21-Jun-2004 -- This is a continuation from 23°N 107°E and the
third of a four-confluence hunt made in Guangxi province by Targ Parsons and Peter Snow
Cao in June 2004.
After the successful visit of 23N107E, we found a direct path back to the back road we
had taken earlier, and then retraced our steps to the Longming
As was to be the case our almost the entire time in Guangxi, our connections to the
next destination always seemed to be just right there when we needed it. Targ was a bit
apprehensive about getting a bus to Jingxi, two counties and a 117 km away, but the moment
we stepped out of the trike, a Jingxi bus appeared and we snagged good seats for the 3.5
hour ride. What can I say about the ride... the landscape was some the best karst hills I
have seen anywhere, truly magical. The roads were good to terrific, gradients generally
rolling and made me wish I was doing this on a bike instead of a bus. Plans are in the
works to make this a future Bike China tour route
In Jingxi, it was 4:30 PM and we still had three hours of light. The bus station folks
said there was no bus until tomorrow to Mengma, but that was not the answer Targ wanted to
hear so he went in search of someone else who could tell us differently. Sure enough,
there was a bus, not to Mengma but rather the town before that leaving in 20 minutes. This
was just enough time to grab some fast food, our first meal since our small breakfast.
We were filled with trepidation about this confluence point as it appeared to lie
within spitting distance of the Vietnam border. China fought a long and bitter border war
with Vietnam in the not too distant past and we have heard that the Chinese take their
border areas very seriously.
The bus was packed with goods bought in the county seat and returning to the villages
near the border. The bus emptied out at the town before the last stop and there were only
Targ and I on the bus as we rolled into Tunpan. Targ asked about accommodation and the
driver told us to go the tallest and prettiest building in the village, just a 100 meters
up the road.
The building was obviously new and seemingly under construction. The owner confirmed
that fact and told us that the rooms were not ready to rent yet. "Was there any other
accommodation in town?" we asked. "No." was the answer. "Hmm. What to
do?" At that time a better-dressed young man on a motorcycle came by and inquired as
to what we wanted. He said we could stay at the government compound and he pointed the
way. We expected to find a government-run guesthouse. As it turned out, Mr. Lu had invited
us to spend the night as his guest in his simple quarters. His newly wed wife was away
visiting her family. We went up to his three-room apartment and asked us to sit down and
have something to eat. Targ said we already ate and that we wanted to take a walk around
town first. Outside, he confided that he found the situation very oppressive and needed to
just get out. I too felt uncomfortable and was anxious to leave.
While the town is small enough to walk from end to end in five minutes, we managed to
dawdle about for more than an hour.
Returning back to the government compound (a combination of offices and residential
units), we found all the government workers and their families (about 30 or so) sitting
out on the front porch chatting. We went up to Mr. Lu's apartment and discovered why they were
all outside; the power was off. Mr. Lu said it was a relatively rare occurrence, but later
that night we discovered the power was off again, thwarting our efforts to recharge our
Mr. Lu seemed intent on drinking with us, but since Targ is a teetotaler, the task of
holding up the foreign contingent once again fell on my shoulders. Fortunately, he and his
colleague were comparative lightweights, and we spilt four bottles of beer between the
three of us.
Some of the local kids came up to see us, and Targ got his picture taken with them.
About 10:30 PM we finished the beer and the conversation began to wane so we told Mr.
Lu that we should go to bed since we wanted to get started early the next day. That was
fine with him and he left us be.
I must say it seemed incredible that someone would be so open and trusting to give us
his apartment for the night. I can't imagine that ever happening in the U.S.
There was only one bed, a big double bed. Targ asked me if I was going to do anything
funny and I told him we could put the big quilt in the middle of the bed as a barrier.
The toilet was actually the sink in the kitchen that could be used only for urinating.
Not ideal, but it sure beat hiking down three flights of stairs and out to the rear of the
compound to the pit toilets in the middle of the night.
So Targ set his HK$4,000 alarm clock for 6 AM, and we lowered the mosquito net and bid
each other good night. It was to be one of those fitful nights. At one in the morning,
there was a bit of commotion going on in the room. Targ thought it was me going to the
bathroom, but in fact it was the rats running around playing havoc with our stuff. I got
up to move my backpack to where they couldn't get at the Snickers bars. We needed those
for our confluence celebrations and I was about to let some lousy rats get at them.
Drinking the beer didn't help me sleep, and a combination of very sore arm from a previous
accident and a full bladder kept me awake much of the night.
We got up a 6 AM and made short work of getting out on the road as quickly as possible
to avoid running into Mr. Lu and having him follow us.
The streets were quiet; only a few chickens were crowing. We hoped to get a ride on
anything going our way. The confluence point was 13.2 km straight-line distance away.
About 2 km south of Tunpan, a small cargo truck came by and we flagged him down. The cab
was full, but he readily opened up the cargo hold and let us ride in the back amidst the
sacks of rice flour. He took us a few kilometers closer to Mengma, a border crossing town
and the last town before the confluence.
The dirt road from Tunpan ended at the Border Road, which was a well-maintained wide
asphalt road. It looked like it should have much more traffic on it, but it didn't. The
only traffic on the road was army jeeps. We still didn’t know if we could be here or
not. While no one said we couldn't, and there were no signs to the contrary, we felt that
it our presence would likely be looked upon suspiciously nonetheless. It was raining
lightly and we used our umbrellas to shield our faces when they passed us.
