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Travel in Tibet (4): Fighting the Altitude Sickness

The Fourth Day

In the morning, Xiaoyu’s sister in law walked in our room, worried. Xiaoyu got a fever last night and it seemed that a hospital visit would be necessary. Wucong suggested a couple of places where Xiaoyu could go for the treatment in Lhasa. I started to feel sorry for her. Our road trip to Ali region was about to debut and we would reach 5000m very soon, what a pity if Xiaoyu couldn’t make it.  It was  her who organized the trip after all. She deserved a chance.

In the noon time, our drivers picked us up. The two SUVs were fully loaded by the luggage and we squeezed in to save the space for others. It was really tight indeed.  In China, there is an old saying: three women can play a show… Since we had eight ladies, I snickered:” we are going to play a great show together …”  Finally, we departed. At the Yarlung Tsangpo river, Xiaoyu joined others in photo taking just as usual. It seemed that she was fine then.  The car continued to climb up to the 5000 meters above the sea level, where we got to the Yamdrok lake. Just as how it was praised,  the lake was breathtakingly stunning. A minute ago, we were whining about getting hungry, but then, the only feeling we had was the amazement.  Pictures and words just couldn’t show the beauty of the lake.

Walking at such a high altitude place is strenuous, especially for a person who is not in her perfect health condition. Xiaoyu got sick, seriously, this time. We decided to have lunch nearby to give her sometime to recover.

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Unfortunately, even with the oxygen and anti-high altitude medications, Xiaoyu was getting worse. She had to terminate her trip,  right away.  Luckily, a driver heading for Lhasa offered to take Xiaoyu back, as his minivan still had one seat left. Everyone felt relieved, except Xiaoyu’s sister in law. Panic and worried, she couldn’t feel right to let Xiaoyu go alone.  She tried to persuade others to let them take one of our two hired cars back to Lhasa. She didn’t succeed, as others were already upset by  the fact that only Xiaoyu needed to go.  What’s more, the team agreement was to share all the expenses on the road. With both of them departing, the share of the car hire would increase significantly for others.  Girls started to whisper, and, Dengfenglai couldn’t hold herself anymore and blurted out: if they both leave, only Caiyu and I are going to share one car’s expense… That couldn’t happen!”  “Don’t worry, we share the two car expense evenly” Wucong and I consoled her right away, which calmed her down a little bit, though not completely.

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Knowing that taking one of our two cars back was a tough sell, Xiaoyu’s sister in law started to make calls and finally  arranged a car to get them back to Lhasa, we left, relieved, though it meant that our budget would go high with their departure. But, it made sense, anyway.  Wucong, Caiyu, and Deingfenglai sat in one car, Chujiand, Yujian, and I got in another car, we departed for Xigaze. It was already 5pm. The drivers called a few lodges in Xigaza then realized that all hotels were already sold out because of Panchen Lama’s visit! Where to stay, we worried. Last time, when I was in Quito, my trip didn’t get in trouble because of Papa Francisco’s visit. But, this time it seemed that I didn’t have that kind of luck any more.

Already 10pm at night, we were still not in Xigaze. Chujian started to look for hotels on the road, using the Baidu map. I found it pretty funny that many people give too much trust in today’s technologies, such as Baidu or Google. Actually, these internet things are just tools that have many flaws. For instance, Baidu did show numerous hotels, even hotel chains, along the road we were driving, where it was completely dark at night. To me, this must be a bug, I shrugged it off. But to Chujian, she would rather trust Baidu than what we saw with our own eyes. She kept complaining the car ahead of us not even stopping to check out the lodging options while trying her luck with the Baidu map persistently.

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When we got to Xigaze, all hotels were sold out with no surprise. We walked in a bath center. The owner simply indicated that we could either pay, 185 RMB per bed, or walk away. With no other options, we took the offer and walked inside. Lots of beds were placed in a huge lunge and there were male and female guests. I got to say that the feeling was quite awkward. Good thing was that the beds were pretty clean and guests were very quite. What else could I ask for at the middle of night?

Going through so many things in a day, I started to feel headache and struggled most of the night to fall asleep. This was exhausting indeed.

