Anxi, in central China, averages 300 sandstorms per year.

Wander far enough west along China’s Silk Road and you’ll run into the humble town of Anxi. Perched on the edge of the Gobi in northwestern China, it’s the sandstorm capital of the world. Three hundred days a year this place looks like it’s shrouded in a San Francisco fog. But what fills the air is desert dust, whipped by winds that blast through town. The Gobi is the driest desert on earth, and you can feel the grit of powder-fine sand in our teeth. It also gets into your camera lens, so you might want to have it serviced after you swing through.

Even with plastic slats draped across ever hotel entrances their lobbies are covered in dust, with sand drifts mounting up in the corners. One look at the residents and you realize there’s no hope for your complexion. In a nation with a surplus of creamy smooth cheeks and brows, the face in Anxi have the weathered look of a rancher in the Outback. Which is essentially where they live. Camels are a familiar sight out here.

The highways in and out of Anxi are the most desolate stretches of road I’ve ever seen. Straight and seemingly endless, they cut through 360-degrees of gravel landscape that stretches, featureless and flat as a pool table, to the horizon. Only the occasional dust devil or passing sandstorm breaks up the lunar emptiness.

Anxi (meaning Tranquil West) is a town of contrasts, with both ancient ruins and a surrounding forest of modern wind farms. The self-proclaimed “world’s wind warehouse” churns out energy at over 700 watts per cubic meter. It also hosts a section of the Great Wall, where the fabled Silk Road splits into northern and southern routes. All of this is tucked into Guazhou County (formally Anxi County), China’s tea headquarters up near the Outer Mongolian border.




If there’s one thing that hits you immediately when you arrive in Cairo, almost literally, it’s the legendary traffic. It’s harrowing. Marked lanes mean nothing. Speed limits are a joke. Traffic signals are nonexistent. It’s a city-wide demolition derby and just getting behind the wheel is an act of faith. Even as a passenger you’re in for a white knuckles experience. But those are nothing compared with trying to cross a busy boulevard on foot. Attempting that is less an act of faith and more an act of suicide.


So what does one do to cross a bustling intersection or busy stretch of road? Actually it can be done without getting snagged in a life-sized game of Whac-A-Mole, with you as the mole. You tail one of the locals as he or she cuts across the torrent of traffic. Yep, you cross like an Egyptian. This observe-and-mimic method is useful in a lot of situations where you’re stumped on how to proceed—whether it’s how to flag down a waiter or haggle with a slick merchant. In the case of crossing traffic, it’s even better to be part of the action rather than imitate it. Throw caution to the wind, along with your life insurance, and follow someone else’s lead.


If you’re lucky and you confront the usual traffic jam, you can weave through the glacier-paced river of cars with relative ease. You can risk this on your own. Just ignore the horns. The incessant honking becomes comical after awhile, and it never stops. But if traffic is moving, amateurs need to follow in the footsteps of the pros. Do as they do and your chances of making it across rise above the odds at winning the lottery, which it kind of is when you think about it.


Cairo is a city of 20 million—one forth of the country’s entire population. And they all seem to own a car or drive a cab. Uber has grown tremendously here since it launched in 2014, but 98% of the people still use no form of public transportation. One way to beat the crunch is to drive a scooter, but a more recent one is UberBOAT. It’s a seasonal service using tiny motorboats to do an end-run around all the land clutter, and for less than a sluggish cab would cost. It turns out de Nile really is a river in Egypt.  Why not cross it like an Egyptian?