23-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 33°N 110°E.
Fri 19 Aug 2005 (Day 22), 5 a.m. - The alarm goes off, and we awake to the prospect of another rainy day.
6 a.m. - We leave our guesthouse in Liulang and emerge onto the street below to wait for the bus east, back to the county capital of Yunxi. Either we have been misinformed about the departure time, or the bus is very late, because we are faced with a wait of over an hour in the cold rain.
7:10 a.m. - The bus finally departs. Across the aisle to our right is a lady who insists upon having the window open in case she wants to throw up, resulting in everyone around her, including us, freezing to death. And if that isn't enough, sitting behind us is a man whose breath is so bad it's corrosive--every time he opens his mouth to speak, we both have to hold our breaths as long as we can. To make matters worse, he has the annoying habit of leaning on the back of our seats and breathing directly on us.
Despite all these hardships, the bus trip is worth it just for the spectacular scenery: mountains shrouded in mist.
10 a.m. - It's still raining when we arrive in Yunxi. We buy tickets on the 10:20 a.m. bus south to Baoxia in neighbouring Yun County. Before the bus departs, I have time to buy a takeaway box of fried noodles to eat on the way. They are deliciously hot.
During the more than two-hour journey to Baoxia, it rains almost as much inside the bus as out. Passengers play musical chairs trying to avoid getting wet, but nowhere is safe. I use some plastic bags to protect my camera from the worst of it.
12:30 p.m. - We arrive in Baoxia. It's still raining, and very cold. Baoxia is located at a major T-junction, and we wait patiently for a bus to turn into the secondary road heading south towards the capital of Zhushan County.
1:25 p.m. - At long last a Zhushan bus comes along, and we catch it. It travels alongside more swollen rivers, dodging numerous rockfalls until...
3:15 p.m. - We come to a complete halt at the end of a long line of stationery vehicles. The road ahead is blocked by something. Word soon filters down the line as to the cause of the hold-up: a landslide brought on by the heavy rains.
Everyone mills about aimlessly for the best part of an hour, wondering what to do next. During this time, I walk up the line of vehicles until I can see the landslide in the distance. Although there are two bulldozers busy at work, it doesn't look like we'll be moving anytime soon.
Back at the bus, a collective decision is made. We and all the other passengers grab our belongings and head off on foot to the scene of the landslide. Thankfully the rain has eased off enough that we don't need to use our umbrellas.
People are scrambling down the slope to the riverbank below and passing underneath the operating bulldozers to get past the obstruction. It's insanely dangerous, and just as we're about to follow suit, we see one poor soul being stretchered off by the army, which has been called in to manage the situation. Nevertheless, we take our turn at the death-defying traverse, making it across without mishap.
4:15 p.m. - We continue our journey in the cramped confines of a small passenger truck.
5:10 p.m. - The truck delivers us to the Zhushan Bus Station, where we buy tickets on the next bus SW to Guandu. Unfortunately this bus doesn't leave until 8 a.m. the next day. The ticket seller at the bus station wants us to stay at her place for the night, and insists on having her husband take us around to have a look, but after checking it out we decide to turn down the offer, and opt instead for Zhushan's best hotel: the Zhushan Hotel. We take a mamu, a modern-looking three-wheeled taxi, to the hotel, and check in. It's very nice.
We then hit the town. First priority is to buy some warm clothes, because the conditions have become considerably colder than when we first set out on this trip several weeks ago. After shopping for clothes, we have some dinner, buy some medicine for our colds, and get our hair washed. I go off on my own to find an Internet bar.
When we return to the hotel, we discover that there is no hot water for showering. As this is a fairly swish establishment, a lack of hot water is simply unacceptable, and we go down to reception and tell them so in no uncertain terms. After listening to our complaints for some time, they finally agree to move us to another room that does have hot water--heaven only knows why some rooms have and some haven't--and furthermore they reduce our room rate from the originally agreed 140 yuan (US$17.30) to just 100 yuan (US$12.40). So in the end, we're quite happy.
