March 22, 2013
Distance: 74 miles on the bus 35 miles on the bikes
We woke up early, checked out of the hotel room, loaded up the bikes and had breakfast. It was a couple of days ride to the Chinese border and I wasn’t in the best condition to ride the pass on the way. We decided to take a bus to give me a little more time to rest. We rode over to the bus station where Chandler searched for some snacks while I guarded the bikes. When the bus finally pulled into the station, we were prepared to battle with the driver to get our bikes on the bus. The driver barely gave us a second look before nodding yes and climbing on the roof to stow them away.
We found seats and waited while the bus slowly filled up. Eventually, one other westerner and about 20 Lao and Chinese loaded up. The bus wasn’t packed so Chan and I each took a seat on either side of the aisle instead of cramming together. Chan bought some dumplings from a guy through the bus window. Finally, the bus started up and we pulled out of the station. After making a few stops in around town, we headed out of town. As the bus picked up speed, it began to shake and bounce, but settled down when we hit a certain speed.
The landscape was beautiful as we flew through the countryside. I began to think we had made a mistake by busing it to the Chinese border. However, once we began up the pass, Chandler and I both noticed that while the asphalt looked good, there was absolutely no shoulder and the road was very winding. I was back to being happy we hitched a ride.
After a little while I was starting to feel a little carsick but munched on bread and stared at the mountains in the distance. This approach worked well for me, but the little girl in front of me did not follow the same approach and soon enough she was puking. A large supply of red plastic bags was tied to a metal pole near the front of the bus, which we realized were there for just for this sort of thing. The girl set off a chain reaction because after she threw up, the girl behind Chandler frantically tapped him on the shoulder and motioned that she needed a bag. Then the guy in front of me, next to the original puking girl leaned out the window. The crowning moment was when the little boy directly in front of Chandler vomited all over his mother, their seat and the aisle floor, which caused his mother to start puking. We were officially in the Barfmuda Triangle. The whole situation was completely ridiculous, there was nothing to do but laugh.
When we made it over the pass, the vomiting stopped and we were able to “enjoy” the remainder of the ride. The bus arrived at the border a little before noon and everyone unloaded to get stamped through. We got stamped out of Laos and rode our bikes to the immigrations building on the Chinese side. Chandler guarded the bikes and declined the aggressive offers of the horde of money changer ladies while I got stamped into China. The process was easy and straightforward. The guard looked through my passport, scanned it and typed some stuff into his computer before stamping it and returning it to me. I then walked out through the door into China. Without my bike. I had to go to the road crossing gate to get back to Chandler and the bikes, but a guard with excellent English immediately came over to help. I went back to Laos and guarded the bikes while Chandler got stamped through. Then he came back and we rode back into China together. It was a little confusing but the whole ordeal only took about 30 minutes and was really pretty simple.
Suddenly, we were in China! The signs were in a new language, there were cars everywhere and few bicycles, the affluence was obvious. We peddled along a newly paved four lane highway through the border town excited and amazed at being in a new country.
The border town had a lot of buildings but was curiously very quiet and seemed nearly abandoned. The banks were all closed even though it was the middle of the day so we had no money. The nearest city was Mengla which was about 30 km away. The traffic on the highway was light, but moved very fast, and there was no shade from the blazing sun. After a few miles we decided to get on the old highway and away from the traffic. This was a good idea as I still was still feeling weak and tired. The old highway also offered a shady tree lined path the entire way. About halfway to our destination, we realized we had little water left. When we finally reached a town with an ATM, the machine rejected our card.
I was getting desperate to be done riding and only drinking the smallest of sips when we found an ATM on the outskirts of Mengla that would take the card. We then immediately bought and drank a liter of water each and a sprite and a coke and they were awesome. Disaster averted, time to find a hotel. As we rode into Mengla, I felt like we had entered a Chinatown of a major US city and would eventually make our way back to the “normal” part of town. The only thing was that Chinatown never ended.
The guide book had two hotels, but one was expensive and the other sounds like a dive, we figured there had to be something else. After doing the initial bike through town, we stopped at a place that looked decent. Chandler went in to check out the prices and look at the room, I stayed outside and got a major headache. The air smelled like someone had poured gasoline over everything. Chan deemed the room to be subpar and I was tired of losing brain cells, we moved on.
The super expensive hotel refused to book a room for us, but gave us directions to a small place around the corner. We checked in, carrying bikes and panniers up a few floors, happy to be done for the day.
I was still not feeling 100% and not interested in eating. Chandler went to find dinner by himself while I watched Superman 2 on TV. In an attempt to avoid eating mystery meat (read: dog) at a small restaurant he was able to communicate that he wanted chicken, by flapping his arms like a chicken. He ended up with stir fried chicken feet, which he reported was as gross as it sounded. He ate the vegetables around the chicken feet and filled up on rice. New country, new food!