This confluence is one of the few left in Sichuan province that can be reached in a
day's travel on public transport. The National Day holidays provided an opportunity to
make this visit possible.
From Chengdu, I woke up a bit late, did some emails for my Bike China Adventures bike tour business, including
responding to a request from the BBC wanting to to do a story on confluences and
requesting permission to use a photo and quote from my report on 32N108E. By 9:45 AM I was
ready to hit the road. First step was to get to the long distance bus station on the east
side of town. Forty-five minutes late and three transfers on local buses later did the
Unlike my friend and fellow China confluencer, Targ Parsons (the undisputed
"China Confluence King" with more than 70 to his name and who takes great pains
in planning each confluence tactic well in advance and in great detail) I, on the other
hand, tend to decide these things at the last minute, and take only the bare minimum in
the way of maps. For me, I guess it makes it all the more exciting as I am approaching it
as a complete unknown. But perhaps it is just an excuse for laziness. Be that as it may,
it fits me.
There were two possibilities to approach this confluence. From west starting in Yibin
or from the east starting in Luzhou. I chose the later, and it proved to be a lucky
Twenty minutes after arriving in the long distance bus station, I was on a bus for
Luzhou. The 27-seat express bus took the toll road and the uneventful trip dropped me in
Luzhou at 2:25 PM. I bought a ticket for Nanxi leaving five minutes later, and moved a
step down in the bus hierarchy to a stretch mini-bus. An hour later I was in Nanxi, along
the Yangtze River, wide and mighty even though thousands of kilometers from the East China
Arriving in Nanxi, I passed the row of buses and was surprised to see a bus for
Maoqiao, the village with the conflence. Another transfer to yet an even lower class bus
to my destination of Maoqiao leaving at 4:10 PM. I was 17 km from the confluence. Getting
a bus to Maoqiao was a stroke of luck as it lies just on the other side of the border of
the next jurisdiction. This situation often results in frustrating experience in getting
where one wants to as transport between towns is often like trying to cross national
Getting the bus loaded was rather entertaining. The double bed on top was standard
fare. The fun began when a business owner showed with a one-by-five meter signboard. First
he tried to put it inside with ludicrous results. Then he had an idea to strap it to the
side of the bus. This was nixed by the drivers it would flap in the wind. Lastly, he tried
the top of the bus, but only after bed and five big boxes were removed. The whole process
took about twenty minutes while a busload of passengers waited patiently. Time is one
thing that is not in short supply here. Delays of this sort are common and nobody thinks
anything of it. Nobody, that is, except for crazed confluencers on a mission to find the
confluence before darkness falls. The bus was scheduled to leave a 4:10, we finally got
rolling at 4:30 PM.
Right after leaving Nanxi, we left the world of paved roads and for the next hour
bumped and bounced along the back roads that makes up of most rural China. Here the bus
driver is king of the road; the residents bow to his presence. When the bus is full, not
everyone can get on and the driver decides who rides and who doesn't, that is to say, who
has money and will go a distance far enough to justify stopping.
As we approached the confluence, I took particular note of the landscape I will be
crossing to find this one. I am passing through low hills, completely cultivated with
terraces and in the distance, there are two ridges of high mountains: one on the left and
the other on the right. From where I am, they seem to converge about where I guess the
confluence is and I wonder what I will be in for.
The twenty-kilometer trip took 45 minutes arriving in Maoqiao at 5:15 and 1.59 km from
the CP. Maoqiao is a single road village with not even a narrow alley to its name. Walking
past the seemingly interminable row of buildings lined side by side I look for a path
leading in the direction of the confluence perpendicular to the road. I asked an elderly
resident if there was a road or track in the direction of the CP. He said there was, but
would not elaborate, so I continued walking. At the north end of town there was a small
dirt track leading in the right direction past a school. I seemed to be in luck. As I
walked, the GPS pointer would swing left or right, just as the road did; it seemed the two
were in cahoots.
China is a noisy place, from video buses to KTV singing bars and discos that throb in
the night, to the liberally used ear-splitting air horns installed as standard equipment
on all buses and trucks. So when one goes into the poor parts of the countryside outside
of the towns, there is a quiet that kind of sneaks up on you and then hits you over the
head. This is one of those places, where you hear your footsteps and the footsteps of
people walking 100 meters behind you. In such a place, it is hard to go unnoticed.
