Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lost in China

If you'll stipulate to the fact that we are all the centers of our own universes, then it should come as no surprise that I am the most interesting person that I know. Recently, however, I've had the uncomfortable feeling that I've been surpassed, at least temporarily, by the Lively German. Should I be blogging about his Great Adventure rather than whining about the lack of initiative on the part of the local wildlife in various European capitals? I am tempted since, aside from mass E-mailings every week or ten days, he's not doing it for himself...

In the interest of discretion, I'll limit myself to the memories and imaginings that his trip stirs up. From Delhi (where he stayed with my old friend R.) he bussed to his starting point in Dehradun and in less than a month, he'd made it the roughly 1500 kilometers to Kathmandu without incident. But not surprisingly, upon reaching the border with Tibet, since he was neither part of an official guided group nor had he obtained special permission, the Chinese turned him away unceremoniously. This entailed a return to Kathmandu and a whole series of rearrangements to his itinerary, that rather put me in mind of my own blunder trying to leave Costa Rica for Nicaragua in 1986. In my defense, I was very young and it was the first time I'd traveling as an adult outside of my country (although I was accompanied by my theoretically-more-experienced but in reality dead-weight boyfriend who most unfortunately turned into my best-unmentioned ex-husband).

Now then, it was the Costa Ricans not the Nicaraguans who were the problem; hindered by pigeon Spanish, we finally garnered that we'd failed to purchase exit stamps needed to leave the country. The existence of said exit stamps were, of course, a complete surprise to us, but less surprising was that they could only be purchased at the nearest state capitol, which meant back-tracking well into Guanacaste. My well-experienced traveler brain looks back now thinking, hmmm, what would have been the chance of bribing whichever official stood in my way? But I was still (relatively) pure at that point and said thought never crossed my mind.

The bus company unloaded our luggage and dumped it by the side of the road at this shitty border outpost in the middle of a war zone (remember: 1980s, Sandinistas). We probably looked pretty forlorn -- two sweet young things -- and as the bus pulled slowly away, a journalist who'd been traveling with us since San José slipped us $20 worth of colones through the window. [OK, well, maybe he did it before getting back on the bus, but somehow it's more dramatic this way.] Those colones certainly came in handy as we'd of course spent up all ours before leaving and had little chance of finding anyone to accept our travelers checks until Monday morning. I always remember that guy with gratitude and have returned the favor more than once. In that vein, before the Lively German left Berlin, I slipped a few bills into his luggage where I knew he'd find it after it was too late to do anything but scold me long-distance. At which point I told him not to fret, but to put it away somewhere as emergency money. One never knows...

But I digress; back to China where the Lively German, then, was apparently unable to charm or bribe his way over the border. [Would a German ever actually bribe?? Would a Chinese official ever accept a bribe?] He ended up flying to Chengdu in the middle of Szechwan province where he seemed daunted at the spiciness of the food (I drool at the thought of it) but pleased with how prettily-shod the women are. After making it into Aba well up on the plateau that continues west to Tibet, he's been out of touch now for half a month. As he must be somewhere in the wilds of Quinghai Province [sans riots? sans floods?], I've had to rely on flights of imagination, picturing him camping amongst Tibetan or Mongolian herders, his lime tent blending between their white and brown ones and the green highland grasses. Or I imagine he's gorging on lamb and dumplings and noodles to keep those biking legs in shape. I hope he'll make his date tomorrow, to meet up with the requisite (and very expensive) guided tour, which is the only way he's permitted to do the Golmud to Lhasa leg (a mere 1200 kilometers planned for 3 weeks). Here's hoping he'll manage a phone call to one of his biggest fans currently in not-so-exciting Madrid. She'll be waiting for it, likely sipping gazpacho, in between dashing up to La Rioja for wine tasting or over to the Camino de Santiago to expiate a sin or two.

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