SYNOPSIS:  About all the things that went wrong today.   And about a few people in between.  The “No Foreigner” policy.  Notice to the reader:  The four-letter s-word will be used in this blog.  Beware!

Shit happens.  But just in case you got any ideas based on the theme picture of today I want to make something clear up front:  I did not shit everywhere. Or should I make that:  I did not shit everywhere?  Well, you will find out.

I know that some of you enjoy the cultural entries, others the people stories, others the travel tips.  But I also know there are some of you, who really like the stories when it gets down to the nitty-gritty human misery that occasionally befalls the traveler.  This is one of those blogs that combines all three aspects.

It all started with the fact that there was no taxi to be found at 5:30 AM.  Actually, it started with the fact that to go from Xiahe to Xining by bus, you have to take the one and only bus there is, at 6:10 AM.  Take it or fly.  Right away, that throws me off balance.  In this high altitude (Xiahe is around 3000 metes), I need to drink a lot or I get headaches and very dizzy.  A leisure morning is best to push fluids.  Three or four, even five cups of tea are ideal to start the day on the right foot.  I got up at 4 AM to keep some of that routine.  By 5:30 I was out the door of the lovely Nirvana Hotel heading towards Main Street. 

Usually, I trust the locals.  They know a lot.  Trust is a good plan A, but plan B in place, always makes me feel better.  There will be plenty of taxis on Main Street, Karli had assured me the evening before. It only takes 5 minutes to get to the bus station.  We had sat down and chatted for over an hour the night before.  Nirvana is not only a hotel, but also a full-service restaurant. The restaurant has a corner that is filled with books and comfy area around a fire place.  It was great to sit there and work on my photos.   Karli is Dutch and has lived with her Tibetan husband in the Tibetan Highlands for over 12 years.  Until a year ago, she was the only Westerner in town.  We exchanged ex-pat and raising children-stories as if we had been old friends. 

Her story is a true immigrant success story.   She and her husband met on tours.  Both worked in the tourism industry.  She had studied Chinese at the university.  12 years ago she arrived with a backpack and little to no money. 8 years later, she and her husband opened the Nirvana hotel, which they designed and built with a lot of their own sweat and labor.  They have a 12-year-old daughter (who refused to have her picture taken). 

Just like we experienced in Cuba, people assume that Westerners by default are rich, especially, when they are successful.  That it is often determination and work ethics rather than “being rich” that makes people successful, is hard for some of the locals to comprehend, especially if they have been raised to believe that doing Kora all day long is what is important.  It may bring merit all right, but likely not measurable in dollars or in worldly success.

It may take only 5 minutes to drive to the bus station by car, but I knew that it would take about half an hour to walk.  And so I left at 5:30, just in case.  Indeed:  not only were there no taxis, there was not even a car in sight going either way.  Figures, cloaked in the morning darkness shuffled toward the monastery in their felt boots, prayer beads in hand; that was it.  Half an hour was an estimate.  I could not afford to miss this bus and so I started to power-walk as fast as my luggage allowed.  The rattling wheels of the duffel bag filled the darkness with sound.  I walked in the middle of the road, ready to block any car that might go my way.  A futile attempt.  With ten minutes to spare, I reached the station.  Out of nowhere people appeared one by one, ultimately filling the bus about half way.  Just around 6 AM the darkness gave way to dusk and several taxis appeared.  It must be the beginning of their shift.  The bus was ready to go.

If you ever have done a 1/2 hour power-walk with lots of luggage in high altitude, you can picture my state of being:  huffing and puffing, slightly lightheaded, slowly regaining normal breathing levels after I stopped.  What if I had missed this bus?!  With that thought, I sank into my assigned seat, next to a red-robed, middle-aged monk.  The bus had been on the road no more than 15 minutes when it struck me like lightning that I had missed the most important step before boarding the bus:  to use a toilet.  Too late! 

The grasslands displayed the familiar herds of sheep and yak, small villages, a colorful flagpole here and there.  But all I could think was:  I need a toilet.   Four or five hours were ahead of me on this bus.  There was no guarantee of any bathroom stop, certainly not within the next two hours.  What to do?  I tried to get my mind off the subject and remembering my trip yesterday and how lucky I had gotten with some of those interior shots at the monastery.  Perhaps, I should blog a bit or work on some photos?  I need a toilet, though.  I need it now!

A few people were picked up along the road.  The bus stopped.  But before I had scrambled for my shoes, and gotten the monk to let me get past him, the bus was rolling again.  I stood in the aisle.  There was the bus attendant.  Sit down, he gestured me.  I need a toilet, I replied quietly.  As if he had not heard me, he insisted, that I sat down.  I need a toilet, I repeated with a certain urgency in my voice.  Sit!, he gestured.  No!  We were at a stand off. This was an emergency!  Didn’t he get this?  I was about to burst. 

A miracle to the rescue, please!  Time passed.  I stood.  He had given up to gesture.  But there was the miracle:  A few more people along the road had to be picked up.  The bus stopped and no matter what, I jumped out.  Would they dare leave without me?  Where to go?  There was nowhere to go but the side of the road.  Right there, in front of the people who had just dropped off the new passengers, in front of that guy on the motorcycle, in front of everyone who cared to look out the bus.  The bus attendant yelled.  Probably something like Hurry, or Get back!

