London, Moscow, Beijing,
Muang Mai, Bangkok
June 7 -July 11, 2011
JUNE 7, 2011 - First day of journey.|
Anna took me to Albany where I caught a Greyhound Bus to Atlanta. The first glich of the trip occurred there.
I had purchased me ticket over the internet for the bus ride, and after giving my credit card info, I was given the choice of picking the ticket up in Albany or printing it myself at home.
Naturally, I clicked on print at home, and proceded to follow the instructions offered. The ticket did not print. So I tried again, still no print. So I just figured I would pick it up at the bus station.
At the bus station I gave the clerk my confirmation number and waited for her to give me my ticket. She looked at her computer, and then at me and asked had I tried to print my ticket at home.- Yes, I replied.
The clerk then leaned forward and politely told me that since I had tried to print it, her computer showed that it HAD been printed, and she could not give me another ticket.!
In the following calm conversation I had with her and the General Manager, I found out this happens OFTEN! I would have to buy another ticket, and apply to the "home" office for a refund!!
So with plane and train tickets for a trip around the world, I bought myself another Greyhound Bus ticket to Atlanta!
But the bus was very nice, and it was a good ride up to Atlanta, then on to Marta and out to Sandy Springs, and a night at my sisters.
Of interest, on my way to Sara's house on MARTA I got off at Linbergh and went to the MARTA office where I applied for a "old person" pass that a fellow rider had told me about 2 years ago. Sure enough, just as this old guy had told me, I got a photo ID pass to use on MARTA.
The regular fare is $2.50, after you figure out how to use the ticket machine. Now it cost me 80 cents per ride, and just as important, I don't have to deal with that ticket machine.
JUNE 8, 2011
That did not seem like enough time, especially if one little thing went wrong. A late flight, a crazy passenger, a clogged up immigration and customs department, or me not being able to fine the train station I need! So I asked the travel agent to get me a little more time between arrival in London and my departure from London.
Well she did. I ended up with a full day and a half in London.
Nice,but expensive! So I was just gonna spend the night in the St Pancreas Train station in London.
When I got to the gate at the airport, th
e Delta person there got on the PA system and said the flight was overbooked, and they needed volunteers to take a later flight.
I was at the desk in a flash.
For taking the next flight I got 600 Delta Dollars to use on my next Delta flight (thats's a good thing)), plus Hotel and three meal tickets.
I could probably get the same deal on Thursday if I did not have train tickets!
JUNE 10, 2011|
I had a good flight over to London. Of course the ole saying is: any flight you walk away from is a good flight!
This was my first Atlantic flight in several years, and it is about 10 hours shorter than one leg of the Pacific route. Really makes a difference. You get on, eat, take a nap, and its time to get off.
My seat was also an "ECONOMY PLUS" seat. That means I had about 3 inches or maybe a little more than the regular economy (steerage - on ships). I would have been disappointed had I paid for a business class seat however. This plane had the old fashion business seats. They look like Lazy Boy recliners. The new seats look like space ship pods that give each person a private - though small - room, the new ones seem to be really nice and Cool, and are significantly different from a regular seat.
The weather here is almost cold, but not quite. I still have on flip flops.
I found the train to Victoria station - they have two. One fast, for about $25.00, the other slow for about $15.00. I took the slow one, it took about 15-20 minutes longer. AT Victoria station I found the "underground" - MARTA - to the people in Atlanta. In Atlanta it cost $2.50 for one ride. Here it cost about $8.00. I think there may be a cheaper ticket, I just couldn't get it or didn't get it, or it doesn't exist. But at any rate - It is a one time cost to me on this trip.
I arrived at St Pancras station for international trains. I am now waiting on the train to board up on. This place has wi-fi, but I can't get on. I think its like Atlanta- it available, for a price, but I can't even find a price!.
JUNE 12, 2011-Somewhere in Poland
After I finished by blog at the train station, three minutes before my train left, I got the internet to connect and posted the above blog.|
I got on the train and pleasantly found out I had the cabin to myself. It held three bunks and had about 2 1/2 feet of open floor the lenght of the bunk. SMALL, but better described as COMPACT.
I ate dinner before getting on, so I was set for the evening and got a great nights sleep. I was glad that I was having time to acclimate to compact living - alone - before getting on the long ride with three other people in a compact area.-- Yes sir, everything was going great.
Somewhere the next day the train stopped and I found out it was for 2 hours. So I checked with the Conductor lady and got finger points and a lot of unknown language on how to get some food.
I had met an English women who had mentioned that the reason we were stopping was that we had to pick up those train cars, pointing over to another track.
So I went off on my hunt for food, and when I came back up on the train platform, I could see my train pulling away in the distance!
HELP ME LORD! was all I could think. And the Lord did. He reminded me of the conversation about picking up extra cars,and next to me were the cars.
Sure enough, before going out of site - but going a looong waaay - the train stopped and began backing up! RELIEF! Thank you Lord!
Back on the train everything settled down, I had a sandwich for lunch, and one in reserve.
Then about 2:30 p.m. we got to Bellarus. Now I have heard of it before, but did not realize I was going to travel through it until a few days before I left, when I was just reading up about trip.
All we were to do was to pass through Bellarus. I thought it was a province of Russia and we were just passing thru.
WELL, THAT WAS A BAD ASSUMPTION, - I'M GONNA TELL YA!
It turns out I needed a VISA to travel thru Bellarus, and I did not have one. The English woman, she was a concert cello-ist, had been told to get one. There was Dutch woman and her son on vacation who did not have a VISA either, and as it turns out two women with lots of luggage and two babies did not have a VISA.
So the immigration officers came on board,looked at my passport and stamped me in! I thought to myself, that was easy, and I sat back now to work on a Saduko puzzle while immigration finished checking the train.
In a while, the officers came back, took my passport, instructed me to get my ticket back from the conductor, an wait in my stateroom until they returned. - nothing else.
They returned in an hour, and told me to get my bags and follow them. I got up, left the train and then the station, into a large government complex, and up the stairs to a large room, where we told to sit. nothing else.
An hour or so later we were still sitting, no one had said a word to us (made you think of all the movies you've seen). Finally (about 3 1/2 hours after we had stopped) an officer that could speak a little English came up told us that since we did not have transit VISAs we could not enter Bellarus!
We asked well what should we do, and she begrudingly explained to enter Bellarus we needed a VISA. We asked how do we get one? and can't we buy it here?
No, we had to go to the embassy in Poland. Upon us asking she wrote the street address of the Embassy and the town it was in, then told us to follow an officer back to the train, and when we got out of Bellarus they would give opur passports back, and I was to get the train station in Poland to stamp my ticket so I could reboard the train when I had my VISA.
Sitting for another hour, an officer came and motioned for us to follow him. - nothing else.
We got on an empty train car, wooden seats, windows open and finally traveled about 15 minutes back into Poland.There we waited 1/2 hour and the immigration officer came and stamped my passport back out of Bellarus. - nothing else, just a finget point to leave the train and go that way.
So there we are on the train platform, with two mothers, two children and a lot of luggage. The mothers started begging everyone they saw to help. No one did. So the dutch guy and me and the mothers and the dutch woman started dragging all this stuff off the platform, down the steps, up the steps through a hall way and out to the station. (this morning I am suffering from terrible muscle spasms in my back and am just about totally incapcitated). But I was glad to help her because I was so grateful that I was not her!
One woman who spoke a little little English spoke with a man who had helped us move, and after my train ticket was stamped, she told me that they were going somewhere else and this man was a taxi and would take me to a hotel.
Good. Lets go I said, and told all my traveling companions goodbye. I was the only one that was going to get a VISA and return to train.
I followed the man out of the station, around the building, down a dirt road, pass some houses , to an umpave parking lot where he paid the attendant. All this time I am asking him what is the price, and I had determined without a fixed price in writng that I would not go with him. Didn't know what I would do, but whatever not with him if no price. When we got to the car (nice, with baby seats in the back) he opened the back, and then pulled up his pant leg and started pulling cigarettes out of his socks. He must have had a carton. He hid them in the storage well of the car. A smuggler! Still no price. Then he pulls out a TOM TOM, I think thats good, but he could not enter the name of the town into the TomTom. At this point I said thank you buddy, see ya later.
