aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Ourminds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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when travel sucks
datong to hohhot

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

If you read enough travel bloggers and travel magazines, you might get the idea that long-term travel is the ideal life, full of long days basking in sunshine and rainbows, eating gum drops and lollipops, visiting sensational sights and beautiful wonders, with nary a care in the world.  And, yes, there are many, many days where we both feel like the most fortunate people in the world because we have eaten tofu that blows our mind, jumped off a canyon, or bathed elephants.  But, we here at The Road Forks believe in handing you the raw, unvarnished truth.  You see, there are also those horrible days when we want to pack it all in, hop on the nearest flight home, find ourselves back in our 9-5 jobs, and buy a  house surrounded by a white picket fence. 

Hunyuan Hanging Monastery

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

It happened on the day we traveled from Datong to Hohhot, the day I like to remember as the "Worst Travel Day Ever."   We got onto a bus at 9:00 a.m., scheduled to arrive in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia at 1:00 p.m.  At 11:30, the bus conductor stops the bus  on the side of the road, points at Patrick and me and the one other white girl on the bus and says, "Go."  He pushes us off the bus and we are standing there, in the middle of nowhere, entirely confused, as another man tells us to get into his car.  I run and catch the bus and tell them not to leave.  We struggle, pointing and gesturing to our Mandarin phrase book, explaining that this is not the right place, when, finally, a very lovely Chinese college student who spoke English and Mandarin got off the bus and determined that the ticket agent had sold us the wrong tickets.

Hanging Monastery Hanging Monastery

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

This is not altogether uncommon in China.  Mandarin is a ridiculously difficult language because it is tonal, meaning that when you say "Hohhot," if you don't use the correct tones, then the person to whom you are speaking won't understand you.  On top of this, when the Chinese people don't understand us, they often sell us what they think we want.  So, at a restaurant, we might ask for "shui," or water, and they will look at us, assume that we don't know what we're talking about, and bring us a pitcher of beer.  I kid you not.

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

On this day, the woman at the ticket counter sold us tickets to Hunyuan rather than Hohhot.  Will you please look at those two words for me?  Other than that they both start with the letter "h", they have no commonality whatsoever, but because the ticketing agent couldn't figure out why two foreigners would want to go to inner Mongolia, she sold us tickets to Hunyuan.  Hunyuan, home of the awesome and slightly-scary 14th century Hanging Monastery built jutting out of a cliff, is a beautiful site but we had just been there the day before.  We loved the Hanging Monastery but didn't need to see it again.  We stayed on the bus as it turned back around for another 2 1/2 hour trip to Datong.

Hanging Monastery

Hanging Monastery, Hunyuan

Because we were the last ones on the bus, we sat in the very far back, crushed in between two smokers but, thankfully, with the windows open.  I leaned back and thought to myself, "Well, a Coke would be nice."  I opened up my Coke and ka-pow!  The entire bottle explodes, soaking me and the two poor people next to me in syrupy cola.  My very sweet husband immediately begins laughing uproariously while I give him death eyes.  And, that might have been the point that I started crying . . . just a little bit . . . because I was tired, hungry, sticky, and in desperate need of a restroom.

Mongolian yurt ceiling

Mongolian yurt ceiling

We reached the Datong bus station and handed the ticket agent the slip of paper in which the young college student had written "Hohhot."  They pointed us toward the bus and, while Patrick bought some snacks, I went to use the restroom, thinking that we had plenty of time before the next bus. 

Interior of Mongolian yurt Pile of dung
Traditional yurts Tourist yurt

Interior of tourist yurt, pile of dung to heat yurts, traditional yurts, tourist yurt and cow

Now, I have been in my fair share of disgusting, gross, and downright awful restrooms but this might have been the worst ever.  It is quite likely that those restrooms were last cleaned when Mao was alive.  There were no doors to any of the squat toilets and some brilliant engineer had planned two rows of squat toilets facing each other, affording me a view of other people doing things that I really didn't need to know about.  I kept my head down and hurried as fast as I could but, apparently, I wasn't fast enough.  The bus conductor was standing with Patrick and both were yelling to me to hurry and get on the bus.

Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia

Poor Patrick.  He hadn't been able to use the toilet in the last 6 hours and was now very much regretting the two Cokes he drank.  (I may have inwardly cackled to myself that he deserved it because he laughed at me when I spilled my Coke but I did not externalize that laughter.  That's just how nice I am.) 

Horse riding boots Mongolian food
Inner Mongolia Mongolian doughnuts

Mongolian boots, stew, landscape, doughnuts (with yak's milk tea)

We got onto the (hopefully) correct bus and waited anxiously for the next pit stop.  The bus driver mercifully stopped within half an hour and we both got back onto the bus, put on our headphones, and pretended that the last 8 hours hadn't happened. 

