When we pulled into the bus station, all four of us felt relieved. Steve and I were finally in a place we recognized, and we had 30 minutes to catch a bus to our next town. The Bills had one more night here, so they said a quick goodbye and hurried off to rendezvous with Brad and Evan, who had spent the day by themselves, pedaling around the countryside on rented bicycles.
I went up and bought a ticket at the window. By now I was a pro. I already had to do it once today, and I felt a little more confident with my limited Chinese after talking with so many villagers. Steve grabbed his ticket and began trying to match the numeral on the ticket with one of the license plates of the buses outside. Going from bus to bus, he squinted down at the ticket then back up at each license plate until he found ours. There were probably over 20 buses pulled into the station.
The driver, who was apparently waiting on paying passengers to fill his vehicle, had assumed a squatting position on the ground, a customary posture for relaxation in China. Steve, trying a little too hard to assimilate, mimicked him by squatting down next to him. The driver half smirked and half smiled, revealing a mild hint of both amusement and annoyance. They continued like that for another 15 minutes or so, until the last of the passengers found their way to the bus.
Our bus wasn't nearly full. I think there were 3 other people besides Steve, me, and the driver. It was a good thing too, because this "bus" was more like a 10-passenger van, with three or four rows of tattered, dusty brown seats and no aisle in the middle. Steve and I shrunk down in our seats with plenty of room, a pleasant change from our first two rides that had been packed to capacity.
Since we weren't carrying much weight, I guess the driver figured he could drive the van like Mario Andretti. About 15 or 20 minutes out of town, we began on a road that had us snaking around blind curves and clinging to the side of the mountain. Of course, there was no guardrail on the side of the incline, just rows of trees painted white up to about five feet for better visibility at night. It was not quite dark yet, but I was tired from our long day. After I watched our driver repeatedly pass people on the left going while swerving around a blind curve, I decided it would probably be better if I slept until we reached the town. The ride was only 45 minutes, and I figured the ignorance of sleep would be bliss compared to watching us catch two wheels on hairpin turns and narrowly evade massive collisions.
With the Lord's help (I don't see how we would have survived otherwise) we made it to our destination. Steve shook me awake right after he had frisbeed a VCD into a crowd on the side of the road. He watched a man pick it up and look at it curiously. A few minutes later, our bus was stopped, and Steve's squatting partner was waving us goodbye.