how irrigation systems cause further long-term water shortages. The water is not allowed to saturate the ground, evaporation occurs, and the groundwater is not recharged. These bad practices are causing growing desertification.

The night was particularly tough, because a big sandstorm fell upon on us. The hard wind caused the sand to penetrate everything, including our eyes and ears. Everything in the tents was covered by a half-inch of sand. Nobody slept very well, but it was an all-new experience of the desert.

Thursday, August 2, 2007 We visited another old city that was first named Horse Loop and founded in 561 AD. I saw many bones and shells in the walls. This was also the place where our driver found an arrowhead that was used during a war. Professor Gu said it was the first time somebody found one.

Later, we visited a pottery factory, where we saw a lot of pottery pieces and a roof tile with a dragon’s face.

Each day, we went to a base camp for lunch and dinner. It was a Mongolian family’s house, and the people were very friendly. For lunch, we arrived at 12 p.m., and we started back to work around 3 p.m. It was better to stay out of the sun during the three hours in between because of the high heat, which sometime reached 47° Celsius (117° Fahrenheit).

In the afternoon, we visited three Mongolian nomadic homes and sampled their wells. We learned more about the instruments used to measure many things about the water—depth of each well, the smell and color of the water, etc.

Our hosts were very interesting. They insisted we go into their cool living quarters and drink some green tea.

Friday, August 3, 2007 A member of the team—Tim, an Earthwatch employee—had felt very ill since last night and couldn’t come with us today. We returned to the campsite at noon to check on him, and he said he was just able to drink. Everybody was a little bit anxious, because it is the end of the world here. At the end of the day, he was taken to a military hospital in Ejina.

We went to sample an old well in a place named Earthwatch City. We had to pull up 100 buckets of water before we could test it.

This ancient area was named Earthwatch City because it was discovered by Earthwatch volunteers. It has many artifacts. I found a copper coin that Professor Gu said came from the Song Dynasty, which was the period from 1078 to 1085 AD. A similar coin was found three years ago by another Earthwatch volunteer.

In the afternoon, we tested three more Mongolian family wells. Like before, we were offered green tea, goat cheese, and assorted treats. I was very grateful to our hosts for their kindness and hospitality.

Saturday, August 4, 2007 We visited the Red City, which was founded in 102 BC. It was amazing, and we could relax in the shadows created by the city walls. Closer to the city, we saw a lot of dry trees because of the lack of water—the desert effect.

In the afternoon, we asked Professor Gu if it would be possible to change the itinerary, because we would be spending too much time in the Black City for what he needed us to do. The team would be able to take all of the necessary samples in four days, allowing us to leave two days earlier to go have lunch at Bayan Mod and get some sleep in Alxa Zuoqi. We will spend the entire day getting there by bus. Everyone on the team also wanted to stay in Yinchuan for three days—some for four days.

In the evening, Mr. Sing—Professor Gu’s technician—went to see Tim in Ejina. After three intravenous bags of hydrating fluids and antibiotics at the hospital, Tim appeared to be getting better. This was good news.

Sunday, August 5, 2007 Our driver went to retrieve Tim, so we had the morning off in the Black City.

Like every day, we stayed in the base camp between noon and 3 p.m. because it was sweltering. Afterward, we took some more water samples, which smelled like sulfur.

Monday, August 6, 2007 It was a hard night because of a big sandstorm. Imagine sleeping with sand in your eyes, nose, and ears.

I tried to use a sand scarf but without success. The sand continued to come into the tent. Another team member used a different tent, but none could be good in these conditions. When we got up, we had a half inch of sand on everything.

We tried to maintain our western lifestyle, but we had only one pot of water a day to use for washing. We were just moving sand from one part of the body to another.

Because of the extreme heat conditions, we also needed plenty of water so we could drink often. Each of us typically drank around two liters of water per day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 This morning was a special day, because we went to the Black River to swim. When we arrived, the level of the river was very low. This was probably normal, because I was able to compare it to when we passed a week ago when it was raining.

In the afternoon, we tested more Mongolian wells. According to Professor Gu, one of them was an older well with 1,000-year-old water.

At night, I called out to the other team members when I was walking around the camp, because I saw a large mouse with kangaroo-like hind legs, large ears, and a long tail. They call this animal a jerboa.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 It was now time to leave, and I think we did a very good job.

We said our last goodbyes to the base camp family, which I was sad about it.

We will sleep for another night here and hope we don’t have a sandstorm.

Thursday, August 9, 2007 We left the Black City around 6:30 a.m. to go to Ejina, where we took a bus to Alxa Zuoqi. On the way, we stopped at Bayan Mod for lunch and a visa check (we’re in a communist country).

The landscape changed a bit during the trip. We saw dunes and grassland, but most of it was desert. This is a place where you would want to walk, but it would take a lot of energy and water and require good orientation skills.

After 10 days in the desert, I now know you have to listen carefully to your body.

Friday, August 10, 2007 On the road to Yinchuan, we visited the Xi-Xia mausoleum, where we could see a fresco tombstone. I also saw my first Mongolian horse.

Because of government restrictions, the expedition ended early. We spent the rest of the day visiting Yinchuan City.

Saturday, August 11-13, 2007 We enjoyed Yinchuan, a city of 1 million people. It was very clean and modern, of course. It was a poor area, but it was a great place to do some shopping before we left China.

In conclusion, this trip was a very good experience. I appreciated the Chinese and Mongolian hospitality. I learned more about the environment and water resources, and how rare and precious water is in this part of world. The Chinese history was also unbelievable.

Thanks to Earthwatch and Alcoa for their support.

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Inner Mongolia's Lost Water

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