28-Jan-2003 -- Prologue
This is the second of a series of six Confluence Points (beginning with 31°N 111°E) visited by Targ Parsons, Richard Jones and Peter
Snow Cao (scribe) between January 26 and February 2 during Spring Festival 2003. We wished
to make this journey to document the confluences before the filling of the Three Gorges
Dam Project, due to begin in mid-2003.
Impetus: Targ had read the book, River
Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler, several months before and decided
he would see the area after while attempting to visit several confluences. This book
describes the life of an English teacher living in Fuling, Sichuan in the late 90’s.
Dedication: In honor of my charming wife, Xiaorong, for her patience and
understanding, support and unending love, I have dedicated these stories to her.
Confluence Hunting - January 27, 2003
After a successful visit of 31°N 111°E, the three of us, Targ Parsons, Richard Jones and myself, Peter Snow Cao returned to
hotel to grab our bags and head off in search of our second on this six-confluence point
(CP) trip over Chinese New Year in 2003. Luck was on our side this time as we arrived back
in town just as a bus was leaving for Yichang. We needed to return the way we came in
order to head up the Yangtze River to our next objective, 31°N 110°E. The bus trip this time revealed a vastly different
environment as the fog from the previous day had lifted and the hills and mountains could
be clearly seen.
We seemed to be on a roll as the first bus dropped us off at the vehicle ferry where a
bus was waiting to board to cross the Yangtze just east (and downstream) of the Three
Gorges Dam Project. This time we were headed to Zigui on the south side of the river and
got to see the other side of the dam project. A mianbao picked us up and took us
down to the matou (Chinese for dock) where the riverboats were stationed. We just
missed the fast boat by five minutes, so we had a four-hour wait before the next boat.
Targ was hell bent on getting 2nd class tickets in a private four-bed cabin so
we could relax a bit before the next phase of the journey. The plan was to take the boat
to either Badong or Wushan and then a smaller boat to Qingshi near the CP. The problem is
that the boat left at 8:45 PM and arrival times were 2 or 4 AM, depending on the location.
We got a late start on the boat to Badong at 10:30PM, so when we asked when we were
expected to arrive in Wushan, they said 7 or 8 AM. We opted to stop in Wushan instead.
Like most things in China, things rarely end up as expected. I woke up at 4 AM thinking
that we might be getting close to the CP, so I braved the cold breeze on deck to get a
reading on the GPS. I was surprised to find that we had already passed the CP by about 7
km. Not knowing what lay in store ahead, I took a night photo of the boat’s light on
the shore in case we couldn’t return in the morning. Ten minutes later, the crew was
rounding up everyone who was to disembark in Wushan, and I found my surprised, half-asleep
co-CP hunters frantically rounding up their gear to make a quick exit. I had been checking
the hot water in our bathroom all night long, and as we entered Wushan, it finally felt
warm; but it was too late for a shower.
January 28, 2003
Dumped on the shore of Wushan at 4:30 AM, we groped around for our next move. We wanted
to catch a boat downstream about 12 km to Qingshi as soon as possible. We questioned
people right and left, some said Dock #9, some said Dock #5, and dockhand who, using a
bamboo stick and some rope, carries goods to and from the boats, assured us it was at Dock
#2. He started to lead us the way along the shore, over and under dock cables, through
sewage streams and a small tent city to a dock at the east end of Wushan. When we got on
the dock, it was about 5 AM and totally deserted, a rare sight in China. There was a bench
there and we opted to move it out of the wind so we would be more comfortable. Targ paid
the man three yuan in new coins. Targ hates getting these coins since most of the
money is paper and tries to get rid of them whenever he can. The dockhand looked at them
very suspiciously, and asked us what currency this was. He appeared to only half believe
us when we told him it was Chinese RMB.
Next I went looking for more benches so we could stretch out a bit while we waited.
While wandering around the barge, I ran into a short and squat 50ish woman who looked like
she was rudely awakened, and in a rather foul mood. She asked what I was doing here and I
told her I was waiting for the boat to Qingshi. She then started yelling at me and
followed me back to where the others were. I told her that our dockhand said this was the
place to wait. She then launched into a tirade calling him all sorts of insults. Not long
after, her husband arrived looking even more pissed off and tried to take the bamboo pole
from the dockhand apparently so he could beat the crap out of him. I told Targ and Richard
that we should get the heck out of there ASAP and let them argue amongst themselves. A few
minutes later, our dockhand sheepishly caught up with us and tells us that we were at the
wrong dock and that our boat won’t leave until 10 AM. He showed us the correct dock
and then disappeared into the night.
At that point we opted to return to the area where we disembarked and sit down at one
of the all-night teahouses to try and catch some Z’s. By this point Targ was awake
and eager to get moving onto the confluence. The teahouse operator was a chatty guy who
spoke in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese as opposed to one of the many dialects) and the two
of them hit it off pretty well. Meanwhile Richard and I tried to sleep amidst the
soundtrack of an old Hong Kong gangster movie where almost everyone in Hong Kong gets
killed by gunfire two or three times over.
As dawn broke, Targ and Richard went for a walk while I tried without success to sleep.
