David Gardiner's 'de luxe' bus hit the only speed bump in China - and worse was to come
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IT WAS 6.30am when we boarded the "de luxe" bus at Sanjiang, in Guangxi province, southern China. By 9am, we had travelled all of 200 yards for the first of many pit stops. The driver had spent so long tinkering with the engine that he now had to make up nearly three hours of lost time.

The bus screamed out of Sanjiang only to hit the only speed bump in China. You can still count 26 head-like dents in the roof. A raucous laugh came from the front of the bus.

As we crept up the first of many steep mountains, the road quickly turned into a narrow mud track. Sitting at the back, we had the full effect of the bus sliding towards the edge of the mountain every time we came to a corner.

The only problem of going up is that eventually you have to come down. Twenty yards before every hairpin bend, the driver would brake hard, leaving the bus to slide under its own weight in the mud, towards the edge. At the last possible moment, he would swing the vehicle around the corner, yet again allowing the rear (ie us) to veer towards the several-hundred- metre drop. Buses coming the other way forced us even closer to the edge while at the same time warning us that to go any further would be crazy. Again the raucous laugh.

Six hours into the journey, one punch up between our driver and another driver, one bus spotted hanging over the edge of the mountain supported only by a telegraph pole, and I was dreaming of National Express.

With one hour to go, our battered bus came across a huge lump of rock blocking our route. Thankful just to stop, we jumped off to stretch our legs. Suddenly, six men, including our driver, ran from the direction of the rock screaming at us to get back on the bus. Within 10 seconds of the bus careering back round the corner, the rock exploded. The mountain shook, boulders hit the roof of the bus.

The road clear, we drove on. Rock in the road? Blow it up. Raucous laughter...

After 12 hours we arrived at Liping. But knowing there was more of the same next day to reach the nearest train station did not make sleep come easy.