Sat 20 Aug 2005 (Day 23), 6 a.m. - The alarm clock goes off. Outside it's raining heavily. We both have bad colds.
7:25 a.m. - We check out of the hotel and catch a mamu to the bus station. It's still raining. At the bus station there are hundreds of swallows flitting about amongst the waiting passengers, intently watched by the station's resident kitten, who comes and sits on the bench next to me while Ah Feng goes off in search of some breakfast. I'm not feeling very well, so don't fancy eating anything right now.
Careful observation of the swallows reveals that they are busy catching small moths, which are also on the wing in their thousands. A couple of times a swallow flies within an inch or two of the kitten sitting next to me, but she is not quick enough to catch them, and in the end contents herself by pouncing on the slower moving moths instead.
8 a.m. - The scheduled departure time for our bus has arrived, yet there is a distinct lack of activity. Upon enquiry, we learn that all roads out of Zhushan are cut, and no buses are going anywhere today. We are given a refund for our tickets.
Leaving the station, we discover several passenger trucks out front bearing "Guandu" signs in their front windows. The driver of one assures us that we can walk past the obstruction along the road to Guandu, in a similar fashion to what we had done the day before in getting from Baoxia to Zhushan. So we get in his truck and wait.
8:20 a.m. - Following the arrival of four more passengers, the tiny truck is now "full"--although bulging at the seams would be a more apt description--and we are on our way. The road is in truly appalling condition, with numerous rockfalls, landslips and subsidence.
Much to the driver's surprise and consternation, only about 10 minutes out of Zhushan, we come upon a place where the road is completely awash and unnavigable. He was planning on getting us much further than this. He turns the truck around and heads back to Zhushan. There is no charge.
9:10 a.m. - Back in Zhushan, we take another mamu back to the Zhushan Hotel, where we manage to get the same room at the same cheap rate. With all roads out of Zhushan apparently cut in multiple places, and no sign of the rain ever stopping, this could be our home for some time to come. We are marooned here, 33 kilometres NE of the confluence.
We spend most of the day in our room reading, sleeping or watching TV, emerging only once to have lunch in the hotel restaurant.
Sun 21 Aug 2005 (Day 24), 6 a.m. - I awake to the alarm and go off to the bus station to check out the transport situation while Ah Feng sleeps in. The situation is no different from the day before: not a single bus is going anywhere. I also can't find any of the small Guandu passenger trucks out front of the station, however the driver of a minivan assures me that there is absolutely no hope of getting to Guandu today. So I buy some takeaway breakfast for Ah Feng, and head back to the hotel.
A little later in the morning, I go back to the vicinity of the bus station again, just to make sure that today is in fact another complete write-off. This time I speak to the driver of a Guandu passenger truck, who confirms that there is simply no way to get to Guandu today...maybe tomorrow.
I stop in at the Internet bar again. There's an email from Tony, who says that it's been raining steadily in Hong Kong too--little comfort.
At lunchtime we both go out for a long stroll about town. In the afternoon, I finish reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, and in the evening we watch the inaugural running of the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix live on television.
It has stopped raining. Maybe tomorrow we can get away and continue our confluence quest.
Mon 22 Aug 2005 (Day 25), 6 a.m. - I awake to the alarm and go off to the bus station to check out the transport situation while Ah Feng sleeps in. Is this Groundhog Day?
The situation this time looks a little more hopeful. Even if we can't get to Guandu, it seems we can at least get to Fang County in the east, which would be the launching point for an attempt on the confluence at 32°N 111°E.
I go back to the hotel, wake up Ah Feng, and we set about packing up our belongings.
7 a.m. - We check out of the hotel and, with a degree of anticipation, walk back to the vicinity of the bus station. A Guandu passenger truck driver says the road to Guandu is now blocked in only one place, and that we can walk across the obstacle and transfer to another vehicle. We take him at his word, and hop in.
