23-Jun-2006 -- Story continues from 27°N 104°E.
It was still raining when we got back to the main road at 7:55 a.m. Thirty-five minutes later, the rain had stopped, and we arrived back in Guānfēnghǎi (观风海镇) just as the same bus we'd taken the previous afternoon was approaching from Yúnnán Province (云南省) on its way ESE back to the county capital of Wēiníng (威宁县). Ah Feng waited by the roadside to ensure it stopped while I went upstairs into the guesthouse to collect our stuff.
The bus actually stopped in Guānfēnghǎi for 10 minutes, giving us time to change our shoes and rearrange our luggage. In contrast to the previous day, the bus was largely empty, the long bench that had been in the aisle was gone, and there was a different driver.
We rang Lǐ Qíjīn (李其金), our friend from the night before, thanked him for all his help, and let him know we'd successfully found the confluence point.
At 9 a.m., our bus came upon an overturned truck that had been carrying bricks, the truck and its load now completely blocking the road. In true modern Chinese entrepreneurial style, a group of men had made a makeshift track around the obstruction, and attempted to extort 10 yuan (US$ 1.25) from our driver for the privilege of passing. Our driver ended up giving them 5 yuan (US$ 0.65).
We arrived in Wēiníng at 9:55 a.m. without any further dramas, and transferred straight onto a Shuǐchéng (水城县) bus. It left at 10 a.m., giving Ah Feng just enough time to buy a packet of biscuits. I was glad we didn't have to go into the station and risk dealing with the old frump again.
It was all very confusing. We wanted to go SE to the neighbouring prefecture capital of Liùpánshuǐ (六盘水), and therefore thought we'd have to get off the bus before it reached its final destination of Shuǐchéng. But as it turned out, Liùpánshuǐ was its final destination - everyone seemed to consider Shuǐchéng and Liùpánshuǐ to be one and the same place, even though Shuǐchéng showed as being a separate county on my maps.
During the early part of the trip, the fog really set in, and our driver had to drive very slowly due to the severely limited visibility. Later it cleared up, and we saw some nice scenery. We got to Liùpánshuǐ at 12:30 p.m. Following yet more confusion about place names, we found ourselves on a very nice, big bus heading SW towards Ānshùn (安顺), which departed at 1 p.m. We had tickets as far as Huángguǒshù (黄果树镇).
Ah Feng had bought box lunches, which ended up coming in five separate containers, and proved a real handful trying to balance on our laps in the tight confines of the moving bus. There were only five passengers on the entire bus, including us, so after we'd finished the lunch ordeal, Ah Feng went and lay down across the back row and fell asleep.
We travelled down a single-lane freeway. The fog had now completely lifted. The freeway cut through some pretty mountainous terrain, which despite the steep slopes, was almost completely cultivated. The driver proceeded very sedately, sticking strictly to the 70 km/h speed limit for large vehicles.
At 3:15 p.m. we were dumped on the side of the freeway in the hot sun, a couple of kilometres from Huángguǒshù. Ten minutes later we caught a passing bus SW to the county capital of Guānlǐng (关岭县), arriving at 4 p.m. We then caught a three-wheeler the short distance to the bus station, only to learn that there were no more buses from Guānlǐng west to Pǔ'ān County (普安县) that day.
So we walked back down to the main road, and following a long wait of nearly an hour, a bus heading west to the neighbouring county of Qínglóng (晴隆县) came by. We elected to catch this bus because it at least kept us moving in the correct direction, even though it would leave us still 50 kilometres short of Pǔ'ān. It was a nice, new, clean bus, and we hoped hotels in Qínglóng would be of similar quality, should we have to stay there the night.
Shortly before we reached Qínglóng, it began raining. We arrived at 7:10 p.m., and, together with several of our fellow passengers who also wanted to go to Pǔ'ān, immediately hired a waiting minivan to take us there. As it grew dark, the road became fogbound, and it turned into a hair-raising journey along the winding mountain road. Our driver seemed to have very poor night vision, and several times swerved to avoid obstacles in the road only at the very last moment.
The minivan dropped us off at a relatively nice hotel (compared to the guesthouses of the previous two nights), and we had our first showers in three days. We also took the opportunity to do some laundry.
Later on I went out to an Internet bar, getting back after midnight. I had to rouse the nightwatchman, who in turn had to wake up the receptionist, so she could unlock the hotel's front door and let me back in.
Friday 23 June 2006 (Day 24)
We woke up at 6 a.m. without the aid of the alarm, checked out at 7:15 a.m., and took a three-wheeler to the bus station, where we had time for breakfast before the 8 a.m. departure of the bus north to the township of Lóngyín (龙吟镇).
Unfortunately, the public transport department had chosen this morning to conduct an inspection, which meant we had to wait and wait. Finally a couple of inspectors came on board and noted how the bus wasn't as clean as it should be, and lectured the ticket seller on not smoking and keeping up appearances. (The driver was nowhere in sight.) The inspectors complained about the dirty floor - it had rained the day before, so it was muddy - and said that the seat covers needed changing. These transgressions seemed sufficient to fill up their report card, and they moved on to the next bus.
Even then, we didn't depart. Ah Feng and I were the only two passengers, so we had to wait for some more. Eventually another showed up, then one more a while later. It started raining lightly. The ticket seller wandered off, hopefully to get the driver. Another passenger arrived, and we were now five. The ticket seller came back, but we still had no driver. The ticket seller started making calls on his mobile phone. Finally, at 8:45 a.m., the driver arrived, and we set off with a total of six passengers. A period of totally unproductive trawling ensued, followed by a petrol stop, another trawl around town and back past the bus station (one more passenger), before we finally left Pǔ'ān at 9:10 a.m.
By now it had stopped raining, but it was still very misty and overcast. The road zigzagged up and down mostly cultivated hills as we headed north. Corn was the predominant crop. At 10:05 a.m., the driver stopped in a town and got out at what was presumably his home, and the ticket seller took over the driving. We learned that the ticket seller was not a local, but from Ānhuī Province (安徽省).
We disembarked at 10:45 a.m., with the confluence 450 metres east. There was a white tiled house here, and an extremely muddy track. We started up this muddy track, and almost immediately came upon a couple of farmhouses on our left. I went to ask if there was a better path, and was almost mauled by two territorial dogs, saved only by the owner, who told us that the muddy track was it.
We continued up, past some rice paddies and a grave, crossed a hill through some woods, and emerged on the other side amid fields of corn, tea, and the odd rice paddy. It was a pretty simple task of proceeding down the other side of the hill until we were at the confluence point, located on a narrow strip of land separating two hillside cornfields, and covered by large rocks and a few tea bushes.
Satellite reception was fantastic: 12 satellites, the first time I remember having had the full complement. We took the customary north-south-east-west facing photographs, then headed back the way we'd come, passing a peasant and his water buffalo en route.
We got back to the main road at 11:45 a.m., and called the ticket seller cum driver to let him know we'd be waiting for him at the same place he'd dropped us off. While we waited, the owner of the nearby farmhouse, who had earlier saved me from the vicious dogs, came by shouldering some rice plants ready for replanting.
Story continues at 25°N 105°E.