Steve "Slept like a teething baby" Wyatt was easily first up
this morning and being affected by the beer the night before
decided to find a toilet. Figuring that since Andy and I were still
slumbering it must be early he wondered down to the floor below
hunting the gents in only his pants. Only to find that it was in
fact a more respectable 7.30am and there were plenty of people
around, probably wondering who stole his clothes and whose room he
had slept in. This entertainment over we had primary mission for
the day - obtaining visas to allow us to travel the rest of the
route legally. For those not intimately knowledgeable about the
visa situation in Tibet let me give a rough lesson that was
applicable at the time of our trip, in the style of Vincent and
Jules from Pulp fiction taking about Amsterdam.
Jules:Okay so, tell me again about the visa.
Vincent:Okey what do you want to know?
Jules:Well, travel is legal over there, right?
Vincent:Yeah,It's legal but it ain't hundred percent legal, I mean, you just can't walk into a the country and start strolling around. They want you to travel in the big city or certain designated places.
Jules:And those are the on the visa?
Vincent:Yeah, It breaks down like this, ok, it's legal to enter with a an entry visa, it's legal to travel around Lhasa, And if you're in possession of a ATP, it's legal to move around the country. It's currently legal to carry a visa, but...but that doesn't matter, 'cause, get a load of this; all right,If you get stopped at a checkpoint, it's not illegal for them to change their minds about the visa situation and bang you up anyway. I mean that's a problem the soldiers in Tibet don't have to worry about.
Jules:Oh, man, I'm goin', that's all there is to it. I'm fuckin' goin'.
Vincent:I know, baby, you'd dig it the most.. But you know what the funniest thing about Tibet is?
Vincent: It's the little differences. I mean they got the same visas over there that they got here, but it's just - it's just there it's a littledifferent.
Vincent: Alright, well you can apply for a visa for China. And I don't mean just like a travel visa, I'm talking about an entry visa. This lets you wonder all over China. But to move around Tibet you need an ATP. And you know what you have to do to get into Tibet?
Jules: You don't just need a China entry permit
Vincent: Nah, man, they got extra for Tibet
Jules: Like what extra?
Vincent: They call it a "Tibetan travel permit"
Jules: "Tibetan travel permit"
Vincent: Thats right.
Jules: What do they call a permit to move around Tibet?
Vincent: A permits a permit, but they call it "Alien Travel Permit"
Jules: "Alien Travel Permit" [laughs] What do get if your caught without a visa ?
Vincent: I dunno, I didn't get caught. But, you know what you have to do to get into Tibet?
Vincent: Pretend your with a group
Jules: God damn!
Vincent: I seen 'em do it, man, with lists of your buddies who don't exist
So if you've never heard of Pulp fiction then that probably made no sense (try the original dialogue) and even if you have your probably not too clear what is required. So about the same state as us as we gamely wondered up to the visa office, except we were fairly sure that we needed an Alien Permit to Travel to legally progress any further down the Friendship highway, and certainly to get to Everest base camp. We were also fairly sure we didn't have the right paper work - in theory you need to be part of a group with a tour guide. At the visa office we were efficiently brushed off and told to go back to Lhasa despite the combined efforts of one George Clooney look alike, one male so well groomed he could be in an advert for Lynx and one male with a silver tongue to charm even a frosty heart. I'll let the reader deduce who was who. Somewhat dismayed that our attempt had lasted less than thirty seconds we hung around hoping to be able to do better with round two but with no one behind us the lady walked off to get on with her important work. On the up side we still had our passports in hand so we considered it a nil-nil draw after some consideration. If our situation looked a bit bleak then the French fella sat behind the desk was planted there to brighten up our day. Having been caught with an entry visa one month out of date he had been dropped off at the visa office and told to wait while they decided what to do with him. With a possible fine of $500 per day for not having a visa, slave labour was an option. It didn't materially advance our cause but never underestimate the power of finding someone less well off than yourself.
After a very English cup of tea on the roof of our hotel we felt suitably restored and headed out to the markets for some food. This was quite a chaotic place and I guess from the reaction of some of the traders that foreigners don't often wonder around. With the usual point and wave we managed to buy all we needed and had settled on some oranges for a bit of a vitamin C boost. That is until we were told the price. If their estimate of what an orange is worth is correct then we should all stop what we are currently doing and grow oranges to export to Tibet.
Food shopping done we went to see the monastery
which, if our previously unreliable guidebook author actually
visited before writing his book, promised to be spectacular. Being
a typical British tourist (aka idiot) it took me until the queue to
get into the monastery to realise that while I had remembered to
get dressed all I had on my legs were shorts and there was no
chance of being allowed in. Cue a quick sprint to the closest shop
to buy some trousers. A touristy establishment caught my eye and I
rushed in and I imagine that the lady behind the counter thought
something like this:
"Hmmm, seems to be in a rush.......only wearing shorts.......I see, probably trying to get into the monastery the fool....I guess his mates are waiting for him.....probably worried them getting fed up, probably wants a nice quick sale......I have just the pair of trousers for him.....haven't been able to shift them for years......yep, just the sort of bright hippy trousers that were all the fashion in his parents day......and what shall we charge I wonder.....because he's in an awful hurry...I might shut up shop after this."
and so it was that I re-entered the street wearing what many people have assured me are a terrible pair of over-priced trousers. I still maintain that they will make good climbing trousers but the fashion sensitive thing to do would indeed be to burn them. Back at the monastery I rejoined Steve "what the hell are you wearing" Wyatt and Andy "that's brightened up my day, literally" Cross for a wonder around. At last the guide book was to be believed and we were suitably impressed, especially by the size of Buda's they managed to squeeze into what looked like quite small buildings from the outside.
Monasteries ticked off our list we went to an Internet cafe to catch up with news from home, and then onto a restaurant for lunch. After ordering our food I squared my stupid rating for the day by noticing that my arm was sans watch. A short curse later I deduced that I must have left it in the Internet cafe having definitely looked at it just prior to entering. With apathy deserving of someone who didn't really like his watch anyway I wrote it off as collateral losses for the trip. Andy felt that our cause would be further by him sporting a watch just like mine and so leapt up to head back there. After our food arrived and Steve and I were happily chomping away waiting for Andy when I had a spark of inspiration. Yep, you guessed it, stupid cubed; the watch was in my bag of course. Andy came back empty handed and it took a long while before I confessed.
A beer on the way home and some poker at the hotel wrapped up the day, which felt surprisingly long given that we hadn't actually biked anywhere, but rest assured our lack of visa wasn't going to put us off pedaling on - we had heard plenty of reports of others making it through with less paper work than us.