The flight to Chengdu was broken up with a couple of stops in Doha and Hong Kong, neither of which were much more than sleepy strolls around the airport. Before someone gets a map out and checks that Hong Kong is in fact 500 miles too far for a connection to Chengdu, yes these flights were cheap. Steve 'but I am' Wyatt did demonstrate his capacity for self delusion and stated that in his reality he's taller than I am. This sparked a month long series of banter which conclusively revealed that I am in fact taller, but to be fair to the little lad he makes up for a lot in spirit.
Everything was going well when we arrived at
Chengdu, no lost luggage, visa's were working out and jetlag not so
bad. Well two out of three isn't bad and as a clue I'll say that we
weren't tired. Having collected our bags we needed some wheels to
get to our hotel and it was now that I was reminded that someone
had mentioned the trouble they had getting a taxi in Chengdu, well
how hard can it be I thought. Ten minutes later we were in the
middle of a small gaggle of drivers trying to haggle over the price
using some guys mobile phone to type the numbers wondering how on
earth we were going to get across where we were heading for. More
worrying, the rules of haggling appeared to have changed with their
price going up as well as down. Steve 'just take us there' Wyatt
did a sterling job of securing only the second cheapest price they
had mentioned and we were on our way. Getting the bike boxes into
the back seats of the taxis was a bit of a game but finally we were
each installed in a taxi, each with some gear. Even the reasonably
dense reader by now must have picked up the hint and it will come
as no surprise that when we got to the hotel we found we were a bag
short, one of Andy's panniers to be exact. With three driver who
didn't speak English we tried to explain the situation and tried to
improve their English by not paying them but the message wasn't
getting across. Coming to our rescue was the receptionist who spoke
very good English and listened to our plight and offered the
'you should have counted your bags before leaving the airport'
when we explained that while that might be ancient Chinese wisdom we had neglected that small part of our travel plans we were told
'you really should have counted your bags before leaving the airport'
Mindful that our smooth run had come to an end we popped Andy in a taxi to head back to the airport for a futile search for his bag, while Steve and I sat on the current pile of bags and checked in.
A comment on the taxi ride itself, while it wasn't the manic free for all I've seen in many countries it wasn't far off it so when the driver strapped his seat belt on I hoped to follow suit. Only to be disappointed that mine didn't work, we were to learn that health and safety is truly an alien concept for this continent.
With Andy rejoining us, if not his bag, we reviewed what had been lost. Most of Andy's clothes were gone, but what seemed of particular concern to him was his missing hair gel, which gives a good indication of the sort of guy we are dealing with here particularly considering we were dumping all none essential items at Heathrow to get under the weight limit only a couple of flights earlier.
In the morning our missions fell into two categories - Tibet visa's and missing luggage. The hotel had been chosen for the travel agent on the ground floor who specialises in Tibet visa's so we set him in action while we headed out to one of the place that Steve commented he had hoped to avoid in China - the police station. The challenge was to not leave without a police report for the insurance and I have to say that there were times when it looked touch and go. Without a common language communication became a game of waving hands and Andy 'Tony Hart' Cross's sketches. Both of these failed but the receptionist from the hotel was called when it became clear that we had won the patience game with the police. While Andy explained Steve and I sat at a table outside, presumably the lunch table given how many people came out with food, saw us and turned around again. One unfortunate fellow was dragged in and sat next to us while his belongings were searched and much angry mutterings occurred. The last we saw of him he was being led off to the cells which gave us renewed enthusiasm to call it a wrap.
Police report in hand we hit the streets, and they hit back with thick smog and a generous dose of hectic traffic. The route we took around town took us over a bridge and while I tried to take a picture of the other two their natural urge to fight bubbled over... Now we tried to replace the valuable items Andy had lost, including the hair gel. Some marathon walking and a taxi ride later and we were in possession of a bag of kit. Among the goodies were a set of pants for Andy and Steve. Now either they judged the size badly, or large is just a bit smaller in China but they soon got nicknamed the 'cheese wire' pants. I leave it as an exercise to the reader imagination to fill in the cracks, er I mean gaps. Lunch was taken at a random restaurant where we ordered what ever they could say in English, but it turned out that their English and our Chinese didn't stretch to the word 'toilet' and with no obvious doors with helpful symbols and a reluctance on my part to mime anything in a public place, we had to wait until we found the first Starbucks to pop into.
Our shopping also included a search for Diamox, a drug which offsets the effects of altitude sickness which some street urchin had probably mistaken for something with a little more pzazz, but that should teach them for cleaning up the litter Andy thoughtlessly left behind. After a couple of medical looking places all we had was a scrap of paper with some Chinese on it, which we wrongly believed to be the name of the drug. Having tried in several places to buy the drug the reaction of the attendants became clear when we later found out that we had the name of local hospital and people were firm that we couldn't buy that here.
An afternoon break for a quick coffee turned out to also triple up as a toilet stop with the most sparklingly clean toilet we were going to see for the trip and a free Internet stop. Both of which convinced me we were paying too much for the coffee. Amusement was had when the short one took a drink from the bowl of water thoughtfully provided, only to glance around the room later and realise everyone else was using their finger bowl correctly.
Back at the hotel we had some highs and lows. The high was that our travel agent had out done our expectation and we were heading for Lhasa the next morning, the lows were that this left no time to see the Panda's and also that the shop next to the hotel had all the gear we had treked across town for (minus the pants but I think we'd all agree that would be no great lose). An evening of packing (and counting bags) and waiting for our visa form to arrive by fax soon ensued. With these tasks completed we sat in the hotel bar and I taught the other two to play a little poker, something which would occupy a lot of our free time and a game which saw wild tactical swings from Steve and a more moderate approach from Andy. I'm smug to report, and the only reason this gets a mention at all, that at the end of the trip I was in the lead but sadly not the owner of a new house or car.
All that remained in Chengdu was a quick nights sleep in a room with the worlds most dangerous looking air conditioning unit and an early morning drive to the airport. Once on the plane we knew that our earlier smooth ride had acquired a modest co-efficient of friction when breakfast was served. That is breakfast was served while we were still on the runway, clearly no one expected us to be off anytime soon