Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Photograph, Work, Rest, Repeat….

Since the last two posts were a bit “angst inducing”, I will now back and finish the photography around XTBG…..

Both Wednesday and Thursday were very similar in schedule and content so both are included in this post.

Each morning started out with a walk around the garden….before all of the tourists hit!!

I am very much enamored with this Giant Lily pond…..


The big lily pads are mesmerizing to watch as they slowly drift from place to place.  Many of them don’t seem to move at all, but one was  moving around a lot….maybe it has a submerged motor on it….or a fish nibbling on the stem???

The pads are strong enough to hold a human being, as evidenced by the brisk trade that the “lily pad operators” are doing each day…..IMG_1862

You can pay to have your child sit/stand in a lily pad while you snap photos!!  They put a green plastic disk inside the pad which I assume protects it and keeps the child’s feet from going thru it.


Once the child is properly stationed, the posing begins…..IMG_1855


I sat and watched for about 30 minutes one day and it was fascinating to see the required poses…..they HAD to be required because EVERY one did the same thing!!

It was interesting to see the underside of one of the Lily pads that had been damaged and removed from the pond…..


I came back and asked Michael about these plants and he reminded me that the pads are the leaves for the plant and the blossoms and seeds form in the normal way…..


The really nice thing about going out earlier is that you are not accosted by huge crowds of people.    One of the mornings I was able to get to the Distinctive Plant Garden before ANYONE else…..IMG_6107

It was quiet and peaceful and oh so wonderful!!!   I was even able to take a photo of this special tree…..IMG_6105

I had tried the day before and there were so many people in front of it that you couldn’t really see it.  It reminded me of the Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo in Paris…..completely surrounded!!

I did have one laugh while I was in this area….. a couple (I assume husband and wife) both walked up to exactly the same spot, aimed their phones at exactly the same scene and both started snapping away.   I could hear the shutters clicking in unison.

On normal (ie…not early) mornings, the buses lined up at the Distinctive Plant Garden were my signal to keep on walking…..IMG_1955

As the loaded buses would pass me on the road, this was my normal view….IMG_1915

These were some of my favorite flower photos for the day….IMG_2144





As I am walking around, I try to be sure that there is a smile on my face, especially as some people tend to stare at me, and I eventually get tired of smiling and my face starts to seize up.   I am continually afraid that I end up looking like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory….


In one of my wanderings I ended up in a deserted forest area and had fun taking more photos…..IMG_1970


I had numerous interactions with young people but one young boy said “hello, what is your name?”  I told him and asked his name.  He told me and I shook hand and said “nice to meet you”.   HUGE grins followed.

i loved the colors in these gorgeous leaves….IMG_1996

….and have always loved these really funky flowers…..IMG_2017

This white plant was gorgeous.  Be sure to look for the anther tips in the second photo…..IMG_2044


These last two photos were taken in a garden very close to the hotel…..IMG_2230


The  garden caretakers were out in force on one morning…..


Each of our evenings ended in a banquet of some sort.   Some were more formal…..IMG_6131

….and some leaned more toward the fun side…..IMG_6087

The heart in the center was made out of different types of Sticky Rice and was an excellent addition to the meal.

Speaking of food, I had bought a jar of Crunchy peanut butter when we first arrived in Kunming and I would have it with crackers on the days that Michael was working during the lunch hour.   I had run out of crackers so I bought another package of them at the hotel store in the Botanic garden.   When I first opened them I noticed little black seeds in the crackers and was wondering exactly what they were.   My  questioning was answered with the first bite….they were Anise seeds!!!   As long as I put the Peanut Butter on one cracker (as opposed to making a sandwich with two crackers), the peanut butter to Anise ratio was palatable and I enjoyed every bite!!

One more day from Xishuangbana to come…..

Thursday, August 9, 2018

I’ve had about as much vacation as I can stand!!

When I left you yesterday, we had taken refuge in a $25 per night hotel.  We both slept fairly well and awoke to a set-in rain and no place to find breakfast.  I had brought some cheese crackers from the US and we had two packages left so we each had half a package of crackers for breakfast and a bunch of pain killers to take the place of the caffeine in our lives.