At about one-quarter distance, we do indeed come to a landslide that requires a walk-across and a change of vehicle. On the other side, Ah Feng and I both manage to get seats in the front of a small truck, however there isn't a lot of scenery to be seen because the road is enveloped in mist and fog for most of the way.
At roughly two-thirds distance, we are faced with another landslide and another dangerous walk-across. We are becoming old hands at this now. Transport options on the other side of this one are not so salubrious, and we find ourselves standing up in the back of a very crowded tray-top truck.
During the decidedly uncomfortable journey in the back of the truck, I attempt to take a photo, and as I do so my right contact lens pops out for no apparent reason. It is lost. This has never happened to me before in the 30 odd years I've been wearing rigid gas-permeable lenses.
Ten minutes later, while I'm contemplating what confluencing will be like in my half-blind state, Ah Feng spots my lens sitting on the muddy floor of the tray-top truck, amongst all the people and luggage. Against all the odds, no one has yet stepped on it, and I am able to retrieve it.
When we reach yet another obstacle in the road, and have to disembark as the truck makes a perilously dangerous crossing incredibly close to the edge of the steep slope, I take the opportunity to carefully wash off my wayward contact lens with bottled drinking water, and pop it back in my eye. I can see once again!
Each time we traverse an obstacle in the road that vehicles cannot, the providers of transport on the other side are more and more extortionate--so much so that when we reach and negotiate the next landslide, rather than ride on the back of an even smaller, less comfortable truck for even more money, we elect to walk instead.
It's only a few kilometres to the final obstruction (number four if you've been keeping count), this one a major rockfall. From here we get a ride on a motorbike the rest of the way into Guandu.
11:45 a.m. - At long last, we are finally in Guandu Township. The confluence is 7.86 kilometres west, on the opposite side of the Guandu River. However, our motorcyclist now gives us some bad news: the bridge across the river some 10 kilometres further down the road has been washed away. We were planning on crossing the river there, then following the road west to Liangjia Township, from where the confluence should be only 4.7 kilometres NNW. Now we need to come up with a new plan.
We decide to stop in Guandu and eat lunch while we work out our next move. We need to eat anyway, because all we've had the entire morning has been a few chocolate-flavoured biscuits. The lady running the small restaurant gives us some valuable intelligence on how we can reach our goal, starting out by crossing the long pedestrian suspension bridge, the entrance to which is only a couple of shops down from her restaurant.
12:30 p.m. - We set off across the bridge and, following the restaurateur's instructions, turn left and walk SW along the river bank until we come to a small village where the river turns towards the SE. From here we start climbing.
2:05 p.m. - Having started from an altitude of 350 metres down at the river, we now reach the top of a mountain at 654 metres. The confluence is still 6.06 kilometres WNW. We continue on into the mountains.
3:10 p.m. - We reach another crest, this one at 849 metres. The confluence is 5.31 kilometres WNW. At this point, we encounter several guys hunting rabbits with the aid of dogs.
3:30 p.m. - We stop at another ridge (918 metres, confluence 5.01 kilometres WNW), where I change into thicker socks. We still have a long way to go, and I don't want to risk getting blisters at this point.
4:25 p.m. - At the bottom of a valley we come to a small community called Mayuhe ("Horse Jade River"). Mayuhe is at an elevation of 639 metres, and the confluence is 3.58 kilometres WNW. Here we meet a local who is extremely helpful, drawing a rudimentary map in my notebook depicting the dirt road that runs along the valley. According to his map, a few kilometres along this road we should find a turn-off towards the confluence, at a place called Yidui Goukou ("Team One Gully Mouth"). As it's starting to get late, we decide to try and get as far as Yidui Goukou, then find a place to stay there for the night.