Everybody stops to stare and comment on the foreigner.
I pass a small girl of perhaps five tending a flock of geese almost her own size with a
long bamboo stick and she stares at me with quiet reserve. One of the three men ahead of
me hears my footsteps and turns to see who it is. He then informs his companions and they
turn one-by one to take a look then slow down to lights cigarettes so I will pass them and
they can get a better look.
This time reaching the CP was a piece of cake. It is an short 15-minute walk along the
track and unbelievably lies right next to the road. Concerns about tortuous climbs, or
impossible approaches vanish and I am able to document the spot easily and quickly.
But not quick enough to draw the attention of several locals who are drawn like iron
filings to a magnet and I am viewed suspiciously. I don't say a word until I finish with
the shots of NESW and finicky GPS "perfect reading."
Once I do start to talk, they say with astonishment, "Oh, he can talk!" and
then barrage me with questions. The light is fading and I have to get back to the village
soon to suss out my transportation options, so I bow out soon.
Back in the village, transport options look grim. I am hoping to get to the city of
Yibin tonight so I can return to Chengdu then next day in time for a Chengdu Shambles football (soccer) game I am in
organizing for our local expat team. I am told there are no buses in any direction at this
time of day and I will have to wait until tomorrow morning. That is not the answer I was
hoping for, but in reality, the one I expected.
In China, there are always alternative transportation options, and the closest at hand
was the swarm of motorcyclists vying for a piece of the action. The asking rate for a
return trip to Nanxi was ten times what I paid to get there; clearly they trying to take
me for a ride. I decided to wait them out and started walking. They cried after me,
"It's too far, 25 or 30 km." But I knew from experience that something always
It appeared as a bus, but heading in the wrong direction. I flagged it down anyway and
asked where he was going. I was about two km outside of town with a couple of still
hopeful motorcyclists in tow. I told the bus driver I wanted to go to Nanxi, but at that
point what I really wanted was to get away from the motorcyclists. He invited me on and
told me that he was just going Maoqiao where I just came from and then return to his home
in Shigong a few km back. I sounded good to me.
On the way back to Shigong, we started chatting about the differences between the U.S.
and China. He seemed quite interested and then made an unexpected offer: stay with him and
his family for the night. He would feed me and give me a bed. I was a bit taken aback, but
he was quite insistent. I told hem I didn't want to give him too much trouble and I would
just get a motorcycle to Nanxi from Shigong. But he was insistent in a friendly way, and I
decided to go with the flow and see what happens.
His home was above of a small medical clinic with his family and friends nearby. His
son, 18, started making the evening meal after we arrived. Joining a Chinese family for
dinner unexpectedly is rarely a problem, they think of it as just adding another pair of
chopsticks on the table. As dinner was being prepared, the driver, Mr. Shu and I made a
bit more small talk, but in a short time we ran out of things to say, and there was an
awkward silence. Dinner soon appeared, however, and his son was bubbly talkative asking me
many questions. Some other friends arrives and more chopsticks appeared.
Afterwards, while his wife and son were cleaning up, a bit more awkward silence ensued
and I could sense that he was regretting inviting me to spend the night. Mr. Shu
reiterated that the real price of a motorcycle to Nanxi was one third of what I was
previously quoted. I took that as my cue to bow out gracefully and said that I really need
to get to Nanxi tonight if he knows someone that could take me.
That broke the ice and he quickly made a phone call. A few minutes later, I was being
whisked along the bumpy road with the wind in my hair. The driver had a helmet, but none
for his passengers and I hoped I would make it in one piece.
Arriving in the sleepy town of Nanxi seemed vibrating alive by comparison to Shigong
where I had dinner. The streets were teaming with people, cycle rickshaws, a few
motorcycles and a taxi or two. Several brave high school students came up to practise
their English and I found a nice new hotel at a reasonable price.
The next day, I found myself on a slow bus to Yibin. The driver cruised at about 20 km
per hour for the 50 km ride. Yibin lies at the confluence of the Min and Yangtze and has a
massive bridge spanning the latter.
On the bus back to Chengdu, I set up my Palm V and keyboard in my lap to write up this
report surprising my fellow passengers with such strange equipment. I christened this "The
Rural Serene Confluence."
Date: October 4, 2003
Time: 5:45 PM
Elevation: 301 m
GPS Accuracy: 3 m
Total Time Spent finding the confluence: 29 hours