Coordinator's note: This confluence was also attempted by Zifeng Liu.
Story continues from 30°N 109°E.
It was a half-hour journey to Huángjīndòng (黄金洞乡), where we found a bus south to the capital of Xiánfēng County (咸丰县), due to depart at 1:30 p.m. This gave us just sufficient time to enjoy a nice lunch beforehand.
The bus driver drove like crazy for the first half of the journey to Xiánfēng, but then slowed down enough for us to fall asleep during the second half. We arrived just after 3 p.m. The station we arrived at was apparently not the long distance bus station, but after asking a few people, we eventually found it, and a bus bound for Qiánjiāng (黔江区) to the SW, in Chóngqìng Municipality (重庆市), due to depart at 4 p.m.
We arrived in Qiánjiāng shortly after 6 p.m. at a miserable, dirty little bus station. We donned our backpacks, and started walking towards what looked to be the centre of town. After a couple of blocks, Ah Feng noticed a magnificent-looking hotel high atop a hill on our left. This was Ah Feng's birthday, so we did want to stay somewhere nice. We asked a taxi driver what was Qiánjiāng's best hotel, and he confirmed that it was the four-star Golden Crown Hotel (金冠酒店) on the hill, and took us there.
We checked in, and immediately Ah Feng set to work doing some desperately overdue clothes washing. This wasn't much of a way to spend a birthday, so we soon went out again to find a nice restaurant for dinner. It being Ah Feng's first ever visit to Chóngqìng, it was only appropriate that we eat a traditional Chóngqìng hotpot dinner - extremely spicy!
Back at the hotel, we availed ourselves of the hotel-provided hair dryer to start drying our laundry.
Wednesday 7 June 2006 (Day 8)
We awoke around 6:30 a.m. and immediately set to work again with the hair dryer to dry the remaining wet clothes, then headed down for our complimentary buffet breakfast.
We checked out at 9:15 a.m. and took a taxi to the long distance bus station, where we caught a bus SW to neighbouring Péngshuǐ County (彭水县). The bus departed at 9:45 a.m. Unlike the driver the day before, this driver drove extremely slowly, despite the excellent road, and it wasn't until 11:30 a.m. that we finally arrived in Péngshuǐ.
We arrived at Péngshuǐ's "new bus station", however we were told we had to take a commuter bus across town to the "old bus station" in order to get a bus south towards Wùchuān County (务川县) in Guìzhōu Province (贵州省).
At the old bus station, we learned that the next bus to Wùchuān was not until the following morning, so in order to maintain our momentum and continue moving in the right direction, we elected to instead take a minivan SW to Lóngtángbà (龙塘坝乡), the last town before the Guìzhōu border on the way to Wùchuān. We set off at 12:30 p.m.
The road was in a terrible state, reduced to a rocky, muddy, single-lane dirt road by ongoing roadwork. Nevertheless, it was worth it for the spectacular views as we climbed up and up into the mountains.
We were held up for nearly an hour and a half roughly midway through the journey as we waited while two earthmovers did their stuff, turning a sharp bend in the road into a not-so-sharp bend.
We arrived in Lóngtángbà at 4:45 p.m., with the confluence just eight kilometres south, across the provincial border. Accommodation, at 5 yuan (US$ 0.63) per night per person, left an awful lot to be desired, and was in stark contrast to our four-star accommodation of the night before.
We went out for a walk, met some children, visited their school, and met their English teacher, Mr Wang.
Péngshuǐ is officially called "Péngshuǐ Miáo and Tǔjiā Nationalities Autonomous County" (彭水苗族土家族自治县), so we asked Mr Wang why we'd seen little to no evidence of minority nationality culture in the area. He replied that they had all long since become "Hàn-ised", ie. dropped their traditional ways and instead adopted the practices of China's majority Hàn population. Quite a shame, really.
After chatting with Mr Wang and the children for a while (and confirming there was no alternative anywhere else in tiny Lóngtángbà to our decidedly less than salubrious accommodation), we went off and found a small restaurant where we had dinner - we were the only customers - then retired early to bed.