I was not going back until my business was finished.  And how on earth was I going to hurry?  There is the money belt, and the passport, and there are the baggy pants to be dealt with.  And there is the panic that strikes when you have to relieve yourself in front of everyone and someone yelling.  Nothing happens!  Nothing gets started under those circumstances.  I was squatting, but could not do it.  I was ready to cry.  But finally, business got going and after what seemed an eternity, I fumbled to whip my clothes all back up again, makeshift enough to get back onto the bus.  In the back of the bus there were empty seats.  That’s where I went because I needed to put a few things back in order properly.  I wondered if should feel embarrassed, or ashamed.  Frankly, I didn’t give a shit about whatever anyone thought.  I was just reveling in that all around marvelous feeling of relief.

Four hours later (with no official bathroom stop), we had wound our way over several mountain passes and traveled through what seemed to be at least two or three different climate zones.  There it was, mountainous and barren, out of nowhere we crossed snow-covered  mountains, only to end up in a valley full of blossoming trees and ultimately passing by a spectacular green lake.  The scenery was breathtaking all the way, but nearly impossible to photograph (with my phone camera).

Xining is another megatown of over 2 million, but immediately, I had a good feeling about it.  The long-distance bus station is modern, well laid out and located right next to the equally modern train station.  There was police presence but not overbearing.  The town, that is all the high-rises, could be seen at a distance.  It looked pretty in the sunlight and not as stifling as Xian.   And there was a tourist information!  They could not provide me with any map — what are you expecting?! — but they made a call to my hostel and directed me to the right public bus to get to my first destination:  The Youth Hostel I originally had booked in this town.  booking.com had contacted me just a few days earlier, requesting that I cancel this reservation since it was not licensed for foreign visitors.  But my Tibetan Permits had been sent there!  No permits, no further travel.  After a few misdirections, I arrived at the hostel.  The owner, in fact, had come looking for me, after that phone call and picked me up meandering the street.

We had quite a long “app conversation”.  He really wanted me to stay.  He even called booking.com to convince them that it was OK.  But this hostel was not what I expected.  I had (or so I thought), booked a room with a queen bed and shared bathrooms.  What I would have gotten was a queen-sized cupboard bed with a curtain in a room of four such cubicles.  No privacy, no room for my luggage, no desk (or bed) to work on.  I go budget once in a while, but I do draw the line now at not sharing a room, certainly not with four other people (unless the circumstances are dire).  I had to go.  The owner texted me one last sentence, that almost broke my heart:  You don’t like people?  I gave his manager (with whom I would among others have shared a room, a big hug and texted him back:  I do like people, but I need a bit more privacy.   And so we parted.  I had my permits.  Now I had to find my next hostel, the one that hopefully, had a private room, a desk, and could admit foreigners.

But it wasn’t quite my day yet.  The taxi that took me, got hit by another car.  Not too bad, just bad enough to make him angry and get us delayed.  He dropped me off where he thought my hotel was, but within a span of two blocks I was sent back and forth, up and down flights of stairs, and ultimately into a hotel lobby in which the staff spoke not a lick of English, and insisted that they could not accommodate foreigners.  Heck!  I booked just what I was told to book, or did I?  The agents at booking.com were prompt and exceptionally helpful.  On the spot they found me a business hotel that for sure would take me.  But when I got there, the desk clerks wondered where my booking was.  They wanted a booking and I had none.  You want a booking?  You can have one.  All I need is wifi. Reluctantly — after all, I wasn’t a guest there (yet) — I was given the wifi code.  And I booked a room right before their eyes.  And all was well in the world of the bureaucrats.  I could check in. 

Picture your standard Holiday Inn room, generic, but functional.  Everything is there you could possibly need.  And more:  this one had a 2.5 feet deep bathtub and an emergency oxygen kit!  And it had a view across a park with all the high-rises at a distance.  I had more privacy than I had bargained for, and I paid twice as much as I had anticipated.  But when booking.com contacted me one more time to point out that I had been at the wrong place earlier and that I could have that queen room at the hostel, just down the road from where I had been rejected, I was too exhausted to even contemplate to venture out again.  It was 4 PM and I had not even eaten anything all day.  To just get to this place had taken 5 hours!

To put this in perspective:  In Xiahe I learned that there are 130 hotels.  Only 10 are licensed to take in foreigners.  Why?  So that the government can keep an eye on our whereabouts.  And in case of trouble, can evacuate us with just 10 phone calls rather than 130.  AirBnb seems not to be affected by this rule quite to the same degree yet.  But don’t hold your breath.  That might change.   

Over a nice cup of ginger tea, I enjoyed my big-city view.  Who knows what all this meandering was good for.  The universe works in mysterious ways.  It’s the wu-wei of traveling.  Go with the flow.

My bed was the most comfortable yet.  And that soak in the bathtub… divine.

Good night.

5 comments so far

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  1. Loved that entry!! I was feeling every bit of it … exhausted by your glitches at the end.

  2. What a glutton for punishment! You are lucky that this all turned out well in the end. I wish you more good luck in your travels. It looks like you will need it!

  3. I admire the way you just keep going till things work out, usually for the best. I might have just sat down and cried. Be careful now with the high altitude for it is not worth taking chances over it for it is dangerous.

  4. All is well that ends well! Famous quote of Pa Wilder in the “little House on the Prairie” series! Keep trucking.

  5. It’s amazing how the whatever muscles/nerves quit working when we have to pee with a busload of people watching us.
    And that is all I have to say about this post.

    Ha ha ha ha…..