Crazy Taxis and Deadly Buses
A big part of searching for art in China involves dealing with trains, planes, taxis, motorcycles, camels, boats, bicycles, and a lot of time on foot.
The stories that I could tell you of the travel adventures in China might boggle your mind, so I will keep it simple.
In short, there is always a great adventure, but that doesn't mean that it's always a good time.
The new Shangri-La Airport. Offering 2 flights per day to any of two available destinations. But not on Sundays, Thursdays, and most Mondays.
This taxi takes a lot of abuse as we drive down paths that are barely good enough to walk on.
The worst in my history is probably the overnight-sleeper bus from Kunming to the frontier of Tibet.
I have my choice between choking on the cloud of cigarette smoke inside the bus, or opening the window to be blasted with cold, yet fresh, arctic air.
Meanwhile the bus's audio system is playing a CD on continuous loop of the worst karaoke songs ever made. Listening to the same 5 horrible songs which sound like they were beaten to death on a 1972 Yamaha keyboard, for 20 hours straight, can really be hard on your sanity.
Arriving at the intermediate destination, the original plan is to continue deep into Tibet, but the only way is to take another bus-of-death.
I have no idea where I am, but I hang out for several days in the little Tibetan village drinking copious amounts of "Yak-Butter-Tea" and getting to know the locals. I even find a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery and spend a day with the monks.
Later I find out that this place is in the official location of legendary "Shangri-La". The place isn't bad, but the real reason that it's "Shangri-La" for me, is because I am no longer on a bus.
I toy with the idea of taking a bus back to Kunming, but chose to fly from the newly opened "Shangri-La Airport" instead. Later, I find out that the bus I was supposed to be on, tumbled off a cliff with no hope of survivors.
When I arrive in most cities around China, a taxi is usually the best way to get around. Most of the population of China do not own cars, so taxis are almost always plentiful wherever you go.
But, just like America, it seems that a lot of taxi drivers are not from the city where they are driving their taxi. Therefore, they only have a vague idea of where you want to go. This really does add to the adventure, because half the time I see something else along the way (as we are hopelessly lost) and just pay the fare and get out to check out the village or market or whatever caught my eye.
My wife and I went seeking adventures together recently and ended up on Hainan Island, just south of the Chinese mainland. You might remember this island from the news a few years ago, as it is the place that the U.S. Navy accidentally landed a spy plane.
The taxi driver doesn't seem to mind the scratches that the palm trees left on the sides of his shiny taxi. He even posses for this picture after we find the secluded beach that I was searching for.
After crossing the South China Sea on a boat from the mainland, and spending a night in Haikou (the capital city of Hainan). We take a day long bus ride south, and find an enthusiastic taxi driver.
Our goal is to find a secluded beach with a little hotel. The taxi driver has a map, and we just point out a place that looks like it's out-of-the-way from where most tourists want to go.
Probably not the safest way to travel, but way more comfortable than a bus. A moto-taxi like this one are the way to go on a warm tropical day anywhere in the far south of China.
What we don't realize is that it's secluded for a reason. The jungle is now overgrown, and there are no real roads to get there. The taxi driver is a real sport, and drives like a wild man on some soft sandy trails trying to get us to our destination. Palm branches scratch the sides of the taxi the whole way, and falling coconuts narrowly miss the taxi from trees that are disturbed as we pass.
Sure enough, the hotel in the area closed a couple of years prior to our arrival. But the workers had nowhere else to go, so they've taken to "squatting" at the old hotel building. We end up with about 5 miles of beach all to ourselves, only to be shared with the occasional shrimp boat passing by. The weather is so warm, that we just sleep in the soft sand with no need for a sleeping bag.
Getting to the next town only requires a few miles of hiking to the nearest village, and then flagging down a passing mini-bus.
Another great way to travel locally is by moto-taxi. The warm wind blows through your hair, and you almost forget about how dangerous it is to be weaving in and out of traffic on one of these deathtraps. Regardless of how dangerous they may be, I think it's a stylish way to get around, and also it's an efficient way to make sure your adrenaline glands are still working properly. Disneyland has nothing like this...
Just don't smile while you are taking your ride, or you'll get mosquitoes in your teeth.
-Your adventure art-buyer, Gary.