He offered no resistance in me leaving thank goodness, and I left the parking lot and headed (I hoped) back to the train station. This is the time in a man's life when he remembers to PRAY. When all of sudden you are not so preoccupied with what is going on around - mainly because you do not know what is going on around you!
Back at the station I found a taxi and asked did he speak English. NO, no english he said in English.
So I got out my paper with the town and address on it, and he immediately said "VISA?"
Oh boy - Help, so I said yes and he knew where to go, and where there was a hotel nearby. I think thats what he said or rather indicated.
Okay so what is cost of the trip and of the Hotel? After much talking in English and a strange language and writing down the distance and the cost and price of the hotel the deal was done
He would take me to a hotel near the Consulate office of Bellarus for $30.00 US dollars and the hotel would not cost much. It was 45 kilometers to the town , about 28 miles.
Wondering where I was, what the unit of currency (I had found out it was not Euro's, but the driver understood Dollars and converted it for me (whatever it was) we took off. Nice highway , beautiful countryside. Wonder where I am going and where I am !
We got to a town and the dirver pulled over and pointed to the Bellarus Consulate office - that was a good thing. Then he pointed as he said in English - "hotel - close". This is starting to look okay!
A few blocks later , having each turn explained to me by the driver, we arrived at a hotel.
I went in, it looked nice, but there was no one there. The driver came in and while we waited for someone to show up he pointed out the price to me in whatever currency they use here. He then converted it to dollars and it was about $38 per night, which I was very pleased with.
We finally found the owner down in the kitchen, and I paid the driver, and checked in. There was a restaurant, and wifi, and hotwater.
At last I was in my room, somewhere in Poland with a good plan and a good possibility of getting to Moscow in time to catch my train to Beijing Tuesday night.
I think the taxi driver was an Angel of God sent to help me! What do you think? LEt me hear form you - firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will rest my back today, Get my Visa Monday morning, take a taxi to the train station, and get on the train to Moscow,arriving there Tuesday morning, with enough time to visit the Kermlin, and then get on my train to China. I have a Russian Visa, a Chinese Visa, I do not need one for Mongolia _I read that- then at Laos, I an get a Visa at the border, and at Thailand border I can get a Visa.
So I'm set - NOW for my back to get well and strong - in one day. All I have from somewher in Poland.
June 13, 2011 Poland|
Usually getting a Visa can be done in one visit, and by paying a few dollars more you can get it expedited, and be out with a Visa in 2 hours...Belarus ... not quite so.
When I got to the consulate office there were about 18 men all waiting out side at the gate. I moved up to the front of the line to see what was going on, and it seemed to me that everyone there had papers and I did not. So I started asking around in my fluentEnglish how did they get those papers. No one spoke English. Then a guy came out of the gate, and anotrher went in. So asking further -- one man spoke a little English and best I could tell he told me to push the button and wait till a voice came back and tell them I want a Visa. So I pushed the button, it seemed - to some mens unrest, but sure enough a voice answered and I said I was there to get a Visa and needed the forms to fill out. In a mniute or two, the gate opened and I walked in and an English man (who had been waiting outside for an hour and heard me)followed me in.
In side we were told we needed to go to another location and get our form filled out and buy Medical insurance. For a transit visa I asked why medical insurance, and got a kinda put out look and a quick YES you must.
The English guy John, had a truck so we jumped in it and took off for the office we needed. WE got lost, but finally found someone that could speak English and we found the office.
There we sat for about 20 - 30 minutes before a young clerk started working on our visa forms. All of this typing our forms out and answering the phone and talking to other people in the office took over and hour. Then we had to go back to the Consulate office and turn in the papers that we could have filled out at the consulate office in 10 minutes. Again we had to convince everyone we were not breaking in line, and evrything was okay.. I rang the bell and in a minute the gate opened and we went back in . This was our second entry.
Turning in out papers we were given a slip of paper to take to the bank where we could pay our Visa and health insurance fees.
We left the Consulates office, got lost, ended up in some type of business that we thought was the bank, and it wasn't a bank at all. But we still had clerks scurrying around trying to find out how to take our money. Finally one clerk asked in broken English -"are you looking for a bank?" - Bingo - yes. "Well we are not a bank, the bank is down the street!"
But in our defense, I will say the words on the front were the same as the ones on my paper and it did look like a bank on the inside!
We found the bank, paid, got our papers, and now had till 1:30 to pick up our Passports and visa, ... it was 12:30.
So we went back to my hotel, I got my pack and confirmed a Taxi to pick me up at 1:45 at the hotel, then we went and got a quick cup of coffee. At 1:00 we headed back to the consulates 0ffice. The Englishman asked what I was going to do if I didn't get back to the hotel at 1:45. I said the taxi would wait .... what else could I say, there was no Plan B. I did not want to wait until I got back to order a taxi, things would just have to work out!
And "Things" did. I got my visa a 1:35, walked back to the hotel, got my pack and the taxi drove up, I got in and we headed to the train station!! Glory , PTL.
At the station I finally found the right office, went in and showed my ticket to the clerk. She took it and started punching keys on the computer. I thought to myself - this is Good. - When she finished typing she printed a new ticket then started talking to me. I said in good English - I don't understand - so she talked louder, I said the same thing - she talked louder and faster.
Finally she pointed to the computer where there was a number, and I realized I had to pay something for my ticket. So - How much? Again after a lot of loud talk, she wrote down 17 Euros .
I had no idea why I had to pay anything, but 17 Euros at this point was a done deal. I pulled out the Euros and handed them to her and she started saying something - and repeated it louder and faster. She then takes me outside and points to a little building with a large sign that read Kontar. That was the word she kept saying. So I now realized that I was to take my money there, but I had no receipt or ticket or any paper work. How was that place to know what I owed.
Then an Angel - a man just standing there outside the building pointed at the sign and said "Kontar - CHANGE". I realized immediately that I needed to go there and get my Euros changed to Polish Z---- and come back and pay her!
I did this, returned , gave her the Polish money, and she gave me my ticket and pointed to the platform for the train.
I had 10 minutes to spare. The train arrived - i got on. Nothing to it. Here I come Moscow and China. Thank you Lord!
JUNE 13, 2011 - ON THE TRAIN|
My last train I had a cabin to myself.This time I got the top bunk - #3 - with two guys from Korea. It was crowded. They were nice and one of them spoke English. They are spending 4 days in Moscow then going by train to Beijing also, an d then on over to Korea somehow.
About an hour after getting on the train, we had to change the train from wide to narrow track! The process of doing this was very interesting althought since we couldnot get off the train, I don't fully understand what they do.
But while we were getting this done, food vendors came along side of train Yelling out to passengers what they had. One yelled chicken and this got my attention, so I waved her over. She pulled out a brown paper package from her bag - all the food was in shopping bags and you could see none of it. As a matter of fact, the women looked like they were shopping in a mall, A Russian mall, not like their sisters in other countries around the world.. Their hair was fixed up and their cloths were nice
After I got the chicken she pulled out a loaf of slice rye bread, and I said yes to that also. She passed it up. How much? I yelled. She answered. I had no idea what she was saying. So I checked my pockets and found a $5 bill and handed it out the window to her. She then indicated 2 more dollars. I did not have two dollars and did not want to give her another 5, so I indicated I could not buy it, and started to hand it back, indicating I wanted my money back. She decided 5 was enough and waved bye bye.
So now I had a private room and a chicken dinner, from a few minutes ago with nothing to eat and in a top bunk! The chicken was delicious, and the bread good too. I could not even eat all the chicken. Wish I had a frig.
The night went well on the top bunk. But it gets daylight here at about 4:30 so our cabin lit up like floodlight was on. I slept on til 5:30, the other guys were sort of awake and asleep.
I got up and went to the lounge car and wrote this blog.
Hope I can send it to internet this morning.
We arrive in Moscow at about 9:30.
My phone no longer works so I will try to get a new sim card and see if I can call or text home.
JUNE 14, 2011 Tuesday- Moscow!|
Before we got to Moscow by berth mate, who had been to Moscow before, gave me a good briefing on the Metro ((Marta to folks in Atlanta)and by looking at a few maps I had and he had, I kinda grasped what I needed to do, and was very glad I did not need to use Tasis.
So into Moscow, at the train terminal I was looking for a place to change $100.00 of US Dollars to Rubles. Finding whatappeared to be a money exchange booth I met a man coming out of the hallway and he asked me where to change money.I said here, and he said no no this one is closed and I think there is one over there- pointing across the terminal.
