There is a story here. A story of travellers dreaming and the occasional bumpy road we face. It is a story I want to tell but I don’t want to start my first post about my trip to Tibet and Chengdu by telling this part of the story. I would rather tell it first and then focus on the travel, the sights, the people, and the experience in the next series of posts.
I had been in China a few months and made some friends and even travelled to Thailand with a few of these new friends. The nice thing about being an international teacher is that you tend to meet people very easily who want to travel. The school I work for had a bunch of new hires come in this past year, including me, and they grouped us together for a week. We became fast friends as a result. We made friends with returning co-workers (some with the benefit of having worked together previously) and that was how my first travel companions came about. It was through these people that I met Erin and Jasmine.
One day, in February, I was hanging out in Hong Kong with Vince, Erin and Jasmine eating Dim Sum. The ladies were returning teachers, meaning they had taught at my school the year before (at least). They also love travelling (considering this took place in Hong Kong and not Shenzhen you might have figured this out without me saying it so bluntly) and as it happens we started talking about our next vacation destinations. There was a lot of overlap and some sharing about places that one of the other 3 (who are a bit more travelled than I am) had been to. We also talked about summer plans and Erin said she was going to Tibet and a few other places before she returned home for to the US for good. This is the another fact of being a teacher in an international school, there are a lot of goodbyes in this line of work. I admitted a deep desire to visit Tibet and Everest Base Camp and next thing I knew I was agreeing to go with Erin and Jasmine to Tibet. Then life happened and I forgot about it and so did they.
A few months later I was at a birthday celebration when Sunia started talking about trip plans for the next school year and “Hey, by the way…. what are your summer plans?” I grumbled about the failed plan to work summer school and how now I had no idea; “Maybe Chengdu” was my only plan. That was when Sunia started talking about how she and Joseph were going with Jasmine, Erin and Elizabeth to Tibet. I remembered the time I had discussed it with Erin and Jasmine and I turned to her and said “tell me more.” Erin joined the conversation shortly after this. Next thing I knew Erin was forwarding an Email to me from the tour company about the scheduled itinerary for June 14 through June 22. Erin told me they were planning on taking the train from Chengdu to Tibet. Sunia said “Maybe we can do a few days in Chengdu after we do Tibet.” It sounded glorious and I went home excited.
The next month I spent waffling about the trip. I went to my friend Kai, the person I turn to when I need advice or someone to mock me. She started off by listening and when I was done she gave me her opinion. Which went something like this: “Mike, If you really want to go to Tibet you should go to Tibet. I like the idea of going to Tibet but then I think about Bali and that hike we went on (she was referring to her and a different group because I was in Beijing with my Dad and nowhere near Bali during this hiking adventure although I heard about it immediately after it was over via WeChat). Then I picture being on Everest in the middle of nowhere and having to be evacuated! Mike, it’s not funny! I would have a panic attack and they would have to med evac me out of there but I don’t even know if Tibet has a med evac! It’s not funny Mike! It’s out in the middle of nowhere, far away from anything! If I fell in Everest I would probably die!” About then she started hyperventilating and I told her “Calm Down Kai! You aren’t even going!” Then she started telling me about the hike in Bali again and I was dying laughing because I told her that it sounded like a nightmare when she read the description to me before she ever set foot in Bali. The story is a crack up and you really ought to hear it but since you probably don’t know her give it a read; Becoming an International Super Teacher. Fair warning, Kai is new to blogging and this is her entire trip to Bali not just the hiking story and it seems long to me. that being said she is an entertaining writer and despite being a new blogger she has a distinctive voice and knows how to tell a story. Anyway she was there to listen and give opinions with only the occasional spiraling freak out.
