09-May-2003 -- Continued from 28°N 111°E.
Wednesday 7 May 2003 (Day 16, continued) - After having rained the entire time I had been out walking, as soon as I boarded the boat for the three-hour trip from Pingkou to Anhua, the sun came out! The journey was, as a result, most pleasant, but I couldn't help lamenting how much more enjoyable the walk to and from the confluence that morning would have been had the sun been shining then. Unfortunately, this pattern of rain-sun-rain-sun, with the rain making its appearance at the most inopportune moments, was to repeat itself several more times before my confluence expedition was over.
By 7 p.m., I had checked into the Anhua Hotel, the best hotel in Anhua, only to discover later that there was no hot water for bathing, due to maintenance work that was being carried out. The night before in Pingkou, there had been no hot water on account of the power blackout. Such is life.
I went out to a nearby restaurant for dinner, then searched for an Internet bar, but they were all closed because of SARS. I finished my evening with what turned out to be the best hairdresser experience I've ever had in China--or anywhere for that matter. I'd noticed a fairly large hairdressing establishment on my way to the hotel earlier, and I went back there for a hair-wash and blow-dry. It was very clean, with dozens of staff all dressed in identical T-shirts, busily and efficiently going about their various tasks. A girl named Liu Qinglong--her name means "Green Dragon"--was assigned to wash my hair and give me the customary upper body massage that accompanies any hair-wash in China. Afterwards, one of the guys took over to blow-dry my hair. This is also fairly standard practice in Chinese hair salons: girls apparently excel at washing hair, but only guys know how to dry it properly. As he was demonstrating his expertise with the hair-drier, he told me that the manageress wanted to know if I'd mind having a few promotional photos taken, what with me being their first-ever foreign customer, and with a decent head of hair to boot. "Not at all," I said, and so the photographer was summoned, and several shots duly snapped. In return, I was informed that everything was on the house, and on top of that, they also insisted I enjoy a free foot wash and foot massage. Having walked close on 30 kilometres that morning, I revelled in the podiatric pampering. Everyone was happy. It was nearly midnight by the time I got back to the hotel.
Thursday 8 May 2003 (Day 17) - I awoke to my alarm at 6 a.m., and made my way to the bus station to catch the first bus north to Changde. Although the bus "left" at 7:30 a.m., 40 minutes later we'd progressed no more than one kilometre down the road, having crawled along trawling for passengers, stopped to load freight, stopped again to fill up with fuel, and stopped yet again so the driver could buy his breakfast of baozi (steamed buns). Eventually we did finally get moving, but it was noon before we arrived at the Changde South Bus Station.
Here I was given some wrong information, and went off to the Changde North Bus Station in search of a bus north to Shimen, only to learn that all the Shimen buses left from the Changde Railway Station. Go figure! So it was 1:15 p.m. before I was on a bus bound for Shimen, which arrived at 3:25 p.m., at the Shimen East Bus Station. I then had to make my way to the Shimen West Bus Station to find a bus to Taiping. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I really didn't hold out much hope of making further progress until the next day, but when I arrived at the Shimen West Bus Station, amazingly there was a Taiping bus all set to depart at 4 p.m.!
This final journey of the day took me approximately 50 kilometres further north on a fairly bumpy gravel road. One of the bus passengers had with him two enormous cardboard boxes filled with young chicks, which cheeped the whole way, and were so loud in fact that the driver finally could stand it no more, and asked that they be relocated to the back of the bus. At one stage, the bus was required to make a river crossing on a small vehicular ferry.
I arrived in Taiping at 8 p.m., just after sunset, and the ticket seller from the bus helped me find the best place to stay, which turned out to be the guesthouse attached to the local school. The accommodation was very basic, but very clean. There was a gas hot water heater connected to the shower, and with my usual luck trying to operate such appliances, I couldn't get the thing to work, so I had to resign myself to yet another night with no hot shower.
Friday 9 May 2003 (Day 18) - No alarm was needed this morning. I awoke to the sound of the 4 a.m. Changde bus departing amid much horn-blowing. At 5:30 a.m., I was awoken once again--this time permanently--by the sound of music blaring from the loudspeakers of the school next door. The schoolchildren were already out running laps of the oval.
By 6 a.m., I was down at the corner shop, where the shopkeeper rang a minivan driver for me. Despite being roused from bed, the driver appeared in double-quick time, and I hired him to take me the 10 kilometres west to the small town of Chuanshanhe, which means "Through the Mountain River". The confluence was just two kilometres due north.
It was now 6:40 a.m. Just as I was preparing to set out on foot, as if on cue, it started to drizzle, and out came my umbrella, which was getting a good work-out on this trip. I followed the river north, then east, to the village of Zishengqiao, which means "Naturally Formed Bridge". Here, 1.7 kilometres southeast of the confluence, I found the geological formation that had inspired all these catchy names.
Just beyond Zishengqiao, the road I'd been following abruptly stopped, and turned into a walking trail. The rain also stopped, but not for very long. I followed the trail, the direction of which was mainly up, until I was 850 metres southeast of the confluence, then found another road. I followed this road to within 600 metres of the confluence, then it started taking me further away again. I nevertheless persevered with the road, and was eventually rewarded with a very promising fork off to the right. This fork once again took me upwards, but also took me very close to the confluence. I left the road for the last hundred metres or so, making my way through some hilly but cultivated terrain.
Getting all the way to the confluence to achieve a perfect reading required a bit of scrambling amongst some prickly bushes, made all the more unpleasant by the now constant rain. The rain also made the north-south-east-west photos come out looking pretty dreary. I recorded an elevation of 841 metres.
Just to the south of the confluence was a small field of mature rapeseed, grown extensively in China to produce oil. When it's in flower it looks really beautiful, with whole fields awash in bright yellow. There were also many large boulders about, which interestingly were black on the outside, but red and white on the inside, evident where pieces had been chipped off. A geologist would know what to make of this. Unfortunately, I'm not one.
Getting back down to Chuanshanhe was a little easier than coming up, because this time I stuck to the road the entire way, arriving in Chuanshanhe from the opposite direction from which I'd started off. I soon found the only minivan driver in town, and got a lift back to Taiping, arriving with plenty of time left to eat a leisurely lunch before collecting my bag from the guesthouse and boarding the 12 noon bus back to Shimen.
Story continues at 29°N 111°E.