Now .... having just gotten off... THE TURNIP TRUCK, .... I said good, and we started walking to the shop. While we walking he mentioned he wanted to change rubles to dollars and if I had dollars he would change them for me. He told me what he would give me for my dollars and it was better than I could get from a bank, but not as much as he would have to pay at a bank.
Now ... I was a little suspicious, but I said okay. He said he wanted 2 or 300 dollars. I said I only had $100. Okay he said, so he pulled out his money and counted out 2,850 rubles in 500's, 100's and a 50 into my hand, but as I counted with him I saw that it was 100 rubles short. I told him. He then took the money from me and added a 100 on top, and asked for my $100. I said no, not yet, and took the money from him and recounted. There was now 1,500 rubles (three 500 rubles notes) missing! ... I told him and he snatched the money back and said he wanted 300 dollars to exchange! I said thanks but no thanks and I left going one way, he left - I guess - the other way! - I was born at night, but not last night! But he was a smooth operator! Old country boy in the city - gotta be careful!
I found the money exchange office , did my deal, and then just followed the crowd figuring they were going the Metro. Thee were signs that I could see, and I knew a Metro station was next to the train station.
The young man then pointed out which track to stand by, and which direction the train was going in, and told me to get off in 5 stops. I could not read any of the signs, nothing in English, and even the Russian words, names I was looking for, were always spelt differently than I had them written, and not just Cryllic letters , but different Roman letters.So I was glad to know when to get off.
On the Metro, five stops later I get off and start following the largest crowd. These Metro stations are huge, with tunnels leading all over the place. They are also very ornate, like Palaces. Very beautiful underground halls and and large cathedral like rooms where halls converge.
Following the crowd I came up on the street and there was no obvious train station! I walked around a bit, and could see no station, and there were supposed to be three stations here!
I had a piece of paper with the name of my station printed on it, and I showed it to a man, and he pointed at what looked like an office building, not a railway station. Pointing again I questioned his directions and he insisted - go to that building (I think). I went, and there was nothing but a lobby. I showed my paper to a policeman and he indicated it was here, but that I had to go outside and come back in thru the other doors. The only thing separating me and where I should go was a rope like at a theater, but out I went and back in a door - one door over.
Inside - still no trains, no signs of trains, so I stopped and showed a soldier or policeman my paper. He spoke Engish, and asked if I wanted to buy a ticket -- go there. I said no I was looking for the"Left Lugggage" check in room, and he told me. Thanking him I went down stairs, found the luggage place, and for about three dollars left my backpack for the day. I had 10 hours to visit Moscow.
My new friend the soldier gave me instructions on how to get to the Kremlin and told me how many stops before I got off. So off I went, got on, and so many stops later I got off and walked up to the street. The Kremlin had been moved or I was in the wrong place! I asked two people that I was unable to communicate to, then on the third try a gentleman pointed down a street and indicated 4 - 5 blocks. I could see an onion topped building there so I set off to see the Kremlin.
Several hours later of walking and gawking I was exhausted. Across from Red Square was a hugh "fancy building." Looked like large government building I had seen in England. FANCY. My guidebook called it a shopping mall, so I went in looking for an internet location.
The building was hugmongous, and beautifully fancy on the inside. Very Downtown. There were 100's of upscale shops there. It was something I had not expected in Moscow....But there was no internet place. I finally found one coffee shop, but it turned out they only had WIFI one hour a day, from 4 to five. And that did not sound firm.
I figured I do better than that. Surly there is a cyber cafe, or internet shop somewhere. ...NOPE, finally at an APPLE store a clerk said I could use their computer to send a message. Great I though, and sent Anna a short note. The keyboard was Russian and keys were just in the wrong place and the whole experience was frustrating. So I still thought I could find a place but ended up back at the train station without finding a place to post yesterdays blog.
On the train the day before the Koerean had told me when the time zone changed and when we got to Moscow we checked what time his phone, which changed automatically siadit was.
It was wrong. Moscow was an hour earlier. So when it was an hour before my train was to come I walked out to the platform and my train was already there, so I continued to walk to it, and then saw people boarding so I asked a conductor where coach 7 was and he pointed and told me to hurry. Before I had gone a few the train started pulling out!
FLASH!!!! time change!!!GOOD GRIEF!.... I started running and as a door came my me I jumped on! The train I had worked so hard to get to, just about left me standing at the station! Even now a day later as I write this, I still get a sick feeling in my stomach!!
Praise the Lord. Thank you Lord.
June 15, 2011 Wednesday- Second Day on Train|
My cabin on the train is very nice, and with just one other person, its better than with 4! My cabin mate is from the Ukraine and is the guide for a group of 20 people from Sweden. He eats all his meals in the dinning cart and brings me extra bottles of water, oranges, yogurt and juice. NICE. He speaks fluent English.
It seems once I got on the train, my life calmed down a lot! So much so that I now eat, sleep, read, Then eat , sleep, and read. So far I have not tired of this routine.
For meals, I buy food at train stops. The selection of food safe to eat is very limited, so I have decided on a variety of Rama noodles and another similar bowl of dehydrated food that are mashed potatoes with flavors, and yet to be tried spaghetti noodles and some kind of seasoning, plus another dish that looks like big thick rice. Don't yet know what it is, but so far so good. I also buy bread, and cookies. My meals have been good, and my stomach is still in good shape.
This train has a large water heater with a faucet for gettng hot water for tea or noodles. So that is very nice. In the morning it only takes a minute to have my good ole instant Folger coffee ready.
Last night we crossed the border of Europe and Asia. I did not see anything as it was early (3:00 a.m.) in the morning and I was asleep, but even if I was awake there is no monument by the railroad track to see.
Speaking of early --- it is daylight here at 4 o'clock in the morning! And does not get dark till after 10 - that I know of. We have crossed three times zones since leving Moscow.
So the day continued pleasantly and comfortably. Nothing exciting or challenging. When the train stops for 15 - 20 minutes, everyone gets off. Thats where I buy my noodles. And I do not go far from the door of my carriage, and always get on 5 to 10 minutes early. No chance of being left behind now!!!
JUNE 16, 2011 Thursday -Third day on Train|
Woke up this morning about 6 a.m., but last night at midnight I din't think I could sleep at all - since I slept so much during the day, .. but I did - six solid hours of very nice sleep.
So once up, I'm ready for the day! I'm already dressed for todays activities, and I have my coffee in within a minute. Being dressed is something I have been since I left Moultrie last Tuesday. Same clothes but hold on - they do not smell bad, and do not have dirty areas. I take off my shirt and tee-shirt occassionally and give it the smell test. They always pass.
I was going to change before getting on the train, but in the mens room at the train station I took a spounge bath and decide by shirts were okay.
Sure makes life simple.
Today for breakfast I had a bowl of mashed potatoes again, they are really good, and apeice of bread with that triangle shaped white cheese that is sold all over the world, and coffee. My room mate brought back a yogurt and a bottle of cherry juice.
The area we are in today is FLAT grasslands and marshes. So after breakfast I read, and fought off sleeping until lunch. We stopped in a station and got off for about 20 minutes. Thats a nice time to walk and stretch our legs , and shop for food or drinks. I bought another bowl of "mashed potatoes" in a different container.
For lunch I had a bowl of something. My room mate - who speaks Russsian - knew what it was but was unable to find the English word for it. he said it was very good and a popular dish.
It was good, and I still have no idea what it was. I think thee is not an English word for it! It was kinda like grits,but not. Kinda like rice, but not. Kinda like "mush", but not. Not oatmeal, not cous-cous but definitely some kind of grain. I enjoyed it and also had bread and cheese. For desert I finished up a small pack of cookies I bought and ate asa midnite snack. Then my room mate came back from his lunch in the Dinning car and brought me an orange, another bottle of cherry juice, and the woman next door brought me a moon pie!
So --- food is no longer a problem or a mystery as to what to eat, and where to purchase it.
The day continues- looking forward to dinner - I think I will have spaghetti looking noodles and some kind of sauce. Then a relaxed evening of reading, followed by a good night's rest. And then looking forward to tomorrow because it will exactly like today I guess!
