14-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 31°N 112°E.
Sat 13 Aug 2005 (Day 16, cont'd), 4:35 p.m. - We wait on the side of the road for a while, but there is no traffic at all, let alone any buses, so we begin the long trek on foot back to Zhanghe. The scenery is nice, but the weight of our backpacks takes some of the shine off.
5:55 p.m. - As we approach a place called Fuli, where the road joins another main road, a minivan occupied by three young people (and a puppy) stops and offers us a lift back to the prefecture capital, Jingmen. This is a very welcome turn of events.
6:45 p.m. - Our benefactors drop us off at the Jingmen Bus Station, where we learn that the first bus east to Jingshan will not leave until 6:20 a.m. the next morning, so we walk down the street and around the corner, find a reasonable hotel, and check in. It's nice to finally relax in our hotel room after the day's strenuous activities, which saw two more confluences successfully visited.
Sun 14 Aug 2005 (Day 17), 5 a.m. - The alarm goes off, and we make an early start, checking out and walking around to the bus station, getting there before even the ticket sellers start duty.
5:55 a.m. - The ticket window opens, and we buy our tickets for Jingshan, capital of Jingshan County, then put our bags on the bus to reserve our seats. We then go out to a nearby restaurant and have a bowl of noodles for breakfast (although I don't have much of an appetite this morning), and stock up on bottled water for the journey ahead.
6:20 a.m. - Our bus departs on time. It's another one of these dreaded compact Iveco buses, and with a few drops of rain about, I just hope this is not going to be a repeat performance of what happened on the way to 31°N 117°E, when the bus slammed into the back of a taxi before we'd even reached the outskirts of town.
9:15 a.m. - We arrive in Jingshan without any major dramas along the way. According to my pre-trip planning, our next objective is to get on a bus heading WSW towards Shilong Township. For this, we need to take a three-wheeler to the Jingshan South Bus Station, which is only about five minutes away.
At the Jingshan South Bus Station, there is a Shilong bus waiting, apparently ready to depart, so we get on board and wait with all the other passengers. I manage to get the seat at the front beside the driver, while Ah Feng finds another seat down near the back of the bus. As we wait, I check the GPS, and see that the confluence is 11.3 kilometres to the west.
10:05 a.m. - After a wait of three quarters of an hour, the Shilong bus finally departs, heading south down the main road. Ten minutes into the journey though, I'm surprised when we cruise right by the turnoff west to Shilong, and continue going south down the main road. I check with the driver, and he confirms that this is correct; the bus will take a roundabout route to get to Shilong.
Well, this would be fine if we were going to Shilong, however our objective is somewhere along the turnoff that we've just passed, so we ask to get off straight away. The ticket seller, a rather plump lady, makes it abundantly clear that she is not in the least bit happy about giving us a refund for the best part of our fares, but eventually she reluctantly does so.
After the bus is long gone, Ah Feng and I come to the realisation that the plump ticket seller has deliberately cheated us. On the crowded bus, unbeknownst to one another, we both paid her for two fares, and she of course has given us a refund against only one lot of two fares. We have to laugh as we recall the ticket seller's marvellous Academy Award performance as she complained about having to give us a refund, when in fact she was pocketing two full fares plus a little extra. Thank goodness it's only Monopoly money!
10:35 a.m. - We manage to save ourselves a bit of a walk by catching a no.7 commuter bus back to the Shilong turnoff. The confluence is 10 kilometres due west. There are a few other people here, and we all wait together for a bus heading west. There is a brief rain shower as we wait, but this quickly clears up, and then the bus arrives.
11:15 a.m. - We get off the bus with the confluence 2.84 kilometres NE. The bus actually passed as close as 2.15 kilometres due south of the confluence, but there were no roads leading off to the right into the mountains until we reached here, where there's a rough vehicle track heading in just the right direction. However, the inhabitants of the few houses at the start of this track tell us that it doesn't go very far. With little other option, we decide to try our luck anyway.
11:50 a.m. - After following the track for more than half an hour, it finally comes to an end. We are a kilometre closer, but our goal is still another 1.87 kilometres NE. From here we start climbing up a walking trail through some very peaceful mountains. Of particular note are the thousands and thousands of brightly coloured caterpillars.
Fifteen minutes of climbing brings us to an isolated farmhouse on a hillcrest, with the confluence now 1.65 kilometres NE. The way from here is unclear though, and there is nobody at home to ask. There is a very overgrown trail that has obviously not been used for some time heading off in the right direction, so we try that, but it is so overgrown that we give up after only a dozen or so metres.
Instead we decide to follow an easier path that leads us first to one abandoned farmhouse, then another. Checking the GPS we find that at each one we are in fact slightly further away from our goal, and we have still not found any path that goes off in the required direction. We do however manage to get a very clear view of where we need to go.
1:50 p.m. - With no other option, we decide to give the overgrown, disused trail back at the first farmhouse another try. We make a gallant effort of fighting through the dense vegetation, advancing another hundred metres towards our goal, now just 1.55 kilometres NE, but eventually we have to admit that, at our current rate of progress, we will never get there, so we turn back.
We happen to arrive back at the main road just as an empty taxi is going by, so we engage the driver to take us around to the other side of the mountain range. There is no road on the other side of the mountains marked on my map, however judging from the view we had from the vicinity of the two abandoned farmhouses, there ought to be one. The taxi driver doesn't seem to think so, but we persuade him to at least try.
3 p.m. - Sure enough, there is a reasonably good road leading off to the northern side of the mountains, and we step out of the taxi with the confluence a mere 935 metres SW. Our taxi driver hopes he has enough petrol to get back to the main road, because he's been running on fumes for the final few kilometres. We hope so too, and wish him luck.
Approaching the confluence from this direction is a piece of cake compared to our abortive attempt from the south. We follow a dry water channel until we come to a lake, with the confluence 400 metres to the WSW, apparently on the hillside opposite. We walk around the northern side of the lake, and come upon a farmhouse, where the only person at home is a 10-year-old girl. She explains how we can get to the hill from here, and lets us leave our bags at her place to save us having to climb with them. The confluence is 225 metres SW of her home. There are ominous sounds of thunder in the distance.
We follow her directions, and are soon on the hillside a few dozen metres from the confluence. The last little stretch requires us to fight through a bit of heavy vegetation laced with plenty of thorn bushes, but we are rewarded with the coveted zeroes. The views to the north, south, east and west are unfortunately largely obscured by foliage however. Part of the lake is just visible in the shot to the east.
4:10 p.m. - Back at the girl's farmhouse, we collect our bags, then head off as it starts to rain lightly. We get a lift a short distance on the back of a tractor, but have to trudge the rest of the way back to the main road--some four kilometres--in increasingly inclement weather.
Story continues at 32°N 113°E.