In all of our years of travel we have had very few disasters….well I guess that we were on a boat that sunk in the Florida Keys….but other than that most of our travel has been fun and successful. Today (Tuesday) was NOT one of those days!!!
But let me start at the beginning….a very good place to start.
A few weeks before our trip, I was searching for things to do in Kunming and came across an article about the Bullet Train and that it had just opened a route between Kunming and Dali. Now we had visited Dali briefly on our first trip to China so I thought that it might be fun to take the train and spend the night.
Our first thought was how would we get tickets…. well, one of Michael’s colleagues told us that her husband worked for the Train service so we mentioned it to her and she said that she could get our tickets……okay, first problem solved.
Now we needed a hotel in Dali, preferably by the Ancient City. We got onto hotels.com and found a lovely small hotel that looked perfect and we booked it. Hotels.com took our money and confirmed our booking and then sent several emails reminding us that our trip was upcoming. So, we were good to go with the hotel!!
As we hopefully lit out on our journey, we started checking off the steps that we needed to take…..
Step 1 – get a taxi to the Train Station…..our hotel helped with that and we were on our way.
Step 2 – figure out how to check in and get to the train platform…..that all went very well.
Step 3 – enjoy the 2 hour journey to Dali as our train reached 200 kilometers per hour (about 120 mph)…..
The views from the windows were wonderful, passing small towns and huge agricultural areas…..
Step 4 – this is where the wheels fell off!! Chinese taxi drivers are notorious for not wanting to use the meter and instead set a price and then increase it when they get to the destination. I had asked God to give us a fair taxi driver who would work by the meter…..and He did just that.
But, after about 40 minutes of driving, we were completely certain that he was going in the wrong direction and when he started to get onto a Toll Road, we motioned for him to pull over. He finally called a friend who spoke English and this friend helped us to understand that our booking was actually in the Shanxi Ancient town which was about 2 hours away. Mind you, the information on Hotels.com said Dali !! But, he assured us that the drive would be enjoyable, the hotel would be nice and since we didn’t have to be back to the train station until 6:00 the next day, we would have all morning to enjoy the area. So, we motioned for the driver to keep going.
More problems arose when we got into the Ancient Shaxi area as the driver didn’t know EXACTLY where the hotel was. We were using Google Maps and were pretty sure that we knew, but the streets were pedestrian only and we would have to walk. One of us had the thought of “what if the taxi driver leaves and we don’t really have a hotel” so we decided to wait to pay him until we found out for sure.
An interesting interlude happened at this point. Our driver (I named him Fred) and Michael had both stepped out of the car and as I was starting to join them, the car started rolling forward….down the slight slope!! I pulled my leg back into the car and the driver jumped into the front seat and slammed on the brakes and just before his tire when into a ditch that would have had him stuck in the mountains with us….
Fred got back on the phone and called his friend again. The friend (lets call him George) said that he had called the hotel and that they did not have any American’s staying there that night. Michael gave him the reservation number and George said that he would call us back but we never heard from him. Our gut feeling is that he simply decided that the whole affair was too hard.
So here we stood, us, Fred and a small group of onlookers. Finally Fred called someone that he knew and the cavalry arrived on a three wheeled cart. As they drove up one of the men stepped off and said Hello to us…..we both thought “Hurray….he speaks English” and he did speak SOME English but not much. He sweetly told us that we should have reserved a room…..WE DID RESERVE A ROOM!!!!!
Also, he kept telling us that Fred wanted to be paid for the trip. We knew that and had full intention of paying him… but not yet. Finally, we decided to return to the train station and see if we could get another train back to Kunming. We accomplished this by using Google Translate and putting in Dali Railroad Station. When Fred heard that we wanted to go back to Dali he nodded his head and made a downward winding motion with his hands indicating that he knew that we wanted to go BACK down the mountain switchbacks!!
So, down we started. Michael again used Google Translate to tell Fred that we needed a bathroom and he soon stopped for us.
We were off again but Fred pulled into a small restaurant and indicated that we should stop and eat. We all trouped in and he ordered 5 delicious dishes….a Spicy Beef with Peppers, Sautéed Greens, a delicious Hash Brown pancake and two things that we are not sure about. The first were these worm looking things although we are pretty sure that they were a root of some sort and not an animal. They were served with sautéed walnuts, cashews and peanuts….
It was an interesting meal with no one being able to communicate but Fred was a great host and insisted that we try each dish before he would eat any of it.
