June 20: Road Trip in Tibet
September 28, 2006
We met in the lobby early in the morning to pack our things into the buses and drive to another city. Because our trip would take us over the highest pass in the region, over 5,000 meters, we would be bringing a medical professional along with us as well as some oxygen tanks. More than a few chuckles arose after we were introduced to our ‘doctor’, a local Tibetan in a lab coat who was about 18 years old.
As we made our way the bus drivers were apparently driving dangerously and there had been several close calls. One of the tour guides tried to get the bus drivers to slow down, but they were insulted and continued on. So, about an hour and half into the trip we pulled over onto the side of the road and we all got out with our luggage. Our tour guides dismissed the bus drivers and hired new ones by cell phone to come from Lhasa. During the wait a coalition was formed between the Canadians and the Germans that if we had to resort to cannibalism we would start with a different country. We waited at the riverside in the cool breeze for about two hours for the new buses to arrive. Apparently they were detained because of a speeding ticket. As the first bus showed up Bill said “well that looks like a good omen”, as the big pink bus with flames painted on the side stopped on the side of the road.
We continued along, stopping for an impromptu lunch at a much more authentic restaurant in a town along the way. The food was the best we had eaten so far on the trip, and soon we were back on the road. We made several stops next to scenic spots and interesting vegetation (it was a bus full of botanists after all).
At about six in the evening our bus came around a corner and found our companion bus at the end of some skid marks with an overturned motorcycle next to it. The motorcyclist had not been wearing a helmet and was now stumbling around with no visible injury. The gathering crowd seemed only concerned with the damage to his motorcycle. Some people on our bus pushed our ‘doctor’ out the door to give aid and he calmly proceeded to stand at the side of the road with a lit cigarette in one hand and an oxygen canister in the other. Our tour guides tried to bribe the man so we could be on our way, but the gathering crowd emerging from the local town would not be sated until the authorities were involved. In the long wait for the police to get to the scene I got the general details of the accident. Apparently our bus was taking the corner on the inside, half in the wrong lane, and the guy on the motorcycle ran into the side of the bus at a low speed. The bus was barely scratched but the motorcycle wouldn’t start despite the apparent lack of damage.
Before the police arrived someone had placed a helmet in the hands of the motorcyclist. When the police did finally arrive they took accounts from the witnesses and made measurements with their spool of measuring tape. I was generally impressed with their professionalism until one dropped the spool and in broke apart sending the tape flying everywhere.
About two hours after the accident we were on our way to the local police station in the next town where things would be settled. Our group waited in the town centre while our bus driver went into the police station. The 30 minutes or so that we waited for the bus driver we took pictures with the locals and bought ice cream for the local kids. The kids were cautious at first but soon were ecstatic and danced and sang for us. Ice cream bars cost about 15 cents, so it wasn’t too expensive to by ice cream for a whole park full of kids.
By the time we were on the road again it was getting dark and I slept the remainder of the trip. It was about 10 by the time we finally got to our hotel. Though I did not feel the least bit like eating we were all ushered straight into the dining room. It seems most of the group shared my disinterest in food and most of it remained uneaten. It was getting late and it was a very long day so I went straight to bed.