The following blog is from Roger Golding's 'The one with the Black Cat' from 113 Degrees East. His blog can be found at: http://rogergolding.travellerspoint.com . I don't think any blog I could write could do our holiday justice, and for that reason, here is Roger's:
Towel – Check
Swim shorts – Check
Bus tickets – Check
Hat / Sun cream – Check
This, rather understandably considering we were headed to China’s premier beach holiday spot (Hainan Island), was the checklist assembled on a piece of scrap paper prior to our departure on the Friday evening of the National Day Holiday. Having been gripped by the frenzy of movements around the city during the previous 24 hours myself, Anna, and our four companions, were keen to get set off on what promised to be a week of relaxing sun, sea, and sand. Excited by the notion of exploring the tropical island, with its beautiful beaches on the coast and tropical rainforest inland, preparations had been made, if not all together smoothly, and tickets had been brought, reservations made, and most importantly expectations lubricated via google and several websites!!
In hindsight the list maybe should have read as follows……..
Black cat – Check
Ladder - Check
Red sky in the morning – Check
Broken mirror – Check
Now to say the holiday was a disaster would be very unfair, as in fact it served to do everything that I had hoped before we left. I came away feeling really relaxed, very motivated to throw myself into China more and get more established with the language and the locals, and I was also able to spend some time reflecting on my experiences so far. When you think of it like this it seems absurd to suggest that the holiday was anything short of perfect. I would at this juncture ask you to read on, get a cuppa, and consider the following….
The characters in the drama that was soon to unfold, as you have already discovered, were in high spirits, and by 4pm Friday afternoon had arrived at their point of departure, Tianhe Coach Station. Now if you imagine the shops on the last Saturday before Christmas and times it up by a few you have roughly the chaos we were met with when we arrived to get our bus. People were everywhere, men, women, children, and in some cases animals were concentrated into a mass of life and chaos, desperately trying to find their departure area or buy their tickets, China it seemed was on the move.
Having shoved, pushed, and generally manoeuvred our way to the closest information point, we queued for a while and finally got settled at our gate an hour before our bus was due to leave. To pass the time we mused as to what the nature of the bus that was to take us the 13 hour journey to Haikou (capital of Hainan and port city on the Northern coast). ‘Sleeper bus’ leaves a lot to the imagination it seems. We passed the time by playing cards with a local teacher who took pity on our attempts to play cards in the crowded terminal and taught us a popular Chinese card game, which even now I have very little idea of how to play; complex doesn’t cover it in the slightest.
As it turned out the bus was an adventure in itself, a double-decker stripped of its top floor, and instead installed with three rows of what can only be described as bunks, each stretching back from the front of the bus down its length to the back. At 5ft long and 2ft wide ‘bed’ is stretching it a tad. Despite their dimensions they provided a comfy (ish) and fun (very) way of travelling and when ignoring the obvious lack of safety, they turned out to be quite the way to travel.
Having arrived in Haikou everything seemed to be going our way, the weather way good, we found our hostel with little to no problem, a minor miracle I assure you, and things were generally looking up. Following a couple of hours sorting our return bus (China doesn’t do returns just one way, highly annoying when any sort of planning is involved) we headed to what we were assured was a good beach, and a nice place to relax. Armed with coconuts, freshly opened via machete, and straws to remove the coconut milk, we found the beach and with the overexcitement of preschool kids and play dough and we raced round the corner to find our paradise…….
Only problem being no one had told the beach this, we were met by mountains of rubbish, little to no sand and what was literally a construction site. If I told you there was a JCB and reinforced concrete right on the little sand there was I would be no more a liar that if I told you the world were indeed round.
Refusing to be down hearted we set out to the local university’s outdoor swimming pool, put two fingers up to our bad luck and swam anyway. As it turned out this highly figurative and immature gesture was to come back and bite hard….
20 minutes out of Haikou the next day, on our way to the southern paradise of Sanya with its famed beaches the heavens opened and the blue sky of sundown at 6.45pm the night before were to be the last we were to see of the blue skies until we returned to Guangzhou several days later.
3 Hours later Sanya appeared, and despite the rain, we checked into Sanya Lost International Hostel and headed straight to the beach determined to bring some British spirit to proceedings and enjoy the holiday come what may! Having reached the beach some 100m away (I know, hard life isn’t it) it was instantly apparent why Sanya has gained a reputation for stunning beaches , a reputation that is only rising as increased disposable income leads to increased tourism within China. Green palm trees fenced the picturesque white sandy beach that stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction, and thanks to the rain we were practically its only inhabitants.
Confident the rain would ease we splashed about till mid afternoon and went to relax in the hostel and wait till dawn brought clear sunny skies. As it was to transpire dawn brought more rain, and the week as to become part of a record breaking rainy spell on the island that broke records stretching back as far as 1910!!!
Slightly downcast we relaxed in the morning; reading, playing cards and generally following what was becoming an increasingly intense Ryder Cup on the Hostels internet. Come lunch the decision was made to make it a ‘beach day’, despite the torrential rain, and in what turned out to be a grand plan, we hit the sea for a second day running in conditions that certainly lived up to one half of the weather in the tropics.
