Stopovers

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If you’re driving an average of 350 km a day, stopovers are not only crucial, they form the meat and crux of the trip especially if you travel with children.  As much as possible, I want to extend stopovers so that the kids get their fill of playtime which is never enough.  At the end of the day, they still have too much energy at bedtime that I vow every time to get them moving more, way before they hit the sack.

After eight days of travelling, we’ve had our luck of stopover treasures like this late lunch in a pretty garden where Joshua and Jimmy played in the stream with a four-year-old local girl.  On the way to Chengdu, which was the longest stretch we’ve had, our only break aside from a cheap, crummy lunch was at a tourist trap selling souvenirs but it was welcome nonetheless.  I happily suspended cynicism because I was desperate for respite from the car, although it was a most scenic ride.

The best and simplest stopover by far and I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to prove it — is the one at a prairie with marmots darting in and out of holes in the ground.  At first I thought they were squirrels or gophers and Jason said they were mice but later on he said they were called “hanta” which is marmot in English.  The kids had so much fun trying to catch them like it was a full live version of the arcade game where you hit the speedy critters popping up with a mallet.  Birds flew in and out of the holes to confuse the game.

Back on the road, there were eagles resting on electric posts and then they would fly away, showing off their impressive wingspan.

Every day, I’d ask Joshua to calculate how many kilometers we had traveled.  Instead of a small whiteboard panel and whiteboard pen which can be messy, I used an LCD writing tablet called “Boogie Board” which is such a godsend.  No dirty erasures, just a clean push of a button and you can start anew.

There was a stopover I wished to make but we didn’t have time because Jason wanted to reach Chengdu by nightfall.  During the drive, I got intrigued by these defense towers called “diaolou” and even though they have been rebuilt because most were destroyed in the great 2008 Sichuan earthquake, I am still interested in them from an architectural point of view.  There was a museum dedicated to the structures and the history of the region but we had to skip that.

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I had a hilarious bathroom stopover today.  We were going in and out of tunnels and there seemed no service stop ahead.  I thought of pausing at one of the shoulders in the tunnel but then I imagined it would be difficult.  Then after a few more long tunnels, I forced myself to think more laterally.  I figured if I did it on the right corner of the vehicle, I’d be totally hidden since it was a one-way tunnel anyway.  I held on the car for support, laughing and peeing at the same time.

Oh, and we also took a hitchhiker briefly a few days ago.  He was a Russian making his way from Kazakhstan to China and onto Laos and Cambodia.  I thought the reason Jason volunteered to take him was because he himself hitchhiked before but it turned out he hadn’t.  I was the one who has hitchhiked twice in England and once in Italy.  Jason simply likes helping people whom he can along the road.

Tonight, when we arrived in Chengdu, we were treated like kings for the first time since we started this journey.  Turns out Jason has a big shot boss friend who owns a hotel and we dined first class — a big difference from all our budget meals but it may have been too much for the kids.  Joshua complained of a tummy ache and I was whispering rather Mommie Dearestly — “Look, this is the best meal we’ve had.  Don’t you dare waste it!”  But he didn’t bite.  Jimmy was so excited, he drank more watermelon juice than he should’ve and threw it up into, not one but two bowls.  Ah, children.  Don’t you love their perfect timing?  I managed to eat all that I could before scooting up to the room with the kids, leaving Jason to drink baijiu and catch up with his buddy.  After all, he’s not driving tomorrow.

We are just going to have an easy day drying laundry, going to a mall with a Decathlon store and a playground and rather guiltily, I want to eat in a western restaurant.  It’s the first and only big city in our route; please indulge me this weakness.

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