Tuesday morning (June 1st) we boarded a bus just passed 6am. After a long and rough ride to the border we checked out of Nepal and entered Tibet. On the bus we had been briefed not to bring any items with a mention of the Dalai Lama or Tibetan maps or free Tibet slogans or, CRAZY, ANY books. I had read a few months ago that the Chinese disagreed with some pages of the Lonely Planet Tibet book and knew that was a definite no-no, but novels? That’s just crazy. Nearly everyone in our 20 person tour decided to ignore our guides advice and try to bring our books anyway.
After passing our bags through an x-ray machine young Chinese soldiers hand searched every inch of our things. They leafed through every book but the only ones that caused issue were the Lonely Planet China books. The ripped the covers and any maps with Tibet written on them off. Once the 17-year-old border petrol finished rifling through my dirty laundry our packs were subject to a second x-ray machine, we went through a second passport check, and we were in Tibet!
A Tibetan guide met us on the bus and told us to forget ever hearing of the Dalai Lama and that to speak about politics to anyone could get us all in trouble. Intense.
I said it was going to be a hard travel month and day 1 proves this to be true. I was on my feet for maybe 2 hours all day and although I felt like I ate nearly constantly I was also hungry for most of the day. By the time we finally stopped for the night it was after 8pm and I felt wiped out from an early morning, high altitude, and sitting too much. However, my determination was strong and at 10pm I found a private little hall in our “very basic” dorm-style lodge to do my ab workout. And it felt so good! Oh yeah, and did I mention we were at 12,540 feet above sea level? After such a long and tedious day it would have been so easy to skip and I felt proud to accomplish this little, bitty goal.
I crashed hard last night and woke this morning at 7:45. After breakfast I retreated to my private hall and did my yoga routine and then arms.
One hurdle of exercising while traveling has been overcoming self-consciousness. I have gotten used to being stared at while stretching/running/doing yoga/doing push ups/walking in foreign lands. Two weeks ago we were in a jungle town in Southern Nepal and I had a great workout in the outdoor common lounge of our hotel. My main audience were a 9-year-old girl who sat and watched nearly the whole hour and a skin-and-bones man who passed every few minutes with a load of bricks on his back. And I know they probably thought I was a bit loony as I jumping jacked and squat thrusted my way to a sweaty, red-faced mess (it was at least 100 degrees F with high humidity) but one thing I have been working on lately is “if you know what’s good for you-DO IT” so when I need a workout I proceed no matter who is watching!
This morning while doing yoga a women who worked at the lodge came into the hall and was startled to see me there on my mat. I started to pull up my mat to let her by but she gestured “no” so I continued with my warrior pose. She watched for several minutes, I tried to let her my again, and eventually she left. She returned a bit later and watched some more, smiled, and say “very good”! And, indeed, it was a very good workout in a dingy lodge hallway with my heart racing from the altitude and a steady steam of people passing the door to and from the stinky bathroom.
Today was another long bus day, probably 9 hours! We did get to walk around a bit at the highest pass and at 17,400 feet above sea level it felt like cardio just to walk to the bathrooms! All in all an inactive day though.
We stopped for lunch in a tiny roadside town and I ordered the fried vegetables. It turned out to be a plate of chard-like stems with a bit of greens and ginger and garlic in a lite sauce. It was great to have some greens but I was still hungry afterwards so we headed across the street to “Mountain. Shop. Dumplings”. We pointed and held up some fingers and left with 4 plain dumplings and 4 stuffed dumplings. The first bite of a stuffed one was good and on the second bite I realized they had meat as well as onions and cabbage so I handed them over to Tate and ate 3 of the (very) plain ones. Traveling has definitely helped me lighten up on my meat phobia but I still prefer not to eat it.
The days started to pass in a monastery filled, bus riding, high altitude induced daze. Too much bus time combined with the altitude and very poor sleep has left me achy and feeling a bit bloated. I am really looking forward to getting down under 11,000 feet above sea level in a few days.
We overnighted in the town of Shagatze for Thursday and Friday and I actually went out on two runs! The morning we left Tate and I went out together and found a really great running trail. We ran on single track dirt dams through a large field with the giant blue sky that can only be seen at such altitude (12,540 feet) above. There were a lot of people out and they all seemed to be students studying for a test or something. Most of them were just standing in the path staring at papers. They either ignored us or gave us a friendly “hello” as we passed. It felt amazing to run, even though I had to walk every few minutes to catch my breath! I absolutely LOVE running in new towns, especially in the morning in foreign countries. I feel like I get to see the real life of the town more while running than walking and sightseeing.
We arrived in Lhasa on Saturday and got checked into a very decent hotel with a lot of charm and a great courtyard restaurant. I was expecting very basic accommodations for the tour but with the exception of the first night the rooms have been better than Tate and I get ourselves! Lhasa is clean, modern, boring. We are staying in the old town section, which has a bit more charm with narrow windy streets.
Did I mention the food at our hotel is delicious? We haven’t even bothered to check out any other restaurants in town. There are lots of street vendors selling great fruit and veggies and dinner the other night consisted of a cucumber/tomato salad made in the hotel room. Best tomatoes I have eaten since last summer! And I LOVE tomatoes.
I have yet to catch up on sleep but I think the time is coming soon because tomorrow we start a 44 hour train ride to Chengdu. I have nothing to do but sleep for two days! So the rest can wait, today was a wonderfully active day.
I started with my current favorite Pilates routine, which used to take me at least 20 minutes because I had to rest so much but this morning I did it in 15! Those ab workouts are paying off! There was still a bit of time before I needed to be at breakfast so I whipped out 15 minutes of interval cardio. The rest of the morning was spent at yet another monastery, totally gorgeous but I am Buddha-statued out!
After an amazing and filling lunch back at the hotel I decided to skip the afternoon temple tour. I headed to the local produce market and grocery store to stock up for the train ride instead. My bag was weighed down with loads of carrots, cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, and asian pears from the market and cup-o-noodles, yogurt, and nori from the grocery. I was very excited to find cup-o-noodles made with rice noodles and without MSG or meat flavoring. The trains supply hot water so these are the easiest sustenance for the ride.
This afternoon I went for a 30 minute run and got to explore parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet. It was very hot but very dry! I usually sweat a ton no matter what the temperature but today I had made one puny bead of sweat run down my face AFTER I finished. I was feeling great and energized so I headed up to the roof of the hotel for a yoga session.
I MUST wake up early tomorrow for a long run, yoga, and arms before getting on that train!