01.19.10

China Travelogue-12: Long ride to Guilin

Posted in Travel at 6:03 by RjZ

Thanks to Mr. Hu, we’ve already got a night-bus ticket out of Huangshan city. When we arrived and discovered that the trains to Guilin were booked up days in advance, Mr. Hu had suggested a bus to the large city of Wuhan where there would surely be connections. The upshot is that there is a limited time to get off the mountain and back to town to catch the bus. We made surprisingly good time but the bus transfer could still be 20 minutes, or an hour, or something else in Chinese that I couldn’t make out.

My partner had a brilliant idea I wish I could take credit for. Two young Chinese tourists were wandering around deciphering the bus problem. But would they be willing to share a taxi with us? A bold introduction and yes! With their help we negotiated a fair price back to town and right back to Mr. Hu’s restaurant. During the ride we asked each other questions about our travels. They were on their way to more sacred mountains and generally seeing their beautiful country, just like college students tour Europe or follow Jack Kerouac’s trail.

With time to spare, we enjoyed another meal from Mrs. Hu and entered our own positive review of Mr. Hu into his note book of recommendations. While writing it, one thought did occur to me though. We’re assuming all of his suggestions are good ones, including our pending trip to Wuhan, but it’s not likely we’ll come back and tell him what happened.

This is what happened. He brought us to the bus station, really the lobby/restaurant of another hotel further up the street, and told us someone would come get us when the bus arrived. After another half hour, a bus had stopped outside, blocking much of the traffic on the narrow village streets, and a person rushed in and gathered us.

We rabbited across the street and shuffled our belongings into those we’d take on the bus and those that would go under it. Entering the bus, the driver demanded we remove our shoes and gave us plastic bags to put them in. The bus was lined with three rows, each three high, of sleeping bunks. The narrow beds were mostly already occupied with reclined Chinese in white sheets and blankets in various states of wakefulness. The bunks were slightly inclined at the head, making enough room for a pocket large enough for the feet of the passenger behind you.

We selected bunks and tried to settle in as the bus drove off. Mine wasn’t the best choice, broken and bouncing so that I ended up moving to another further back in the bus. This time it reclined fully and I no longer spent much of my time pushing my feet against the round end of the pocket trying not slide down further. My bunk in the back had it’s own problems, being right over the engine, it was noisy and hot. All the same, the vigorous hike made me tired enough to sleep.

We arrived, confused and bleary, at 2 am in Wuhan. Wuhan is a huge city, actually made up of three cities that have grown into each other. The bus driver wanted to know where we meant to stop. We kept trying to translate train station, but it wasn’t getting through. The problem is probably that there is more than one. Eventually he dropped us off with a taxi driver who had the same problem with us. Another driver eventually decided to take us to a train station, trying to warn us about no trains. The station was, indeed, closed.

It’s now around 3 am. We found a ticket office and the kind clerk had to go and wake up an even more bleary eyed clerk who could understand us enough to explain that all the sleeper cars to Guilin are sold out for days.

In the middle of the night, noodle carts owners are cutting vegetables and starting their pots boiling. One even offers us a steaming breakfast, maybe he’ll get an early customer! There is almost no one around and the few that are, don’t exactly look like the best China has to offer. We stop at a Super 8 (yes, Super 8!) hotel for information and, as luck with have it, they have a public computer there. We log on and check for flights to Guilin. It’s after 4 am by the time we’ve found something. Lacking sleep, we foolishly decide that it seems a shame to stay in a hotel for a few hours before the flight that afternoon. We’ll just go to the airport and wait there. It will be clean, and they’ll have toilets to wash up. Let me just admit that there is no logic at all to this conclusion. How is sitting in the airport going to be better than a few hours of sleep? I’m a budget traveler, true, but this seems like a good time to spend $40.

The airport is not actually open until 6 am, which I am sure the cab driver was trying to tell us when he shrugged and gave up. We wait outside as a few tourist groups slowly arrive and step out of busses in matching red baseball caps or yellow bucket hats. I wonder briefly if there is going to be a rumble, but the two tourist armies seem to be at truce. We eventually get inside for an aimless 10 hour wait in an airport, but, even though the plane is delayed, we do arrive, exhausted in Guilin. In our weakened state, even the tourist agencies in the airport are able to sell us something and before we know it, we’ve got a ticket on the boat cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, a ticket to the huge performance and the friendly agent has even helped us book the night in the youth hostel we’re planning on staying in, along with a bus to get us there.

What a day. It’s time for some noodles and a sleep. We’ve got to get up early tomorrow for the cruise. It wasn’t really Mr. Hu’s fault that getting out of Wuhan wasn’t nearly as easy as he thought, and no one who reads his notebooks will ever know.

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