my travels around the world

Overnight transportation

Written in Guilin at about 9pm the evening after getting off a sleeper bus that morning:

I love overnight trains. There is nothing quite like getting on the train after dinner, and know that with a few hours of lounging and a night of sleep you will be in a new place. The train has a slight rocking motion. The quiet rattle of the wheels on the tracks. Last time I was on an overnight train I went to sleep at 6 pm and woke up the next morning. I think the overnight train is probably my favorite mode of transportation.

However I am struggling to have the same feelings about overnight bus rides. Since I imagine a good number of you have never ridden a sleep bus, a quick description. There are three rows of bunk beds that are slightly shorter than I am, about 40 beds to a bus. There are two rows of bunks along the sides of the bus and one running down the middle.

Twice I have taken overnight buses. Once a few summers ago and then last night. Summer of 2009 I was out in Xinjiang, the furthest west of the Chinese provinces. I was on my way from Kashgar to Urumqi. We got on the bus at about noon and were scheduled to arrive late the next morning. At 3 am Xinjiang time (5 am Beijing time) my cell phone, almost dead cell phone rings. It is the parent of one of my students who happened to work in the American Embassy in Beijing.

“Where are you?”

“On bus to Urumqi, why?”

“You do know that there are massive riots going on in Urumqi, right?”

“Umm… No.”

“You probably shouldn’t go to Urumqi. I’ll call you when I get to the office in two hours and have talked to the women in charge of situations like this.”

I ended up heading into Urumqi and taking the next bus out of town. I finally arrived in Xi’an about 60 hours after I had left Kashgar with a few hours of sleep on the bus and a few hours of sleep on an overnight… where I could only get a hard seat for the trip from Turpan to Xi’an. In that vein, I somewhat retract the above statement. I love to travel on sleeper trains. NOT overnight seats.

Last night, thankfully there were no calls about riots. (Although my cell phone was turn off, so…) But the desert from Kashgar to Urumqi is very flat. The mountain range between Guangzhou and Guilin, much less so. Our little bus that could chugged along up over mountains. Our driver subscribed to the theory that if you need to go up hill you should speed up as much as you can before you get to the hill. It felt a bit like Wiley E. Coyote with his legs churning in place prior to zipping off or plummeting to his squished state.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep on the bus and the 4:45 am arrival time didn’t help matters any. I am perplexed why the bus would leave at 8:30 and arrive at 4:45 when I could just as easily left at 9:30 and arrived at 5:45. Not much happens between 4:45 and 5:45, but 5:45 is a much saner time to arrive somewhere. Oh well, it is life and I will live (and go to bed now…)



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