Thursday, 5 May 2011

Two very different humps

Thursday 5th May 2011

26 days left travelling the world.

MP3 track of the day: Boys, boys, boys – Lady Ga Ga (it was being played within the coach as I head to Dali)

Weather: Warm within Dali which surprised me. I thought, being closer to the mountains, it would be cooler than Kumming but apparently not.

365 days ago you would have found me on a 'midland mainline' train bound for London; my destination … Canada. Yes folks today marks a year of travel (bar the six weeks at home for my sisters wedding) and how fast that year has gone. I can still remember every detail of that fateful day; I remember eating my mum's Victoria sponge cake (umm … cake) on the train and I remember watching the UK election take place within my 'comfort hotel' room. If I could turn the clock back I would, only because I loved Canada and, if I'm honest, I wish I was there rather than China.


Amazingly being in a twelve bed dorm I had the room to myself, until 6am, when three backpackers turned up. They hadn't woken me up; I'd gone to bed at 9pm the previous evening and, by 6am, I'd slept enough. I got up and had a lazy start to the day, eating breakfast before leaving for my coach to Dali.

As the day was still young the sun hadn't risen to it's highest peak, therefore the temperature was cool. I made my way to where I needed to catch a city bus to the 'West Bus Station'; following the map my hostel had given me wasn't the best idea as the road that I required was named incorrectly. Correcting the mistake I found my stop and boarded the bus I needed showing the driver a small piece of Chinese text that, should have, stated that I wanted to go to the 'West Bus Station'. A slight nod from the driver indicated that I was in the right place and so I sat down. After twenty minutes of 'stop start' travel an old lady boarded and tried to communicate with me; as hard as I tried to understand her I got little information. I showed her the same piece of paper that I had shown the driver; she spoke to the elderly Chinese gentleman next to me and, after many attempts, I finally realised that she wanted me to follow this gentleman as he was heading to the same destination as I.

The old lady departed with a kind smile; not long later the old gentleman, and I, departed the bus and he continually pointed as we walked the short distance to the bus station. Once at the gate he pointed once more; I thanked him before he gave me a light slap on the back for good luck. I had arrived too early to ask where my coach would be departing from therefore I sat down and read about Dali. Once completed I checked the time to find that there was only thirty minutes until my bus was due to depart; I got out of my seat and asked the first assistant I saw. It wasn't long before a civilian looking gentleman grabbed my coach ticket, out of my hands, examining it closely; he returned it to me before asking me to take a seat. I did so, but my eyes were firmly fixed on the clock to the right of me. With fifteen minutes until departure the gentleman returned and beckoned me to follow him; he lead me through the ticket gate and onto a coach that had 'Kumming – Dali express' written on the side. Once on I found the coach extremely clean; the carpets had been swept, the chairs were immaculate and the windscreen was crystal clear. My only concern was what were the seven yellow buckets, dispersed evenly down the isle, for. My initial thought was that they were for the Chinese to spit in as we travelled (as it turned out they were rubbish bins); I grimaced at the thought and looked at my MP3 players battery life … only one bar.

Due to having allocated seats being first on the coach didn't help, however it was unclear which seat was five and which seat was six. As my seat number was six I made the executive decision that it must be the one closest the window and decided that, if anyone wanted to argue, I'd play the innocent tourist. The coach slowly started to fill with almost every seat being taken; behind me sat a couple with their young daughter. She was extremely cute however she wouldn't stop kicking the back of my chair throughout the entire journey. Even though I boarded, with fifteen minutes until departure, some customers left it until the last minute and we departed late.

The view to start with wasn't anything spectacular; once out of Kumming's outskirts industry destroyed whatever view there was. Add to this the frequent tunnels, the high bank sides against the road and the constant advertising billboards the view was starting to become a let down. During this time I became fascinated with the coach drivers total disregard for signs; when a sign appeared for 'no pipping' he pipped his horn (which he did all the way through the journey … it was like being back within South East Asia), when a sign appeared instructing a 'hard shoulder lane' he drove in it and when a speed limit appeared he seemed to try to break it as some kind of sport. I wouldn't say his driving was scary through the way he switched lanes continuously, and drove in the back of the car in front of him, did make me keep my eyes on the road. All along cardboard 'cut out' police officers appeared from hedges, at the ends of tunnels and near toll booths; it did make me laugh as I wondered if they were to stop dangerous driving or to be used as targets.