The bottom line was that, after eating, we started to feel better and again started to enjoy the journey a bit more, and even enjoying some of the scenery that was flying past us…..
Although, in truth, this was my view for most of the day…..
While traveling we had the idea that we might be able to find a big hotel (Hyatt, etc) in Dali and could get a room there. Michael contacted the one that we found, but they were full for the night. We could have kept trying but the problem now was that BOTH of our phone batteries were dangerously low and we were afraid that we would HAVE to have them before the night was over.
As we neared the city, we noticed that Fred went a different direction off of the expressway and we could see by the signs that he was heading to Ancient Town, Dali…..you know, the place that we thought we were going in the first place!!! Also, he kept pulling over to the side of the road and making phone calls. He was also concerned because his phone was apparently about to die as well. He finally pulled out a portable charger but the connection wasn’t great and he kept having to reach over and hold it in place while he was driving. This did NOT improve his driving skills!!
Finally he stopped for one more call and handed the phone to Michael. This time it was “Mrs. George”….or someone else who spoke English. She said that Fred wanted to know exactly where we wanted to go!! We then realized that he was thinking that we were going to another hotel in town and was being kind to us again. And here we were getting frustrated!!
Now that he knew exactly where we were headed, he made the most of the time by driving faster than he previously had. The only problem was that he hit a speed bump really hard and we heard the unmistakable Flub-Flub-Flub-Flub of a flat tire!!! By this time, Michael and I had the crazed look of “The Joker” on our faces but Michael hopped out and helped him to change it…..
In about 20 minutes we were off again and fortunately there were no more issues before we reached the station. We felt sure that Fred called his wife and said “You wont believe what happened to me today”!!!! We felt a bit the same way!!
Now we move to the next part of this saga….getting a new ticket to Kunming. We asked two different people where we bought tickets (at least I THNK that is what the Google Translation said) and one finally pointed down as if we had to go downstairs. We started downstairs but had no idea where the ticket office was. At this point, one of our “angels” showed up and tapped Michael on the shoulder and pointed for us to follow him. He walked thru a gate at the side of the stairs and showed us the booths. At least he showed us the LINE for the booths!!
We went up to one of the short lines with hope in our hearts, but that was dashed when the girl (in excdlent English) told us that we had to go to one of the other booths…..sigh.
We joined the queue and stood patiently (sort of) in line while watching person after person cut to the front. The pattern was always the same….they would run up to the second or third person in line and excitedly exclaim that they were late and HAD to be allowed to cut in, and amazingly it often worked. We saw one man try 5 or 6 times, but his persistence was rewarded as some soft hearted fool let him in ahead of us. Then, when we were next in line, a young man came running up to me but we were NOT in the mood and both looked at him and said a stern “NO”!!!!! He tried to push in but Michael gently pushed him back out of line. Now the funniest part of this interlude was that the little man behind us had been grumbling (in Chinese, but grumbling sounds the same wherever you are) when someone would cut in. He even had words with one of the men when he was leaving the line. After we had turned the young man away, the older guy tapped Michael on the shoulder, smiled and pumped his fist in the air a couple of times. I think that Michael now has a fan in Dali!!
Okay, we were at the first of the line…. Our teller did not speak any English but he worked hard to understand us. Unfortunately there were NO more seats on a train to Kunming until 8pm the next day and we already had tickets for the 7pm train. Okay, so we are going to spend 22 hours in the Dali train station.
We headed thru the ticket gate but were turned away because our ticket was for Wednesday!! As we walked back outside, we were seriously concerned about exactly where we were going to wait overnight until we could enter the station. And, of course, it started raining just as we walked out!!!
We decided to cross the big street in front of the train station and see if we could find someplace (ANYPLACE) to at least sit and regroup!! We found one large building and saw the promising word “Hotel” on it, but were told that they didn’t have any rooms. We weren’t sure exactly what she was saying but a young man, we assume to be a hotel porter, used GT and confirmed the worst. We asked if there were other hotels nearby and this new angel walked us out of the 5-star hotel and two doors down to a small 5 floor walkup hotel. He stayed with us until we were checked in and heading to the room. The cost of the room was $25 and, of course, we were on the 5th floor!!
We didn’t have high hopes for this room but we found it to be clean and comfortable, although the “shower/sink/squatty potty” bathroom was interesting to use!!
Since this post is already too long, I will stop here and finish the saga of the “Vacation from hell” tomorrow. And, in case you are worried, we are now safely back in Kunming!!!