This post was actually written a few months ago, but I wanted to share it here. It just about sums up what traveling in China is like – both uncomfortable yet absolutely amazing. Sorry it’s a bit long but it’s worth the read! If you want to read more of our travel stories, check out our China blog.
April 27th, 2015
This morning I woke before 5 am, nauseous from interrupting my stomach’s normal nightly routine. We finished packing our bags and caught a 45 minute cab ride to the airport, unable to escape the typical car sickness that comes from a vehicle not having shocks, a driver that knows only to slam on either the gas or the break pedal, and a country where drivers don’t acknowledge that there are rules of the road they should follow.
Our bag packing routine now feels normal. We each bring a medium sized travel backpack, fill small travel sized “packing cubes” with the same small set of clothes, which now include ripped and stained travel pants and rain jackets. We already have a toiletry bag pre-packed because it never gets unpacked. I simply have to re-fill some Tylenol, motion sickness medicine, and decide how many doses of antibiotics would make sense to bring. I refill the reusable travel shampoo/soap/conditioner bottles we have, sometimes confusing the shampoo with the soap and vise versa. Mike makes sure all the electronics are fully charged, and his “bag of tricks” is complete with travel towels, bug repellant, sun lotion, inflatable pillows, and whatever else he feels like packing.
There’s always something I can’t find; this time it was my headlamp flashlight. Sometimes I spend hours and hours looking for this one thing, but this time I only wasted about 15 minutes before I assigned Mike to the task, who quickly decided I could just bring a standard cheap flashlight instead. Good call.
The other sometimes time consuming task is deciding how to deal with all my camera stuff, including what lenses to bring and how to make sure I can backup my photos as we go along the trip. I learned the hard way by only transferring my pictures from the SD card to my hard drive and immediately clearing the SD card for more pictures is not a good method if you care about your photos. My hard drive broke in Taiwan. The only pictures I have from that trip are the ones I uploaded along the way, and they are not the originals. Last night I backed up the pictures from my current hard drive, packed that drive, and sorted through enough SD cards for the whole trip to make sure there weren’t any pictures that still needed to be downloaded, over 160 gigs of space. I hope that’s enough. By the end of the night, I have a short list of tasks I need to accomplish in the morning. I always make sure to remind myself to pack my hairbrush, and my phone. I have forgotten both.
At the airport, we used our newly discovered American Express credit card perk and picked up some snacks and drinks at the VIP lounge. Now, before you get jealous, continue reading 🙂 It only took us two years to figure out how to use this benefit.
The 3 hour flight was extremely turbulent, especially at the end during the descent into Lanzhou. Unlike in the US, domestic flights in China usually serve full meals. This one only served us a piece of bread and crackers. Fortunately we had the snacks from the lounge, and I think one of them must have had some protein because I didn’t get a blood sugar drop from all the carbs.
Upon arriving in Gansu we slowly unloaded the plane and were dragged across the tarmac in an overful bus. Our bags arrived quickly. Our research informed us to get to our next destination, Xiahe, we would need to travel an hour into the city to the South Bus Station, to catch either the a 2PM or the last 3pm direct bus. It was 12:30. We thought we had plenty of time.
Outside the small airport there was a large bus staging area, each bus going to a different part of the city. These were long distance buses with individual seats and because I was sick of being car sick, Mike and I decided to take the bus rather than taxi.
As we were leaving the airport expressway, a huge pileup of unmoving vehicles were waiting to enter the main highway to Lanzhou. Something was going on to cause this, but we had no idea. Our driver got in line (we’re in China, it’s not really a line) and immediately got out of the bus, walked quickly to his police friend on the side of this mess, and apparently asked him to escort us in the wrong direction on the highway out of the mess. So there we went, driving the wrong direction on a highway full of vehicles, following a police escort. Our driver knew a different way to the city.
Unfortunately this new way took 3 hours, not 1. I’m not sure if this was because the change of direction, or his insanely slow driving, or all the traffic in the city. Not only did it take almost three times as long as we expected, but we were thrown off the bus randomly on the side of a large intersection, not at the south bus station. Apparently when Mike asked if there was a bus going to the south bus station and they replied yes, they meant it went in that direction, not actually to the bus station. To any novice China travelers frustrated with China confusing you, don’t worry. I think we now qualify as experienced travelers in China, but even experienced travelers have no clue almost all the time. On our last trip to Hunan, Mike kept repeating there was only one explanation… “They’re messing with us!” Most of the time, that’s how it feels. It’s the only explanation.
So we missed the last bus to Xiahe. Fortunately I had a backup plan, which included a bus to Linxia, a prefectural city on the way to Xiahe. The lady at the ticket counter in Lanzhou stated one left in 5 minutes, or another one in 35 minutes. Because we know when we buy a ticket so close to the departure time, we’re usually stuck in the back row (aka very very bumpy or the worst few hours on a bus you can imagine), we decided to wait and buy the next ticket. We were hoping to go the bathroom and grab something to eat. Almost as we were leaving the ticket window, some guy (a bus driver) grabbed Mike and said he can get us seats in the front of the bus. We hemmed and hawed, and thought they may reserve a few of those seats for some reason such as for travelers along the way (something we’ve seen many times), we succumbed to his pressure and bought the earlier ticket. As soon as we got to the bus, we saw all but the last row seats taken. Knowing he couldn’t fulfill his promise, we started to walk back to the ticket counter and change back our ticket. The driver ran after us, cornering us, and promising he would get us a seat. Without us agreeing, he went on the bus, somehow kicked out two people in the front, and ran back to get us. Mike and I were ready to leave this situation because we didn’t want to be people that kicked other people out of their seats, but through flurried shouting and physically pulling us, we somehow agreed to get on the bus into the seats that other passengers were kicked out of because of us. We are such jerks!
That bus was uneventful. We sat up front, I took Dramamine, and the roads were good. The bus driver helped us arrange a private driver (as he was driving) to go the rest of the way to Xiahe, because we had also missed the last bus at that point. That driver ended up having a nice car, being extremely helpful finding our hotel, and charged us a very fair rate.
Whew. We’ve finally arrived in Xiahe.
Our toilet doesn’t flush.
Anyways, here are some pictures from the two days we spent in Xiahe.
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