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Travel in Tibet 3: Getting Ready for the Road Trip

In the early morning, it started to rain, heavily. Not really feeling myself,  I decided to stay in bed and let my mind and body fully recover from the  high altitude sickness.  ‘Did Xiayu go to the Potala place as planned?’ I was wondering, half-awake. She was already not feeling well last night, visiting the place in the rain would be really daunting…

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Around noon time, my energy finally boosted up. I decided to visit a well known local restaurant, Xueyu Café. By the time I sat down at the table and took a look at WeChat, my feed was already flooded with Xiaoyu’s pictures of the Potala Palace. I was surprised she went.   Hopefully, she was feeling ok. I messaged the whole group and invited them all to have a lunch here. In no time, Xiaoyu’s party, her sister in law and her best friend Caiyun, replied my message. They were joining me.  However, the moment they walked in the resteraunt, Xiaoyu started to feel nauseous. They went back to the guest house right away. Eating alone was boring, so I decided to wait a little longer. Happily,  Wucong and Dengfenglai joined me. We had the Tibetan yogurt cake, the barley cake, and the yolk meat. Honestly, the yak meat was bland, and a little disappointing, but the yogurt and barley  cakes were really good. After lunch, we went to Wucong’s buddy’s studio. Dengfenglai picked a pretty Tibetan costume and dressed up the way she had dreamed of doing.  In the full costume, Dengfenglai walked with me around the Sera Monastery, a well known place to watch lama debate.

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It seemed that Xiaoyu was down, so her sister in law stepped up and messaged the whole group to meet our drivers.  At the first sight of the middle man, I started to worry. He didn’t look like he could be trusted to me… the way he kept smiling at all of us was unnerving, but his eyes was not sending the same message…  I couldn’t help questioning his credibility. Anyway, I  just wanted to  follow the leader, make friends and relax.  I blocked my uneasy thoughts and started to chat with the newly arrived team mates: Chujian and Yujian. Chujian and Yujian were close friends who grew up together . Although they shared no blood relations, they looked like sisters, even twins.  Chujian had a boyish type of character, while Yujian was a very lady-like girl. These two seemed very likeable to me.

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The Fourth Day

Xiaoyu was out of the game.

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Travel in Tibet 2: Experience Lhasa

Our guest house was very close to the Jokhang temple, a very popular touristy place in Lhasa. We threaded through the crowds and gathered in a well known local restaurant to check out the Tibetan breakfast. If you are a food adventurer, this is a must-try,though I was shocked at the first sight: people crowed all rooms and it was even a challenge to look around for an empty table without crashing into someone. This place led my mind to the story line of “The Tea House”, a well known novel by Lao She in the early 19th centurary. Actually, even the Tea House would be more modern than this one, I thought.

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Finally, we got a corner of a table in the furtherst room. The Tibetan family sitting next to us was quite friendly,  they budged a little bit and spared us a little more space. Disgusted by the untidiness, Wucong furrowed her eyebrows and decided to only drink some milk tea. Caiyu and I were the opposite. We rushed to the counter and waited for our first Tibetan meal: the Tibetan noodles and the milk tea. Unlike fancy Chinese food in other regions, they were simple but with lots of  fiber and high energy, which were said to be very good for tourists who had to adapt to the high altitude region quickly.

I settled down all the dishes then turned around in the tiny space to get on my seat, not even realizing my cloth already knocked over a senior Tibetan’s tea cup and poured the milk tea all over the table. The old man muttered a little bit, almost unnoticeable  under a burst of apologies from me, cleaned the table , poured himself another cup of tea  then resumed his enjoyment like never being bothered.   This was Lhasa, a relaxing and peaceful place that I didn’t expect at all.

Xiaoyu was proved to be well connected again. Her third or even fourth level connection brought  a backpacker to our breakfast and offered to guide us around Lhasa. While I was puzzled about why the young man’s mismatched appearance, all other girls already started to complement his handsomeness and laughed out his identity: he was actually a solider.  Soilders like him were required to dress like travelers when going out. In Tibet, there are many soldiers not dressed in uniforms, they were everywhere. In other words, Tibet was one of the safest place for travelers, which made me quite relieved.

