Rolling my suitcase sleepily I head to the end of my road. Fuzhou is for the most part asleep at 4:30am. Although I have an incredible adventure ahead of me, I to could quite happily fall back to sleep. Instead I’m holding out hope that a taxi will pass me by. Suprisingly, within minutes I’m driving towards the bus pick up point for the airport. My destination is Guilin, temporarily at least. It’s then a bus to a small village called Xingping. It’s here I will be experiencing my first working holiday.
I’ve talked about traveling for most of my life. For anyone who has read my post on Solo Beginnings you will know that it took me 28 years to find the courage to travel alone. Now at 30 I’ve been living in Fuzhou, China for 9 months and yet I’m here again. Anxiety is robbing me of any appetite. My much needed coffee almost has me vomiting and I’ve reached into my bag to feel my passport several times already. I’m traveling alone in a country who’s language I have still not managed to learn and I have a pit in my stomach.
Subsequently, discovering Workaway I realized how easy it was to be a more ethical traveler. After falling in love with a friends photographs from her holiday I decided to seek out the stunning karst landscape of Yangshuo. After a few emails the destination was confirmed. A village called Xingping to volunteer at a youth hostel called This Old Place. The profile was inviting showing images of a quirky abode that was offering accommodation and meals in exchange for 4 hours work, 5 days a week. And so here starts the journey.
Fuzhou airport to Guilin airport was simple enough. Arranging the airport bus to Guilin city, still simple. Knowing my stop once in Guilin city…slightly less simple. Fortunately a very friendly Chinese girl who spoke English helped me talk to the driver and I got off at the correct location. Instructions from the hostel say after the drop off at the Swan Hotel (actual hotel not found) there are several bus options to get off at the next stop for Guilin bus station. This is where less simple becomes confusing. I can’t find a bus stop with any of the numbers. After passing the same taxi driver three times I finally gave into his gestures and let him usher me into his car. I show the address for Guilin bus station and off we go.
We’re winding down several alleys. As time passes I lose confidence in the driver and start trying to find the address for the bus station on google maps. Before my maps can load we stop down a back alley and the driver is getting my suitcase out of the boot of the car before I’m able to protest. He calls to a bus and points at it, turning to me saying “Ok”. A statement not a question, which is probably for the best as my anxiety is reaching it’s highest point. I wander on expecting to go to Guilin Bus station, 30 minutes in I’m confident this is not where I’m going. I get the drivers attention and just keep repeating “Bus station, Guilin?” for a while I get a yes. Another 30 minutes passes and I continue my mantra. This time the reply is “Yes, Yangshuo bus”. Fortunately the hostel provided me with multiple route options. Instead of getting the intended bus direct from Guilin bus station to Xingping my route has been altered for me. Now I’m going from Guilin to Yangshuo bus station to Xingping bus station to walk to find the hostel.
After maybe 90 minutes I’m at Yangshuo bus station. It’s unrecognizable as a bus station compared to the ones I’ve frequented in China. I’m searching for a ticket office when I’m approached by a private driver who speaks English. Relieved I decide to pay the 100yuan for a taxi rather than the approx 20yuan a bus would cost me. It’s on this part of the journey that my anxiety finally fades. The surrounding landscape is breathtaking. I’ve somehow managed to get to where I need to be and I’m finding that spark that ignites my wanderlust. For anyone, particularly a woman, traveling alone can be daunting. The only way I get past the fear and do it is to read travel blogs for inspired confidence and book the tickets in that moment. Once the tickets are booked I’m not changing my mind and so I nervously go through the motions of making preparations. Although I hope to lose the solo travel anxiety altogether, I do recommend impulse booking to anyone who is unsure of whether they can travel alone.
The driver pulls me up right outside the hostel in Xingping and says his goodbyes. The excitement sets in. However it was briefly dashed when at reception they weren’t expecting volunteers. It seems they have added a third hostel to their chain (one in Guilin and the other in Xingping) making it now two hostels in Xingping. Not in the mood to take a ferry across the Li River and search for another hostel I keep my fingers crossed as phone calls are made. It’s quickly settled, I’m staying. Determined not to let the confusion open the doorway to anxieties return I go and shower. I come down for dinner and wander the streets to get acquainted with my local area for the next week.
The hostel sits a moments walk away from the Li River. Ferries and bamboo rafts are lined up waiting to take tourists on a journey through the ethereal karst mountains. The streets are alive will stalls selling food and trinkets and I find the bus station, an ATM and several small convenient stores. My anxiety has dissipated. This is the life I have always talked about living. Exploring the world, experiencing new cultures and ways of life. Not being held back by fear or constrained by lifes commitments. I’m wandering around Xingping and feel completely free.