After our lunch stop the view dramatically improved; the high banks surrounding the road fell, the tunnels lessened and the mountains moved back presenting fields, trees and houses. The further away from Kumming the more the houses looked authentic; small communities could be seen surrounded by farmland. Within the fields many Chinese people were working and it would appear, in the middle of all this Chinese development, that the peasant life still continued. It was lovely to see though, looking at the buildings, I did wonder if electricity, hot water and proper sanitation had reached these parts.

We arrived in Dali around 3pm, however it wasn't the Dali that I was expecting. Dali is supposed to be a small ancient town with fortified walls; as I peered out of the window tall modern skyscrapers could be seen and dwellings sprawled out as far as the eye could see. Our coach had stopped within 'Dali new town'; the old town was 19km away. Ignoring the taxi drivers offers I alighted the coach and pushed my way through the crowds to the bus station. After a prolonged period of pointing, and looking up Chinese words within my guidebook, I found out that, instead of paying £5 for a taxi, I could get bus number eight for 15p; where bus number eight departed from was another question and I left the 'long distance bus station' in the direction of the attendants finger. I was almost ready to give up on said bus when I met three European's looking as lost as I. The party consisted on one French guy – around my age – studying Chinese within Kumming and his French parents who had come out to spend their holiday with him. I introduced myself and it worked out that we were all trying to head to the same destination. I told the French student that we needed bus number eight and he, in return, asked some locals where we could board said bus. Once on board he checked, one final time, with an old guy sitting next to him. The old guy replied saying that number eight bus was the bus we wanted however this wasn't that service; after a few of the other Chinese people around him said that this was the number eight bus he jumped up, demanding to be allowed off after boarding incorrectly. It took a good twenty minutes to reach Dali; As we travelled there I had a lady, and her infant, sat next to me; I was growing fond of the two as the boy seemed very inquisitive … that was until the lady allowed him to wee in the buses isle.

As 'old Dali' came into view I relaxed a little as it was how I expected; narrow cobbled streets, old Chinese buildings and mountains in the back ground made the whole place look very appealing to the eye; I was looking forward to exploring. The coach dropped us off in the middle of town and the French decided to follow me to my accommodation; this proved to be very helpful as the student asked residents for directions. I chatted to him with his mother and farther behind; neither of his parents spoke English and I felt guilty that I had stolen their son away, given that they wouldn't have that much time with him. We went this way and that for ages; the sun was past it's peak and yet I was still getting hot and tired. A few of the Chinese people we asked for directions had given us incorrect information but, finally, we made it to 'The Dali Hump'. I checked in without a problem however the French, having not pre-booked, were told that the hostel was full. As the receptionist rung around other guest houses I felt guilty for dragging them all the way here for nothing; I was just about to show them my guidebook, which had a list of places, when the receptionist got off the phone having found them a room within five minutes walking distance. I said goodbye hoping to meet up later.

My dorm was different from 'The hump' within Kumming; I'd hoped that they might have been part of the same group but, looking at the basic room before me, I knew instantly that they weren't. My bed within Kumming had a small personal shelf for my stuff, my bed here didn't even have walls as it was erected high in the middle of the room. I had a locker at least and so I put my stuff away before exploring. My fellow tenants all looked a little 'too hippy' for my liking; within the forecourt sat three grass eating, daisy hugging call me 'lone wolf' hippies dressed in their hippy clothes with their hippy hair. As I continued my search I noticed that there were only two showers, but there was an art gallery where tenants were free to 'express themselves'. As I nervously peered around the corner I saw another four nut eating, weed smoking, harmony preaching hippies within said room doing … something. I whipped my head back around quickly and departed to the reception; I had an important question to ask.

I need to extend my visa and I was pleasantly surprised when the receptionist took all my details down and emailed the 'PSB' office; the receptionist said that tomorrow they will confirm that the office had received my details and I should be able to pick up my extended visa. Quite stunned I said thank you before heading to the bar.

Today had been a long day and, to make it longer, the internet doesn't seem to work within the hostel making my headache grow. After sorting out the problem I went to sleep early; tomorrow I hope to pick up my visa before having a look around the town. If I am able to get my visa tomorrow, and I decide that this town is too 'hippy' for me, I may look at moving on earlier than expected … again.

Toodle Pip!

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