I wake up at 5.30, the alarm is set at 6.00 so I have plenty of time for everything. And all goes well. The reception is open at 7.00 so I can get my 100 RMB deposit back and a taxi is right outside. "Qi che zhan" he understands and where else would I go with a backpack like this?
We pick up a lady in the street. Probably one he fancies. Doesn't ask first. Oh, she shouldn't be dropped there? So we go a bit further. He hears I'm complaining so he points at the clock, am I in a hurry? But I'm not. He doesn't ask for the extra yuan for tax or what ever it is. Only the 7 that's on the meter.
At the busstation I meet the german again. What's he going to do in Songpan? I ask. He's just on his way back to Chengdu, he doesn't know the slightest about roads or earthquakes. There are also 3 israeli girls that have been babbling in hebrew ever since we left. Then we pick up two more foreigners, and soon after also the last seat is taken, and I have to move to the last left seat in the back to give space. Actually two more are picked up, but now only standing is left - hopefully they're not going far?
And then we go on upstreams. The clouds are hanging close to the mountains and we're heading up into them - the clouds that is. It's mostly pines here, but the road is flanked by hardwood, it's just as vigorous as yesterday. The hairpin turns have numbers, this was number eight. We're going up to 3200 m according to the map and the hairpins are counted down. Number five. Jiudaoguai I think is the name of the pass. First. But the bus still crawls upwards, my altimeter also just says 2660 m.
It's turned misty - or cloudy might be more correct. On the top we end up at Jiuzhai Paradise International. Here is a lake - big it seems. The hotel is not to be seen. A beautiful landscape with small summits in the mist. Then comes a fantastic tibetan village of stonebuilt houses, Jiabo seems to be the name. But there is also a Holiday Inn. One of the girls is still talking, the others put in sparse comments.
The road is still lightly inclining and has been fine all the way. We reached a plateau now the bus is coughing in a low gear again. The altimeter only says 2900 m. The girl is still babbling, I say she's irritating. Why not look outside? Maybe they've just met? But it doesn't seem that way.
Now there are wooden slopes to the sides again. I would like to have cycled here! High voltage cables. A meadow with - yaks I think - and a stream. The water still runs backwards but the area is quite flat. The girl still speaks. One of the others has put music in her ears - understandable. There's a cold draught from the window that can be opened.
The last plateau is slightly inclining. Now only pines and bushes. 3225 m. Yesterday it just was 100 m wrong, so we have to be up soon. The high voltage cables are following us - or the opposite. New hairpin turns and the bus crawls upwards slowly. More yaks, this time I'm certain, are eating at the roadside. 3470, the map doesn't fit on this it seems. Busses overtakes us regularly, I wonder were they're going? Up north in the direction of Gansu probably, cause the road down south cannot be recommended! But the last one had a Sichuan license plate. Maybe Ruo'ergai? - or Zoige in tibetan? The trees are all gone the last part, only low bushes.
The last part is a slightly inclining plateau. Smoke comes from something that could be low primitive houses. We're in the alps. At 3540 m it stops - now the water runs the other way. I think the land is being cultivated here, but there are still no sign of much green. An airplane going the same direction as we are. From Jiuzhaigou no doubt, but heading where?
The plain turns into a ravine, along which we ride. Some awful advertising signs disfigure the landscape. The girl is still talking.
A big bus station in tibetan style with guards and surrounded by a
wall. Just after we stop and the engine is turned off, it's a toilet
stop. The toilets are in a small wooden building with tin roof. In the
mens room four planks in the floor are missing, so that's where you
stand, the most primitive I've seen in China until now. A boy collects 5
jiao from each. There wasn't even a water tap.
In a minor plateau we enter there are fields, I can see the plastics from quite a distance. The houses are decorated with this inverted swastika, it's apparently a buddhist tradition not a hinduist like I thought.
It's like a high plain now with scattered buildings. The girl still talks. A sideroad disappears up left in a valley. It's all grass with more tibatan houses. A huge stupa with a golden top to the left and we pass a small caravan of horses. 5-6.
Then comes a town along the road with shops, apparently the center for the activities here in the alps. The girl was silent for half a minute. Now she's speaking again. All the rest of the bus is silent. The town continues. We stop and some get off. The girl addresses me: "Do you think there is a bus station here, because this is Songpan?" "I don't think it's Songpan!" "Yes it is!" She's said "Songpan" to the man beside her, and he's said "Songpan", so now it has to be Songpan, she thinks. The french guy (I think) says he thinks it's Chuanzhusi. I have to bring up the map to be sure. Yes. This town is a center of all the roads in this area.
We move on. The road is missing in our direction - it doesn't surprise me that much - and it has been raining, so it's all slush. They're making a tunnel.
Soon after we stop at one of these spots where two cars cannot pass each other and regulation is needed to avoid traffic jam. In less than ten minutes a row of oncoming cars has passed and our row starts to move slowly. The girl has shout her mouth. The road doesn't improve so this is how it will be all the way to Songpan - and what is more - all the way to Maoxian. It will be GREAT when ever it's finished. We cough our way on, from time to time men with green and red flags are regulating the narrow spots.
It's the Min river - Minjiang - we're now going along. This will lead us all the way to Maoxian, Wenchuan and Dujiangyan.
The last town keeps on and turns into Songpan and we roll into the bus station.
Here I come to talk much more with the german. We share a 3 bed dormitory for 25 RMB behind "Emmas Kitchen", a nice restaurant.
It's not clean here and only one toilet, but I save my money for the expensive hotel in Maoxian. We walk a bit round town together. It's much nicer than the description in Lonely Planet let you think. A real nice town, but without tourists, even we agree that we've now seen around ten white people.
The frenchmen, of whom she's originating from Cambodia, I come to talk to when we meet at the path up a monestary on the mountain side.
I start walking a bit to take some photos, but as usual I'm at least halfway when we meet. There is not much to see up there, they say, so we go together on our way back. Nice people, they're flying on from Jiuzhaigou this evening, otherwise they might have been new friends?
The german and I are going with the same bus tomorrow - we think. I will get off at Maoxian and he will keep up all the way to Chengdu - I wonder when they'll get there? We start at 7.00.