To Moscow -
This trip began in Moscow at 10:30 p.m.. I had arrived in Moscow at 8 that morning. While in Moscow, I never saw a clock that I compared to my watch, and I failed to realize an hour differnece in time.
This little oversite almost caused me to miss the train!
I went to the train platform an hour early just to see if the train were
there are not, and maybe I could get on . As I approached the train, I
asked the first conductor I saw where carriage number 7 was. He replied with a nod - that it was toward the front and
then added - hurry. As I was wondering why he said to "HURRY" the train started pulling out of the station.
I was on - but I almost missed the train I had come so far to catch!! The thought of that made me get sick to my stomach - my stomach was in my throat!!
Still to this day, after 6 days - its still makes me flinch to think of nearly missing the train.
So that was how the journey began! With a bang. (keep it exciting Johnny)It has ever since been very good and enjoyable.
My cabin was a 4 berth sleeper. Two bunks on each side of a one and a half foot aisle with a short table under the window and a rotating fan.
I only had one other person in the room with me for 3 days. He was a very nice young man from Ukraine. He was a tour guide leader of a group of 20 Swedes. He spoke about six languages and was very familiar with the upcoming trip. He also ate all his meals in the dinner car, and would bring me fruit, yogurt and juice each day, lpus a moon pie several times.
His name was Salvar, and he naturally knew all about how much time we would stay at each up coming station. We stopped about every 4 to six hours for 5 to 30 minutes.
This was a time to get off the train and stretch and buy food. For all my meals except the last day I have had RAMA noodle type meals. Some have been a kind of mush (brown bumpy oatmeal stuff), mashed potatoes (my favorite), or various noodle dishes - not actually RAMA, but similiar in that they are dry and in a container. The last day we had a Chinese Dining Car and were given free meal tickets for Breakfast and lunch and they were good!
My other berth mate joined us near the Mongolian Border. He was a Frenchman, traveling on vacation to see his daughter who was in school in Shanghai. On the way he got off the train several times, and would fly back to Paris from Shanhai. He was very personable and I enjoyed his company. We parted company atthe BEijing train station. Salvar and his group had gotten off in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia (I'm sure you are all familiar with that city.)
Each carriage had a Samafor at the end of the hallway. These were large hot water tanks for tea, coffee and meals. It was very nice. The interesting thing about them was that the water was heated by a coal burning furnace in the section where the exit door is.
Sleeping was comfortable the nights were short. By 4:30 it was full daylight but as we continued East and South, day light came a little later. What time we woke up didn't really matter however, because we could take a nap anytime we felt like it! I would read, sleep, eat, then read and sleep.
I was wondering what it would be like to have nothing else to do and I soon realized that with NO outside influences, and no task or work to get done, doing nothing - but reading, sleeping and eating can be very enjoyable!
Dr. S.B. - eat your heart out! We passed the largest lake in the world. I had never heard of it. It is larger than all the Great Lakes combined, has one fifth of the worlds fresh water, and is also the deepest lake in the world, at 1, 800 meters, - OVER A MILE deep!
It is also crystal clear (one can see 40 meters down - 120 feet) and some swimmers get vertigo because of the height they appear to be from the bottom. It is also so pure and clean you can drink directly from the lake.
In Monglolia we saw the Mongul nomads with there horses and ERGS (tent type homes). We went through the Gobi Desert and I saw camels, the ones with TWO humps. In North Africa the camels are actually "drominaries" or one humped camels.
We only went through 4 times zones in Russia , but the train alsways stays on Moscow time, and all schedules and stations are on Moscow time. The entire country of China is on ONE time zone. I guess that solves some problems for businesses and travelers.
Siberian Russia, I thought was only way north and cold, is actually most of Russia. The parts we went through varied from hardwood forest and pine forest, to mountains to steppes (rolling grass lands).
When we arrived at the Russian - Mongolian border we stayed at the Russian Border 3 hours and 45 minutes. Then we traveled to the Mongolian border stayed 3 hours. While at each border the toilets are locked closed. Salvar (my tourguide roommate) had warned me of this situation with the toilets so I was ready - the conductors do not give noticethat the toilets are closing, and many found out the hard way!
Then the next border crossing was the next evening, the Mongolian China border. - The total time of this crossing was from 5:15p.m. to 12:30 a.m. 7 Hours 15 minutes.
In China however, the train had to change back to narrower width track just as we had none at the Bellarus - Russian border. (NOTE- Russian train tracks ar 1.5 meters apart - most others are a little smaller) So after Chinese immigration checked our passports and returned them to us (1 1/2 hours) we could get off the train! That was good, because now it was getting warm, and the train not moving gets hot. If you stayed on the train you could not get off, and could not used the toilets for about three hours.
Only two cars of us were able to get off. The other cars had not gotten their passports back in time and the train went down to the shop to get a wheel change. All those people sat on the hot train with out toilets!
We got off, and the conductor pointed to a building for us to go thru to get outside the station. We all went, maybe 15 of us, and were now on the street of a Chinese town. It was dark and way down the street was a little restaurant and store.
One of our group was a Mongolian that spoke a little English. He was very helpful and helped us all with the menu and ordering a dinner. I sat at a table with a Frenchman, a German, and a Swede. They all spoke English so I enjoyed the break from the train.
We ordered pork and vegetables, that sounded good. We only had chop sticks to eat with. I was looking forward to something beside noodles and beans.
As it turns out, what my imagination saw when I orderd pork was very different from what the Chinese menu meant when it said pork. Or what our Mongol interpreter meant. We got pieces of boiled stomach with a little gravy . I guess it was stomach!
Needless to say I was little disappointed. I ate a few of the pieces of so called port, but then just ate the vegetables with rice. The vegetables were green peppers and carrots.
The meal cost about $3.50, so I called it "experiencing the culture" more than dinner.
When we got back to the station we had come out of, the doors were locked and no one was around to let us in. We walked up and down in front of the large building but could fine no open door! Finally we got to the one end that an open gate, but it was a parking lot with no way out except over a 5 foot iron Fence. So, over we went and now we were back in the train platform area. I felt better standing by the tracks waiting on the train - still remembering Moscow.
Later, as time for the train to depart it returned from the wheel exchange place, the doors of the building were opened. No problem. Just that no one TOLD US ANY THING. At 12:30 a.m. we were back on the train and headed to Beijing.
The last day we ate breakfast in the dinning car comoliments of the train. Breakfast was a glass of hot tea, two slices of bread, and one hard boiled egg, plus butter and jelly. It was fine with me.
Then for lunch we had rice, meat balls, and some strange vegetable that was actually pretty good. II figured I needed to eat them regardless since I had had none in 7 days.
The Mongolian man sat with us at the table, and before he joined us I had tasted the rice, and just stuck the chop sticks back into the rice which was in a small bowl.
The Mongolian joined us and pointed out to me that I should never stick my chop sticks into the rice and leave them. He ssid the Chinese consider rice very holy and that I had just stabbed it, and that was showing disrect for the rice! I thanked him. Then I asked for a lesson in how to use chop sticks. It turns out I had it about right, I just am not coordinated enough to use them effectively.
About two p.m. , Monday June 20, 2011 we pulled into the Beijing train station. TRIP COMPLETE - SUCCESSFUL - glad I did it.
June 20, 2011 BEIJING
Okay, I say to myself, here I am. In the largest city in the most populous country in the world. A city that writes in an unintelligible script, speaks a language I can't comprehend, and I have no Chinese money, I do not know anyone, I do not even have a hotel reservation. SO ... I get off the train, start walking, follow the crowd , they should be exiting the train platforms and the station.
Now that I got out of the station, I stop and review what I need. Two things first - a phone card to call a hotel, and I need money. I am in front of the train station and it is a plaza that is hugh! I finally get to the edge of this hughmonous area where there are some shops. I found one that might have phone cards so I pulled out my phone, walked up with some confidence and showed my phone, then the back of my phone and said SIM. That meant -(to me)- that I wanted to buy a sim card.
And guess what, it did to the lady at the store also. She pulled one out from under the counter, it looked kinda shop worn, but still unused. .... I have no Chinese money.... so I pull out a US five dollar bill hoping that would buy the card. The old lady was QUICK, and immediately came back with 10 fingers showing! It was a deal. Now to call a hotel I had selected while on the train.
