18-Jun-2006 -- Story continues from 26°N 109°E.
We got back to the village of Kēngdòng (坑洞) at 12:40 p.m., harbouring hopes of getting back to Shuāngjiāng (双江乡) in time to catch the 2 p.m. bus south to Cóngjiāng County (从江县), thus avoiding any backtracking on our way to the next confluence.
I asked some people playing mah-jong if there were a motorcyclist that could take us back to Shuāngjiāng, but ended up with a three-wheeler, the driver of which prepared to take us only as far as the intersection with the main road, because his vehicle wasn't registered. During the 15 minutes it took to negotiate this ride, Ah Feng had attracted a huge crowd of curious children.
We set off in the three-wheeler at 12:55 p.m. On the way, we waited patiently as the driver stopped to make on-the-spot repairs. It was already 1:15 p.m. when we reached the main road. A vehicle of any sort, on its way to Shuāngjiāng, seemed our only hope of making the Cóngjiāng bus in time. Alas, there was none.
Ah Feng was still optimistic, so we started walking, with her taking the lead, and soon she disappeared into the distance. When I finally arrived back in Shuāngjiāng at 2:50 p.m., about half an hour after Ah Feng, she gave me the news that it had all been in vain: the bus to Cóngjiāng wasn't running today because the road was out!
The last bus NE to the county capital Lípíng (黎平县) had long since departed, so we had no alternative but to stay another night in Shuāngjiāng. Shuāngjiāng wasn't a bad place though, probably the most interesting we'd been to on our whole trip so far. We did a bit of laundry, then went off in search of a late lunch, which ended up being very delicious rice noodles in fiery hot soup.
Saturday 17 June 2006 (Day 18)
We set the alarm for 5:30 a.m., and at 6 a.m. I went and secured our seats on the 6:30 a.m. bus to Lípíng. For the second day running I had to wake up the owner of the guesthouse to let me out.
Within the first few kilometres of the journey, the bus rapidly filled up to over-capacity with people and goods. A little further along, as the bus bounced along the dirt road, Ah Feng and I were showered with peanuts when an enormous sack in the overhead luggage rack above us suddenly burst open, much to the amusement of all the passengers, except of course the peanut owners.
At 7:50 a.m., just as it started to rain, the bus ground to a halt with what turned out to be a fuel supply problem. Many of the passengers had to disembark, and much of the goods and luggage had to be removed, in order to allow the driver and ticket seller access to the engine to effect repairs. Although the problem was quickly rectified, it turned out to be a recurring problem, and the whole process of disembarkation, unloading, repairing, reloading and re-embarkation needed to be repeated no less than eight more times before we finally limped into Lípíng at 9:45 a.m.
We transferred to a bus leaving at 10 a.m. for the long journey WNW to the prefecture capital Kǎilǐ (凯里市) via Róngjiāng County (榕江县). Before the bus departed, Ah Feng went off to buy an early lunch, and reappeared with two boxed meals and some bananas. We had fun trying to eat the boxed meals while being flung from side to side as the bus negotiated a seemingly never-ending series of hairpin turns.
There were only eight other passengers on the large bus, but half of them were spewers, and we had to contend with the sound of them repeatedly bringing up their breakfasts one after the other. The ticket seller was kept busy handing out plastic bags for this purpose.
We travelled through some exceptionally beautiful countryside in brilliant sunshine: terraced rice paddies stretching as far as the eye could see, from the tops of the highest mountains all the way to the valleys below, on such a scale that it was difficult to fathom.
We arrived in Kǎilǐ at 5:20 p.m., and took a taxi across town to another bus station, from where buses to Huángpíng County (黄平县) departed, arriving just in time to catch the final bus of the day, which departed at 5:30 p.m. The Huángpíng bus slowly trawled for passengers for a couple of blocks, then just stopped completely, and waited until we had almost a full complement of passengers. We got underway again at 6:20 p.m., only to pull a u-turn and go back to get some more passengers! More than an hour after the original departure time, we actually left.
