- 1 - Danba in Western Sichuan: A Tibetan City I was Actually Allowed to Visit
- 2 - Exploring the Tibetan Villages of Zhonglu and Suopo
- 3 - Hiring a Tibetan Driver and Somehow Surviving the Experience
- 4 - Homestay in Jiaju Where A Film Crew Steals our Feast
- 5 - Leaving Danba Difficult Thanks to Minivan Drivers
Following our measly breakfast, it was time to head back to Danba. After our experience with the drunk driver the previous day, we were naturally not all that excited at the prospect of hiring another van to take us back to town. We asked our hosts if they could help us find a sober ride, but they actually ended up just driving us themselves for a very fair price. It was a nice change of pace, driving through Jiaju village at a leisurely speed with a driver who was both sober and sane. People were even waving at us with all five fingers instead of just the one.
Once back in Danba, the Israelis hired a van to take them south, while I began looking for a ride north. I asked the minivan drivers where I could catch a bus, but naturally, they vehemently denied the existence of any buses going in my direction and insisted I needed to hire one of their vans for a rate that would probably buy me a van outright in most places.
The road I needed to take was actually on the other side of town and I remembered seeing a bunch of minivans in a parking lot when we drove by there the day before, so I figured that’s where I needed to be. When I asked the drivers if they could just give me a ride through town, since they did, after all, serve as Danba’s taxi fleet, they flat out refused. Now I knew for sure I could find a ride north from the other side of the city.
As if the evidence wasn’t strong enough that I was being lied to, a cop suddenly came over and offered to help. Now, if there is one hard and fast rule in China, it’s that cops do not help people unless they are getting something out of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a foreign tourist, a Chinese tourist or a local, if a Chinese police officer offers to help you out of the blue, I can guarantee, that you do not want that help.
Sure enough, after I explained to the friendly officer what I was trying to do, he informed me there would be no point in heading to the other end of Danba, as all the minivans were right here. When I turned around and began walking back through the town, he joined the drivers in yelling insults after me: something about the stupid foreigner and some stuff about how long I was going to be walking for no reason and so on.
The walk took an hour or so, but it was actually quite nice. I had only driven through Danba before and hadn’t really got a chance to see the whole town, especially the area along the river. Once I reached the parking lot on the other end of the main road, I saw a bunch of minivans and some of them were waiting with several passengers inside. That meant those were shared minivans which basically function as buses in this area of China.
I approached one of the drivers and asked if any of the vans were heading in my direction. One was, but it was only going a few towns, at which point I would have to switch to another one for a bit, then another and another. It looked like I would be spending the next few days in a number of different minivans.
Naturally, the driver quoted an inflated price, but I just cut him off and told him I knew the actual price was five yuan. I was pretty sure that was much too low and sure enough, the driver got all agitated and quickly pointed out how all the locals were paying 20 and whoever told me that price had lied to me and so on. I quickly agreed and said, “Fine, 20 sounds good.”
He caught on almost immediately and laughed when he realized I had tricked him—and that is one thing I really like about China. Yes, people will try to take advantage of tourists and overcharge, just as they do everywhere else, but when you call them on it, they don’t get angry like they do in some countries I won’t mention, other than to say one rhymes with Failand and another with Findia.
Instead, they usually just laugh it off and end up being really friendly and actually respecting you for not letting them cheat you. A lot of times, they will even give you free food if you’re in a restaurant or shove cigarettes in your mouth (in many cases, whether you smoke or not) or help you out in some other way.
In this case, he began explaining to me exactly where I would have to change vans over the next few days and where I would be best off spending the night. Unfortunately, he was doing so very quickly and in such a strong accent that I pretty much missed all of it. I did get that Maerkang was the largest city I could reach that day and that I should probably spend the night there. In return for his help, I offered him some peanuts from my bottomless bag, on which, it was becoming clear to me, I would be snacking for weeks or even months to come.
Once the van was filled to capacity twice over, we were off. I was leaving western Sichuan, which I had planned to explore for the next month, after only two days, since everything west of Danba was closed to foreigners. Instead, I was heading toward northern Sichuan, also a Tibetan area and one that was still open. My destination was Jiuzhaigou, a spectacular Nature Reserve and the epitome of Chinese mass tourism, but before I made it there, I would have to spend a few nights along the way, including one in the small city of Me’erkang, where I had some difficulties finding a hotel that could accept foreign guests.
For more information on the Danba area, check out my travel guide.