I walked back down to a store on the corner and bought more water, a Coke (for a little caffeine) and two bags of potato chips, which we had for “Morning Tea”.

We stayed in the room until noon but felt that we should go ahead and check out.  The proprietors were super sweet and were always smiling when we saw them and, as I said, the room was as clean as I have ever seen.  They had a sweet little boy (maybe 2 years old) who was often in the waiting area, once excitedly blowing bubbles with his bubble wand. They had taken 20 Yuan too much when we checked in and we were told that they would return it when we left (probably as a deposit for the key).  We tried to wave them off and leave the extra $2.50 with them, but they would have nothing of it and motioned for us to take the money!! 

I know that this place doesn’t look like much, but it sure saved our bacon….IMG_6264

….and if I knew the name of it, I would write an amazing review.  Of course, no one would be able to read it but that isn’t the point!!

We walked back to the train station, were greeted by a smiling identity checker, and fortunately were allowed to go in this time, although we were 6 hours early for our train.  We are not unused to layovers, having once spent the night in the Newark Airport McDonald’s and 17 hours in the New Delhi airport, so we settled down with our computers and Kindles and waited it out.

Eventually we started getting hungry so we pulled out what we have now named the “Dali Diet”…..IMG_6266

After a while we got hungry again so I went scavenging in the shops and scored OREO’s and Coke Zero for me……


….and sweet, milky coffee for Michael.  He was so desperate for caffeine that he didn’t care about the milk or sugar and even used a straw to drink the hot liquid……IMG_6268

Now before I go on, I know that there was tons of food around us but, quite honestly, we were in too delicate of a condition to try to communicate exactly what we wanted!!  It was simply easier to be a little bit hungry!!

It was interesting watching the train station as the day went on.  It would be empty right after a train left but then people would start filtering in and filing all of the seats.  About 30 minutes before a train was departing, people would start lining up (if a mob can be considered a line) and waiting for the gates to be opened.….IMG_6275

When they were opened, everyone would rush forward to be the first ones on the train.  As soon as the first rush was over, people for the next train would start amassing by the gate.   After about 10 minutes, a railway employee would start talking on a hailer telling people that they needed to get on board and also making a lane in the throng so that those late-comers could get thru to the gate.

It was fun to watch the personal interactions in the terminal, like these two little girls sharing 1/2 of a small watermelon…..IMG_6273

They almost dropped it several times but always caught it before it slipped and then they would laugh and start eating again.

We loved this sunflower seed dispenser…..IMG_1916

By the way, Michael took this photo while we pretended to be taking a selfie….our newest method of surreptitiously taking photos.

And, this is a blurry photo, but I wanted to show the stairways in the terminal…..


This ramp in the middle is designed (as you can see) for rolling your suitcase.   That is fine for going up, but we saw many people trying to roll them DOWN the stairs and invariably the suitcase would get ahead of them and almost cause them to fall down!!

When it was about an hour before our train was set to board, we left our chairs and moved to our waiting area.  Since we had watched so many trains leave before us, we knew the drill!!  When the train previous to ours lined up, we moved to the edge, just outside of their line.

At this point we had the nicest interaction of the day.  A young man started talking to Michael and asked where we were from.  He was in his last year of High School and his English was magnificent.  He told us that he had been on a fun-filled vacation in Dali (so that was possible!!) with his family and then proceeded to introduce us to his Mom, Brother and Aunt.    His Mom beamed proudly as her son talked to us!!

When it was our time to line up, we moved up with the throng to the front of the line and then realized that we were probably in the wrong line….we had blue tickets and this line was for red, but we decided to play dumb American’s (not a stretch for us) and just walk thru.   The ticket-taker just looked at us and let us go past.   She probably thought that it simply wasn’t worth the effort to stop us!!

We found our seats and enjoyed the 2 hour ride back to Kunming but, of course, it was pouring down rain when we arrived.

