Yesterday Nate and I decided to trust lonely planet and explore another are of Chongqing very far away: Zhongshan, which means Middle Mountain. The girls at our hostel helped us out the night before, looking up where to catch a bus to Zhongshan. This was after they gushed about how hot Nate was, were shocked at the fact that, NO we are not dating, and joked about who got to go after him since he was single. They called him Gao ShuaiFu, and me Bai FuMei, which means tall, handsome and rich and white, beautiful and rich. They also freaked out over the six Africans that arrived late last night, here in Chongqing for an exhibition of African culture, screaming “chocoli, chocoli!!!” (Chinese name for chocolate if you were confused). All in all, it was an interesting night.
The next morning we woke up at ten, grabbed some baozi and made our way to the subway station to find the bus depot. For some reason the subway wasn’t running all the way to the busses so we had to get off a stop early and walk. Based off directions we FINALLY made it to the bus depot, however, we were told that we had to go to a different depot to get tickets to Jiangjin, a city where we could transfer to Zhongshan. We were very confused because people kept telling us the name of the bus station, and we had no idea what they were talking about. Eventually we figured it out and randomly kept asking people, who kept pointing us in a direction. Finally one man grabbed us and told us we had to get into his van and he would take us to the bus station because it was very far away. What?! We thought people had been pointing us to a building, not a sketchy van! We asked ladies selling fruit on the street who also told us to get in the van. The man tried to get me to sit in the front seat- I screamed that I wanted to sit in the back and climbed in the sketchy “let’s kidnap Americans” rape van. The driver then told us we had to pay a “xiao fei”, or tip. Sure. Then he told us it was 30 kuai. What?! I played bad cop with him for a while arguing that 30 kuai was by no means a “xiao fei”, but when we figured out exactly how far we needed to go, aka the other side of Chongqing, I stopped arguing. Eventually after a full morning of misadventure, we made it to the bus station around noon and got a 12:30 ticket. I guess we should have left earlier.
If we thought we were getting stared at around Chongqing before, the train station was BY FAR the most I’ve ever been stared at in my entire life, even more so than Shaxi. Eventually we were able to board our bus, and listened to 80’s American saxophone music videos for the entire two hour ride… except the last 10 minutes in which the cab driver started playing the movie Machete. For anyone who hasn’t seen that movie, in the first 10 minutes Machete kills about 20 people (with a machete), is stabbed by a naked girl who then pulls a cell phone out of her vagina and is shot in the head by her supposed lover-boss. There were children on the bus and I’m still shocked.
Finally we arrived at Jiang Jin and were able to get tickets within a half an hour for Zhongshan. Our bus to Zhongshan was definitely interesting. Not only was it more of a van than a bus, but Nate could not fit his legs anywhere, so he was forced to sit in the one seat that randomly stuck out with no one in front. This forced me to sit next to him in possibly the smallest space on the bus. My legs did not fit, so I had to put my legs under his while he spread his legs out into the isle. Not only was the bus full, every town we drove though the bus would pull over and pick up random locals who paid in cash. I wonder if the driver and the woman collecting the money actually gave the money to the train station or if they pocketed it. People were also allowed to get off wherever they wanted along the way. The driver and the woman collecting money seemed to know everyone and where exactly to stop, so I’m assuming they were all regulars.
We were definitely the bus spectacle to say the least. My only question is: WHO writes these Lonely Planet books??? “Oh yeah, just take the local bus down to Zhongshan”- we may be the only westerners all year who actually did it. Eventually, we were dropped off on some random dirt road with the explanation that we were in Zhongshan… what?! How do we get back? When are the next busses? Apparently we were to just wait for the bus on the road…. Okay. We assumed that the last bus was at 7:30 according to Lonely Planet so the plan was to wander and head back up around 7.
We eventually found a sign pointing down towards the river saying old village, so we ventured down. Below the main road was a long old town street near the water. It was somewhat touristy, but you could also peer into the people’s homes behind the storefronts. There were some Chinese tourists milling about (the women all in high heels of course) but we were definitely the only non-Chinese tourists. A woman on the bus recommended us the street tofu, so we decided to grab one.
All along the road was tofu being cooked on wooden grates with steaming coals underneath. They would then slice open the tofu, putting meat and spices inside, making a little sandwich! Wandering around, we stumbled upon a little hostel. “Who would stay here?!” Nate asked, “I don’t know, maybe people who miss the last bus or something, or don’t want to worry about making it back that evening”, I responded. All along the walkway there were dogs running around and cats with and without leashes. We eventually stumbled upon an area where we could cross the river via stepping stones. We headed across the brown river to the other side of the bank, where I proceeded to slip and dunk my entire foot into a giant river puddle. Whoops. We climbed up to the other side and noticed a trail, which we proceeded to follow. It took us all the way to….. a peacock petting zoo! I am not kidding, but with a 30 kuai fee to enter, we decided it wasn’t worth it, especially since all of the pretty white ones were in enclosures anyway.
