From Yunan to Sichuan

chinese sleeper bus

About three hours into the bus ride, I knew it was going to be a long one.

The bumpy-and-rutted road was winding through the mountains madly. We doubled back so many times that I was starting to think we had made no progress at all. The bus was fairly new, but unfortunately so was the driver, and I don’t think he could have hit more rocks or put the tire closer to the 300-meter drop just outside of my window if he were driving blindfolded. Hell, I couldn’t see the front of the bus, maybe he was.

No problem, only 19 more hours to go.

Yep…23 hours from Lijiang to Chengdu. Everyone who backpacks has hellish bus stories, so I’m not going to whine about it any more. Just know that it was a sleeper bus, my first in China, and lying on your back for 23 hours of winding roads can make even the strongest of stomachs ready to start express themselves. In the aisles.

I was cursing myself for not saving the ginger root at the bottom of my tea I had in Lijiang. Ginger is the best natural remedy for motion sickness; many of the dive masters use it in Thailand. I ended up taking my emergency Dramamine, which I only carry for travel mates and other people who can’t hack a boat or bus ride. Mostly so that I don’t have to see what they ate for breakfast again.

I had left Mama Naxi’s early with hugs and kisses from Mama and Baba. Baba gave me bananas and a Naxi good-luck charm around my neck filled with sage to offer protection on my journey. The way this idiot was driving, I was going to need it!

Fortunately, the views along the way were every bit as breathtaking as they were in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The bad news is that breathtaking can also mean potentially life-taking as well, especially the way people drive here in China. The roads were clogged like a fat man’s arteries with truck after truck transporting rocks for the mining operations in the area. The road is barely wide enough for a bus to use, so passing is not an option. Add to that the Asian principle of “saving face” which can be translated on the road to “don’t give anyone an inch!” and the fact that truck drivers are so manly — it was quite a mess.

A couple of times we sat facing a 2.5-ton truck, with both our driver and the truck driver staring at each other through the glass and having a horn honking competition. The standoff goes on until the man with the smallest…[ahem]…backs down. That is the saving face way.

From my window, I watched the nearly full moon rise up over the mountains as a bright white circle in a pink sky. The sun wasn’t even finished yet, so both worked to illuminate the valley below. The Yangtze River looked more like a spectral mist than an actual river in the white moonlight. It was beautiful, and offered a little compensation for the boring and bumpy ride. Very fitting for this time of year as Halloween is in a few days.

My bus arrived early in the morning, and as usual, I climbed off in the middle of a huge provincial city with no idea of where to go. There was a light mist of rain falling and I had some seriously red eyes and bedhead. Sleep was only a tease on the bus, so I was as confused as I looked. Rather than do the right thing and shell out 20 yuan for a taxi, I did the vagabonding equivalent of saving face and stumbled all the way across the city in a sleepy daze, much to the humor of the residents, until I found Sim’s Guesthouse.

My new home for the week.

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