30-Jun-2012 -- A year has gone by since my last confluence trip, and I’m starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms. It’s time for another fix.
My wife, Ah Feng, has given me the perfect birthday present: permission to go off on my own for a fortnight’s confluencing. My sister-in-law will help Ah Feng look after our one-year-old son in my absence. I’m going to miss him terribly. Maybe next time he will be old enough to come along, and bag his first confluence point.
A perusal of the Chinese map suggests Shānxī Province (山西省), with its 14 points—two of them unvisited—is a good candidate for a two-week trip. And as a bonus, completing these 14 will join up the six red dots I scored in Inner Mongolia (内蒙古) last year with the rest of my Chinese red dots.
As usual, I confer with my good confluencing buddy Peter, who, after consulting with his wife, confirms that he has the all-clear to join me for a few days at the commencement of my journey. We agree to meet up in Shanxi’s capital Tàiyuán (太原市) on Friday, 29 June 2012.
During one of our pre-trip Skype exchanges, Peter exclaims: “I love virgins!” So, to satisfy his fondness for the chaste, I plan an itinerary that will include the two unvisited points within the short time he has available.
Just as he did in Inner Mongolia last year, Peter, who has a Chinese drivers licence, will rent a car, and we’ll split the costs. With our own wheels, reaching our objectives should be a piece of cake.
As I prepare to leave my home on Lamma Island in Hong Kong on the afternoon of Friday 29 June 2012, tropical cyclone Doksuri is approaching, and the tropical cyclone stand-by signal no. 1 has been hoisted. I hope that my flight will be able to get away before the cyclone arrives and shuts everything down.
I check in for my Shēnzhèn (深圳市)-to-Tàiyuán flight in downtown Hong Kong, then board the cross-border bus to the Shēnzhèn airport. There are many police in evidence all around Hong Kong. This is because Chinese president Hú Jǐntāo (胡锦涛) is due in town later today, for the fifteenth anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China on 1 July. The tropical cyclone strong winds signal no. 3 has now been hoisted.
Due to a traffic jam along the way, I arrive at the Shēnzhèn airport much later than expected, and rush to hand in my bag before the 40-minute cut-off prior to departure. However the girl on the counter tells me there’s no panic: my flight has been delayed. I ring Peter, who has already arrived in Tàiyuán to organise our rental car and accommodation for tonight, to let him know.
My flight finally leaves Shēnzhèn almost two hours late. During a 20-minute stopover in Wǔhàn (武汉市), I ring Peter again to keep him appraised of my progress. He has vowed to pick me up from the Tàiyuán airport, no matter when I arrive.
I use Wǔhàn airport’s free Wi-Fi to check the news, and learn that typhoon signal no. 8 (gale or storm force winds) has now been hoisted in Hong Kong. That means the city has gone into lock-down mode, with nothing running.
At 1:30 am my plane finally lands in Tàiyuán, and Peter is waiting for me as promised. We drive to the nearby budget hotel where he has rented a room. It is not much to write home about, but it has two beds, which is about all we need at the moment. We are soon fast asleep.
Despite very little sleep, we wake at 6 am. Daylight starts early this far north. Taking advantage of the hotel broadband connection, Peter attends to some business using his laptop, then we head out on the freeway, west towards Lǚliáng Prefecture (吕梁市), also known as Líshí (离石市). The air pollution is woeful! It’s like driving through pea soup fog.
At 10 am we head south from Lǚliáng on national route G209. There is no more freeway now. We pass first through Zhōngyáng County (中阳县), then Jiāokǒu County (交口县), arriving at Shíkǒu Township (石口乡) at 11:30 am, where we stop for lunch.
Shíkǒu is where we turn off route G209, west towards Luócūn Town (罗村镇). At Luócūn, we turn northeast on county route X458. Along the way, we spot an old abandoned home carved out of the side of a cliff - a typical Shānxī architectural style - and stop for a closer inspection.
When the confluence is 840 m northeast, we turn right onto a dirt road, and follow it until we reach another turn-off to a yet smaller dirt track, the confluence now 600 m northwest. We park the car here, and walk up the dirt track towards the confluence. There are some cornfields near the commencement of this track. We see many butterflies, other insects, and tiny frogs along the way.
The confluence lies about 80 m from the track, but is impossible to reach due to the precipitous terrain. Peter captures the closest reading with his GPS: 16.5 m. We take the customary north-south-east-west photos to document the spot. With this, the first of the two remaining unvisited Shānxī confluences has now been officially visited.
As we depart the point, we encounter a cowherd tending his 16 head of cattle, and engage him in brief conversation before heading back to the car.
Story continues at 36°N 111°E.