I called, the clerk spoke English and told me they had room. I told her I was at the train station, and how did I get to her hotel. She told me to get on the blue line and go 2 stops, get off and walk south and then turn right. Ok I said looking at my map, finding the hotel, then the Metro stop. I began to feel pretty good. Now ....where can I get money exchanged or money out of an ATM.
I could see none from where I was so I went back in the Station, found a Guard, and using my always useful "international sign language" I held up my ATM card up and a dollar bill. He pointed me to the ATM machine in the station. It was really hidden behind some columns, and as it turned out it didn't work!!
Two Chinese girls were ahead of me, and after it did not work for them they waited to see if I had any luck. When I didn't they told me to follow them to another machine. --- UH OH, I thought - here comes the hustle! But if they were honest I did not want to miss a chance to find an ATM, so I cautiously followed them. We went back outside, and across the hugh plaza to a pedestrian overpass, up and down and then to an ATM --- that worked!
I got my money, thanked the girls, and started looking for the subway and how to buy a ticket.
Back across the street, in the plaza, I asked someone - metro? subway?- One guy finally understood, (you just can't have any pride when you are hopelessly lost!) and pointed to the large Metro sign in the corner of the plaza. I wish I had noticed it!
Now where to buy tickets, I started looking around and finally noticed about 5 lines of people buying tickets. I went over to the lines, and asked several people - SUBWAY? The nods were favorable, they understand the word SUBWAY. So while I standing in line I watched what every one was doing and asked my neighbors in line just to confirm I was in the right line. YES.
Then it was my turn at the window. I put a 100 yuan bill in the window, and held up one finger. The ticket agent took my money and gave me 98 yuan back plus a ticket. Man I'm on my way!
Now down the steps to the subway, find the blue line. This is a very nice subway! The train arrives, I get on, go two stops, get off, and walk back up to the outside.
Now I am closer to my hotel, and I know where I am on the map. The station was on an island in the middle of 5 big boulevards. My confidence is building. Which road to take? I had my map out with the hotel marked on it so I stopped a policeman in a golf cart and showed him the map and then gave the "old shrugged shoulders" look of HUH? After studying the map he pointed over his shoulder and then turned his hand down! ---- huh? --- I looked. He did it again, pointed, then turned his hand downward! A young man standing there did the same thing, pointed then turned his hand downward.
I'm thinking I'm in trouble now because I have no idea what this Hand turned down meant! .... Then I saw it, ...... an underground passage for pedestrians to cross the street. It was a perfectly good hand direction - point in the direction you mean - then turn the hand down!
Thanking them very much I proceeded under and across the street and then down the street towards my hotel. In a few minutes I stopped and called the hotel again, and told them kinda where I was. The clerk told me to go to the traffic light, turn right, they were on the left! Hallelulia!!!
In 5 minutes I was at the hotel, in my room, money in my pocket, friends all over Beijing! Nothing to it. Just come to town, ----- get off the TURNIP truck, ----- start smiling -- and --- asking directions!!!
|Dinner||Berth Table||hall way||
|The train||Village||Moscow to Beijing||A Russian Station||Self Portrait||Red brick||A pretty building|
Just a few travel notes-|
I some how deleted two whole days of blogs when I was off line and using my little pad on the computer instead of my mouse!! I got this part back but the other is gone gone gone. I will need to rewrite.
Problem is I am in Kunmin China and cannot fine a internet cafe. I am now in a little shop that has a computer, and with out using English I got permission to use his cable!!
Not sure how long i can stay.
In Beijing I toured the Forbidden City - and then went to the Great Wall of China. It cost me more to enter the forbidden City than my entire trip to the Wall. Me and a a German guy did the Wall tour for $8.00 a peice including the buses there and back. I got a senoir discpount at the wall.
It was all very impressive.
Then I got on a night train to Kunming. 38 hours. Two nights one day. I'm glad I did it - it was a first for me - and now I do not haev to do it again.
I chose a hardchair seat ticket instead of a hard berth seat. The hard berth (6 berths per open cabin) versus a chair.
I did not know the chair would not recline!, not have an arm rest and my assigned seat was in the middle!!
When I saw my place, I thought -- OH BOY - this is gonna be rough.
I was right. But I figured if all these people coulddo this I could, and plus - I was there. Too late for changes.
Not to help any, the train was overloaded. All the aisle were full of people - for 38 hours!!
Some of them had it real bad, sleeping between cars on the metal connectors between cars.
Okay I gotta go - I hope to get this written up better and possibly send and update tomorrow.
|Opening Store||Leo Hostel||Raymond||
The Great Wall
The Great Wall
|Lots of People||Across from me||Candy store||1 of 3 train Stations||Sitting Next to me||In Front of Me||Rice pudding and eggs|
Arrival In Kunming - Saturday June 25|
Kunmin is a city of about 1 1/2 million people in southen China. It was my distination from Beijing. It is just a very large city, no great site seeing extravaganzas, no historical points of interest. Just large.
The night before arriving, I had called a hotel that was near the train station and made a reservation in English. I felt pretty good about the reservation.
My guidebook gave instructions as to how to get to the hotel. They were to exit train station, take bus number two, go two stops, get off, cross the street to the Kunhu Fandian Hotel.
Nothing to it. I walked out of train station and immediately saw Bus number two, Great! I jumped on, pulled out two yuan, and stuffed them in the cash box by the driver. I felt very at home. Two stops later I got of the bus and looked around, no Hotel Kunhu Fandian!
I called the hotel. I asked the operator did she speak English - just as before - and she did. I explained to her that I had a reservation, had arrived by train, had taken bus two for two stops and had gotten off and now I could not see the hotel.
The operator answered me by saying, "Yeeeesssss, we have room, 180 yuan for a standard." No No, I said,..... I have reservation - where are you?, and she politely ansswered me again, "yeeeesssss, we have room, 180 yuan for a standard!"
Continuing to walk down the street, and forgetting the phone idea, I came to another hotel and went in and asked where my hotel was. No one spoke English. I showed the clerk the Name..... Blank! .... Then a little reconition ,..... then he pointed further down the street.
Further down I came to a hotel named Kun-hu Hotel, that was it! (I guess Fandian in Chinese is Hotel) I was home. I took a room with out bath, for Less than $10, and moved right end. TYL!
After a rest, a shower and a cup of coffee (the hotel provides a thermos of hot water to each room) I set off to find out how to get a bus to the Laotian border.
In and around the train station I could find no travel agents or bus companies. I started walking south towards the Southern Bus Station, a long ways away, and was stopped in my spirit to return to the train station.
So I did. But I could not find anything. Finally I went into a hotel in the train station, the desk clerk spoke no English, but the lady checking in did! She heard me asking the clerk, and she told me to go to that building - and she pointed to a place across and to the side of the station. THANK YOU MA'AM! it was a place I would have never gone to
I walked over to the building, went in, and saw nothing that looked like a place to buy tickets! There was a counter with a line in front of, so I went to the head of the line and asked in English where the Bus station was. The lady said Bus 71, and pointed outside! All right now, let's go.
Outside, there was nothing to signify where to get a bus, it was just a parking lot. I asked a group of men for bus 71, I had "7-1" written on a paper. Nothing just stares! Back inside - the lady confirmed Bus 71 out side. So back out side. I was attemping to ask someone else when Bus 71 pulled up!
The ride cost 5 yuan, and we went a long way - way out of central city area. I would have never found it. The bus 71 arrived at a hugh Bus terminal filled with large overnight sleeper buses.(buses have bunks in them and are very nice) The parking lot had hundreds of buses, and the terminal had 15 ticket windows, hundreds of people, and everything written in Chinese!
What in the world! I had expected some little shops with different bus companies offering their services, with nice signs and schedules posted. Like Thailand.
Not on your life. This was just one big Chinese puzzle! WOW, what to do?
I went up to a window, to the head of the line but to the side of it, and leaned underthe glass and asked Jinghong? (that was my distination - Jinghong), and at least I could pronounce it! The clerk pointed to her left and said window nine. She was in window 15.
At window nine there was a line of 20 or so people. I just wasn't sure what to do, so I just walked back outside to see if I could find something easier or clearer to me.
Outside where the departing buses were waiting to load up, I saw a man sitting by a bus. i went up and asked him - "Jinghong"? Man, he started talking and pointing! I did the ole "shoulder shrug" and he stopped talking. I said tomorrow night, not now. I said that by writting 25th and 26th on paper and circling - 26!