Like our other encounters on this trip, the arrival of daylight totally changed our
perspective on the area. The town was in total chaos as it was demolished below the
141-meter elevation (Phase 2 of the Three Gorges Dam Project) and a new town was being
built above the 175-meter elevation (the final elevation of the water level when the dam
is completed). I branded this area the "Swath of Destruction." It was as if a
giant hand had swept through the lower bank annihilating everything above ground level.
Stubs of building walls outlined a ghostly past of an area thickly settled. The remains
lay strewn like confetti, but there was no one celebrating. Dust churned in the air as
vehicles plied the remaining streets and pedestrians covered their faces. War zone in
appearance, it left no doubt that China was going forward with this project.
At 9 AM we walked over to the correct dock and boarded the small barge that was
converted into a passenger boat. The hull was packed to the gills with people, and every
male was puffing madly on a cigarette. There was no way I was going down there. We opted
for a spot on top of the barge cover, but were forced back behind the boathouse for safety
reasons (so the captain could see where he was going). We left promptly at 10 AM and
thoughts of arriving in 20 or 30 minutes were coming to mind. After all, it was only 12 km
downstream to Qingshi. However, the boat made several intermediate stops where an already
very full boat was packed even further. One guy walked on board with a double-bed mattress
strapped to his back, followed by another with a refrigerator. Thoughts of the Titanic
came to mind and I wondered just exactly how many life vests there were onboard. From
where I was sitting, I could count ten.
As we moseyed down the Yangtze through Wuxia (the Wu Gorge), the steep slopes and high
mountains made our quest for a CP in this area look extremely foolish. It looked like it
was going to be recorded as an attempt after all. However, when we rounded the last bend
before Qingshi there was a glimmer of hope as the village was set on a picturesque slope.
Our maps indicated that the CP was at about elevation 650 meters and about two kilometers
south of the Yangtze. As we exited the boat we were encouraged by the presence of a bus. I
encouraged Richard and Targ to hurry so we could get on before the bus filled up. When we
got to it we all laughed out loud as it was a gutted shell that hadn’t moved in
Walking up the hill we passed what was becoming a common scene everywhere we went on
this trip of destroyed buildings close to the Yangtze, below the 175-meter mark, and new
construction above. We stumbled over the scattled remains on the way up the hill past a
giant billboard indicating the 141 meter mark. We checked into a simple guesthouse, asked
for lunch, and then made preparations to start immediately afterward. A quick
reconnaissance of the area, we saw two peaks nearby and a saddle that looked promising in
the direction of the CP.
The sun was shining and our spirits were high as we discussed the possible options for
finding the confluence. Targ said, in his experience it is nearly impossible to bushwhack
for very far at all and that we should take the main trail as far as we could. Distances
are very deceptive in this environment and we tried to guess how far it is to various
points along the mountain. What appeared to be clear was that our destination was beyond
the peaks and we didn’t know if there was a trail up that far or not.
Eager to hit the road, we made a few false starts forgetting important things like
water. Around 1 PM we hit the trail breathing hard and working up a sweat as we climbed
the path into the unknown. The vegetation of brambles and briars along the side had us
praying the trail would hold out. Targ said the setting of the approach of this confluence
was his most spectacular of his 40 some to date. It certainly eclipsed 31°N 111°E by a long shot. The climb up
the mountain was interspersed with short breaks where we would sit and gawk at the gorges
The trail was veering away from the CP, but since we were still more than a kilometer
away and with no other options than bushwhacking, we decided to continue on it. We passed
several residences and everyone asked us where are we going. We responded we are just
going for a walk in the hills. This area is well known in the hiking circles. When Targ
was doing research on this confluence, he ran across several references to it on the
After more than an hour of climbing, the trail turned promisingly to the left in the
direction of the confluence. We couldn't believe our luck as the lay of the land formed a
saddle in the direction of the CP. Neat rows of winter wheat and cabbage lay in the
fields. The warm sun and pleasant temperature meant that everyone was out wondering what
in the world these three foreigners could be doing in their village.
As we approached the last 200 meters, the locals warned us that the direction we were
headed was a dead end. We persisted onward in that single-minded way with the taste of
another confluence success on our lips. At 75 meters, the cultivated fields ended and we
were left to fight the briars and thorns. All three of us took off in different directions
search of our own CP. Fortunately the bush was not all that thick and by selection of a
careful route we could avoid the worst parts. We circled around trying to make each of our
GPS show all zeros after the degrees. At 2:20 PM on January 28, 2003 at elevation 707 m we
recorded the successful visit.
I christened this one the Spectacular Confluence Point.
Returning from the CP, we met a local woman farmer who invited us to her house for some
tea. She told us we were the first westerners to visit her village, something we found
hard to believe. We took some photos of her family, and then took a leisurely walk down
the mountain satisfied with another successful hunt.
When we arrived in Qingshi, three young Chinese guys were checking into our guesthouse
having walked along the Gorge from Badong for the past three days. This was the last year
this would be possible as the water was expected to start rising in May and would cover
the trail soon.
After a hearty dinner, we made plans for our next confluence, 31°N 109°E. It looks like it might take two days to get to
this one given the slow transportation options in this area. However, the dramatic scenery
of the Wu gorge and the Yangtze made it a splendid place to sit back and relax.