28-Sep-2004 -- Story continues from 25°N 108°E.
Mon 27-Sep-2004, 1:45 p.m. - I collect my belongings from the hotel in Huanjiang, then cross the street to the bus station and secure a seat on the 2 p.m. fast bus southeast to Yizhou. During the journey, a girl passenger keeps making eyes at me.
3:10 p.m. - The bus arrives in Yizhou. I purchase a ticket for the 3:40 p.m. fast bus to Liuzhou, a much larger city further to the southeast. With half an hour before departure, I find a seat in the waiting hall, next to the pretty girl from the bus. She's waiting for her sister to come and meet her, and we have a pleasant chat in the meantime.
5:15 p.m. - As the bus pulls into the huge Liuzhou central bus station, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that, at this relatively late hour of the afternoon, there are still buses leaving for Xiangzhou. I go upstairs to the enormous ticketing hall, where there are literally dozens of ticket windows, each with a long queue in front of it, and join one of the queues. When I eventually reach the front, I'm a little disappointed to learn that the next couple of Xiangzhou buses are all already fully booked, and I have to settle for one that won't depart until 6:30 p.m.
To help pass the time, and to get away from the thronging masses of the station, I go to a small restaurant out the front, and enjoy a bowl of pidan shourou zhou (congee with thousand-year-old eggs and preserved meat).
8:30 p.m. - I check into the Xingdu Hotel, Xiangzhou's finest. I go out for a hair wash, followed by a bowl of huntun (dumpling soup), then retire to bed for a well-earned sleep after a long day of travelling.
Tue 28-Sep-2004, 5 a.m. - I get up early following a good night's sleep. Leaving my bag at reception, I check out of the hotel, then take a motorised three-wheeler to the bus station. It is still dark out. I am in plenty of time for the 6:20 a.m. bus east to Zhongping.
7:30 a.m. - I arrive in Zhongping. The confluence is a further 5.5 kilometres east. I hire a minivan to take me along the road towards Liuhang in the adjoining county of Jinxiu, and get out at a likely-looking sidetrack with the confluence 1.3 kilometres NNE.
Before committing myself to the sidetrack, I decide to walk further up the road, to its closest approach, where the confluence is 1.06 kilometres NNE. At this point, the road turns sharply south and heads away from the confluence. There is a very indistinct trail leading north into the forest, and I follow it, but it fizzles out just 60 metres later, leaving me still a kilometre from my goal.
8:30 a.m. - I return to the point where the minivan driver dropped me, then follow the sidetrack down into the valley towards some villages west of the confluence. Down in the valley, just before reaching one of the villages, I come across another path leading back up in the general direction of the confluence, now 1.6 kilometres east. I am presently at an elevation of 188 metres, having descended roughly 200 metres from the road above.
Following the new path up, I need to stop and rest a couple of times, as the climb is rather steep. When the confluence is just 600 metres to the northeast, the path unfortunately starts to veer southwards. The terrain is quite rugged, and there is really no option but to continue following the path to wherever it might lead.
10 a.m. - The path ends at an intersection with another path. I've now descended 200 metres, climbed back up 300 metres, and the confluence is still 1.5 kilometres away to the north. I think of my colleague and confluencing buddy Tony, who is not a big fan of climbing, and try to imagine what he would be saying now, having expended all this energy only to end up further away from the confluence than at the start.
After another rest, I turn left and now make good downhill progress towards the confluence. I pass by a small collection of farmhouses, in front of which is spread out a large plastic sheet covered in star aniseed, drying in the sun. The aroma is wonderful.
A hundred metres from the confluence, I come upon a group of workers clearing the undergrowth on a hillside. The confluence is located on another small hill just below where they are working. There is a narrow trail leading down to it. It looks as though the vegetation surrounding the confluence has recently been burned away, and new trees planted. I take the requisite north-south-east-west photos, then set the timer for a self-portrait standing on the point.
Before heading back the way I've come, I have the presence of mind to ask the workers the best way to get back to Zhongping. They point me down the narrow trail I just used to reach the confluence, and assure me that I simply need to follow that. I take them at their word, and sure enough, just 600 metres north of the confluence, I emerge onto a good new road, one that does not feature on any of my maps. Had I known about this road in the beginning, the confluence would have been a walkover.
I start walking west along the road towards Zhongping. Before long, a minivan comes by, and I gratefully hop in.
12:10 p.m. - Back in Zhongping, there is no problem finding a bus to Xiangzhou. An hour later, shortly before we get to the Xiangzhou bus station, as the bus is passing by my hotel, I ask the driver to stop and let me off. I pick up my stuff from reception, then avail myself of a plush sofa in the lobby to change out of my boots into more comfortable sandals. It is quite a warm day.
Story continues with 24°N 111°E.
Postscript: Back at home, I plot my track over a (not very detailed) satellite image of the area, and laugh when I see what a complicated, zigzag route I've taken to get to this confluence.