25-Apr-2003 -- Continued from 27°N 111°E.
Thursday 24 April 2003 (Day 8, continued) - From Longhui, I first took a bus a short distance west to Dongkou. At the Dongkou bus station, waiting for my next bus, I noticed several people wearing facemasks. Awareness of SARS among the general population was becoming quite good, and the disease was now the hot topic of conversation.
From Dongkou, I managed to catch a passing bus that took me all the way west to Anjiang, but unfortunately arrived too late to allow me to make the last bus from Anjiang south to Hongjiang. I recognised a member of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) who had been a passenger on the bus to Anjiang, and who now also wanted to get to Hongjiang. I introduced myself, and we ended up agreeing to split a cab. During the cab ride, the PLA guy invited me to stay at his place in Hongjiang, rather than at a hotel. But after we arrived, he couldn't find his aunt who had the key to his place, so instead I said I'd stay in a hotel after all. He accompanied me across town to a hotel of his recommendation, and made sure I was safely checked in before leaving, steadfastly refusing to accept any money for my share of the cab ride from Anjiang.
Friday 25 April 2003 (Day 9) - I checked out of the hotel in the morning, and left my large bag with reception, intending to pick it up later. I then took a commuter bus to the southern outskirts of Hongjiang, from where I understood I could get a bus 10 kilometres south to the small town of Ruoshui.
Unwittingly, I took an unintentional side trip towards Huitong, much further to the west, when I boarded the right bus going the wrong way! Once I'd realised my mistake, I informed the ticket seller, and he very kindly flagged down the next bus we passed travelling in the opposite direction. I switched buses and was back in business, albeit a bit further behind schedule than I had originally intended. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous sunny day--the best weather of my trip thus far--and I was in great spirits.
Judging by my map, the confluence was on the left bank of the Wushui River, near a village called Wangdong, about three kilometres east of Ruoshui. The Wushui River ran through Ruoshui, and I soon found a small ferry service that ran from Ruoshui to Wangdong, as well as other places along the river. I hopped on board for the peaceful journey upriver. As the confluence got closer, it became evident that it was not on the left bank at all, but rather in the middle of the river itself. When we passed by it, it was less than 50 metres off to the right of the boat. Unfortunately, I didn't think to snap a photo of the GPS until we were a little further beyond (but still within 100 metres).
I got off the boat on the right bank at the first opportunity, about 500 metres further upstream, and from there walked back to the confluence. It was 110 metres from the shore, and I judged that it might very well be situated on one of a number of small islands.
I had already completed 12 confluences in Hunan, and only narrowly missed a perfect reading on one of them. It was with this in mind, together with the beautiful weather and the tranquil surroundings, that I made the decision to invest some time in trying to find a way to get closer to the confluence, and perhaps even obtain another perfect reading.
Back where I'd disembarked from the ferry, there were a couple of farmhouses, and a couple of very small boats tied up in the river nearby. I decided to go back and explore the possibility of getting out in one of these small boats. I reached the first farmhouse, and had just started chatting with the inhabitants, when suddenly a group of people appeared, led by two uniformed police officers. They first asked me if I had permission to be in the area, and when I admitted to not having sought any such permission, nor even knowing that it was a requirement, they very politely asked me if I would accompany them back to the Ruoshui police station.
On the boat trip back to Ruoshui, I had the presence of mind to snap north-south-east-west photos as we passed by the confluence once more. It was also on the boat trip back to Ruoshui that I finally understood from one of the policemen that this was a sensitive military area. That's when I started to get worried.
What follows is a very long story indeed, however I have reluctantly decided to exclude it from this report, in order to avoid jeopardising in any way my future confluencing prospects in China. Suffice to say that, for a while there, things looked particularly grim, and it did cross my mind that I may very well earn the dubious honour of being the first confluencer incarcerated in the line of duty. (Anyone interested in hearing the full first-hand account of my ordeal is more than welcome to come and visit me in Hong Kong.)
Saturday 26 April 2003 (Day 10) - With my GPS impounded by the police for "further study", there was no point carrying on, so I took an overnight train from Huaihua back to Shenzhen.
Sunday 27 April 2003 (Day 11) - I arrived in Shenzhen around noon, crossed the border back into Hong Kong, and made my way back home to Lamma Island. My three-week holiday had been cut short to just one week. The police in Huaihua had told me I could collect my GPS in a week's time, so I decided to resume work for a week, then head back to China to pick up my GPS and carry on with the final two weeks of my holiday. It really does help to have an understanding boss.
Story continues at 28°N 110°E.
Special note to would-be visitors: This confluence is located in Huaihua County. At the time of writing, Huaihua County is designated as closed to foreigners. Any foreigner wishing to visit Huaihua County is required to apply for a permit from the police. (Fortunately, this is the only confluence in Huaihua County.)