The man jumps up,. motions for me to follow.
We go into where all the windows are, we go to window 6, its empty. The man hollows for the woman in window 7 to do something. She stops what she is doing,comes over to me and I yell "Jinghong, tomorrow night." She leaves and comes back and asked what time! What time !
I think - I don't care lady, any time!... but I say 6:30 p.m. She leaves again, comes back and saids that bus is full, I say 7:30. (I mean who's counting?)
She returns in a moment and saids okay, and she tells me how much in English. I pull out my money, give it to her, she goes back to her desk. ... Now all this time, there is a line at her window waiting on her.... She returns with my ticket, explains it to me, and I say THANK YOU.
I step away from the window and think - "what just happened? How did that happen!" Thank you Lord, I realized - the man had to be an angel!! WOW. I got a ticket.. That situation was looking sticky. Again- TYL!
Back outside, I returned to where the man was and he was still there - he hadn't vanished. I told him thank you very much, he just nodded and I left, looking for bus number 71 to take me back to the city.
Tomorrow, I will return and have a pleasant journey down to Jinghong. ... Like I said,nothing to it!!!
Thank you Lord
June 28, 2011, Oudomxai, Laos
When last I wrote, I was in Kunming headed to Jinghong. I love that name!
I got to the station, and found my bus, it was nice with double deck bunks on each side and one set in the middle.-- What I had hoped for. I had a bottom bunk whick I liked and was in the second row from the front door which I like.
The ride was good, but not as nice as the ones in Vietnam. There they give you water and cookies - I like that - and during the trip you stop and have a nice meal from thebus company. On this bus we got nothing, and the rest stops were at really bad dumpy places.
At one stop, in a vast and crowded market place (you would never think a bus could get into it, mush less out!) me and a Chinese man went to the toilet. He got instructions and I followed. We went into this large deserted building, dark, up stairs, around some corners, all dark and junky. (I felt like I was in a Bond movie looking for Goldfinger or something). I stayed close to the Chinese guy, we found what I guess wasa toilet - did our do - and rapidly retreated out of that TERRIBLE place.
The bus arived at Jinghong at 5:30 in the morning. I decided to wait and try to get a bus further along towards Laos.
There was a concession stand open, so I bought a Rama noodle type meal, and ate it while waiting on the ticket counter to open.
It opened at 6::30, I was right there. I could not read any schedules, could not find any one that spoke English , so I had no idea what to ask for at the counter! So I said "LAOS" real loud and then followed that by saying Oudomxai - OUUH - DOM - XAI! The clerk quickly acknowledged my request .... but she said something back to me that did not sound like Udomxai, more like OU-WE- XAI
At any rate it sounded like something in Laos, I bought the ticket, the bus left in an hour.
While waiting I got concerned about what "ou-we xai" was or where it was. I tried to convince myself it was just a different pronuciation! To make me feel better, I took my book with a map of China and Laos and showed it to several people, and showed them my ticket, and they all nodded - yes that's right. - SO - okay lets go!
About 10:30 that morning we stopped at a town that I knew was on the way to Laos. This was a good thing, at least I'm not headed back to Kunming! So I felt a lot better.
At this stop, I got off, was told we had 30 minutes, so I walked up to the street to change my Chinese money in Laos money. Less than 3 minutes.
When I returned the bus was GONE! And all the people. ohhh ... me!
I went back to the money changer (who was trying to fix me up with a hotel and a girl)and he told me the bus always leaves for about 30 minutes to run to the market and pick up or deliver trade goods, and that my pack was safe, and everything was okay and did I want a girl! No - but thanks for Bus infomation. Since this guy was the only person that could speak a little English I didn't want to make him mad at me!
Well the bus didn't return in 30 minutes, and all the passengers showed back up, and they too were asking where is the bus. I guess thats what the conversation between the passengers and the assistant driver who was also waiting. No answer as to what was happening.
About an hour later the assistant driver told everyone something, I went and got my money changer friend and he told me the bus had an electrical problem, it was getting fixed and not to worry, and I had time for a woman! NO THANK YOU, BUT thanks for the translation.
We hung out, and about 1 O'clock one woman went and got a carry out lunch that looked pretty good. I pointed at it, smiled, shrugged my shouders. She smiled, got up , led me to the shop, helped me buy my lunch, (I'm glad I kept some Chinese money) and we went back to the station and I enjoyed lunch and we all just waited.
About 2 o'clock the bus arrived as if nothing had happened. My pack was still there, quiet a relief! We took off, headed for Laos I hoped!
When the bus had arrived back to the bus station I walked around to theback of the bus to see if anything was written on it as to destinations (on the back - mind you).
Well there it was - Jinghong to Huay Xai! Some pronouce it oouwee Xai. So thats where we are going. I know Huay Xai, its in Laos on the Thai border near Chaing Rai. I have been there several times. I just never thought to look that far away from Jinghong on the map.
So now, what to do. Looking at my map, I found the intersection of roads where one goes to Huay Xai, and the other goes to Oudomxai. I had not gone out of the way at all. I just had paid a little bit extra for a longer trip.
The bus stopped about 3 o'clock and the bus was buying us all lunch. We could have done this while we waited, but oh well. Lunch was very good. It also gave me time to tell the Driver, the assistant driver, and the Bus Steward (hard worker on bus) that I wanted to get off at HA TOI, I was going to Udomxai.
This was a pretty hard concept for them to grasp I realized, and they all started talking to me at once. Finally a woman passenger explained to them what I wanted to do (I guess) because after she spoke , they all agreed to let me off at Ha Toi, and everyone was happy. ..... Crazy American I'm sure they were thinking!!
Ha Toi is literally just a little cross road village. It does have a hotel, but I hoped not to have to stay there.
Walking to a little shop/restaurant I asked a lady there in English - "BUS TO UDOMXAI?" She replied by holding up 4 fingers. Four O'clock. I looked at my watch - 4:30. But she was so calm, and confident of a bus coming .... I realized that Laos is an hour earlier than China, it was only 3:30 in Laos. Halleluia!! I took my pack off and waited. The bus came about 4:30, I jumped on - asked "Oudomxai?" and got a positive nod, I had made it.
The bus was a typical old broke down Laotian bus, but I was very happy. There were also some European and New Zealand young people on board, about 10. They were coming from Thailand that morning through HuayXai and going to the nice tourist town off LuangPrabang. They were the first Westerners I had seen since I left Beijing days ago. The back of the bus ressembled a college party after a football game, they would have a hard day tomorrow!
About 2 hours later we arrived at OudomXai, I got off bus, walked to my favorite hotel, checked in - wrote Anna an email, - ate dinner. Back in the room I decided a bath and clothes washing could wait til tomorrow. I did brush my teeth, that was NICE. I slept for 10 hours.!!
June 29, Wednesday, Oudomxai, Laos|
Leaving in a few hours for my final destination - Muang Mai
This is one of the best resort towns I ever visit! Hot water, roman toilets, wi fi in the hotel room, overhead fan, hot water always available in lobby all for $7.50 per night, ..... and a town with a few restaurants with menus and not just noodle soup.
I gonna hate leaving today! But it IS the reason for this trip, to go survey Hill Tribe villages above the bigger village of Muang Mai.
It's about a 3 hour trip to the last bus stop, then my contact person in Muang Mai is going to meet me at Maung Khua and take me to Muang Mai. With out him picking me up,I would have several hours of waitng for the local "local" bus to go. So I am grateful for little things!
I will eat french fries and a hamburger for lunch. The hamburgers are kinda strange but make a nice sandwich any way.
I'll be back on line in about 5 to 6 days. - so long for now.
|Kunming Station||Kunming Street||Internet||
Chinese Country House
Sleeper Bus to Jinghong
|Store front Clinic||Chinese Border||Laos Border|
|Bus To Muang Khoau||
Shop at busstation
||Girl needs money||OK, Got it - lets Go||Ticket Check||Boy at station||donut lady||My seat mate|
|Behind me on bus||Engine Repair||Get fuel for Cleaning||Injector cleaning||Mr. Fix it|
From Udomxai to Muang Mai June 30, 2011
I walked up to the bus station about noon, and bought a ticket for the 3:30 pm bus to Muang Khaou. Came back to town, ate lunch - french fries and fried rice. When it was time to go, it was raining, so I pulled out my "piece of plastic"I had bought on a previous trip to Laos in the rainy season, and threw it around me like a blanket. This works very well as a rain cover for me and my pack. It is better than a poncho that you have to pull over your head and then struggle to get it over the back pack. Plus, if it is HOT, you can easily regulate the air flow through the front. It also is a very nice piece of soft plastic, almost like cloth.
