This One Time…

This one time I was the first foreigner in a restaurant.

I can’t tell you where I was. I mean, I was somewhere in the Qinghai Province of China. It borders Tibet and is an area that isn’t quite developing along with the rest of China. People farming without tools and living in huts within large expanses of land unused and uninhabited. It’s home to China’s largest lake and huge mountain ranges, but in other areas has endless views of the brown high desert.

One day we were cycling through a rather unattractive area. If you were in a car you could have stepped on the gas without turning your wheel for probably an hour and never leave the road or see another car. In the distance, we could see what looked like a city approaching but as we got closer realized it was just some industrial smokestacks. However, it was lunchtime and we were hungry so assumed there must be something to eat in the area and pressed on. After exiting the main road we made our way toward the bottom of the smokestacks along a bumpy dirt road. Large empty salt puddles, crusted in white, were being ran over by semi-trucks full of what we later found out were the output of the potassium mine.

The small row of ancient and blackened shops that lined the street were only there to supply the mine workers with somewhere to go. I don’t think anyone lived here. But luckily there was a restaurant so we walked in and sat down. The cheerful man recommended some of his favorite dishes and our table proceeded to order lunch while, as usual, I glazed over with all the Chinese speaking. The food was surprisingly good and the place itself actually had quite a bit of charm considering the surroundings.

After we finished, a conversation had started between the owner and someone in my group in Chinese and suddenly I was told that I was the first Lao Wai (foreigner, or white person) to ever eat in the restaurant. We proceeded to take some photos together and laugh without understanding what each other was saying. I’m pretty sure I deserve to be framed on the wall as I can guarantee there will never be another foreigner ever to visit that place.

This one time our truck got stuck in the Laos jungle.

Day 1 in Laos and we woke up to gray skies and rain. We were departing for three days in the jungles of Laos to sleep in treehouses, zip line 200+ meters across deep canyons, and catch a glimpse of the famed Gibbon primate. But first, we had to get there.

Not knowing how far the drive was, our group jumped in the back of two small pickups. Throughout the journey, the landscape and villages got more and more isolated. Rolling hills turned in to densely covered mountains and acceptable towns turned in to third world villages complete with wood huts and no electricity.

Still having no idea how much further we had to go, we took an abrubt left turn onto a dirt road and immediately started crossing a river…with no bridge! Our truck just drove directly into the quick, deep brown river with water over the tires and before we got over the shock of what was happening, we had made it across.

We proceeded for a couple more hours climbing steep, muddy hills and sliding down and around the curves. During the most serious uphill section, the truck quickly slowed down and within seconds found that we were also sinking. We had no chance to get up the slope at all. We weren’t going to make it to the treehouses and the zip lines and the monkeys. And at this point, there was no chance that we were going to be able to drive miles back to the main road.

We all piled out of the vehicle and at first the driver tried to get the truck up the hill on his own, but he couldn’t. Determined to keep moving forward, we all spent the next 30 minutes pushing the two trucks up the hill, just so we could literally slide down the other side. We did make it to our destination in the end. Some day I’ll write about it.