13-Jun-2006 -- Story continues from 28°N 108°E.
We arrived in the capital of Sīnán County (思南县) at around 6:30 p.m. It was a pretty miserable place. As soon as we got out of the minivan, we were accosted by people who stuck to us like leeches, trying to persuade us to stay in their respective private "hotels".
We checked out one such place, and were not impressed, so decided to find out what was Sīnán's best hotel. Eventually we managed to ascertain that it was the Báilùzhōu Hotel (白鹭洲宾馆), up on a hill. We took a taxi there.
From the outside it looked okay, but inside it was dreadful! We found urine on the toilet seat, there were no towels (they said their towel-washing machine was broken), the walls were deteriorating due to an acute case of rising damp, and there was a foul odour... to name just a few of the shortcomings. However, this was Sīnán's finest, so we didn't have much option but to make the best of it.
We went out for a meal in a nearby restaurant, and were cautioned by the proprietor not to stray any further from the hotel at night because it was unsafe. With those words of warning, we headed straight back to the hotel after dinner.
Sīnán is definitely not a candidate for your "must visit" list.
Monday 12 June 2006 (Day 13)
We checked out at 7:30 a.m., took a taxi to the vicinity of the bus station, and at 8 a.m. set off in a crowded minivan east to neighbouring Yìnjiāng County (印江县). It was raining lightly. An hour and ten minutes later, we arrived in Yìnjiāng, which was a much nicer place than Sīnán.
We learned that buses east to Sōngtáo County (松桃县) left from a different bus station from the one at which we had just arrived, so we took a taxi to the correct bus station.
The next Sōngtáo bus didn't leave for an hour, so we secured our seats by putting our bags on them, then went across the street for breakfast. It was now raining relatively heavily.
Reserving our seats proved to have been unnecessary. When the bus left on time at 10:20 a.m., we were the only two passengers on board.
Fifty metres from the bus station, we pulled into a petrol station and stopped to refuel. No sooner were we on our way again than we were pulled over by the police. Long negotiations then ensued between the driver and some none-too-happy looking traffic policemen. It seemed that the driver owed 1,000 yuan (US$ 125) in unpaid fines. After a while, the ticket seller, who had gone off, reappeared with the necessary cash, and at 10:45 a.m. we were finally, actually on our way to Sōngtáo.
At 1 p.m. we reached the township of Wūluó (乌罗镇), just across the county border, whereupon our driver stopped and negotiated with the driver of another bus to take us the rest of the way. He obviously didn't consider it worth continuing himself, with so few passengers.
In our new, more cramped but drier bus (the first one had been leaking like a sieve), we reached the turnoff south to Pǔjué Township (普觉镇), at a village called Gànchuàn (干串), at 3:10 p.m. Within 60 seconds of disembarking, a Pǔjué bus appeared, and we continued our journey.
The road to Pǔjué was very good. It wound its way along a broad valley between fields of rice, corn and other crops. The road passed within one kilometre of the confluence, however we continued the short distance on to Pǔjué, arriving at 3:45 p.m., and found ourselves a basic but clean guesthouse right next to the river. The confluence was 2.58 kilometres NE.
We went for a stroll along the town's main street, much to the amusement of the children who had just finished school, then had a hair-wash followed by dinner. It hadn't stopped raining since morning. We hoped for better weather the following day.
Tuesday 13 June 2006 (Day 14)
We set off on foot from Pǔjué at 7:45 a.m., after having a bowl of húntun (dumpling soup) each for breakfast. It was raining lightly. We walked back up the main road, under the new railway line, and past the relatively new looking Pǔjué Secondary School (普觉中学). At 8:15 a.m. we reached a valley, from where the confluence was 1.18 kilometres due east.
Leaving the road, we made our way up the valley along a path between fields of rice and corn. We reached the end of the valley with 750 metres still to go, just as it started raining more heavily. From this point we started climbing, and at 8:45 a.m., with the confluence 535 metres due east, came upon what we assumed to be the village Ray mentioned in his report, although when we asked a resident, he gave us a slightly different name: Tiānkuàngpō (天圹坡). It did have a collection of old graves though.
The residents pointed us in the direction of a nice wide path leading up to the confluence mountain. This gave us a good view of Tiānkuàngpō from above. The path climbed up through many disused fields, leading us to surmise that a fair number of people must have gone off to the cities to find work, and that those remaining were too few to tend to all the land.
At 9:45 a.m. we arrived at a point within 100 metres of our objective, which was on a peak well above us. We made several abortive attempts to find a trail up to the peak, before deciding to continue following the good trail we were on, in the hope that we would find a path up to the peak further on.
This didn't pan out quite as we'd anticipated. Although we made good vertical progress, we eventually found ourselves over 300 metres from our objective, and with no path along the mountain ridge as expected. Nevertheless, we left the trail and started heading along the ridge. The going was pretty easy at first, across grass and ferns. It seemed as though the area had recently been burnt out.
At 10:25 a.m. we reached the first of several peaks along the ridge, with the confluence now 290 metres NW. We had to cross several more peaks, some with great difficulty due to the lack of a path, before we finally made it to the confluence peak at 10:45 a.m. The elevation at the peak was 844 metres, and the confluence was just 27 metres NW. I decided to take the north-south-east-west photos from this peak, which would have provided spectacular all-round views had it not been for the rain and low-lying cloud.
We scrambled down the same rocks that Ray described in order to obtain a zero reading on the GPS. After that, we continued down the rocks until we eventually came upon a path, and from there it was a simple matter to get back to the main road. There was actually a very wide path from Tiānkuàngpō that emerged onto the main road just at the extreme left hand side of the valley from where we had started (as viewed from the road).
Story continues at 27°N 109°E.