At the bus station I found my bus, it looked pretty nice, and I got on and claimed a seat with my backpack. I chose a good window seat (I had controll of opening and closing the window, and it was near the front, ahead of the wheel well.
The bus took off on time, then we stopped for a young lady to go use an ATM machine. The first one didn't work so she ran to the next one, we followed. She got her money - see pictures - and we set off again!
After an hour of so the driver stopped and opened the motor cover that is in the bus. He and his assistant worked the engine, and were using a long steel rod. I guess to tighten the fan belt or something. At any rate, it seemed very dramatic. They then pulled all their tools out,put them back into the "motor oil can" toolbox and off we went.
For a while.
We stopped and again the cover came up, and the wrenches all got pulled out and the two men went to work amid a lot of talking! In a few minutes they were pulling parts off. Then they got out of the bus, went to the back of the on the paved road and laid down some pieces of the motor. Then the driver gets a plastic hose out of the bus trunk and a bucket and walks to the fuel tank, and starts to sippon fuel out. The driver couldn't do it, so the helper, Mr Mechanic, went and sucked REAL hard and got a mouthful of fuel and some fuel in the bucket. That was enough. Back at the parts on the ground, Mr. Mechanic starts blowing on the parts and trying to unscrew them. I realize these must be the fuel nozzles or something for a diesel engine. They were blocked.
Mr. Mechanic was not discouraged however, and he kept poking wire in one end, blowing in the other end, washing everything with fuel, and then repeating every thing again and again,
About 45 minutes later, we were tearing down the highway at a much too fast a speed I thought!.. but we were traveling.
I had been told that when I got to Muang Khaou to pay the "tut-tut" 5,000 kip and to take me to the river. There I was to take a ferry boat for 2,000 kip, and my contact person would meet me there.
Simple enough. I told the "tut-tut" -- RIVER -- HOW MUCH?, he flashed 5 fingers. Good.
At the river, there was a boat just about to leave, I jumped in, (it was a Laos Long boat, low and long with a big engine) and we went to the other side. I got out and paid 2,000 kip.(there are 8,000 kip per dollar). It all worked just as planned, except ..... no one was there.
Its dark now, and on this side of the river there are only a few little shacks, not much else. I called my contact man, no answer. I recalled, "no such number"! A slight feeling of "HUH OH"" excitement ran thru my ole body. ...... Questions such as did I misread the day? Did I write his number down wrong? .....no ...no.. just wait a minute.
Now call again - slowly.The line was busy or out of order.... Okay I tell myself, I have the number of Mr. Yue and he is the driver. I was calling his boss, now I will call Mr. Yue.
Mr. Yue answered then passed the phone to Mr. Phongsaven, his boss who spoke English. Yes, they were coming, they were almost there, see you in a minute.
It was now very dark, but it looked brighter than a minute before! I felt very relieved that the pickup truck was in fact on the way to pick me up.
As it turned out Mr. Phongsaven was going to the capital, and had come to Muang Khaou tonight so that he could catch the bus tomorrow morning. it worked out great for me, saving me a long wait in Muang Khaou for the once daily bus to Muang Mai.
Mr. Yue was very pleasant, and spoke a little English, but concetrated very hard on driving at night on these bad and dangerous roads. We arrived at Muang Mai about 8 o'clock and Yue dropped me off at the hotel.
The hotel cost 60,000 kip per night - actually kinda high for this place and no hot water. But I was glad to be in any hotel. After checking in I looked around for a place to eat. Nope - nothing.
I found a little shop still open,it was the only light bulb on the street - easy to fine - and I bought a Rama noodle dinner and two little packs of cookies. Life gets simple sometimes!
I had a nice little quite dinner in my room, and got to bed early. Glad to be here!...tomorrow we will go to some villages.
|Bad spot in Road||River Road||Rice Paddy||
|Village Street||Village Street||Lunch Time||Dinner Time||Enjoy Honey and Rice||HoneyHive||Honey and Rice|
In the villages
This morning Mr. Yue came and picked me up about 8 o'clock This gave me time to walk up to a Vietnamese restaurant that I had eaten at on my last trip. I discovered on the last trip that the chef could actually follow instructions and cook some scrambled eggs and put a little sausage in it.
This trip I guess it was the same guy, I did not recognize him, but he understood, frying eggs - two, and having some hot rice with it This was a big deal for me, and I had a good breakfast. That following my feast last nite of Rama noodle soup and some cookies was nice.
Mr Yue, who is with CRWRC , had a nice Ford, 4 door, 4 wheel drive truck, and we struck out for the three villages that I wanted to look at. It took one hour to get to the first village, on roads that were to say the least ---- bad. Then we got to the second village and it was time for me to switch from trucks to motorbikes.
I was introduced to Phone and Phongsaven,. My guides for the villages. Phone and I exchanged hats, he gives me a helmet, and I give him a bent up straw cowboy hat.
I'm riding with Prongsaven, Phone is following. We take off . We are now on what is known as a bike trail in Laos. These are improved walking trails, ... improved by man and shovel. Improving trails is a big project here and very helpful and beneficial to these remote villages. Bike trails becomes the highway for motor bikes and makes commercial enterprises easier. The developement and construction cost of these trails is very low. They are much better than just walking trails.
Some common things all the villages have is that they are bare of any grass or "beauty spots", and are basically houses sat randomly and close together on a hillside or hill top.- it seems no urban plan.
There are no streets or throughways through a village, just muddy trails and walkways along twisted paths between houses.
JuLy, August and September are the wet season months - AND it rains a lot, ..... but not everyday. In the dry season it never rains, never.
In the rainy season the roads that are heavily traveled become almost impossible. What hits me the hardest, or the hardest to comprehend ... is the fact that none of the villages make any attempt to develope mud-free walkways to go from place to place, instead of walking in the thick, oft times slippery red clay of the village! Your feet will always get muddy when you go somewhere - anywhere!..I just don't understand. And I have seen this in Central America, South America, and Africa, and I still do not comprehend the thought process that allows you to continue to walk in the MUD!
I had lunch with two chiefs - two lunches. The chiefs are always in the village. No other men were around, this is the busy season with the rice and rain and work to do.
One chief and his daughter left the mountains with us. The daughter, thanks to CRWRC, has an appointment in Vientiene to see a doctor about her feet. They are extremly large, almost like elephatitus. She returned to MuangMai with us, It may have been her first trip to a town. She looked to be around 16.
The chief , as soom as we got to the hotel, went and took a shower-cold- and came out dressed the part of a chief. He had on nice black shoes, no socks, dress pants of a suit, and a suit coat that did not match the pants, but it was new because it still had the label on the sleeve.
Now I'm not telling that to be ugly or to degrade the chief. He is a wonderful man. I tell you that so you will understand a little about who these people are and how they try to adopt to western ways. They want to learn - we need to be available.
At any rate I had a good tour of a lot of places and saw where we cam implement Ram Pumps to help the folks in the villages develop better lives for themselves and their
More about the villages
The villages have maybe 40 to 50 families each and the principle source of income and food is farming. They grow rice and corn, have chickens and UGLY looking hogs. The hogs have the hugh stomach that almost drags the ground and the head looks like a mean ole Razorback.
Colquitt County High School, "The Packers", have a wild hog as there mascot, they could use one of these babies as a mean looking dude, but you would have to hide the stomach. It does not give the impression of strenght.
The villages that I visited , 3 of about 13, in the area, are ones that I may put a Ram Pump in. I was dissappointed to fine out however that CRWRC has recently finished a project that piped water in from miles away to give a source of water on the hilltop in the village.
Once I studied the entire situation however, I feel this is a GREAT place to put our first pumps. There are several reasons. One is that to be tinkering around with a villages water supply, if something doesn't work, could be bad news. The village needs water all the time, with no time off. So for our first installations, a back up system would be a good place to learn the ins and outs of doing this.
