I’d only been standing on the side of the road for two minutes when a car pulled over to pick me up. A new record perhaps when it comes to hitchhiking, but then again I’d been told about the incredible hospitality of Tibetans.
“Where are you going?” the driver said. I told him Qinghai Lake. He nodded and told me to get in.
Another Tibetan guy was in the car, apparently also hitchhiking his way to work that day.
“You can get off with me,” he said.
We drove toward the sand dunes along the eastern side of the lake, and he got off to hitch another ride the rest of the way. Within a couple of minutes, another car full of Tibetans pulled over and we squashed our ways in, my face mashed against my backpack. I couldn’t move my head to peek out of the window, but knew we were surrounded by sand dunes and various roadside attractions. It’s fairly common in China for natural scenery to be turned into a kind of amusement park, and the dunes were no exception: go-karts, sleds, club music. A party in the dunes, for a fee.
“We’re here,” the guy told the driver. We got off and he walked to one of the stalls where he greeted his coworkers and motioned for me to put my stuff down.
“A bus will come by here in about an hour. Until then, you can just entertain yourself.”
He handed me a sled and pointed to the dune. “Free of charge. Just have fun.”
I stood there for a minute just to process the fact that an hour ago I was eating breakfast and was now about to sled down a sand dune.
Then I flailed up the dune with the plastic sled, bobbing along to the pop music and watching the vendors prepare for the tourists who would come and pay for this.
What can I say? The wind in my face, the queer feeling of sand in my boots as the sled made the first tracks of the day in the dune, and the knowledge that I would have done exactly none of this had I just biked or taken a bus filled me with a grand sense of optimism.
This was going to be a good trip.