After breakfast, we followed the “backpacker” to the street. He was talkative and willing to share whatever he knew about Tibet, including the “secret” that there was no such thing called “Tibetan red flowers”  sought after by all travelers. It was kind of harsh to say that so many people were paying a high price for the plants that actually grew somewhere else.

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It was about lunch time, the “backpacker” insisted to treat us a big lunch in the modern shopping center. If I didn’t have a little headache, I would’ve forgotten we were in Tibet.  Stuffed with a good meal, we strolled around the square facing the potala place. It was indeed magnificent. Everyone was cheering up and figuring the best postures for a good picture with the potala palace backdrop. I sat down at the bench, watching the Tibetan women braiding Dengfenglai and Xiaoyu’s hair, and,  let my mind drift away. This was so relaxing.

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Yao Wang mountain is the place to shoot the perfect picture of the potala palace. It is also on the 50 yuan currency. You’d be surprise at the number of people crowded at the spot and fought for every inch of the territory for a good picture. Exhausted by navigating around the small area and finishing the photography task, we went to another dinner treat hosted by one of Xiaoyu’s connections. The host was very efficient, he invited guests from three different parties to this dinner, which felt quite awkward at first. However, no one would complain about a free dinner. In no time, we chatted like old friends and toasted for everyone’s luck, health, and wealth. Actually, no one really cared, rather than for a good meal and a great drink. It was said that drinking some wine would help the altitude sickness, I happily joined the drinking group and went back to the guest house,  heavy-headed.  A good sleep was necessary, I told myself and figured that burning myself down before the real journey was really unwise.

That day, I also learned a sad fact: booking a ticket to the  potala palace was not easy. You either had to pay a premium to buy tickets from the dealers, hire a guy to book the tickets for you in a line at midnight, or join a tourist group that had mandatory shopping requirements. The latter option was the last thing I wanted to do.  Xiaoyu’s connection managed to get there tickets for Xiaoyu, her best friend, and her sister in law. How about us,…, I went to bed and decided to worry these things latter, at least, when my headach went away.

Wucong and I started to chat about the hot Chinese news. Soon, she fell in sleep, while I was still struggling with my headache.  Her breath was not even, actually pretty heavy occasionally during the night, I started to realize  why she was not that enthusiastic about the planned stay at the Everest base camp.

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Travel in Tibet 1: Arriving in Lhasa

The First Day

To my surprise, Xiaoyur was a very well connected person. When we flew in Lhasa, there were people already waiting at the airport. The girl was very welcoming. While asking about our trip, she and the driver took the luggage and led us the way . Walking at such a high altitude is indeed consuming the energy. Although we took our time and shuffled to the car, my head started feeling a little heavy already. Considering that I had been on the road for weeks and got a little bit exhausted already, I actually thought the symptom was not bad at all. Espcially, it was nothing near what I had in Cusco, where I felt my head was going to explode.

Xiaoyur was not in her best health condition either at the moment. Too excited in meeting old friends in the college re-union party right before the Tibet trip, she got sick and had a low fever last night. Although she claimed OK this morning, I thought, she would take all the efforts to rest and get used to the high altitude as soon as possible. However, she didn’t have the chance. A very social and nice person who had a hard time to say no, she was kept busy in chatting with the friendly girl about Lhasa in the car, and, soon, she felt sick. It looked like that even the supplement she had taken for two weeks, which claimed to prevent the altitude sickness, didn’t help.

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The guest house was located in the center of Lhasa, where vehicles were prohibited. After waving bye to the nice girl and the driver, we strolled along the busiest touristy street and trudged in the guesthouse, exhausted. Quickly, 6 girls of the travel group arrived in the guest house. Except wucong, all other five girls had never done a group travel with strangers who only met on the internet. This was new and exciting.  As the group leader, though still not feeling well, Xiaoyur joined us at the dinner and greated all gals. The dishes were delicious. If you are still thinking that Lhasa is underdeveloped… , think twice.

Stuffed, we went out and wandered around the little shops nearby. Out of no where, my heartbeat went crazy suddenly, though only for a few seconds, it scared me. Would I be able to do the hiking at 5000 meters above the sea level? Xiaoyu’s itinerary seemed too ambitious. I was afraid that she was not in the great condition for the challenge at the Gangrenboqi mountain as well.

The Second Day (to be continued)

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