Traveling on a Sleeper Bus in China with Kids
We put our travel plans in our nanny's hands. She had invited us to her hometown in rural China. We never could have imagined what we walked slowly onto our first sleeper bus to rural China with two small kids.
You might ask why we put our travel arrangements in her hands?
We were headed to her "home-town" which was a 5-hour bus ride from our first stop of Yangshuo. She knew exactly where we had to go and where to get off at...there isn't a designated stop, you have to ask the driver to pull over when you have reached your destination. Not knowing the destination, we relied on her.
Upon arriving to the bus station in Guilin (one of the worst looking bus stations we have ever been to, I might add) we walk to where the VIP bus section is...thank goodness! There is a VIP section. I am hoping for a First Class bus, maybe one with a bathroom, and clean beds. She goes up to buy the tickets and comes back 20 minutes later to tell us that it is sold out until 8 pm tonight, it was 11:40 am.
Then it starts to rain...a lot!
So what are we suppose to do for 8 hours in a dirty, dingy bus station and now it is raining. Ugh!!! When traveling with two small children things like this can be difficult.
But wait!! She has a plan.
We don't completely understand what it is, our Mandarin is pretty basic. "Just wait here," she says. Okay, we wait and wait and wait. For some reason we had chosen the spot outside the foulest smelling bathroom we have encountered in China. Note to self-next time we pick a meeting point...stay away from the stinky toilet.
Finally, she comes back, she found tickets for us but the bus leaves soon.
We have to go! I want to stop and buy some snacks for the trip because as you know with small kids, you need meals at all times. She says we don't have time. So we start running through the dirty bus station in the nasty rain. I have to admit I am happy we don't have to stay here for another 8 hours.
We get to the bus and put our one piece of luggage & stroller under the bus and hop on.
Here is where it gets weird and then weirder.
The bus driver won't let Lupita get on without taking her shoes off. She keeps asking me why do I have to take my shoes off, I am equally confused. We comply and take our shoes off and put them in these little plastic bags that he gives us to walk up a couple steps to see a sleeper bus. I have never seen one before or even heard of one until we set foot in it.
What is it?
This bus had three rows of beds, one on the left, one on the right, and one down the middle with a top bunk (about 2 ft from the roof of the bus) and the bottom bunk was flush with the floor. There were rubber mats between the beds.
You had to take your shoes off because you would be walking (with your stinky shoes) on someone's bed possibly as you get to yours. Oh okay! Now I get it...a little.
As we try to navigate to the back of the bus where are "beds" were, we barely fit. There is probably 12 inches in between the beds, and we are pushing through like stuffed sausages. Everyone else on the bus is the average 80 lbs, Chinese man or woman.
Even with our recent weight loss, we felt like we didn't fit.
We found our three beds (one for Zeek, one for me, and one for the nanny) in the back of the bus. Of course, we were next to the beautiful bathroom. The kids didn't get beds because they are just supposed to lay with us. I look around our new home for the next "6" hours and take a deep breath. At least we are getting someplace.
Then our nanny says she is going to buy food for us. She will be right back. She gets off the bus, and about 10 minutes later the bus starts to back up!!! We have no nanny, she is gone, and we don't know where we are supposed to get off!!
Okay, I go up and in my oh so bad Chinese tell them we need to wait for our nanny. They laugh at me and say they know!!
They were loading cargo onto the bus. Luckily it wasn't live cargo. Whew! These buses take on extra jobs of moving random freight back and forth. Our nanny returns with some bean soup!! Bean soup!!! I think she might have been sniffing too much bus exhaust.
We have Zeek go back out and buy some snacks. I have to admit, I was a bit scared because I was fearful that the bus would start to pull out again and I would have to get into a full-on wrestling match with the bus driver to make sure we didn't leave Zeek behind. He got back in time, and no wrestling was required.
We ended up sitting on the bus for almost 1.5 hours before we even left the depot. SERIOUSLY!!! I couldn't believe it. We went from running onto the bus to sitting there forever. We would have gotten off and gone for a walk if I wasn't so worried about it leaving any minute and if I fit in between the beds more comfortable.