Then I told Sunia, who was patiently waiting on me to decide, all my fears, worries and concerns. She managed to get some of them answered by contacting the tour company. She also was a great person who listened and was able to take what I said and help me think of solutions. One of my worries was money because as we got closer to summer I actually figured out how much the trip would cost. The tour was expensive, the flight and possible train ride from Chengdu was expensive and that just got me there. It had no bearing on what I ate or spent. It was going to be expensive and money is one of those things I freak out about. Kai and Sunia basically said the same thing to me and it boiled down to this: “This is probably a once in a lifetime trip and if you really want to do it then one day you will look back and not remember what it cost, instead you will just have memories of going.” I was sold and I began telling people I was going.
One day out of the blue Erin started freaking out because the borders in Tibet were closed. She apparently was freaking out about it on a group chat that is for ladies only and Kai told me about it. So it was a freak out via a third party! I just recently agreed to go and a down payment was made so Is tarted freaking out. I began peppering Kai with questions and she was like message her not me! So I messaged Erin. She and I met for lunch and hashed out the fears. Basically what happened were the borders were closed right then and she had messaged the tour guide about it and was waiting to hear back. In the meantime, she was freaking out and not sure if it was normal to be closed right then as we had both seen online or if this was a closed for good type of situation. The tour guide got back to us the next day and explained that the borders often closed during that time of the year but it was extremely rare that they would close during the summer. The summer is the busy tourist season after all. So I bought my flight to Tibet from Chengdu, opting to skip the 2 day train ride because of price and the strong desire not to be on a train for 2 days. I was going to Tibet and I was excited. I was putting off getting the ticket to Chengdu because I still wanted to spend the time there afterward but I doubted I was going to feel good about the expense (I was still waffling about some things). I told Sunia the next day and she was excited and said she would buy tickets that evening and then three days later said the same thing.
That evening I got the text from Erin that the borders were going to close June 18th through the 22nd. The last half of our trip was now gone and we were both stressing about getting our money back. Sunia and Joseph had not bought the tickets yet and were simply bummed about the events. So we went into freak out mode and the tour guide assured us that we were fine on their end, that we would be reimbursed if no alternate plans could be made for our Tibet tour. So I set about working on figuring out if I had lost almost 400 dollars on plane tickets. I sat on hold for a while and spent the time reading my flight insurance tos ee if they refunded things for borders closing being a cause for cancellation. A woman picked up the line and she set about cancelling the tickets for me and I breathed a sigh of relief. Cancelling the airline tickets cost me the flight insurance, fees and a cancellation fee but most of the 400 came back. I was happy about that but sad about my Tibet dreams going up in flames and I began wondering what I would do instead. I made all kinds of possible plans eventually deciding to go to Chengdu like I had originally planned. The next day when a no longer distraught Tibet group decided to change the dates from June 14 through June 22 to June 12 through June 18th I said “Thanks but no thanks!” I had been looking forward to the Sunday and Monday after work ended to relax and get my head straight. I also saw that nothing in the new itinerary changed much except the amount we had to do on each day. This meant more time in the car and more sights to see as soon as we set foot on Tibetan soil. This ultimately led me to believe we would all have altitude issues because Lhasa is 12,000 feet/ 3657 Meters and Shenzhen is 0 Feet/Meters (and we would only go higher). I liked the pace of the first tour with 2 more days because it eased us in to Tibet’s altitude. I made my decision quickly and stood by it….. for 3 days. I eventually decided to go despite my reservations because Joseph said to me as an after thought “I am going to go to Tibet anyway because it is obviously challenging to get in and this seems like we will get in this time and who knows what happens if we don’t go now.”
This time, when I decided to go I also decided to spend a few days in Chengdu. I just doubled down. Of course once I did and the tickets were newly purchased for both legs of the trip I found something new to worry about. I had never actually travelled with the 5 people I was heading to Tibet with. I know all 5 of them and have hung out outside of work several times with 4 of them. They are all great people but sometimes travelling in close confines can test friendships. As it happens, all the people I went with I would travel with again. They were fun and more often than not when it was time to make decisions the minute someone spoke up we all discovered we had all separately been thinking the same thing.