Slow Bus to Kunming

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8/17 noon & after, Luis Cafe, Kunming City, Yunnan Province

Uggh. Another grey city, another grey day.

My bus ride was okay, but a little rough on the ass, legs, not to mention sleep. It all started off around noon the previous day as a jostle for seats and baggage space. Things were piled all up and down the aisle and in the racks. Unlike what one sees in pictures of other Asian countries nobody got on top of the bus.

Half an hour later we go, only to stop 5 minutes down the road at the towns main bus station. There we stayed another half an hour by the end of which most of the bus was shouting at the bus driver to go. People were pretty irate, no doubt having been stuck here a couple days. The bus driver seemed to be used to it, the only thing he did was turn up the music.

But eventually we go. Albeit slowly. The reason the buses were not running very frequently became readily apparent. We pass landslide after landslide after undercut. Most of them are pretty small: a big wedge of mud, dirt and grass that slid down onto part of the road, others take up half the road and requires the bus and passing traffic to manuever quite a bit. Others had been bulldozed away. One in fact blocked the road completely. I almost thought we were headed back to town when he pulled onto a side road- a detour.

The train tracks had the same problem. Most of the time the bus followed a road alongside on of the rivers that ran by HeKou. The train ran on the other bank. There were quite a few places where work crews were digging out huge slides that had covered the tracks (in the end I believe the railroad was down for more than a year).

The river itself was running brown-red with mud, fast and high. There were many little islands and low banks that were completely flooded. Trees poked out of the water all over the place.

The landscape was pretty bizarre at first. It was all hills. But the hills had been replanted with trees on terraces. They looked like strangely overgrown Mayan pyramids. You could make out the lines of the terraces in the leaves. They seems to be growing at a remarkably consistent rate.

Late in the afternoon we stopped for a break in some small town. Most of the bus piled out to go to the bathroom and replenish their stock of food. Most of the men carried little jars of tea with them, more efficient than a cup for travelling. The tea itself must have been thick and bitter, because they didn't seem to drink or refill that often. Golden brown with leaves gathered at the bottom of the jar it seemed like they were carrying around urine samples or strange specimines.

The toilets of China are infamous among travellers (along with hard seat train rides) and I was not looking forward to my first visit, but these ones weren't to bad.

The market was a bit slow. Pretty much the only business were the travellers. I bought some barbecued corn on the cob in the market, fruit and water, and headed back towards the bus.

After we left the town, we drove up into a valley and then up one side into a much bigger range of mountains. The valley was gorgeous, reminiscent of Sapa, only a little more developed. The terracing seemed a little more sophisticated as well, the curves and steps much more artful and, well man-made. The Vietnamese ones seemed to stick closer to the shape of the land. From up high it looked as if it was some giants garden.

Passing directly alongside the terraces it looked like someone had sliced the hills into many layers but left them in place- like huge swedish potatoes turned green.

Higher up the mountainside we drove into forest and wound our way back and forth up and up. At the top there was the "sea of clouds" as the Chinese call it, mountains in all directions but just islands in the clouds.

There was also rows and rows of short trimmed hedges. A strange place to be pruning hedges, but there it was. Down the other side, we had our first break down. There was a loud pop and we had to pull over.

Lots of people hopped out of the bus to take a piss, but there wasn't much else to do. The sun was gone and nothing was to be seen, clouds were above us, and trees all around us. I just sat on the bus hoping for sleep.

We moved on and drove and drove. We stop at another village for a half an hour so for no apparent reason and though go on and on further. Strange shapes loom out of the night as we move back down onto flatter lands. Big igloo like structures. Crop storage I guess, but can't really tell.

Around 2am we pull into a Public Security Bureau checkpoint and a couple officers climb onto the bus and begin to examine IDs. They ask me a couple questions a bit surprised that I can understand.

We move on without incident, but almost immediately outside the gate, break down again. The two drivers tinker around with the engine for quite some time and most of the passengers clamber out of the bus or settle deeper into sleep.

We are surrounded by rice fields and are near a toilet. Convenient for passengers but not pleasant to smell. The drivers yanked something out of the engine and took it over under the PSB lights. Some of us to follow hoping to know how long it is going to be. The officers came and chat with us, obviously bored. One of the driver heads off with the part to walk to the nearest town. Apparently he needs to buy a new part.

I have a hard time of it, people's accents are thick and hard to understand (when they are speaking Mandarin at all). I tell them a little about myself. One guy with Beijing intonation but Yunnan accent told me jokingly that I shouldn't tell anyone back in Taiwan how bad Mainland buses are. As near as I could tell, the whole nights worth of jokes revolved around how bad mainland buses are.

I kind of wandered around a bit in a half doze until the drivers came back. It hadn't actually been that long, and it didn't take them that long to get the bus running- perhaps it's because it happens so frequently.

On the bus I dozed and jerked awake quite frequently. Wierd lit up factories would loom out of the night. And then there was that guy behind me who, in order to hack a wad, was constantly opening and closing the window I was leaning on. When he wasn't doing that he was squeezing or tapping his water bottle.

Beyond that I was remarkably patient.

The amazing thing was that it only rained on departure, and of course when we arrived in Kunming. The land around Kunming was also hilly but more barren and ricky than that of the border. The plains in between were green and pleasantly interspersed with trees.

All in all it was a nice short 21 hour bus ride. The station yard was packed with buses and we were let off just inside the gates. I slipped on my backpack and headed back out into the rain pulling out my Lonely Planet to guide me.

It didn't rain (though it did rain hard) that long, but I ended up walking a couple km to the LPs recommended hotel only to find it book solid, and expensive besides. I sat in the lobby with an Australian girl for a while chatting and exchanging books. She was a teacher in Sichuan out here on vacation. She got a room though and I went in search of another hotel.

I ended up walking back to the train station nearly. Rather embarrassing not to mention exhausting. The hotels in Vietnam are better though. This one has no private bathroom, the toilets are squat. Guess I'd better get used to it. Never thought that travel in Vietnam would be easier!

Right now, I'm having a very, very lousy pizza in Luis Cafe. Don't ask me why. I've heard this town has very good fare- maybe I should be smart and stick to it.The fries and coffee were okay though.

But you know, I have no idea what day of the week it is. I'm having a hard time keeping track. With no job I've no frame of reference. But on the other hand who cares! I don't need to know.

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