A love hate hate relationship – T and camping

Gemma – ‘You’re taking imodiums like it’s the contraceptive pill!’

I laughed at Gemma, because it was true – 8 hour bus journeys with a potential dodgy stomach without immediate access to a bathroom had taken its tole on me and I dealt with this the best I could by making the imodium tablets my life jacket, the security that I wouldn’t need to ‘give birth’ at an inconvenient time.

It didn’t help that we were starting to camp more and more, at locations where the toilet facilities scared my bowels shitless.

Camping and I had an arrangement – As long as I was blind drunk, or had taken a sleeping pill, I was allowed some sleep.

At the Salta rafting campsite early one rainy morning. I had taken a great Peruvian sleeping relaxant the night before.

Gemma, slightly panicked as the wind bellowed loudly against the tents walls and as the rain hammered down, sounding like we were in the middle of a cyclone, – ‘T! Our tents going to come down, what should we do?!’

T, cocooned in sleeping bag and half asleep, vaguely aware of water being sprayed on face from leak in tent – ‘Just close your eyes and pretend everything’s ok..’ pulls sleeping bag over wet head and dozes off while water starts rising in tent.

A while later that same morning, I hear voices outside the tent talking about ‘a tent in the middle of a lake’.

Gemma to T, laughing – ‘ I hope they’re not talking about our tent!’

T, not yet ready to deal with reality‘I’m scared if I look outside I’ll find that everyone else has taken down their tents, except us. And we’re alone in the middle of this giant puddle. Best not to look until we’re prepared to do something about it..’

There were other memorable camping moments, like the time I found myself squatting with a large rock lifted between both hands above my head, ready to strike down on a tent-peg. I’d given up on the hammer like tool I’d used at the start of my camping adventure, and had progressed to the more primitive caveman-like techniques. Gone were the days of sweeping the tent, we just put our sleeping bags over the dirt. Showering had also become a rare event.

I found myself sleeping in an ‘S’ shape most nights, curling unnaturally around the hard rocks in the earth where we had expertly pitched the tent.

T, grumpy – ‘I need a giant file’

Gemma – ‘Why?’

T – ‘So I can file down these jagged rocks in my back.’

Call me hardcore, or just plain inexperienced, but I didn’t think to bring a sleeping mat.

The moment of ultimate laziness – When Gemma and I started using the mens toilets at one campsite because it was right near our tent. Facilities were a row of three basins only, in the dark (no light), but with an automatic water cleaner in each basin.

Thinking back to how ridiculous we looked and felt, sitting with our bums in the mens basin, in the dark with our pants around our knees, terrified that some guy was going to walk in and see us.. still makes me laugh out loud. That we had prefered this discomfort and potential humiliation over walking a few minutes to the ladies bathroom!

Question – Has camping made me a better person in any way?


The Hard Seat back to Beijing – A transit nightmare

It started at the Bell Tower in Xian, all packed up, waiting for the 611 bus to take us to Xian Train Station for our overnight train trip back to Beijing. The bus wasn’t by choice, there weren’t any taxi’s available, and with all our luggage we couldn’t safely fit on a single rickshaw.

There were a lot of people waiting for the bus, and with a sprained wrist everything was that much harder. Sharon probably had it worse with an actual 80 Litre backpack on her back.

The weather in Xian was HOT! We’re talking sun beating down, 40 degree heat. And this was at 7.30pm in the evening! I could feel the sweat behind my ears. Behind my ears!!

When the bus finally arrived, Sharon brilliantly busted her way through to the front of the queue. Being 6 feet tall with a massive pack on her back, she was not one to be messed with. I followed her lead like a little fish swims under the belly of a shark, but still didn’t think I was going to make it unless somehow everyone in the bus got vacuum sealed.

T – panting ‘I’m not going to make it’
Sharon – you’re gonna make it. Just keep pushing.

And I did, with one hand gripping the ceiling bar above my head while also holding my hand bag which repeatedly banged me and the person next to me in the face. We didn’t speak, and avoided eye contact, while my bag silently swung between our heads.

15 minutes later, we entered the 30 metre cattle queue to get our bags checked. While shuffling an inch forward at a time, there was a commotion coming from the entry, and an elderly man was being dragged out of the station kicking and shouting while a mob of angry men followed. It was hard to watch, and I wondered if this was the consequence of not having a train ticket? In preparation, I held my ticket tightly in my hand, ready for viewing. The last thing I needed was to be dragged out to the streets by my hair with an angry mob…

Inside the train station, we joined the queue for our T232 train to Beijing, and next, the line to enter our No.2 carriage.

What ever I was expecting from a Hard Seat ticket, this was much worse.The carriage was filled with groups of 4 hard seats facing each other and a table in the centre of the groups, creating no room to stretch your legs, no dividing arm rests, and at full capacity with people crowding the aisles who had obviously purchased standing room only, as well as commuters curled up in the aisles sleeping.

The noise was insulting, lots of clashing chinese music, people yelling, people coughing, children wailing, the sound of rubbish being crumpled and thrown, food being eaten and bags being moved. I rested my head against the window of my side seat and closed my eyes to avoid the bright white lights. A scary thought later, I moved my head away, fearful of contracting a hot boil on my forehead from where it had connected with the window.

It was pretty depressing to think that after the last few hours of being hot, sweaty, tired, lining up and being treated like cattle, and the physical effort of hauling our bags around, this was what we had to look forward to for the next 13 hours.

The last straw was when Sharon came back from a toilet run and described it to me. ‘There’s only one squatting toilet and it’s much more disgusting and wet than in the Soft Sleep carriage. Very stinky with pee everywhere, and I think there was food in the hole..maybe rice?

That was it. My spirit broke. I wasn’t built for this, and started crying to Sharon that we should have brought some hard liquor and sleeping pills.. ‘But don’t you have any valium?’

TIP – NEVER purchase Hard Seat tickets for a long train trip in China. And if you do, make sure you bring alcohol (Spirits). This is VERY important.

Banged up, dusty and broken, the fact that I was able to hold off from going to the toilet for around 16 hours was an act of God.

Arriving in Beijing, Sharon and I both agreed that we were going to hunt down and kill the tour agent who sold us these seats. But only after we’re done washing the filth off from our skin, and from our memories.