22-Jun-2006 -- Story continues from 27°N 105°E.
Wednesday 21 June 2006 (Day 22)
The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. The power was out. I had diarrhoea. The guesthouse owner appeared asking for more money on top of what we'd already paid "because I was a foreigner". That kind of mentality used to exist in China 15 years ago, but no longer. I gave him a lesson on treating all people as equals.
We left the guesthouse at 6:10 a.m., and waited by the locked bus. The ticket seller appeared within a few minutes, and we immediately secured our favourite seats at the front. It was the same bus in which we'd arrived in Gùkāi (故开乡) the previous afternoon.
We set off on the journey NE to the prefecture capital of Bìjié (毕节市) at 6:50 a.m. The road was completely enshrouded in cloud, and visibility was practically nil. As we crawled along at a suitably safe speed, we saw children on their way to school emerging from the mist on the sides of the road like so many ghosts.
The storm we were caught in during our confluence visit the previous evening must have been pretty severe and widespread, because there was plenty of crop damage and fallen trees all the way back to Bìjié.
We arrived in Bìjié at 9:20 a.m., and bought tickets on the 10:10 a.m. bus WSW to Wēiníng (威宁县), capital of Guìzhōu's most westerly county, and home to members of the Yí (彝族), Huí (回族) and Miáo (苗族) minority nationalities. Before the bus left, we had time for a leisurely breakfast, and to buy some fruit for the five-hour journey ahead.
On the way from Bìjié to Wēiníng, we passed through the county of Hèzhāng (赫章县), where there was an abundance of strange, hollow, conical objects made from clay, which seemed to have no specific purpose, however were used for everything imaginable, from fences to retaining walls to flowerpots to roof ornaments, even as supports for satellite dishes. All these mysterious cones were identical: about two and a half feet long, and six inches in diameter at the open end. When we stopped for lunch, I found a factory nearby that was making them, but couldn't understand the workers' explanation when I asked them what the cones were for. (If any reader happens to know, I'd be very interested to find out.)
As we continued on from Hèzhāng to Wēiníng, the road once again often climbed very high, and we were afforded spectacular panoramic views of the countryside for miles around.
We arrived in Wēiníng at 3:30 p.m. The ticket seller in the bus station, a fat old lady, said there were no buses WNW to Guānfēnghǎi (观风海镇), instructing us to go instead to the old bus station, which she said was to the left as she pointed right! We searched for ages for this mythical "old bus station", asking different people who all gave conflicting directions. Eventually we gave up and went back to the original bus station. The old frump still insisted there were no buses here, and that we had to go to the old bus station.
Exasperated, we went off wandering the same streets again, asking yet more people. To add to our woes, it had now started raining. Then we spotted a bus bound for Zhāotōng (昭通市), a prefecture capital in neighbouring Yúnnán Province (云南省), which we knew would pass by Guānfēnghǎi. This bus had just emerged from the original bus station! (The old frump had also categorically denied that there were any buses to Zhāotōng.)
We got on the bus and managed to get two seats together. The bus was relatively new. It did a fair bit of trawling for passengers - including returning to the original bus station twice - until the bus was absolutely cram packed and it was simply impossible to squeeze another person on. We finally set off at 4:35 p.m., but almost immediately stopped once again, this time for petrol. This is standard modus operandi for Chinese buses, so we were used to it.
A short distance out of town, twenty minutes after setting off, the bus was pulled over by the police. We waited a long time while one of the policemen wandered some distance away, engaged in a long conversation on his mobile phone, presumably with someone back at the station. At the same time all this was going on, a mother, sitting in an elevated position at the front of the bus and facing towards the rest of the passengers, casually lifted up her shirt and breastfed her baby in full view. The driver was eventually fined 100 yuan (US$ 12.65) for being overloaded, and at 5:15 p.m. we resumed our journey, still loaded to the gunnels. This is standard modus operandi for the way police deal with overloaded Chinese buses.