Mongolian horse Mongolian horse
Mongolian horse Mongolian horse
Mongolian yurt Motorcycles at Mongolian yurt

Mongolian horses; the yurt to which we took our horses

Twelve hours after we left Datong, we arrived in Hohhot --- a trip that should have only taken 4 1/2 hours.  Hohhot turned out to be its own sort of disaster, as I struggled with a stomach bug that left me unable to ingest anything more than bland yogurt once a day, resulting in my furtive hope that I not vomit in my steed's mane as we bounced around on our Mongolian horses.


Mongolian horses

I would like to tell you that there is a positive moral to this story: say, that a good sense of humor is essential to travel or, that even if today is terrible, tomorrow will be better.  Nope.  Sometimes, travel just sucks.

10/29/2010 17:22
Yep, just like at home...some days just suck. It's hard to tell people at home, who think that it's all sunsets and long walks on the beach, but it's true. And, now that I'm back home...they are some of the most memorable! Cheers!
Gillian's recent blog post: Inspire You, Inspire Me
10/29/2010 19:23
Yes, sometimes it does suck. The upside is that you usually have a good story to go with it.
We had a sucky 12 hour boat ride from Siem Reap to Battambang earlier in the month. What should have taken 5 hours took 12 on a boat with no toilet. At one point we thought we'd have to spend the night on the open water. In the moment, it felt like a nightmare, as as they say about childbirth, later, you forget the pain.
10/30/2010 05:34
Oh no! I'm sorry you had to suffer through this - it sounds awful! But it looks like Inner Mongolia was beautiful once you finally made it there? (And man - I have to get to the Hanging Monastery ASAP!)
Jess's recent blog post: Snapshot: Amber Fort
10/30/2010 07:34
Lakshmi Sankar
I am sorry you both went through such rough times. But, you have recounted the story so humorously that I had to laugh!! Love, Mom
11/03/2010 11:34
That's why I love reading your blog because you give us the real story. So sorry to hear about the horrible day. But I'm sure later you will be able to look back to that day and laugh about it. I hope. :)

I remember those toilets in China. I used it at the train station! Don't know how people can go on with their business.
Amy @ The Q Family's recent blog post: Camping With Kids: The Somewhat Roughing It Version
11/21/2010 05:59
This is just what I needed to read tonight as I sit in a very cramped camper van in rainy rainy Queensland. I think e get very hung up on the idea that travel should always be awesome- but like life this is often not the case and we just kind of have to deal with the suckiness.
Stephanie's recent blog post: Friday Postcard: Osaka, Japan
12/22/2010 08:12
Welcome Mongolia Hunnu Yurt
02/18/2011 13:53
Even short term travel sucks at times. There are experiences I'd rather not have lived.

I can't get over the two 'toilets' facing one another... what were they thinking!
02/17/2011 13:24
What were they thinking? Well, in a lot of cultures, seeing someone else doing their business isn't considered shocking, it's just a normal thing. They were planning for their culture, not ours.
Kelsey's recent blog post: Evolution
02/18/2011 15:39
Kelsey - We were surprised about how the Chinese treated the restrooms/privacy because it was unlike anywhere else we had been. I don't know if you've been there but, in China, the little kids don't wear diapers but instead have a split in their pants so that when they need to go, their parents just lift them up and let them do their business. I've never been anywhere where they have a split in the pants of the babies! Everywhere else we've been, the kids just go around naked or wear diapers. It was just another one of those things in China that made it such a unique place.
02/18/2011 13:53
Corinne, Absolutely! We tend to get into our worst arguments when we are just downright cranky because it's been a tough travel day. Yeah, I was not a fan of those toilets facing each other!
01/21/2012 05:20
This was a great post to read -- firstly because both Hohhot and Datong/Hanging Monastery are on my travel list for 2012, and secondly because just a few days ago I also blogged about how a life on the road is sometimes not all it is cracked up to be! I loved reading this story... I've been through the same, being put off the bus while in Chengdu and not knowing what the hell to do. At least we know one day we will look back at the experience and laugh!

Happy travels...
The Travelling Trini's recent blog post: Moshi moshi? Is anyone there?
01/22/2012 10:49
Trini: Datong and the Hanging Monastery are amazing. Hohhot is very different than the other areas of China we visited - much more a melding of different minority groups. And, yes, I think EVERYONE has these crazy travel stories from China. It's just not an easy country to travel in, is it?
06/06/2012 01:09
Gosh this sounds like a HORRIBLE day. I've been fortunate enough not to encounter anything THIS teeth-grinding, but I've my fair stories of mishaps on the road. And correct - there is no MORAL to teach in this story - sometimes things suck. Yes.
Chrystal McKay's recent blog post: Moroccan Cooking I: To Market We Go
07/07/2012 09:06
Even today, this still counts as our very worst day on the road. And, most folks I've talked to have said that their worst day on the road was also in China. Ah well, it's still an amazing country --- just very difficult to travel in.
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