Sunday, August 02, 2009

Riding In A Milk Truck

So here's where we pick up the narrative. We've been hiking across the grasslands for hours, admiring all of that flora and fauna. We've seen what looks to be a small outpost in the distance, but are still a ways away from making contact. There's no turning back.

At about that moment, a white truck with a big canister in its flatbed rumbles by us. At this point, we're all thinking that hitching a ride to that next village is a winning strategy. But it doesn't look like this particular working vehicle can accommodate all four of us. So we let it pass by without trying to flag it down.

Not far up ahead, though, the truck grinds to a halt, and the driver begins chatting with a man on a horse who has ridden up. We keep plodding along, and soon have left this impromptu grassland meeting in our literal dust. But just as quickly, the conversation ends, the truck fires back up, and then begins to gain ground on us once again. This time, as the truck reaches us, the driver leans out and motions us to jump into the cab with him. When I tell him that there are four of us (I guess he had already noticed that with his own two eyes!), he nods, and pulls forward the passenger seat, revealing a little back seat cubby. Julie and Z quickly jump in, the seat is folded back up, and off the five of us go together.

The driver then asks me where we are going. I tell him that we are making for that little village we keep seeing from the high points on the road. He smiles and informs us that that is his home village and he will be happy to take us there.

Now, although we had just spent hours walking along the dirt road, we hadn't realized just how bumpy and uneven its surface actually is. Why would we? But now that we were tightly packed into a rickety old truck, we had no choice but to get the message loud and clear. For my part, I can report being jostled about as we caromed from one mound of dirt to the next. Julie and Z, though, had the real "rumble seat." With their legs folded and bodies contorted, the two of them kept banging into the truck's side panels, the seats in front of them, and whatever else got in their way. Z especially sustained some bumps and bruises as we covered the last few kilometers out to our long sought destination.

Upon arriving in our driver's village, we uncurled ourselves and climbed down out of the truck. Thinking that this little part of our adventure was over, we got ready to throw our packs on our backs, and go off and wander through the village for a while, to see what trouble we could scare up.

It was at that moment that our driver said the key words of the day...jin lai ba. "Hey, why don't you guys come in!?"

You know already how we responded to that offer...

~Steve

PS: When I asked the driver what has was carrying in his canister, I fully expected his response to be something like oil or gasoline. Shows you how little I know about life out in the grasslands...

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