We finally take off!!
Here we are in our bed...notice the plastic bag I put behind us to keep the rainwater from coming in. Abe squirming as usual.
We have our yummy snacks, and we are on the road. The old man behinds us now lights up his second cigarette. Really, another one I think. The windows don't open, except I now have discovered that ours leaks as rainwater is running in.
No one on the bus says anything. They are a non-confrontational society, and I am sure everyone else on the bus smokes and probably is happy to have this wonderful aroma. We, on the other hand, are not. Luckily our nanny speaks up and tells him to put it out. He does, and we don't smell another one for at least 7 hours.
Diapers....did you pack enough? As we are in the middle of potty training, we aren't traveling with tons of diapers any longer. So we have two on the bus with us. That should be enough right?? Wrong!! Abe decides it is time for him to take a couple of the most massive stinkiest dumps of his life. Not sure if it was the atmosphere that brought it out of him, but they came! One right after another. Thank goodness we had wipes. On our beds, Abe was changed once and twice in front of everyone. Maybe he was trying to get back at cigarette man. Who could smell worse? I think Abe won.
We have NO diapers!!!
We still have a projected 5 hours to go. Of course, he then pees! Zeek ended up getting peed on about four or five times on our little adventure. I remembered I packed a scarf to cover the kids or to sleep on if necessary in my bag. I get it out, and we wrap him up in it. Here is where my Aztec roots come out. Yup, we are now on a stinky bus with two kids, no room to move, no diapers, and a scarf wrapped around our son's private areas just waiting for another explosion.
Then the bus overheats! Yes, the bus starts making this smell and we stop. Zeek knows it is the bus overheating from his days helping his brothers fix cars. Him being the youngest of 5 brothers comes in handy now.
This gives our nanny the opportunity to run outside and get some more clothes from our suitcase for Abe to pee or poop through until we get to our destination. See there is a bright side to our adventure!! We ended up stopping at least three more times because the bus was overheating. We didn't break down, but we did waste another good 2-3 hours sitting on the side of roads.
As crazy and so not fun as this bus ride was we were all able to keep a smile on our face....most of the time. Lupita made a friend named Toby who was sitting behind us. He was a nice young man on his way home to visit his family. Everyone was trying to get back for the upcoming holiday.
Toby saying hello to everyone!!
No one argued or yelled. Lupita didn't complain once about when were we going to get there or the poor conditions. Abe whined a bit, but mostly because we wouldn't let him run around or suck on things. Not the place or the time.
I will admit we were both tired. The bus trip ended up taking 9 hours in total. By the end, both our monkeys were sleeping, and Zeek was tired of being peed on, and I was well just tired.
Lupita giggling on the floor of our beds.
Everyone on the bus was getting antsy, as it was taking way longer than expected. Everyone wanted to get out and stretch their legs. Zeek's knee started to stiffen up on him. His legs were much longer than the beds, so his leg stuck out onto someone else's bed a few times. They didn't complain.
Here is our nanny with Abe...I think she was tired too!
Getting off... She tells us we are near our stop and to gather our stuff. So we get all of our peed on clothes, food, etc. together and she yells at the bus driver. They are speaking Cantonese, so I can't understand any of it.
The bus then pulls over on the side of the road, and we are the only ones that get off, get our bag and stroller. Okay, now we are on the side of a highway at about 11 pm at night with no bus. Hmmm!!!
A couple of minutes later her brother shows up in a van to get us. He is very nice, and the van is very very spacious. We drive about 5 minutes to a BBQ place and get some grub! He treats us to a beautiful dinner. We are all very very happy to be off the bus and on to our next adventure.
I have to add, we took another sleeper bus from Yulin to Guangzhou, but it was much nicer and not so bad. We arrived on time and without too much craziness.
We grew as a family on our bus rides and as a couple. You might think we are/were crazy, but we believe these are the moments that define us.