The leopard skin shirt was a sign. The aviators covering the eyes and the jaw that moved left to right, right to left were also signs. You didn’t get men like him in China, but then again this was not really China.
We needed to get to the town before nightfall. And this outcrop was not a place serviced by buses or taxis. The few buildings were focussed around the crossroads, two dusty highways intersecting in the middle of an expanse of rolling wilderness.
The three of us knew that this strange man in his car was our only option, but also that without question it was a terrible option. The chances of us flagging down the large articulated lorries that sped through were zero.
We’d been watching the crossroads from a basic restaurant, where a single stove in the middle of the bare room provided limited warmth and even a more limited menu. Looking out the large window, we watched three vehicles pass by in an hour. Our faith dwindled and silence descended over us –
three white foreigners, laowai, tall and ugly and alien with wild eyes and backpacks. Each of us considered what it meant to be so far away from anything. The next moves weren’t lining up as they had done.
Outside and we could smell the yak skins drying under the watery sun. There was a fine dust in the air – it gave everything a haze of unreality. You couldn’t be sure of anything. In this dream world, the crazy man in his car that skidded to a halt just metres from us made perfect sense.
He had the wide, wired eyes of a seventies frontman. You’d expect to see him emerging from a hotel room, cocaine around his nostrils with two blonde hippy chicks hanging from his arms. In a car, on the high Tibetan plateau, not so much.
For a place so deserted, things got crowded very quickly. Figures appeared from all over, wise men, elders, people that exuded trust. They implored us in mandarin and even broken English to not get in the car. ‘No Go. Bad man,’ they said, over and over. The man behind the wheel just grinned.
Before we had time to think, the three of us got into the car. With a squeal of rubber, we sped off into the unknown.
Is it a better than the night train between Guilin and Chengdu?