We then made our way back to the other side of the river, where we followed the street down until the very end. We then found a trail, so we decided that since my sperrys were already wet and dirty anyway, why not hike a little more? We hiked along a path past waterfalls along the river for about 15 minutes, before we were forced to turn around. It was really beautiful and nice to get away from all of the noise and construction of Chongqing. On our way back through the main street an old man approached Nate and asked him to sit. An older woman pulled up a stool and had me sit near them. The older man had about three teeth in his mouth and started speaking to us in unintelligible Sichuanese. The two women were a bit easier to understand, and asked us where we were from. At one point they asked us where we were staying and we said Chongqing. They replied “no you’re not”- We were very confused. “What do you mean ‘no we’re not’?”. Apparently, the last bus left for Chongqing at 4:30. “What about JiangJin???!” Nope. It was officially 5:10 pm, we had missed the very last buss and we were screwed.
Nate and I hurried down the thin alley, noticing that all of the tourists were gone. CRAP. We ran up about 100 steps back to the main road to ask about the bus. The last bus was at 4:30. Great. The next bus out was at 6:30am, getting us to Chongqing by around 9:30-10am. No wonder everyone on the street was staring and chuckling as we arrived, we arrived at Zhongshan thirty minutes before the last bus left. Now we know why Zhongshan has a hostel- for dumb tourists like us. Thank you Lonely Planet for completely screwing us over. A man overheard this conversation and offered to drive us back to Chongqing in his van for 200 kuai- roughly $30. For a three hour bus ride, 200 kuai wasn’t THAT bad, but we’d only paid $40 kuai to get to Zhongshan on both busses. We decided that paying for the van was better than getting a hostel and asked the man if he could wait an hour for us to have dinner.
We made our way back down to the alley and found a nice place for dinner. The menu, however, was completely in Chinese characters with no pictures. The woman took us out to the front of the restaurant where all of the food was laid out. We agreed on some sort of pork, tofu dish and tried to explain to her that we wanted a vegetable dish. She was completely lost. This woman did not speak mandarin Chinese and had no idea what shucai was (vegetables). We pulled out the menu and pointed at random cheap things asking her what they were. Eventually we settled on some sort of green leafy vegetable dish. Cool.
The food was actually very good. Both dishes were cheap and turned out very well. At around 6:00 we headed back up to the main road to find our entrepreneurial driver. We hopped in his little van and started down the road. After about 5 minutes he pulled over to the side of the road. He turned around and said “So we have an agreement, 200 kuai to JiangJin”. “JiangJin?! We thought you said 200 to Chongqing?!!”. Apparently we had misheard. We tried to bargain it down, but he wouldn’t budge. “Are there even busses at that time from JiangJin to Chongqing?!!!”. “Oh there are plenty, they run all evening”, he told us. We decided that we would just have to think of it in American dollars- $15 each for an hour and a half van ride to JiangJin so we can get home at a reasonable hour. “Okay fine”, we eventually agreed, and we were off to JiangJin.
An hour and a half later we reached the outskirts of JiangJin, and our van driver, dubbed ‘the entrepreneurial a**hole”, pulled over to the side of the road once more, demanding his 200 kuai. He was most likely afraid that we would try and run out on him since he was ripping us off so much. We gave him the money and he dropped us off right in front of the bus station. We walked up to the door, trying to decided which caffeinated beverage we wanted to buy, and realized that the doors were chained shut. WHAT?! My biggest fear: the bus station was closed. I had made a point to ask the van driver multiple times if he was sure the bus station at JiangJin would still be open. That man probably didn’t know one way or the other and didn’t care- he had his 200 kuai and he was on the road back home. We saw a bunch of busses near the bus station and decided to ask, “Are any of you going to Chongqing?!”, we were then pointed in the direction of a bus about to leave. We ran to the bus and tried to get on, but we were told the bus was full. “Can we stand?!”, we begged. A few Chinese people came up and told us there was one last bus to Chongqing that we could take. Thank GOD. After buying two canned coffees we waited for about 15 minutes for the last bus, which was almost empty, and headed back to Chongqing.
When we finally arrived, the hostel reception girls were glad we were alive; apparently they were a little worried about us. They were shocked when we told them we had to pay 200 kuai to get home, but at least we were back. Stranded on Middle Mountain? Almost. Thanks again Lonely Planet.