After an hour of dunking, diving into waves and generally causing maximum noise and enjoyment the day took an agonising turn for your loyal author. Having ‘chased the wave’ back to shore I was in the midst of running back to the sand bar when I felt a stunningly sharp pain shoot from around my foot up the back of my right leg. A jellyfish had decided to coil its tentacle around my leg and immediately set off two reactions: 1) in what I am assured was a moment of maximum manliness I let out a roar of distress and agony, 2) In the same moment I immediately began to question who I would I could persuade to piss on my leg!! Sadly, despite some rather half hearted ‘I will if I have too’ the response was less that overwhelming, and the only thing to do was to hobble back to the hostel and wait it out.
By the time I had got back I was in a fair level of discomfort with my leg completely numb and breathing rather painful attributable to a shooting sensation every time I drew breath. I would like to take this chance to thank the hostel owners for their help and advice in my hour of need. Assured the pain would pass I sat down on the front step, cursing everything that moved in the sea, and wondering what would happen next….
We didn’t have to wait long to find out, the next day, after much of the tingling had subsided and the feeling was back in my right leg, we set off to acquire some rather striking waterproofs from the local supermarket. Due to the continuous rain the road was now ankle to knee deep in flood water, and the only way to go was wading through. After much thought (about 2 seconds) we set of with little apprehension or fear of the unknown ground beneath us….mistake…. about 20 seconds later Anna was putting her right foot down and much to everyone’s surprise (and very quickly delight) Anna, along with her right foot, continued their downward journey straight into the uncovered manhole below. Now words fail to come close to describing the shock, and amusement this event caused, so I shall not try to outdo the video that was captured of the event and instead will just let you watch, again, and again, and again….
Having further angered the gods, and wondering what could possibly go wrong next, the next couple of days were spent doing a variation of the following; swimming, walking down the beach, amusing the locals with our rather amazing macs, and frequenting the many coffee establishments along the seafront, with a special mention going to the ‘Bud (Zao Mia) roof top coffee bar 'and ‘Fat Daddies’ (although the second should only be visited if you can stomach the rather offensive, anti-local, ramblings of its co-manager Max). Despite the rather bizarre events that had to this point accompanied the holiday we thought our run of bad luck was up, and, in spite of the continued bad weather, and with a large dose of ‘Britishness’, everyone made the most of the following days allowing us all to relax and switch off.
Now the story is almost done but there is still to be one more twist in the tail, the journey back. As alluded to earlier travel is never easy in China, and the journey from Sanya to Guangzhou was to be no exception. Having taken a mere three hours and 60 Y (6 quid) a head to get from Haikou to Sanya, the return trip was a tad different. Due to 6 days of insatiable rain on the island, this had brought some serious consequences that were at this point unknown to us. 130’000 people had been evacuated due to floods, one of the two major roads on the island was closed and many more, smaller roads had been rendered impassable. With market forces dominating, and with no busses containing any space due to the conditions, a taxi was our only option. With a rate of 200 Y per passenger the five of us set off with four squashed into the back seat. After an hour in the rain negotiating an inflated price, tempers were slightly frayed and a quick journey was all that was hoped for (we were minus one as the day before one of the group had left on a train bound for Shanghai).
It was not to be, 8 hours after we left Sanya we rolled into Haikou. Having toured around the city for an extra hour, due to the drivers lack of familiarity with the city in the pitch black and pouring rain, the cups of steaming hot tea and bowls of food that we found waiting for us at the Hostel seemed the equivalent of being told that despite not buying a ticket, yes you can still have the lottery jackpot.
Having slept like a baby, I awoke expecting to leave the hostel at about half 2 to catch our bus that left an hour later. As with everything on this holiday, it didn’t quite work out as planned. Having handed our bus tickets to the staff to ensure we had the right bus station, we were quickly quizzed as to why we had not left already. Puzzled we enquired as to why we needed to leave at 1pm for a bus at 3.30. By this point the response was of little surprise, in the top corner of one of the tickets was written in Chinese that the departure time was in fact 1.30, giving us exactly half an hour before we missed the bus and were stranded in Hainan for another 24 hours (with it being the last day of the holiday all transport was fully booked). Running 3 steps at once, and with my heart rate unhealthily high, clothes, towels and anything that resembled our belongings were thrown into bags, and we were in a car provided by the hostel exactly 3 minutes later. After some more fine examples of crazy Chinese driving, a further 5 minutes later we were offloaded and settled at our gate in the bus terminal. Panic over!!
Despite having made the bus and left on time none of us were confident that come midnight we would be arriving in Guangzhou as scheduled. It would have been of great comfort to do so though, as to do so would provide me with a good few hours kip before my first lesson the next day (8 am). Following the ferry crossing all was well, before 20 minutes later whilst playing the same Chinese game of cards that had started our holiday, there was a sudden jolt and crashing sound, as our bus missed the road work signs and deposited itself firmly into the ditch. Having knackered the front of the bus, the next few hours were spent on running repairs and long delays. As night fell it was apparent that the 8am start time was in jeopardy, a feeling that come day break was inescapable. Resigned to the inevitable, following our run of bad luck, at 7 am I had given up and called the school to tell them what had happened and that I would be late for my lessons. 20 minutes later the bus had arrived at the station close to my school, and the race was on to get back, shave, shower and change before 8am…
After the week I had had there was no way I was going to miss it, and come 7.55 I was in the right classroom at the right time, waiting for the lesson to begin, or rather for the ceiling to collapse and end the week in style!!
I must at this juncture apologise for the length of this blog. However, I did feel that the events were all worthy of depiction, and found it impossible to neglect any one part of the story….I hope this is as entertaining to read as it was to experience. That is about all for now, see you for the next, much shorter, instalment!!