[As an aside, I found out after I returned to Chengdu that the border police had called
my work place to verify that I was indeed employed there. I just they authorities were a
bit more discreet than I expected.]
We approached Mengma on foot fearing detection, but there was no alternative. Our first
view was of the Border Clearinghouse with China red flags flying over top. At first
glance, it appeared that we would have to pass through some sort of checkpoint. But there
was none, and we just walked through town unaccosted. The village was too small to have a
restaurant so I got some 10,000 year-old donut holes and Targ got some stale crackers.
This would be our breakfast and lunch.
The road was hilly; it turned west and we continued walking since there was still no
transport of any kind. The road was eerily quiet for China and we still had 9 km
straight-line distance to go.
The road passed through some of the prettiest countryside around, "pointy
hills" and mountains, rice paddies, and misty fog that hid and revealed the landscape
around. On the Border Road, we passed one sign after another warning drivers that if they
broke down on this road they would be subject to fines from 5,000 to 30,000 RMB
(US$650-3,800). Given the frequency at which Chinese vehicles break down and the low
profit margins in the transport industry, it is no wonder there were so few vehicles on
The views continued to amaze us as we walked the Border Road. Rounding one corner, the
road dropped down into a valley and climbed up the other side to a notch in the far ridge.
From where we were, it was 1.5 km to the confluence, and it looked like the ridge was
just about that far away. As we got closer, there appeared to be a checkpoint building at
the notch and we joked that wouldn't it be just our luck if the confluence point was just
150 meters on the other side and they authorities wouldn't let us pass.
It being a bright sunny day, the valley was a beehive of activity with the water-logged
rice paddies full of water buffalo and men shouting orders. With no motor vehicles, the
sound carried a very long way and we could clearly hear the shouts of men and grunts of
the water buffalo.
At the bottom of the valley we were about 700 meters away and passed a small village.
There was a motor-tricycle sitting outside one of the houses and we made a note to try and
use it on the way back.
As the road started to make the switch-climb back up the hill, the needle of the GPS
veered to the right and pointed up to one of those pointy hills that was saw so much of.
We passed by a farmhouse with a yappy dog that announced our arrival. Fortunately, the
owners were like everyone else, out in the fields. The CP was just 130 meters off the
road, but it looked like it was almost straight up. Luckily there was a path to get us
started up the hill, but it seemed to follow an arc around the CP as we couldn't seem to
get closer than 100 meters without bushwhacking through the thick brush. The slope was
precipitous in spots and we had a devil of a time picking a likely looking way. A
combination of thick overhead coverage and the steep hill made for poor GPS reception.
Targ's top-of-the-line Garmin couldn’t keep a signal, but my Garmin Summit was still
pulling in one, albeit rather weak.
As we got closer, we passed through an area infested with the most bloodthirsty
mosquitoes I have run into anywhere and they made my bare legs itch unbearably. The CP was
just 10 meters away and luckily away from the mosquitoes. I was able to locate my point
and get the photos in just a few minutes, which was fortunate because I had gotten a
"LOW BATTERY" warning a bit earlier and had no spares. Targ, on the other hand,
was having a heck of a time even getting a signal. His batteries died on him, and then
when he got everything up and running again, he began the confluence dance began in
earnest. Targ spent about 30 minutes trying to get his unit to read all zeros. He told me,
"I have come this far, I am not leaving until I get all my zeroes!" His unit
always seemed to be one tenth off. While waiting he noticed two centipedes mating and
decided to photograph them. As he was doing so, his GPS zeroed out and he got his
all-important "perfect reading." Targ meticulously recorded the facts and took
photos of the four cardinal points. Then we pulled out our victory Snickers and took the
Getting down off our perch on the pointy hill was tricky. The slope was unstable and
slippery. I was concerned that if we hung around too long, we might miss our only chance
on getting an infrequent bus. This was for naught as there weren't any buses. We walked
down to where the motor-trike was parked and I called out to the lady of the house if a
driver was available. It appeared he just woke up as I could see him dressing and combing
his hair. He got his trike out and gave it a quick wash before coming to talk to us. We
told him we wanted to go to Tunpan, and the driver calculated it was 24 km away then said
he wanted 50 RMB. Targ said forget it, we will just take the bus and started to walk off
(this was a big bluff on Targ’s part as we darn well the buses were few and far
between. I countered with 30 RMB and he readily agreed so we were off.
Back in Tunpan, we went back to the government compound to collect our backpacks from
Mr. Lu's apartment. He had bought some groceries for us to have lunch, but we said we
didn't have time as the bus to Jingxi was due some time after 1 PM. This left him a bit
put out, but there nothing that could be done about it. We walked up to the corner where
we waited for the bus. A small and polite group of children gathered around to sit and
stare at us while we waited.
Across the street there was a school and some rambunctious kids were cat calling to us.
One enterprising youth made a sign for us saying, "Welcome, Laowai!" in Chinese.
The bus to Jingxi soon arrived and then we spent the rest of the afternoon returning
first to Jingxi and then getting a bus back to Nanning where we could continue the hunt
for the last confluence of the trip.
After we got back home, Targ emailed me to say:
"You might be interested to know that I just used OziExplorer to measure the
distance between the confluence at 23N 106E to the Vietnamese border: 783 metres."
As such, I decided to christen this the "Vietnam View Confluence Point."
Coordinates: 23°N 106°E
Visit date: 21 June 2004
Visit time: 10:53 a.m.
Elevation: 690 metres
Distance: 0.9 meters
This story continues at 23°N 108°E.