Nightmare bus rides

August 9, 2015

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Every long term traveller knows that someday they’ll have a nightmare bus ride, and they nearly always involve mountains. After a pretty easy two months on the beaten track around Japan and Korea we decided we wanted a bit of an adventure but we didn’t bargain for our journey from Pingyao to Qikou.

It turns out that it was worth visiting Qikou so that wasn’t the issue, first we started out from Pingyao bus station to a city called Lishi in rural Shanxi province. We departed and made it 50m down the road where we waited for half an hour. Good start.

We drove through lots of coal mining villages which were dusty, dirty, and smoggy. There were factories everywhere on the horizon, against the barren brown of the landscape, billowing out yellow tinted smoke from their stacks. Dwarfed by the mountains in the background.

The journey to Lishi took us 3 and a half hours because we took the small roads that snaked underneath the big, new highway that they’d built so that you can do the journey in two, the bus driver pocketed the toll charge.

Lishi is dirty and the air is terrible, it exists as a hub for the coal and the roads are teeming with massive lorries.

So we’d made it to Lishi bus station, all we needed to do was find the next bus to Qikou, about a hundred local men swarmed the bus when they saw our faces and offered us ¥150 for a taxi there. Eventually a younger guy who wanted to practise his English found the place that the public bus left from and found us a taxi there, that was nice.

We arrived at the public bus to be told that it’ll leave when it’s full, pretty standard. For ¥20, not so bad.

It was quite a small bus and it was now evident that we were heading out of town, up and over the mountain range.

 All this would have been pretty standard had the driver of this bus not decided he was a formula one driver/he was late home for his dinner. He did pretty much everything he could to scare us whilst the other passengers didn’t even notice. Just another day at the office, some of them were so chilled out they were asleep! I think the girl in front of us was a little terrified though, she was gripping her seat like us.

Allow me to set the scene a little here. We were riding over a mountain ridge with huge ravines on either side. Probably 1000m down the steep terraced sides where the corn was being grown on every available space, the lush green punctuated the beige, dusty mountains. There were hardly any barriers on the road and the roads were terrible; potholed, bumpy, huge sections of the roads were left in disrepair so that traffic from both sides had to fight it out for the 5m of available good road. Lorries were constantly trundling up either side during all this, trees were used as makeshift barriers, dotting the side of the road but they were flimsy and thin. Our bus driver didn’t seem bothered as he accelerated up until an inch away from the potholes then skidded, swerving over them with little control towards the edge of the cliff then swinging the bus almost on two wheels back onto the road.

The fear and the extreme beauty of this place was overwhelming. He also decided to accelerate right up to a massive bend in the road, brake hard, and fling the tiny bus into the corner whilst accelerating again.

He was driving the most erratically out of anyone that we saw on the mountain, there were hundreds of freight trucks and other buses, cars, bikes, and bicycles as usual in China. He’d accelerate right up to their bumpers, pull out onto the other side of the road, then pull back in at the sight of a freight lorry coming the other way.

Needless to say we took the ¥150 taxi back to Lishi the next morning.

Here are some pictures I took from that taxi ride, it is a beautiful landscape that we could fully enjoy from the slow car! The rainbows are from the window.

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