Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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The slow road to Beijing Beijing, China, Wednesday, 01 September 2010 6:08am

Most of the story about my escape from Mongolia is here.

I was dropped off at the Erlianhot bus station. The French woman in line in front of me warned me to make sure I didn't get put on the 3:30pm bus to Beijing, since it was scheduled to arrive at 5am. It turned out the soonest bus they were selling tickets for was the 4:30pm anyway. Since 6am is beginning to be a reasonable hour to arrive somewhere, I went ahead and bought it. I tried to get a message out to my friend Dave, who I was planning to meet in Beijing at 10am for brunch, letting him know that I might actually make it in time.

I spent the next couple hours before the departure trying to get money from an ATM (Failure. The Bank of China branch there would only accept chip cards, not swipe cards), to find some internet access (Failure. The only Internet shop I found didn't have enough power to run most of their computers and the teens running it were too busy playing some game on the three machines that were on to allow anyone else to use them), and to get something to drink (Success!).

I've never seen a bus like this one before. The sleeper buses I've seen elsewhere have fairly normal seats that just fold down really far. This one had three rows of bunk beds made from metal tubing. Each person's feet rested in a wedge-shaped sheet metal box that also served as the pillow rest for the person in front of them.

My "seat" was a top bunk. I noticed that most of the top bunks had a metal triangle sticking up on the side of the frame that prevented the foam mattress from sliding sideways as the bus lurched. Mine was missing that little detail. Over the course of the ride, I had to repeatedly push the mattress back into place because it was hanging several inches off of the bunk.

The roads were wildly variable. Often they were beautifully paved divided highways. At other times, there were roadblocks for construction, accidents, or no apparent reason, and the bus had to trundle off into the dirt by the side of the road for a short detour.

We made a couple of stops at roadside rest areas for bathroom breaks (though the men's room at one of them was non-functional). I think most people grabbed food, but the combination of not knowing how long the stop was and not wanting to deal with ordering in Chinese convinced me to just stick to the snacks I'd bought for the train ride.

After the last food stop, I took some Melatonin and went to sleep. I woke up around 6am to find that the bus was stopped in the middle of a cluster of trucks and the drivers were asleep in a couple of the bunks. It seemed like between us and the trucks, the highway was blocked. I don't know if this is a regular thing, or if it was the tail end of the huge traffic jam that has gridlocked Northern China.

Eventually a driver woke up and traffic started moving again. I fired up the GPS (though without any really useful maps) and tried to figure out where I was. We got within 5 minutes driving of the "Beijing" dot on the Garmin world map, and since my hotel was fairly central, I hoped we'd be stopping at a station nearby. However we continued on for another hour (Beijing traffic is not the speediest) and were eventually set down in a street (not a bus station, as far as I could tell).

I hopped a cab to my hotel, checked in, and called Dave's hotel and was put through to his room. The time? 9:30am. We did end up having brunch after all!