Ah Feng was understandably not enjoying this bus ride, coming at the end of a long day of travelling. When a box fell from the overhead rack and hit her in the head, she really had had enough. I was holding the GPS out the window, trying to get a reading in order to judge how much longer we'd have to endure this torture, when the man in the seat in front suddenly and without warning spewed out of his window, and I collected some of it. I'd had enough by this stage, too. Then the baby started screaming, with that high-pitched, ear-splitting wailing that only babies can muster.
At least the road was in good condition. The surrounding countryside was relatively flat, and given over almost exclusively to potato farming, with the odd patch of corn here and there. At 6:30 p.m. we arrived in the tiny town of Guānfēnghǎi. The nightmare was finally over. The confluence was 3.1 kilometres north.
Finding a place to stay was fun! We met a non-local who was only too happy to help out some other non-locals. It turned out he was from Yùlín (玉林) in Guǎngxī (广西), not far from Ah Feng's hometown in Téng County (藤县). The first guesthouse we went to said we had to sleep in separate rooms on account of local customs, but suggested we try another guesthouse on the other side of the road. That one had tiny boxes for rooms, but we could sleep together in one box for 30 yuan (US$ 3.80). We all felt this was way too much, so while Ah Feng waited there with our luggage, our new found friend and I went back across the road to look at another guesthouse. The rooms here were nice, and we were ready to negotiate the price when the proprietress realised it was for a man and a woman, and said that the two of us couldn't even stay in the same guesthouse!
So we went back to the first guesthouse. The rooms here were okay, and the proprietress was willing to let one of us stay in a single-bed box while the other stayed in the adjacent, very nice, spacious, four-bed room, complete with TV and armchairs. We then haggled over the price for a long time, the proprietress wanting 20 yuan (US$ 2.50), our friend insisting it should be 10 yuan (US$ 1.25), and me willing to pay 15 yuan (US$ 1.90).
In the end, we finally checked into this guesthouse for 15 yuan. The only toilet was the public toilet 100 metres down the road, next to the police station, which wasn't terribly convenient. And, as had been the case the previous night, there was of course nowhere to wash, so we had to remain dirty for another day.
We went out for a dinner consisting of lamb and noodles in soup. We wanted to shout our helpful friend, however he had already eaten, but he did sit with us while we ate. He told us his name was Lǐ Qíjīn (李其金), and he was full of surprises. When we explained the purpose of our visit, he went off and came back a short while later with an extremely detailed 1:10,000 contour map of the area. Although it didn't have latitude and longitude marked on it, by comparing it to our satellite image, we were soon able to determine the location of the confluence, and how to get to it. His map indicated that the confluence was situated just east of the Chánghǎizǐ railway tunnel (长海子隧道).
Thursday 22 June 2006 (Day 23)
The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. It had been raining overnight, and although it had now stopped, there was still the sound of thunder in the distance. We set off along the main road on foot at 6 a.m., just as it was becoming light. It was very misty.
At 6:40 a.m. we found the turnoff shown on our friend's map, with the confluence 1.64 kilometres NE. He had told us we would recognize this dirt road because it was flanked by the two tall concrete pillars. In fact, one of these pillars was now no more than a stump.
We followed the road north, passing by fields of potatoes and corn. When the confluence was roughly 850 metres east, we ignored a side track going off in the general direction of the confluence, and instead continued a little further north until we reached the railway line. It was now 7 a.m., and the confluence was 830 metres east.
It was much easier walking along the train tracks than on the muddy road. We removed the accumulated mud from our boots, making our feet considerably lighter. In 10 minutes we were at the Chánghǎizǐ railway tunnel, and the confluence was just under 100 metres to the SE. Ah Feng found a one máo note (US$ 0.01) on the tracks right in front of the tunnel.
We found the confluence point in the small meadow described by Rainer Mautz in his visit report. We had now successfully visited all the points on the legendary "Rainer Line", the series of six contiguous confluences stretching along the 27th parallel from the extreme east to the extreme west of Guìzhōu Province, which Rainer had visited by bicycle in October 2004.
The GPS registered an altitude of 2,229 metres, making it the highest confluence either of us had successfully visited. It was still very misty, and it started raining lightly as we were taking the north-south-east-west photos. We heard a train come by while we were at the confluence, however we didn't see it because it was completely hidden from view by the mist.
Story continues at 26°N 105°E.