<A> Highway to Hell

Written by Nov 9, 2005 04:11
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In September, my daughter and I visited China for a three week holiday. This included attendance at a model aircraft hobby Exposition in Beijing from 01 to 05 Oct. Having friends in Nanjing who were displaying their products at the Expo, I accepted their invitation to travel from Nanjing to Beijing with them in their Toyota 11 seat Minibus, together with the 'boss's' Honda Accord. Both vehicles were full of passengers and model equipment when we left at 6pm on the Saturday evening, after a day of last minute preparations at the factory.

The weather was just turning from summer heat to autumn cool, and rain was imminent. The journey was going to be much further than I had anticipated, being approximately 1,100 km. As a bit of humor, I had stuck a red 'stick-on' kangaroo on the bumper of the Honda, and magnetic China and Australian flags on the minibus. These proved to be an invaluable means of recognition for the other vehicle as we traveled throughout the night. Being no stranger to long distance and overnight travel in Australia, where I frequently drive some 1500 km over less than- ideal roads, I was anticipating a reasonably routine journey. It was however with some surprise that the convoy had not even left Nanjing before the first stop was made.

We had no sooner settled down for the long drive when the vehicles pulled up at restaurant, and the dozen or so travelers alighted for dinner - just your typical Chinese banquet, which lasted some hour and a half, with excessive quantities of food and no sense of the forthcoming drive. "At least," I thought, “this should allow me to go to sleep easily ". Not so. By the time we were back on the road, the rain had set in and the drive was starting to become an epic. The road from Nanjing to Beijing is excellent, being divided highway for the whole journey. However, it soon became apparent that this was not going to prove an easy trip. Traffic was heavy, and mainly heavy to medium commercial vehicles. Not the Western versions, the semi trailers or B- doubles, but the Chinese equivalent - no taught and trim tarpaulin covered shiny rigs, but untidy, overloaded truck bodies of many shapes and sizes, some with loads covered, some without, and all appearing to be overloaded.

The difficulty of the trip soon became apparent - the somewhat chaotic road rules (or lack of) of Chinese traffic meant that lane-changing was the norm. Every time this was carried out by a vehicle, it was accompanied by either the flashing of headlights or the sounding of horn, and frequently both. It soon became obvious that we would have this delight all night, making sleep very cursory. To add to the drivers difficulties, the divided highways were generally separated only by low Armco type dividers. Thus the flashing headlights of the oncoming vehicles were always in the drivers eyes. This went on all night. No long breaks, with kilometers between passing vehicles, such as happens in Australia - just never-ending continuous heavy traffic for the whole journey.

Both vehicles traveled together, or were only separated by traffic for short periods until the red kangaroo reappeared, and regular stops were made about every two hours. These were made at petrol filling stations, mainly for toilet reasons or driver relief. With only one exception, the refreshment facilities were open only during daylight hours, and only essential lights were on. None of the bright neon-lit petrol pumps or cafes of Australian all-night service stations, just a minimum of light to show the way to the toilet. Maybe a pump or two would be lit to serve petrol, (and for only 70 cents ( AU) a litre at that) and the only vehicles seemed to be commercial.

I had selected my seat directly behind the driver, and as the hours wore on, I began to note the familiar signs of driver fatigue - rubbing the eyes, twisting the neck, drifting off- line etc. Becoming somewhat alarmed, and not being able to talk with the driver due to our different languages, I hurriedly changed places with a younger member of the passengers, with the instruction for him to converse with the driver in an attempt to keep him from falling asleep. This he did, and a valiant effort it was - he talked from midnight till 6am. During this time, the rain continued to fall, creating a constant spray of slush on the windscreen as each vehicle was passed or we were overtaken This marathon continued until the driver was given temporary relief at about 6am when one of the passengers in the Honda spelled our driver as we neared Beijing.

As we neared Beijing, traffic density increased, but the rain eased and finally stopped. For the last 2 hours, it was city traffic as we struggled to find our way to our destination. Finally, the Exhibition hall came into sight. My hosts explained that the magnificent structure had been a gift to the Chinese people by the Soviet Union, but it had been finished by the Chinese themselves when the Soviets withdrew their support. At about 10 am, the epic journey was over, 14 hours of continuous driving to be repeated again in only 6 days for the return to Nanjing.

However, this was not to be. A severe case of ‘Beijing Conjunctivitis’, and the consequent after effects such as loss of voice and chest cough, prompted a hurried rush for airline tickets for us to return to Nanjing. As we winged our way back to Nanjing, high above the highway below, I can recall thinking that maybe, at age 74, my ‘sense of adventure’ was probably due for retirement.



 More Datong Travel Reviews
1. Stop by in Datong on the way from Beijing to Xian ELCABRON Feb 16, 2005 05:02
2. Travel to Datong CHEFINWUHAN from CN Feb 13, 2005 10:02
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