18-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 33°N 111°E.
Wed 17 Aug 2005 (Day 20, cont'd), 8:40 a.m. - We catch a passing bus back to the capital of Yun County.
9:50 a.m. - Upon arrival at the north bus station, we buy tickets on the 11 a.m. bus to neighbouring Yunxi County to the west, then take a three-wheeler back to the hotel to collect our stuff. Some of the clothes we washed last night, and gave to the hotel reception staff to hang up for us, are still damp.
With plenty of time before we need to leave for our bus to Yunxi, I take the opportunity to walk around the corner to the shop from which I purchased 10 AA batteries last night. These proved themselves to be utterly useless during the morning's confluence hunt, so I demand, and am given, a full refund of 20 yuan (US$2.50).
We then take another three-wheeler back to the north bus station, and find the Yunxi bus. It's a very old and dirty affair. We're lucky to procure two empty seats near the back.
1:25 p.m. - We arrive in the county capital of Yunxi just as it starts to rain. Upon enquiry about buses west to Liulangguan, a village not far from the confluence, we are told there are none: buses go only as far as Liulang Township, some six or seven kilometres east of the confluence. What's worse, there are only two Liulang buses a day, and we have just missed the second one.
So it's an enforced rest stop. We seek out Yunxi's finest hotel, the very modest Hongzhi, where rooms go for just 88 yuan (US$11) a night. Plagued with laundry that won't dry properly due to the inclement conditions, our first task is to hang up all our damp clothes in every available position throughout the room. By this stage of the trip, we have become pretty much experts at this.
We then go for a walk around the relatively small town. We manage to find a battery recharger to replace the one that stopped working the day before, so we are thankfully no longer dependant upon dodgy, locally manufactured Chinese batteries for powering our GPSs.
Our first meal of the day is a bowl of noodles, after which I find an Internet bar while Ah Feng goes back to the hotel to have a shower. But there is no hot water because of the rain--solar hot water heaters don't work if there's no sun--so she has to wait for an hour while the hotel staff turn on an electric hot water heater.
Thu 18 Aug 2005 (Day 21), 5 a.m. - We wake to the alarm. It's raining...again. We perform our ablutions, gather our belongings, check out of the hotel, and walk 'round to the bus station.
5:50 a.m. - We secure our seats on the 6:20 a.m. bus to Liulang, then go off to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. It's still raining.
6:35 a.m. - The 6:20 a.m. Liulang bus departs 15 minutes late, filled to overflowing with bags, boxes and people, some of the latter sitting on tiny stools in the narrow, cramped aisle, and others simply standing. Our route takes us through mountainous country alongside muddy rivers and streams swollen by the incessant rain. We're treated to some spectacular views of beautiful valleys as we wind our way through the steep terrain.
9:15 a.m. - The bus arrives in Liulang. We are told that the only way to get to Liulangguan is by boat, and so we engage a couple of motorcyclists to take us the roughly two kilometres along the very muddy dirt road to the boat departure point.
9:40 a.m. - We arrive at a rather nondescript part of the road with no boat in sight, but are assured that this is the correct place. Following a brief respite, the rain starts coming down again. The confluence is five kilometres WNW.
The motorcyclists are demanding 10 yuan (US$1.25) each for a trip that would normally cost just 3 yuan, citing the extremely muddy conditions as justification. After protracted negotiations, we end up paying them 5 yuan each.
10:30 a.m. - Eventually a boat does appear, we get on board, and it sets off. We glide along the tranquil waters until we reach the confluence of two rivers, 2.4 kilometres from our confluence. Here the boat turns right into the somewhat larger Jinqian ("Money") River. There are many long drawn-out stops along the way, as we pick up and drop off people.
12:15 p.m. - We disembark on the west bank of the river, with the confluence 1.23 kilometres west. The river is at an altitude of 260 metres. There is a single path that leads up the steep hill from the river, and we climb up together with a lady who has just seen her son off on the boat. She is very nice to us, and when we reach her house, which is 670 metres from the confluence and at an altitude of 400 metres, she kindly lets us leave our big backpacks here while we climb the rest of the way to the confluence.
12:55 p.m. - Free of our heavy burden, we continue up the hill in considerably more comfort. There are houses dotted all over the place, so finding a path is no problem. Before tackling this confluence, I had feared it was going to be in the middle of nowhere, and that we would be forced to fight our way through mountainous virgin forest. Instead, we find most of the hillside to be under cultivation.
As we climb higher and higher, we are treated to beautiful views of the river below. This is probably the prettiest confluence I have ever visited. It's just unfortunate that it's raining, otherwise the photos would be even more spectacular.
1:30 p.m. - We reach the confluence, which is almost at the very top of the hill, at an elevation of 568 metres, 308 metres above the river. We take photos from the point facing north, south, east (looking back down to the river) and west, then walk a few dozen metres to the crest of the hill to get a better photo facing north, looking down into the opposite valley.
3 p.m. - We are back at the river, having collected our bags from the nice lady's house on the way back down. We wait and wait and wait, but there is no river traffic at all, until finally, some 40 minutes later, one small boat appears travelling in the wrong direction. With seemingly no other option available to us, we take this boat, which carries us over to the opposite side of the river, to Liulangguan Village.
4 p.m. - There's another boat at Liulangguan, but its captain is not interested in going anywhere, so we negotiate with the first boat captain to take us back to Liulang for 10 yuan each.
Just as we're about to leave, some people come up and ask our boat captain to dispose of a dog for them, presumably by tossing it overboard in the middle of the river. I find this rather surprising because dog meat is eaten extensively in China, however the captain explains that, in this part of northwestern Hubei Province, no one eats dog. I'm not sure whether it's due to our presence, but rather than toss the dog overboard, the captain instead takes it to the opposite bank and releases it there to fend for itself.
5:10 p.m. - We arrive back at the point from where we first caught the boat this morning, now some seven hours ago. There are no motorcyclists waiting to give us a lift back to Liulang, so we have no option but to make the hour-long trek along the muddy road on foot. Thankfully it's not raining now.
Back in Liulang, we check into the Shunfa "Hotel", in reality just a very basic family-run guesthouse. Nevertheless, it's good to finally relax, have a nice hot shower, and enjoy a delicious meal cooked up by our hosts. We are in bed asleep by 8:30 p.m.
Story continues at 32°N 110°E.