For the first half hour of the journey, the road was absolutely dreadful, destroyed by an unending procession of trucks carrying coal, sand, rocks, etc. We arrived in Huángpíng at 8:30 p.m., by which time it was already dark, and checked into the Fēngfēng Hotel (丰丰宾馆) across the street from the bus station. This was supposedly Huángpíng's finest hotel, but cost only 70 yuan (US$ 8.75) a night. We then went out for dinner, a very good hair wash, and the Internet bar for me.
The confluence was 15 kilometres NE of Huángpíng.
Sunday 18 June 2006 (Day 19)
We set the alarm for 6 a.m. At 6:30 a.m. I went and secured our seats on the 7:30 a.m. bus ENE to Zhènyuǎn County (镇远县), which would pass through the village of Xīnqiáo (新桥), 4.5 kilometres SE of the confluence, in neighbouring Shībǐng County (施秉县). We checked out of the hotel at 7 a.m., leaving our luggage with reception. By 7:10 a.m. our bus was already full, so we departed then. Thirty-five minutes later we reached Xīnqiáo, and got off.
This is the second confluence on the "Rainer Line". A few days before, when we'd visited the first confluence on the Rainer Line, at 27°N 109°E, we were able to follow Rainer's directions and easily find our way to the confluence. This time however, Rainer seemed to have let us down. In his report he had mentioned a turnoff to the confluence "just one km westwards of the village Xīnqiáo". We scoured the road west of Xīnqiáo, but could not find any turnoff.
According to my maps, the confluence was located right at the village of Xīnxī (新溪), so we asked the locals how to get to Xīnxī. Blank stares. Then I remembered Rainer had called the confluence village Gānxī (甘溪), so we asked the way to Gānxī. Result! Rainer had redeemed himself.
It turned out the turnoff was one kilometre east of Xīnqiáo. We set off on foot down this side road at 8:15 a.m. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the birds were singing. The road wound its way among fields of rice, tobacco, corn, etc. We passed through a quiet little village when the confluence was still three kilometres NW. At 9 a.m., with the confluence 2.07 kilometres NW, we came to the second turnoff Rainer had mentioned. It was now a good, wide dirt road that Rainer would have had no trouble cycling down.
With the confluence 1.75 kilometres NW, we came upon a very pretty valley with rice paddies end to end, and a few houses nestled in front of a hill at the far end. The confluence was directly behind the hill.
When we arrived in Gānxī, we were greeted by a local, and during the course of the conversation, we established that the village had indeed once been called Xīnxī (meaning "new stream"), but had since been renamed Gānxī ("dry stream"). It seems the stream had not lasted long!
We continued along the road past a row of old wooden houses on our right. The confluence was 60 metres up a densely forested hillside behind this row of houses. Ah Feng waited in the village while I looked for a way up to the confluence. There were several trails to follow, and it wasn't long before I found myself at the point, which was located right on the crest of the hill, on a good wide path. I took the usual photos facing north, south, east and west.
I was a bit bewildered by the elevation reading on my GPS though: 500 metres. The DCP gives the approximate altitude of this confluence as 850 metres. I was on the crest of a hill, and there was nothing higher for quite some distance around. I had good satellite reception, with accuracy of nine metres. Yet Rainer had recorded an elevation of 773 metres without even climbing the hill. Strange...
I followed the good path along the crest of the hill and back down to the village. It emerged at a point where the confluence was 170 metres WNW. I found Ah Feng waiting for me at the row of houses immediately below the confluence, and we set off from Gānxī at 10:15 a.m., managing to scrounge a lift on the back of the motorbike belonging to the same local who had confirmed the village's name change. He took us as far as the two-kilometre turnoff, and from there we scrounged another lift the rest of the way back to Xīnqiáo on the very dirty, greasy back of a tractor truck.
Story continues at 27°N 107°E.