5:45 p.m. - It's raining again. We stop to rest at a farmhouse, which we estimate is still about one kilometre short of Yidui Goukou. We are both very tired and sore. The people living in the farmhouse, who invite us inside out of the rain, inform us that there are no houses at Yidui Goukou--no one lives there. Instead, they suggest we try seeking accommodation at a place about 250 metres further along the road.
I go on alone, leaving Ah Feng and our luggage at the farmhouse. It's exhilarating being able to walk without the burden of my heavy backpack for a while. Sure enough, there are a couple of families living a quarter of a kilometre up the road, and one of them is more than happy to offer us accommodation. I go back to deliver the good news to Ah Feng.
8:35 p.m. - After a great dinner and conversation with our delightful hosts, we turn in, absolutely exhausted by the events and exertion of the day. Our hosts are very upright and proper people, and insist that we sleep in separate rooms, even though this undoubtedly means depriving an additional family member of his or her usual bed.
Tue 23 Aug 2005 (Day 26), 7 a.m. - I wake up without the aid of an alarm. I slept very well, being so thoroughly tired. Ah Feng doesn't wake up for another hour.
It's been raining overnight. Looking outside, the surrounding hills are shrouded in mist, and there's intermittent light rain. We decide to have breakfast before setting off. This takes a long time for our hosts to prepare.
9:05 a.m. - We set off during a break in the rain, starting from an elevation of 860 metres, with the confluence 1.95 kilometres to the west. After walking for 40 minutes, we reach the end of the road at a couple of farmhouses. The confluence is now 1.18 kilometres SW, and we are at an elevation of 936 metres. We continue on along a fairly well-used walking trail.
10:10 a.m. - We reach a crest at 1,010 metres elevation, with the confluence 745 metres SW.
10:30 a.m. - Twenty minutes later and we're at another crest, this one 1,050 metres, with the confluence now a tantalising 321 metres south.
Also at this point is a fairly decent dirt road, and we surmise that this road must originate from Liangjia to the SSE. If only the bridge had not been washed away, we could have gone via Liangjia, and probably would have got all the way to where we are now by vehicle.
We cross the road and forge our way towards the confluence along a wet forest trail.
10:50 a.m. - We reach the summit of the mountain: 1,100 metres. The confluence is 98 metres south, down a cliff!
We discover a very treacherous vestige of a trail leading from the summit and running along the uneven crest of the mountain. It has been made even more treacherous as a result of the overnight and morning rain. Everything is very wet, and we are soon completely soaked.
We follow the trail until the confluence is approximately 30 metres directly below us on our left, then make our way down the extremely steep slope by hanging onto trees and bamboo. Our efforts are eventually rewarded with a prized zero reading. Of the north-south-east-west shots, the only one in which anything at all is visible through all the vegetation is the shot facing east, which looks out from our precarious position on the steep slope.
Although the confluence point itself is rather nondescript--as many confluence points typically are--the numerous trials and tribulations we've encountered and overcome in getting here now serve to fill us with a great sense of elation and achievement. We are two very happy confluencers indeed!
12:50 p.m. - We make it back to the farmhouse where our ever gracious hosts feed us lunch.
2:10 p.m. - After lunch, we leave on two motorbikes. Shuai Dong, one of our hosts, and his friend escort us back to Guandu via a different route from the one we came. We end up doing about as much walking as riding, because the paths we follow through the mountains are not exactly motorbike-friendly.
Of course, the adventures do not stop here, but this report must end somewhere. It takes us another action-packed 24 hours just to get back to Zhushan, after which we endure a 26-hour bus journey back to Shenzhen, getting home to Hong Kong on Thursday 25 August 2005 (Day 28) at around 8 p.m.
We originally hoped to do three more confluences on this trip (the final three unvisited Hubei points), however with weather conditions being what they were, and my 30-day visa rapidly running out, we decided to call it quits and save those three for a later date. In any case, 24 confluences in one trip isn't a bad tally!