Second, the logistics of getting material to the sight,(the first time) and then not having EVERYTHING you need is going to present difficulties. Even if you could get to town, its 2 hours to a store. And that's a small store. A nice store is in Oudomxai, about 4 hours away - one way! 8 hour trip to "run" to the big store and get back.
The new water supply is also just for use by the villagers. It can not be used for irrigation because of the small supply of water.
I was told by Phone (not a telephone, but by my guide named Phone) that the upland people do not have commercial gardens. The lowland people do. The reason is that the upland people do not have sufficient water to utilize irrigation on garden crops in the dry season. I guess in the wet season it is too wet. No one told me that, but that would explain why they do not have gardens.
At any rate, if and when we are able to get water up from the bottom of the hill to the hill top, we can then have a water supply for villagers and for commercial gardens. Thats the plan.
There is another village with no water on the hill top with the village. It is a LONG walk first down hill, then back up hill with a load of about 4 liters of water. This village is in the process of moving to another location so that CRWRC can pipe water down hill to them. There current village is way above any known water source.
For this village, we could possibly bring the water up the hill a good ways and make the trip shorter, and if they still haven't moved next year, maybe we can help them out by taking maybe an hour off the walk to get water.
On the way to this water source we pasted small children carrying baskets on their backs filled with empty plastic bottles to fill with water and return to the village. A LOT OF HARD BACK BREAKING WORK.
I feel very confident that we can help these folks, ... now ...just got to DO IT!
PS, I'll get some pics up a little later-come back
Oudomxai to Huay Xai to Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai
July 2 till July 7, 2011
Actually as you know, I have been very negligent in posting this blog. No excuses, and next year it won't matter, and it probably does not even matter now! So .. On with the story.
Having gotten a ride to Muang Mai, to the ferry, I crossed over and took a tut-tut to the local bus station about 4 kilometers out of town. Why it is way out like this is a mystery to me. The town is not congested, there are no stores or restaurants way out there. It does give the local tut-tut driver some occassional business, and it cost 10,000 Kip, about $1.25. - maybe that's enough of a reason!
From Muang Mai, I went to Oudomxai and stayed two days. It was comfortable. I was tired.
My next objective was to visit friends in Chiang Rai, Thailand, Nancy and AJ, then to go to Chiang Mai, Thailand and meet with Thomas, a guy who builds RAM Pumps.
I did not bring with me on this trip my Lonely Planet Guide book on Thailand. I had three others, Trans-Siberian Railway, Southwestern China, Laos plus London. I was loaded and decided I could make it in Thailand with out a book.
I have been to Huay Xai,Laos several times. It is on the Mekong River and is a bordercrossing point between Laos and Thailand. I found my old hotel and had enough KIP to see me through the night and to buy a boat ticket (10,000 Kip - $1.25)in the morning for Thailand.
As I was crossing the Mekong River to Chiang Kuan, Thailand in a narrow "long boat" , I wished I had brought my book! But, I did okay without it. I found a bank in Chiang Kuan and exchanged some dollars for baht, (29.9 baht for one US dollar - it used to be 32 to one), and I knew where the bus station was. No problem.
I caught the bus to Chiang Rai,(it is a three hour ride and cost 65 baht - about $2.00.) I knew Chiang Rai was going to be hard for me because I did not remember the name of any hotel that I had stayed at before. I didn't want to bother Nancy or AJ they are both very busy with teaching school and running an orphanage. I decided to look around the center of town near the bus station and just find a place to hold up one night.
Well as soon as I got off the bus in the downtown bus station, I saw a nice looking Hotel. I checked on it, it was great. 300 Baht ($10.00), Air Con, and WI FI, with a towel, hot water and bathroom. No soap or toilet paper though. The hotel had that for sale.
I called Nancy and AJ and the place they suggested that we eat was across the street from my hotel, and the bus I was taking the next day was in front of my hotel. So I figured I did pretty good without my guidebook. PTL!!
It is always nice and enjoyable to visit with Nancy and AJ, and especially to have someone just to talk to !
The next day I took a DELUX VIP bus to Chiang Mai. Getting a little tired of the Laotian funky buses. This bus was what is called a 24 seater. It only has One seat on one side and two seats on the other side and a lot of room between. Instead of having over 40 people, sometimes 60 people, this bus only had 24 passengers. It also had a usable clean toilet on board. A nice Ride, it only lasted 3 hours though. I told myself I deserved it! It cost 263 baht (less than ten bucks).
I faced the same propblem in ChiangMai, and was not as fortunate. I got a room in a major "backpacker" hotel for one night only. This place was cheap for a city - 160 baht-$5.75, with hot water, and WIFI, but no AC. It had a good restaurant, and except when I ate at McDonalds, I ate all my meals here. Meals were about $1.25 to $2.00
My visit to Chiang Mai turned out to be the most important part of my trip.
Here I met Thomas, a German guy, working with an organization designed to help create better lives for rural folks.
One of thier projects, and Thomas's main focus, was to develope a Ram pump that would be realiable, durable, and simple to maintain.
I spent another day in Chiang Mai, my trip being basically over - now just waiting on the Delta flight to Atlanta.
Chiang Mai is the tourist center of Thailand. Much to see, Much to do.
My touring consisted of making frequent trips to the air conditioned McDonalds and having coffe one time, an ice cream cone the next time, then repeating this tour.
Ocassionally I would buy a small hamburger. My main meals were at the "backpacker"hotel where they had good fried rice and vegetables for $1.25. It is amazing to me how quickly I tire of noodles and noodle soup in Laos, and how I never get tired of fried rice in Thailand.
I should note however that in Laos, when I can fine fried rice, or talk someone into cooking it for me it is usually TOO GREASY to eat often!
My next trip is an overnite train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
BANGKOK July 8 - 9, 2011
I caught the train in Chiang Mai at 5:30 in the afternoon. I had purchased a second class air conditioned sleeper, top berth, for 761 Baht.(about $25.00). I had requested a lower berth, more expensive but there were none available, so - let's enjoy the TOP!
The train was very nice. I had been taking the train to Vientiene, Laos my last several trips and those trains are not as nice as the one I was on this trip.
These are the sleeper cars that look like the old movies with each berth covered with a curtain and an aisle down the middle.
I was not sure about food on the train, so I ate me a hamburger at the train station before boarding. It was a Thai hamburger, definitely not a BURGER KING, but adequate to stave off my appetite for a while.
On the train, however, the stewart came around with dinner menus, and everyone was ordering, so I didn't want to be left out,.... wishing I had something else to EAT! soI joined in and ordered too!
The menu had 4 or five set dinners, pretty fancy things at that. I ordered Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Jasmine rice, soup, Roasted duck in Curry, with fruit, and a bottle of water. Dinner cost 150 Baht - $5.00.
They brought the dinners in about 45 minutes - no one was in a rush, we had nothing to do the rest of the evening! Dinner was half good. The Rice and chicken and cashew nuts were good, and sliced pineapple was good. I did not like the soup (it all has the same smell to me,) and I have never liked curry, I just don't remember until I order some and taste it..
After dinner, the stewards came around and made up all the berths. This is when you go to bed whether you want to or not, unless you have a friend with a lower berth that will let you share his berth with him. I didn't - so by 8;30 I was comfortably in my berth, with my "Kindle", and I had an enjoyable night.
I woke up about 6:30, got my coffee mug out of my pack, crawled out of my cave, went to the end of car, where there were toilets and lavatories, AND ... a thermos of HOT Water, so in a few minutes I was having fresh made Nescafe coffee in my little nest, reading the International Herald Tribune just downloaded into my "Kindle".
Life is good and fun!
For breakfast I had orange aid (juice) two eggs, toast, spam (ham), a hot dog (sausage), with coffee and jam. This cost 100 baht - $3.25. It was okay, and very nice to have since the train did not arrive in Bangkok til 12:30.
It was my last train ride of the trip, it was 18 hours long. I will, however, take a subway train out to the airport tonite about 10 pm, for the actual LAST LAST train ride from London to Bangkok International airport.
Except for the shouting, the trip is about over. My plane doesn't leave until 5:30 in the morning, so I finally decided to keep my hotel room for the entire day and have a place to hang out all day till about 11 or 12 tonight - instead of just being a street person. I figured the cost at a little over a dollar an hour for use of an air conditioned hotel room, versus a hard tail bench in the airport or train station!
Getting soft in my old age, but wiser!