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Hell on tracks


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I managed about 20 minutes sleep and Sarah got half an hour’s worth. Our English speaking friend got his seat after six hours and ten hours into the journey the train was half empty so we could stretch our legs for the final stint, a kind of luxury in hell.

The misery continued when we got to Xiamen, our guidebook said we needed bus No.19 to the harbour, but obviously the bus stops were numbered 17, 18, 20, and 21 it took us over an hour to find the bus stop, which was miles away. And an hour feels like a day when it’s 30 degrees at 9am and you’re carrying everything you own.

Eventually we reached the harbour and caught the ferry to Gulang Yu the small island we’d been heading for. As we came into dock there was a huge banner saying ‘5th Gulang Yu Piano festival 26th July - 4th August’
My heart sank because festivals usually mean no accommodation. We entered the first hotel, “any rooms?”
“No! Piano Festival. Full. All full.”
Emotionally we were rock bottom. Neither of us spoke.
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Outside a woman handed us a leaflet for a hotel, talking to us in Chinese. I nodded and she waved us to follow her, she raced down ally ways and up hills, down footpaths and we eventually reached the hotel.
“No,” said the receptionist as I pointed to the picture of the room on the leaflet.

We both collapsed into a chair. We’d not slept for over 24 hours; I couldn’t remember the last time we’d eaten a proper meal, we were both soaked in sweat and didn’t smell the best. My head was numb and Sarah had tears in her eyes, and it takes a lot for that to happen.

I walked outside with the leaflet lady, “just find us a room please,” I asked. She had no understanding of the words coming out of my mouth but I think she read the whole story in my face.

I followed her down more ally ways and arrived at another guesthouse. It was a dump. “Any rooms?” I asked reluctantly
The guy nodded. He showed me the room and it was pretty bad, pealing plaster, a wonky bed and 8ft by 8ft roller blind with two three-year-old kids in a full on kiss printed on it. I felt my face screw up.
“How much?” I asked, thinking I wouldn’t pay more than ¥75 for it.
He picked up the calculator and typed ‘190’
I closed my eyes, sighed… and nodded.
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I went back to the last hotel where I’d left Sarah, I found her a little happier, chatting to a teenage girl who could speak some English.
A 5-year-old kid belted out amazing tunes on a piano in the corner of the reception.
“Who would have thought pianos could be so popular?” said Sarah.
“I’ve found us a room. Don’t expect much.” I replied.

A shower and a couple of hours sleep made us feel no better at all. So we headed out.
“What do you want to eat?” asked Sarah.
“MacDonald’s, KFC or Burgerking!” I answered without a second’s hesitation. One of our unwritten rules when we’re travelling is that we eat the local food. So I felt like a bit of a fraud as the words came out, but I didn’t care. The only thing I’d eaten in the last week that I could recognise had toenails; I just wanted a good feed.

There was a KFC round the very next corner.

With our stomachs full we walked down to the waterfront and were taken back by how beautiful that place was. In fact it struck me that I’d not taken any of the island in until now. We walk between the floodlit pagodas and up paths carved into the giant rocks.
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I don’t know if it was the salt and hydrogenated fat coursing through our vanes or the beauty of this place but we both agreed we were suddenly overcome with happiness.
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We walked for hours through the narrow ally ways, between magnificent buildings lit by the full moon and went to bed happy.

Posted by asprey 06:29 Archived in China Tagged train_travel

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