As we were walking out of the terminal there was a crush of people trying to get their umbrellas opened before we stepped out and it was quite a mess for a minute or two.  We eventually made it to the street and started trying to hail a taxi.

We had previously been told that Kunming Taxi Drivers sometimes don’t want to stop for fairs or will be really selective about who they get.  We must have made a VERY bad impression because we could not get any of them to stop for us!!  We decided to walk a bit down the road and try again when we weren’t as close to the train station so I got out my phone and made sure that we were at least walking in the direction of our hotel.   We tried several more times but could not get a taxi!!!

Finally, we decided that we would just have to walk the 2.2 miles to the hotel…..carrying our backpacks on our front, me with my purse on my shoulder and Michael with the duffel bag around his chest and on his back…and holding our umbrellas against the solid rain that was falling!!

The next hour is pretty much a blur as I think that we have both tried to block out the experience!!   At one point we were sluiced by a car hitting a HUGE puddle and we twice crossed roads without lights, which is tricky in the daylight and almost impossible at night!!

Fortunately neither of us slipped down on the wet sidewalks and we thankfully arrived at the hotel, a sodden mess!!!

We quickly unpacked, laying all of the wet items around the room.  We were happy with how our backpacks performed as only the outside pocket got wet and those only had items that were in Ziploc bags so that didn’t matter.   The duffel bag was soaked and a few of the clothes were damp, but nothing was ruined.

Needless to say, a shower was the first order of business and then to sleep the dreamless sleep of the exhausted!!!

To finish this drama, let me say that much of this fiasco was our own fault…… but not the part with the misplaced reservation.  We did, however, venture out on our own without any language skills and this is what got us into trouble.  Having said that, we have ventured before and have been fine, but these trips were always in large cities were English was more prevalent and the hotels that we stayed at were bigger and had English speaking employees.  We didn’t account for the fact that Dali was more rural and was not prepared to deal with the likes of us!!

Today, after having a nice breakfast at the hotel and a Hamburger and Fries lunch at Salvador’s, we can look back and see our mistakes but can also see the humor of some of our situations.   Again, we had angels who helped us when we didn’t know what to do and we met some very sweet people along the way.

We will always be thankful for Fred (our Taxi driver) who put up with SO much from us!!!  He even tried to reduce the fare on the return trip but we insisted on paying him the full fare, plus a bit more.   We hope that he, and everyone that we met, will have come away from the experience with a good feeling about Americans….even the crazy ones!!!

And yes, we will adventure again….maybe not in rural China, but we will certainly continue to enjoy our travels in the world!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very Bad Vacation!!

In all of our years of travel we have had very few disasters….well I guess that we were on a boat that sunk in the Florida Keys….but other than that most of our travel has been fun and successful.   Today (Tuesday) was NOT one of those days!!!

But let me start at the beginning….a very good place to start.

A few weeks before our trip, I was searching for things to do in Kunming and came across an article about the Bullet Train and that it had just opened a route between Kunming and Dali.  Now we had visited Dali briefly on our first trip to China so I thought that it might be fun to take the train and spend the night.

Our first thought was how would we get tickets….  well, one of Michael’s colleagues told us that her husband worked for the Train service so we mentioned it to her and she said that she could get our tickets……okay, first problem solved.

Now we needed a hotel in Dali, preferably by the Ancient City.  We got onto hotels.com and found a lovely small hotel that looked perfect and we booked it.  Hotels.com took our money and confirmed our booking and then sent several emails reminding us that our trip was upcoming.  So, we were good to go with the hotel!!

As we hopefully lit out on our journey, we started checking off the steps that we needed to take…..

Step 1  -  get a taxi to the Train Station…..our hotel helped with that and we were on our way.

Step 2  -  figure out how to check in and get to the train platform…..that all went very well.

Step 3  -  enjoy the 2 hour journey to Dali as our train reached 200 kilometers per hour (about 120 mph)…..



The views from the windows were wonderful, passing small towns and huge agricultural areas…..



