After a sufficient though unsatisfying five-hour nap, we got up to see that the town of Zoige was no more charming by day than by night. We headed down to the bus station to get tickets for a bus to Langmusi. For once I didn't bother to protest the overcharge on foreigners, passing my money to the woman behind what might as well have been bars to a prison cell. I almost had the tickets in my hand when she suddenly realized that the bus was already full. We would have to leave the next morning, she told me tartly, as if she knew what a dump the town was. A better option was to book back up to the trucker stop and beg for another ride to Langmusi.
Four Dong Fengs were left in the lot, including the two who had come in late with us the night before. They were at the gate, engines humming ready for departure. The remaining two were our original drivers, who seemed genuinely happy to see us again. Their engines were not running. We decided we were better off hitching with other trucks while we had the chance. We offered a fee and they seemed to welcome the extra pocket money.
Barely out of the lot on the main road, the truck Gregg was riding in stopped. We waited. We backed up. The cab was flipped up and tools were out again. It turned out that it was just the diesel fuel which was still too cold to flow properly, and was promptly taken care of by lighting a small fire under the fuel tank.
Gregg and I ended up sharing one cab as there were already three in the other. Our new drivers were as friendly and inquisitive. They wanted to know why we wanted to travel like this rather than sit in front of our TVs at home. To them this kind of travelling was like subjecting oneself to punishment, referring to the long night previous. I reassured them that travel wasn't always like this, then thought if they really felt it was so punishing, how did they manage to do it for as long as 20 years?
We passed more barren grassland frosted with ice and snow. I tried to imagine late spring to summer when everything turned green, nomads grazing their animals. We did see people this time of year, Tibetans with long-sleeved fur jackets and leathery faces weathered by the severe environment. Numerous times our truck had to yield to groups of Tibetans; the young ones would stand in the middle of the road often with shovel in hand and threatening looks, demanding money or rides. The drivers were used to their harmless antics and would offer rides on the truckbeds. Even old Tibetan ladies with stringy grey braids would hoist themselves expertly on top of stacked cargo, braving the cold to their destination. We passed up another woman asking to transport her small flock of sheep some distance. There was definitely a wild west feel to it all.
We spotted thin tall birds in the distance. They were cranes and had come to greet us, our drivers insisted, an auspicious sign. These were the early cranes arriving home after a long winter south; in summer, they told us, they can be seen all over this area, flying in v-formation. A pair of cranes had their large wings spread, necks elegantly stretched, prancing on the grass as though in celebration. The sight of this convinced me: our luck had changed.