Addition: We arrived in Huili just one day after the 64th anniversary of Esther Nelson’s arrival there. For us it was March 9, 2012. For Esther it was March 8, 1948. (I was 2-1/2 months old then).
Esther Expedition – March 2012
It was a rough road 3 months ago from Xichang up to Huili. And I do mean up–over 4 ranges, each higher than the last. Once we got to the mountains the good road looked like the photo to the right here. Pavement not too bad, but watch out for the edges. In this shot, the drop-off is only a few feet. My eyes were shut too tight for taking photos when we were skimming the edges of the non-guardrail real dropoffs.
What really tears up the road is the heavy trucks, hauling coal from near the top of one of those ranges. For miles, the potholes were the smoothest part of the ride. The small car we were driving in kept hitting bottom–hard. Paul, the owner and driver, assured us there was a protective cover. Good thing, else we’d have been paying for lots more than his time.
The trucks groan to the top and then descend the other side in a cloud of steam, produced by the device that sprays their brakes to keep them from burning up on the downhill stretches. At filling stations, truck drivers don’t just fill with gas, but also with water for those brake coolers.
Still, once again as we compared our trip with Esther Nelson’s, we came out easy. Our ride took a long morning; hers was 2 long days. Here’s her description of traveling the same route. Don’t miss the Minnesota-style irony when she says the roads are fine.
Wednesday, March 10, 1948
I left Sichang [Xichang] on Sunday morning, or rather noon for it was noon before we got away altho we were told to present ourselves at 8:30 in morning. I do not like starting out on any trip or journey on Sunday but at times we can not help it, we have to go when bus leaves or wait an several weeks. Perhaps that would be the thing to do but sometimes it seems not. I wish you could see the thing they call a bus and the way they load it. I did take the picture of it but only about half the people were on as I had to take it when we stopped and some were off before I was ready.
Found on the way to Huili--Esther's "bus" still running?
The bus here is an open truck, and first freight and baggage are packed in, then the people scramble on top as fast as they can and squeeze in like sardines or even more so. I was fortunate this time to be allowed to sit in the cab part with the driver but that too was crowded as we were four people and a baby besides four or five large wash basins, my typewriter, my shopping bag full of last minute things (the one Odette gave me), and half a dozen other things under and on our feet, or in our laps.
The roads were in rather poor repair which of course is nothing new. The truck traveled without his hood as it had to be off so that the two men sitting one on either side of the hood part could coax the truck along, sometimes feeding it gas, sometimes oil, sometimes tying the broken wires together and sometimes burning alcohol to get it hot. Always the cranker had to be used, sometimes putting stones under wheels as the brakes were worked on.
It is wonderful how they can manage and the truck chocks away at a fair speed and thankful I am that it can not go faster. We did have a good driver this time. We had a difficult time getting started. The truck was packed way beyond its capacity, the people sitting on top of the hood and everywhere, even having their feet hanging over the top of the cab so that the driver could hardly see the road at times.
I wish you could see the roads. Well they are fine.
Going up the higher hills the people had to get off and walk up, and over most of the bridges they walked. We were getting along well when at about one o’clock or so we arrived at a place where the small bridge had been removed to build the one on the further side leaving this one a big gap with no boards or planks or even stones to fill it up with It took all of an hour to dicker with the people who were to’ have had it in repair to get them to get it fixed up and then at quite a sum of money. (This was a public bus and roads should be prepared.) The men began coming from every direction carrying heavy planks, tree trunks and boards and in another hour we were ready to proceed on our way, none the worse for our wait in the sun. Some even went and had their dinner.
Dechang now ("Tei Chang" to Esther)
I had to stop and move out of the sun it seems to shine into every corner and is quite hot. The flies too, are a nuscians (? My dictionary is in Shanghai!).
We arrived at Tei Chang [Dechang] at about 4:30 p.m. but had to stop here for the night, as if we went on we could not make the next good stopping place, so another two hours were lost.
It was almost a panic getting off for sleeping. Places are not too many and each one wants a good one. It’s every one scramble for himself. I got off but too much of a scramble for me so let the greater number get away before I tried to get at my baggage, two suitcases, one box of a few tin things, and my bed bundle, consisting of a coverless quilt, steamer rug, wash basin and toilet articles, my green coat, and several other things that did not get room in suitcases, wrapped in a large oil sheet. When I finally got in I was sent up on the loft which was not all finished, as yet only a little more than half having floor. I saw some straw in a corner and hurried over and got a large two hands full and put it the other corner right next to a paperless window (Paperless means glassless) Then I put my bed bundle there also. The rest I left in a room downstairs. The only stairs was a ladder. I scrambled down this several times before I could get two boiled eggs and a little bowl of rice, and some warm peanuts for my supper and lunch. Then turned in for the night but I was so tired that I did not stop to open my bed bundle but just spread the straw, used my bag of things as a pillow, my coat as covering and off I went to dream land with my 23 million dollars under my head.
We were off early so I was so glad I did not have to stop and tie up my bed bundle. I noticed some of the others did as I did about opening bedding. Today our hills or mountains were some what higher climbs and all day long we circled around in the mountains, with some sudden hair pin turns, caved-in roads and so on. Long before we were anywhere near Hweili [Huili] we borrowed alcohol from another bus going in other direction but long before we got in we were feeding the truck pouring in a little at the time from a bottle. This was found too tedious so they stopped and uncovered some in the truck but they were too stingy with it so it only lasted a short distance but as luck would have it we were going downhill all the way so coasted down. When we got to the other side of Hweili where it was flat we stopped to send into town for alcohol. This was a mile or more to town which we were expected to walk. It was just dusk so another scramble to get away before dark. I got a carrier for my baggage and off we went to town and to the church.
I have arrived. Thank the Lord.
There are more photos of the road between Xichang and Huili.
Huili ("Hweili" to Esther) -- late 1940s
My travel photos may be viewed at my Shutterfly Share Site.
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