the hotel in Sapa makes me an early breakfast and walks me up to the car [there is road construction so there is not access to the hotel] they arranged to take me to the Vietnam border at Lao Cai. the border crossing is easy enough then the fun starts. i find the bus station but no chance they are taking dollars or want my leftover Vietnamese dong. no bank or atm that i can identify and i end up getting my fresh cash from a black marketer on the street corner. we haggle a bit and i know it isn't a good rate but i need 143 yuan FAST to get back to the station for the bus to Kunming or i will be waiting 4 hours for the next bus in a very hot, very dirty bus station.
this is a rarely used border crossing for westerners so i am thrilled to see a western couple and then i am approached by a girl from Taiwan who speaks mandarin. BINGO this is like hitting the lottery so i know all those extra prayers mom is says must be working. or maybe it's the lucky coin i got from the fortune teller. or the blessing from the shaman. or is it?
the bus makes a toilet stop and it is like nothing i have seen or smelt since i have been in SE Asia. i see this billboard and think i have seen nothing to indicate that todlers or even adults here use any type of container to relieve themselves. you would think that i would be used to bad toilets by now but this is a whole new level. also, the girl next to me on the bus is vomiting alot but that i have become used to that for the most part.
during one of the bus stops [it is an 9 hour ride] the Taiwanese girl asks me if i know of a cheap hostel in Kunming. i am thinking that she wants to stay there so i say the other westerners have a good recommendation for a $3US hostel. she asks if i will follow them and i say no. then she says she is very concerned about my traveling without any of the local language because no one will speak English to me. i tell her i have been traveling for months and i am sure i will get by.
later sitting alone on the bus with my ipod the doubt starts to set in. my first day in china. what if i can't make anyone understand me? what if i can't find a hotel? what if something happens that i am not prepared for? what if there is a danger my mind can not even think of? what if? what if? when i get into Kunming i get around with zero problem. i am so pissed at myself. it makes me want to cry that i let some random traveler project her fears onto me after all this time. i vow to never let this happen again whether i am traveling or not.
the ride from the border to Kunming takes us through the Stone Forest. created 60 million years ago when the Himalayas shrugged, the 'forest' resembles a vast ghostly city looming out of the landscape.