Escape from Beijing on the road trip from hell.
Malanguan Travel Blog› entry 34 of 251 › view all entries
April 19th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
Our plan for today was to get out of Beijing...road trip! A guy ("Dick") had given me his card at Tiananmen Square, and I had called him to request his services for the day. The plan was to go to the Eastern Qing Tombs (by the way, Qing is pronounced "ching"). According to Fodor's, "The Eastern Qing Tombs are a two- to three-hour drive from the capital. The rural scenery is dramatic, and the trip is one of the best full-day excursions outside Beijing." Sounds perfect! And the farther from Beijing, the better.
We had a little snafu with the driver, who was waiting at the wrong building. We were supposed to meet at 8:00. At 8:15 I went back up to the apartment to call. The phone was ringing when I opened the door -- it was our guide for the day, Sherry. I could not figure out what she was saying (We are on the ground! On the ground!) and she couldn't understand me (We are waiting outside Building 7. We are outside. Building 7. ) Somehow it worked, and when I got downstairs she was there with the driver (who wasn't Dick) and an old dusty car. Guess Dick farmed this one out.
When we told Sherry where we wanted to go, she did not know where it was. After we showed her on the map, she promptly doubled the price, which had been quite cheap to begin with, so we agree on the new rate.
Just so happens that our driver, who we believe to be mildly retarded, is the only timid driver in all of China. Timid...and slow. Really slow. You know when you are driving somewhere new and you are not quite sure where you are, but you know you have a turn coming up so you go really really slow, annoying everyone around you? That was our guy, THE WHOLE WAY. Oh, and we stopped no fewer than 12 times for directions. That's not an exaggeration.
The clean air I was hoping for was a long time in coming. In fact it got a lot worse before it got better. The first three hours were spent driving through the chaotic suburban sprawl of Beijing. You would not believe the construction! It was so dusty, and packed with huge trucks, spewing black exhaust and kicking up dust and dirt.
We finally got to cleaner air, and drove along a huge lake. The water level was really low. China really needs rain to fill the lakes and wash the dust everything off.
Four and a half hours after we began, we finally landed in the general area of the Qing Tombs. Dumdum couldn't figure things out and let us out at a deserted pagoda. Sherry assured us it was Yuling's Tomb, which is what we wanted to see. It was most definitely not Yuling's Tomb -- we had a full description in our book. So we suggested they bring us to the parking area and perhaps we could buy tickets and a map.
Tickets were super expensive (I think we got a special "foreigners rate"). Since it was getting kind of late, we just paid for entrance to Yuling's Tomb instead of an "all-inclusive" ticket. We had also hoped to Dingdongling's Tomb but that was not in the cards.
The buildings had a true patina -- they weren't all painted up and "restored" like the Summer Palace had been. The colors were soft and beautiful, plus there were no screaming children. Perfect! We had a little picnic on a stone table, then we explored the grounds before heading down into the tomb. The entry to the tomb was marble, with beautiful carved Buddhist images.
I felt exhausted after this short visit, so we turned out and set off for Beijing. Along the way, we stopped so I could photograph some pear trees. There was a particularly scenic stretch, and I took several photos. (But don't get the idea the whole drive was like this... mostly it was dusty and ugly.)
We made good time (despite being flagged for a police check...luckily we had remembered our passports!) until we got to Beijing. Then we hit traffic, and inexplicably, dumdum wouldn't go over about 40 mph.
By the time we got home, I felt like I had been run over by one of those trucks. The left side of my head and face seems to be over-packed with stuffing, my glands are swollen, and my throat and neck hurts. Plus, my eye lid is all swollen and won't stop watering -- that's an interesting twist. I look pretty scary. I feel as bad as I look. Good night.
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