Step 4  -  this is where the wheels fell off!!   Chinese taxi drivers are notorious for not wanting to use the meter and instead set a price and then increase it when they get to the destination.  I had asked God to give us a fair taxi driver who would work by the meter…..and He did just that.

But, after about 40 minutes of driving, we were completely certain that he was going in the wrong direction and when he started to get onto a Toll Road, we motioned for him to pull over.   He finally called a friend who spoke English and this friend helped us to understand that our booking was actually in the Shanxi Ancient town which was about 2 hours away.  Mind you, the information on Hotels.com said Dali !!  But, he assured us that the drive would be enjoyable, the hotel would be nice and since we didn’t have to be back to the train station until 6:00 the next day, we would have all morning to enjoy the area.  So, we motioned for the driver to keep going.

After about an hour we were able to get passed our frustrations and start looking at the scenery and enjoying the rural nature of the area.  IMG_6229_thumb

More problems arose when we got into the Ancient Shaxi area as the driver didn’t know EXACTLY where the hotel was.   We were using Google Maps and were pretty sure that we knew, but the streets were pedestrian only and we would have to walk.   One of us had the thought of “what if the taxi driver leaves and we don’t really have  a hotel” so we decided to wait to pay him until we found out for sure. 

An interesting interlude happened at this point.   Our driver (I named him Fred) and Michael had both stepped out of the car and as I was starting to join them, the car started rolling forward….down the slight slope!!  I pulled my leg back into the car and the driver jumped into the front seat and slammed on the brakes and just before his tire when into a ditch that would have had him stuck in the mountains with us….


Fred got back on the phone and called his friend again.  The friend (lets call him George) said that he had called the hotel and that they did not have any American’s staying there that night.  Michael gave him the reservation number and George said that he would call us back but we never heard from him.  Our gut feeling is that he simply decided that the whole affair was too hard.

So here we stood, us, Fred and a small group of onlookers. IMG_6252_thumb5 Finally Fred called someone that he knew and the cavalry arrived on a three wheeled cart.   As they drove up one of the men stepped off and said Hello to us…..we both thought “Hurray….he speaks English” and he did speak SOME English but not much.  He sweetly told us that we should have reserved a room…..WE DID RESERVE A ROOM!!!!!

Also, he kept telling us that Fred wanted to be paid for the trip.   We knew that and had full intention of paying him… but not yet.     Finally, we decided to return to the train station and see if we could get another train back to Kunming.   We accomplished this by using Google Translate and putting in Dali Railroad Station.    When Fred heard that we wanted to go back to Dali he nodded his head and made a downward winding motion with his hands indicating that he knew that we wanted to go BACK down the mountain switchbacks!!

So, down we started.   Michael again used Google Translate to tell Fred that we needed a bathroom and he soon stopped for us.   

We were off again but Fred pulled into a small restaurant and indicated that we should stop and eat.   We all trouped in and he ordered 5 delicious dishes….a Spicy Beef with Peppers, Sautéed Greens, a delicious Hash Brown pancake and two things that we are not sure about.   The first were these worm looking things although we are pretty sure that they were a root of some sort and not an animal.  They were served with sautéed walnuts, cashews and peanuts….IMG_2517_thumb4

The second was this dish that we presume was cartilage from some animal.   It was slightly chewy but  was fried well and had a magnificently hot pepper to dip it in…..IMG_2528_thumb4

The women who were cooking were super sweet and let me stand and take photos of them working.IMG_2519_thumb4


It was an interesting meal with no one being able to communicate but Fred was a great host and insisted that we try each dish before he would eat any of it.

The bottom line was that, after eating, we started to feel better and again started to enjoy the journey a bit more, and even enjoying some of the scenery that was flying past us…..


Although, in truth, this was my view for most of the day…..


While traveling we had the idea that we might be able to find a big hotel (Hyatt, etc) in Dali and could get a room there.   Michael contacted the one that we found, but they were full for the night.   We could have kept trying but the problem now was that BOTH of our phone batteries were dangerously low and we were afraid that we would HAVE to have them before the night was over.