Thursday 8 June 2006 (Day 9)
We awoke at 6 a.m. With limited transport options - the only available ones demanding exorbitant rates - we decided to don our backpacks and walk the seven kilometres SW to the border. There was extremely little traffic, and the walk was very pleasant: cool, overcast, but no rain. We passed many children heading in the opposite direction, back to Lóngtángbà, on their way to school.
At 8:30 a.m. we crossed the border into Guìzhōu, and continued a further two kilometres along the main road to the village of Lùchí (鹿池), the confluence now 6.2 kilometres ESE. We ate breakfast in a small combination restaurant/hotel, and kicked ourselves for not making the effort to cross the border the night before. Who would have expected a village to have better amenities than a town?
Our next objective was the village of Qiáodìpíng (桥地坪), 10 kilometres down a side road to the SE. I had learned from a Lóngtángbà resident the night before that both my maps were wrong, incorrectly showing this village's name as Jiàodǐngpíng (轿顶坪) instead of Qiáodìpíng. Knowing the correct name certainly helped avoid confusion when we were negotiating with the local motorcyclists, but did not help prevent them from trying to gouge us. Even though it was 10 kilometres, we elected to leave our bags at the restaurant/hotel and walk, rather than be taken for a ride, both literally and figuratively.
We walked along a high mountain road with stunningly spectacular views of mountainsides covered in terraced rice paddies that just went on and on, on a scale that was hard to grasp. This was the Guìzhōu I was looking forward to seeing. Unfortunately, the air was thick with smog, and all of our photographs were washed out and really did no justice at all to the beautiful scenery. I hope the next visitors will enjoy better atmospheric conditions, and can post some truly great photos here.
At 11:40 a.m., with the confluence still 3.75 kilometres east, Ah Feng had had enough walking for one day, and decided to wait for me at an old lady's house by the roadside. I told her she was doing a "Tony"! (See 26°N 114°E and 25°N 112°E.)
I reached Qiáodìpíng at 12:15 p.m., and could hear students reciting their lessons in a nearby school that was hidden from view from the road. The confluence was still another 2.5 kilometres east.
Fifteen minutes later, I crossed a mountain ridge near a mobile telephone tower, and came upon a Mr He preparing to set off down the other side on a motorbike. I too was getting tired of walking, and asked if I could have a lift. He was quite amenable. However, after we'd gone only about 100 metres or so, when I indicated that my objective was roughly near a village visible way down on the valley floor, he stopped and pointed to a shortcut: a small walking trail that led directly down to the village, as opposed to the road, which meandered off to the right and went a very long way around.
So I disembarked and headed down the tiny trail. It was 1 p.m. when, following a descent of about 300 metres in elevation, I reached the bottom and emerged onto the valley floor, where peasants were busy planting rice. The confluence was now just 750 metres SE, across the valley and up over a hill on the other side.
Half an hour later I reached the confluence, on a small rocky outcrop amid a field of tobacco plants. There were some peasants working in a field a few dozen metres to the NE, and behind them were several houses which, as I later learned when I went over to chat with the peasants, constituted the village of Shuānglián (双联).
I took photos from the confluence point looking north, south, east and west, then gave Ah Feng a call on my mobile to let her know I'd successfully reached the point. There were no problems with mobile reception in this area - the mobile telephone tower dominated the view for miles around on both sides of the mountain range.
I returned to the mountain pass via the road, which was considerably further but far less steep than the little trail I'd come down.
Not too far from where I'd left Ah Feng, I again encountered Mr He, together with a few other people. One of them was smoking a rolled up tobacco leaf.
Mr He said he wanted to give me a lift back to Lùchí... for free! I told him my wife was waiting just up the road, so he first gave Ah Feng a lift, leaving at about 3 p.m., while I continued on foot. He then came back and got me, and we arrived in Lùchí at 4:20 p.m.
Ah Feng and I shouted Mr He dinner at the restaurant/hotel in return for all his trouble and kindness. He refused to accept any money, although in the end, he did reluctantly accept a small denomination bill of Hong Kong currency as a "souvenir".
Story continues at 28°N 107°E.