Snacks are the cornerstone of any good roadtrip, and since I have been awaiting this trip for quite awhile I believe it necessary that the snacks be of the highest caliber. I plot a course to a 7-11, a half-hour walk from the bus station and we set off for there. Now, I know that 7-11s in Asia generally do not measure up to those in the United States, where an upgrade to a gallon of slushie only costs a quarter and the hot dogs roll all day, growing more hot and less like something you would be ok with feeding your dog. Still, any 7-11 is a gift from God.
That’s why we thank Heaven for It.
I am walking as fast as I can to make sure we return to the station in time, and my dad is hobbling after me like an angry clown with rocks in the toes of his shoes. We make it there and back in record time, with an assortment of Chinese chips and chocolates for the road.
Now, why do I go to such trouble? Well, as someone who relishes the opportunity to be able to sleep whilst wandering, this nightbus is special. Equipped with 35 bed-seats, we are to board at around 6 pm and arrive in Erlian about 12 hours later completely rested. Not to mention, the bus tickets cost $13 a piece, so we also get to save money on a hotel for the night while the hum of the newly-paved Inner Mongolian highway puts us to sleep.
I am ecstatic.
At the terminal, we still wait another hour and a half for the bus before the ushers check our papers and let us through. When we board, we are made to place our shoes in plastic bags before reaching our seats which are, to say the least, not what I expected.
Rather than typical bunks of flat, prison-style shelves lining the outsides of the cabin, there are three rows of beds that each rise and fall like some confusing quadratic equation that you once knew how to write the equation for but have long forgotten. Each mattress is exactly 6 feet tall, but with the slope and curvature it only takes around 4 feet of horizontal space. Generally, I need flatness to fall asleep, so I wonder how this will work as we pull from the station and start our journey. For the first hour of the ride I try different positions to be comfortable. Ultimately, I settle on a diagonal position to maximize mattress space and thankfully fall asleep after a few hours of assorted idleness and folk-tune humming. This is the road, man. If I can’t sing “Wagon Wheel” now, then when can I? Besides, my fellow inmates are fast asleep the moment the sun passes the horizon. They can’t hear me and, if they could, they’d have no idea what I’m saying. It’s only when the driver turns in for the night at the side of the highway that I can finally fall asleep, and when I awake the sun has returned and reveals a curious sight on the outskirts of the city.
Dinosaur fossils turn up in Mongolia and have for some time. China and Mongolia are both proud of that heritage, so life-size dinosaur statues guard the city’s entrance for ten miles outside of Erlian alongside long-necked windmill giants. Our bus doesn’t stop but I manage to snap a few photos through the glass before we enter the city and face the challenge of crossing the border before the train to the Mongolian capital leaves later that afternoon. We stop abruptly in a nondescript parking lot then are rushed off the bus, as if the next bus back to Beijing leaves in ten minutes and we sure as hell better not be on it. The air is cold and I smile and throw on my sweatshirt. It’s autumn in Erlian and I smile at being able to see this season that I was supposed to miss. It’s been a tropical summer, and it’s shaping up to be a tropical winter for me, too. I’m relieved that I get to use my sweatshirt as more than just a pillow.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.