As we neared the city, we noticed that Fred went a different direction off of the expressway and we could see by the signs that he was heading to Ancient Town, Dali…..you know, the place that we thought we were going in the first place!!!   Also, he kept pulling over to the side of the road and making phone calls.   He was also concerned because his phone was apparently about to die as well.   He finally pulled out a portable charger but the connection wasn’t great and he kept having to reach over and hold it in place while he was driving.  This did NOT improve his driving skills!!

Finally he stopped for one more call and handed the phone to Michael.  This time it was “Mrs. George”….or someone else who spoke English.  She said that Fred wanted to know exactly where we wanted to go!!  We then realized that he was thinking that we were going to another hotel in town and was being kind to us again.   And here we were getting frustrated!!

Now that he knew exactly where we were headed, he made the most of the time by driving faster than he previously had.  The only problem was that he hit a speed bump really hard and we heard the unmistakable Flub-Flub-Flub-Flub  of a flat tire!!!   By this time, Michael and I had the crazed look of “The Joker” on our faces but Michael hopped out and helped him to change it…..


In about 20 minutes we were off again and fortunately there were no more issues before we reached the station.   We felt sure that Fred called his wife and said “You wont believe what happened to me today”!!!!   We felt a bit the same way!!

Now we move to the next part of this saga….getting a new ticket to Kunming.  We asked two different people where we bought tickets (at least I THNK that is what the Google Translation said) and one finally pointed down as if we had to go downstairs.   We started downstairs but had no idea where the ticket office was.   At this point, one of our "angels” showed up and tapped Michael on the shoulder and pointed for us to follow him.   He walked thru a gate at the side of the stairs and showed us the booths.  At least he showed us the LINE for the booths!! 

We went up to one of the short lines with hope in our hearts, but that was dashed when the girl (in excdlent English) told us that we had to go to one of the other booths…..sigh.

We joined the queue and stood patiently (sort of)  in line while watching person after person cut to the front.   The pattern was always the same….they would run up to the second or third person in line and excitedly exclaim that they were late and HAD to be allowed to cut in, and amazingly it often worked.   We saw one man try 5 or 6 times, but his persistence was rewarded as some soft hearted fool let him in ahead of us.  Then, when we were next in line, a young man came running up to me but we were NOT in the mood and both looked at him and said a stern “NO”!!!!!  He tried to push in but Michael gently pushed him back out of line.   Now the funniest part of this interlude was that the little man behind us had been grumbling (in Chinese, but grumbling sounds the same wherever you are) when someone would cut in.  He even had words with one of the men when he was leaving the line.  After we had turned the young man away, the older guy tapped Michael on the shoulder, smiled and pumped his fist in the air a couple of times.   I think that Michael now has a fan in Dali!!

Okay, we were at the first of the line….  Our teller did not speak any English but he worked hard to understand us.  Unfortunately there were NO more seats on a train to Kunming until 8pm the next day and we already had tickets for the 7pm train.  Okay, so we are going to spend 22 hours in the Dali train station.

We headed thru the ticket gate but were turned away because our ticket was for Wednesday!!  As we walked back outside, we were seriously concerned about exactly where we were going to wait overnight until we could enter the station.  And, of course, it started raining just as we walked out!!!

We decided to cross the big street in front of the train station and see if we could find someplace (ANYPLACE) to at least sit and regroup!!  We found one large building and saw the promising word “Hotel” on it, but were told that they didn’t have any rooms.  We weren’t sure exactly what she was saying but a young man, we assume to be a hotel porter, used GT and confirmed the worst.  We asked if there were other hotels nearby and this new angel walked us out of the 5-star hotel and two doors down to a small 5 floor walkup hotel.  He stayed with us until we were checked in and heading to the room.  The cost of the room was $25 and, of course, we were on the 5th floor!!

We didn’t have high hopes for this room but we found it to be clean and comfortable, although the “shower/sink/squatty potty” bathroom was interesting to use!!

Since this post is already too long, I will stop here and finish the saga of the “Vacation from hell” tomorrow.   And, in case you are worried, we are now safely back in Kunming!!!

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