Now I am alone. I just boarded the high speed train that brings me from Beijing to the 1200 kms afar Xi’an in only 5 hours (hint for VR in Finland: for approximately 70 Euros non-student price, and yes, did you see the distance?), and it feels like an airplane. Next to me there’s a dad sitting with his little girl on his lap, they share the seat, and then an unrelated woman. No Santi.
The plan had been to go to Datong by sleeper train, arrive at 5 am in the morning and spend the day there, then the next evening around 11 pm continue to Pingyao by sleeper train, arrive at 6 am and spend the day there, and then continue around 10 pm to Huashan by sleeper train (and, guess what, arrive at 7 am and spend the day there). On that evening, by then it would have been Thursday, we would have continued the remaining 130 kms to Xi’an. Now it is Monday, I am alone, and everything is different.
When we woke up, Santi didn’t feel well. He couldn’t really grasp what it was, but it got worse and he without further ado decided to cancel the entire trip we had planned for the past months, and fly home. Even though he recommended me to do the same, as in China, communication is a challenge, and 4 eyes see more information than 2, this was totally out of question for me. I did adjust this stress-schedule, though. Now I’ll skip the first three stops, go to Xi’an directly, and stay there the next 4 days.
While Simón, Zaira and I ran through the Forbidden City to at least cover another fraction of Beijing’s must-sees, after a slow morning with hostel-, train- and flight rescheduling, Tanja and Santi went to the hospital to make sure he doesn’t have anything serious. Luckily, he didn’t, and the others could take their flights back home. Santi will follow them on Thursday. And I, I am alone now. My biggest fear is that no one will talk to me for the next ten days; if I don’t get any social interaction, I might become unhappy and die. Like a plant. But by booking the hostels recommended in the Lonely Planet I think I made sure to meet nice people – so far, you could follow the trace of this travel guide by the familiar faces in the hostels along the Transmongolian route.
My biggest challenge is as always to find what I need at the train station I arrive, with 15 kilos pressing on my neck (damn cheap backpack) – this time it’s an ATM. I need money to pay for the hostel. And a taxi, because this morning I didn’t have time to find descriptions for how to get to the hostel, before we had to leave the apartment and thus the internet. And then we spent all our remaining time in the Forbidden City, so I didn’t manage to get to an ATM in Beijing before having to board the train. I ran all the way to the exit of the exit of the City, and then to the metro, and then to the train station, and I arrived all sweaty 10 minutes before the train left. I hereby apologize to my seat-neighbors for my smell (but the dad had a terrible breath, so I think we are even, and his daughter didn’t seem to mind either of it). So after an entire round trip through all floors of the station without any luck, I do what all travel guides warn you of, and take one of the scam taxis, some private people waiting for tourists next to the taxi line to drive them all around the city to then charge you double the price from what you agreed on.
Following the guy to his car somewhere in the darkness of the parking garage, explaining the address and that I need to stop at an ATM, I end up in front of a car that already contains one passenger. I am a bit suspicious, two guys, one woman, is that clever to enter? But I have not much choice, so I do it nevertheless. Instead of planning my rape and death mutually, the other guy helps me with the “taxi” driver, who has already forgotten the address again. The guy is from Turkey, but lives and studies in China and speaks a bit of Chinese. He says he’ll make sure I won’t be charged any extra. I do end up at an ATM, and at my hostel, not having to pay anymore, and all in one piece and alive. They even walk me halfway through the street to make sure it’s the right address I got delivered to – by night, it looks a bit shady here. But there are a lot of hostels in that street, and again my initial suspicion was for no good reason.