10-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 30°N 117°E.
Mon 8 Aug 2005 (Day 11, cont'd), 6:30 p.m. - Mr Hu Liqin pulls his minivan in front of a bus that is just departing Dongzhi for Anqing, and signals for it to stop. We thank him very much for making the previous confluence visit such a success, and give him a small monetary token of our appreciation for all he's done, then board the Anqing bus.
Although it's supposedly an Anqing bus, we and the rest of the passengers are taken north only as far as the south bank of the Yangtze River, opposite the city of Anqing, at a point where we can catch a lift on a vehicular ferry. Fortunately there is one just about to depart.
It's an eerie feeling crossing the enormous river in the dark, with many other vessels of all different shapes and sizes gliding by on their way to destinations unknown.
Once in Anqing, we take a taxi to the main bus station, only to discover that this is not the bus station from which we will need to depart tomorrow morning. So we take another taxi to the Luyou Bus Station, and check into the nearby Jixian Hotel, feeling pretty exhausted.
Tue 9 Aug 2005 (Day 12), 5 a.m. - Anticipating that the bus west to Yuexi County will depart at 6 a.m., we've set the alarm for an hour beforehand. At 5:30 a.m. we check out of the hotel and walk around the corner to the bus station. We have time for breakfast, consisting of noodles in soup topped with a fried egg, before boarding the bus just before 6 a.m.
6:45 a.m. - The bus finally gets underway. My jeans, washed the night before, are still damp, so I hang them from the overhead luggage rack to dry out, much to the consternation of the ticket seller, who wants me to take them down. I could understand if this were a civilised bus and she were concerned about appearances, but this bus is anything but!
Our route first takes us west through the neighbouring county of Qianshan, where we stop briefly, and then on through some spectacular mountainous terrain as we make our way NW to Yuexi. The bus rapidly deteriorates into a "chunder bus", with passengers taking turns to spew out the window.
10:30 a.m. - We finally arrive in Yuexi, and immediately buy tickets on the next bus to Yingshan County in neighbouring Hubei Province. Unfortunately, the bus will not depart for another two and a half hours.
We take advantage of the time available to head down Yuexi's busy main street in search of a pair of sunglasses for Ah Feng, who lost hers in the forest during yesterday's confluence hunt. I'm surprised when we find a shop that has some good quality, polarised sunglasses at extremely reasonable prices. I take the opportunity to purchase a spare pair for myself as well.
After this, we continue our stroll until we find a hotel, where we fill in the remainder of the time before our bus departs having lunch in the hotel restaurant.
1 p.m. - We take the bus west from Yuexi County in Anhui Province to Yingshan County in Hubei Province, a journey of a little over three hours through mountainous country that affords great views, especially on the Anhui side of the border.
4:45 p.m. - We relax in our room at the two-star Yingshan Hotel. Later in the evening we go out to the Internet bar, have dinner (huntun, dumpling soup) at one of several street stalls operating at a busy intersection, and then finally, endure a less than satisfactory hair-wash.
Wed 10 Aug 2005 (Day 13), 5:50 a.m. - We check out of our hotel, leaving our large bags with the reception staff, along with some still damp clothes that they agree to hang up to dry for us. Five minutes later are on a bus NW to Caopan. Surprisingly, our bus is underway in earnest after next to no trawling for passengers at all. We seem to be carrying more vegetables than human cargo, and the former are dropped off at various prearranged points along the route.
7:25 a.m. - We arrive in Caopan, the confluence 9.5 kilometres east. After a short round of bargaining, we hire a three-wheeler to take us to the vicinity of the confluence. This journey takes us past the pretty Honghua Dam.
8:05 a.m. - We reach Taohua Village, the closest point on the main road to the confluence, which is 640 metres north, up in the mountains. We pay off our three-wheeler driver, then set off on foot, following a reasonably good vehicle track uphill. A small snake, perhaps venomous, appears on the track in front of us, but quickly slithers into the bushes before I have a chance to photograph it.
We continue climbing up the vehicle track until the confluence is 370 metres NE. By very rough triangulation, we estimate the confluence to be atop one of a group of three fairly sharp peaks off to our right. At this point, we leave the vehicle track, cross a stream, and follow a narrow trail until we come to a tiny, three-household village, from where the confluence is now 310 metres NE.
Here we meet Mr Shen Yongsheng. We explain we want to climb one of the mountains, and he indicates which path we should follow. We decide to leave some superfluous stuff--maps, umbrellas, etc.--at his place, to save us having to carry them up the steep mountain. A large part of the floor of his "living room" is taken up by an enormous pile of potatoes, which he explains are for feeding the pig!
We follow the path indicated by Mr Shen, but at some point take a wrong turn, and end up climbing the wrong mountain. Just as we realise our mistake, we hear Mr Shen calling out. He has been monitoring our progress from his home, and when he sees we are lost, decides to come and rescue us. He appears, complete with machete, and for the second confluence in a row, we enjoy the assistance of a machete-wielding local to help guide us to the spot.
With Mr Shen's help, we spiral our way towards the confluence, which necessitates several rounds of climbing and then descending again. We see many incredibly large, black and yellow striped millipedes, about six inches long and finger thickness. Occasionally, from between the trees, we get a good glimpse of the valley below.
At one point, Mr Shen stops and unearths a wild boar trap that is cleverly hidden in the middle of the path. He gives a demonstration of its ferocity, and we feel mighty glad to have him along, otherwise one of us would certainly have stepped on it.
Mr Shen of course knows all the trails, and with some 30 metres to go, when there is no more trail, he simply makes one. We soon have the coveted GPS reading, and photographs to the north, south, east and west.
Needless to say, getting back to Mr Shen's house is a piece of cake compared to our wayward ascent--easy when you know how! We enjoy a short rest and a cup of tea before collecting our belongings.
12 noon - We leave Mr Shen's house and head back to the main road below. At the main road, we ask a local about transport options back to Caopan, and she suggests we walk about half a kilometre back down the road to another cluster of buildings, where we should be able to rustle up a three-wheeler.
12:30 p.m. - Sure enough, just as the woman said, we are able to engage a three-wheeler to take us back to Caopan, arriving 40 minutes later, where we transfer straight onto a bus back to the county capital of Yingshan.
Story continues at 31°N 115°E.