19-Jul-2003 -- This is the first confluence of two that Targ Parsons and myself are doing together. Targ is a venerable China Confluence King with the majority of China confluences visited by him. On this trip, he is on an 18-confluence hunt and I was fortunate to be able to join him for the first two in Chongqing not far (relatively speaking) from my home in Chengdu. This confluence hunt is dedicated to my lovely wife, Xiaorong Cao.
After months of preparation, with on and off dates, and on and off members, Targ and I finally worked out a doable plan. Richard Jones, the third of the terrible trio from our six-confluence hunt along the Yangtze River was on and off on whether or not he could make it, but at the last moment, got some TV camera work and had to bail out.
On Friday, July 18 at 4 PM, I worked a full day in Chengdu, then hopped in a taxi for the Wuguiqiao Bus Station that provides express buses to Chongqing, in theory that is. The toll road between Chengdu and Chongqing, when it opened in the mid-1990’s, cut the travel time from eight to three and a half hours. However, the road construction was seriously compromised in large-scale graft and corruption resulting in a barely useable facility. Today it took six hours to get to Chongqing on this heavily used roadway. Disabled vehicles dotted the roadside every 500 meters or so, and the lanes and shoulders are minimal. The speed limit was also dropped from 120 to 100 kph. Targ flew to Chongqing in the afternoon and spent the time before I arrived scouting out transportation options to Qijiang, 30 km distance from our first objective: 29N 107E.
To ease coordination issues, I purchased a mobile telephone number that could be used country-wide with very favorable rates. Targ called me at 6 PM and I gave him an ETA of 9 PM based on what the bus hostess told me and he found a train that would get us into Qijiang about 11 PM. However, it soon became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to make it. The ten-minute rest stop stretched into 20 minutes while the driver leisurely ate his meal, and the construction detours and poor road conditions slowed our progress. There was
also a SARS checkpoint on the way where everyone had to disembark at a toll station, walk through a modified tollgate where passengers had to stick their head through a hole. On the opposite wall was a large digital display of the temperature. Mine read 36.0.
On the way, a young woman discovered that some of her belongings were stolen during the break. When we arrived at the outskirts of Chongqing, we stopped at the police checkpoint and waited while the three officers searched the back of the bus for her belongings. Some of the passengers became very impatient and demanded that we continue on. Apparently she got her stuff back anonymously, but she was afraid of repercussions and pretended to get off the bus at the first Chongqing stop, but then got back on at the last moment to the second stop.
While I was slowly making my way to Chongqing, Targ was relaxing in the frigid Hilton lounge not far from the railway station to escape the oppressive heat and humidity. To get there, he had to pay to take the longest escalator he had ever been on (seemed like a kilometer). During one of his calls, a windstorm blew up and sent dust, debris and even sidewalk booksellers’ books flying through the air.
At 10:20 PM, I met Targ at the waiting corral to the 5613 train to Qijiang. Entering the train station was another SARS checkpoint with form filling and temperature taking. The rest of the passengers had already left to get on the train that was due to depart at 11:05 PM. During the two-hour trip, Targ told me about his adventures on his last trip that alone where worth the trip to Chongqing.
Arriving in Qijiang at 1:05 AM, we were dropped on the station platform a long way from town. The train station had a few bedbug specials for next to nothing, but I thought I would rather have something a bit more comfortable. Targ suggested we ask for the best hotel and the noodle seller told us to go to the Chongqing Brightway Grand Hotel. Getting there was the next issue. As we descended the dark stairs down to the road, the last taxi took off. We could see taxis cruising back and forth on a bridge across the river, but nothing down our way. We started walking it and about 15 minutes later a taxi came by.
This hotel was orders of magnitude better than the options at the train station with entertaining Chinglish signs in the elevator, and we were able to get a reasonable rate, though not as good as I had hoped.
We woke up to the horns and light at about 7 AM after a short, but restful sleep. We were both excited to be on the hunt again, and went down to suss out breakfast. Our discount rate precluded us from the hotel breakfast, so we went outside for a bowl of noodles. The free market was in full swing, and we stopped at a likely looking place. It provided ample opportunity for market photos, including a woman commandeering an enormous steel coal-fired oven. We were trying to guess the contents of this throughout our meal, when finally, her first customers arrived and purchased a freshly baked duck.
There was a light rain, and I thought I’d better pick up an umbrella just in case it decided to last all day. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a bright red one available like last time, but I picked up a big tan plaid one that could double as a cane. The previous week, I was playing football (soccer) when I suddenly I heard a loud “crack” sound from my right leg. I hobbled off the field, and others thought it might be a tendon. Five days latter it was still very tender, and I was still hobbling around when I walked, so an umbrella/cane seemed like a good idea.
We checked out of the hotel, leaving our luggage there so we wouldn’t have to lug them around with us. This turned out to be a very good decision. The bus station was a short walk from the hotel and we arrived at 9:10 AM and bought tickets for the next bus to Wansheng, about 30 km away. The bus was empty when we boarded, always a bad sign in China. I asked the conductress how long it took to get to Wansheng. She held up two fingers and I optimistically guessed, “20 minutes?” She said, “No, two hours.” Well, I thought, it is better than two days.
We spend the first half hour driving around town trolling for passengers, and then leisurely moseyed down the road, just keeping ahead of the next bus going to the same destination. Targ suggested it would be a lot more efficient if they all agreed to drive to the destination without the waiting, but I said that then it wouldn’t be China.
In Wansheng we transferred to another bus going to Nanchuan and passing through
Conglinguo the closest town to the confluence, which was six kilometers away, as the crow flies. The driver told us which road to go up. It was 12:30 PM and I bought some snacks to munch on along the way. My leg was feeling a bit sore so I wasn’t sure I wanted to walk the entire way. We asked a motorcyclist how much to take us to the next village. He looked us up and down for a while and then answered something very unreasonable. We started walking instead. About 15 minutes we were startled to see a taxi and we flagged it down. The woman driver was on her way to pick up some people going to Chongqing, but could take up us the road a bit. She got us to within four kilometers when she had to abandon
us. We started walking again and soon found the road was blocked to all but motorcycles by boulders that were recently dynamited: the air was strong with the smell of gunpowder.
Further on we hired a motorcycle to take us another two kilometers dropping us off at a dam/reservoir. It was raining and Targ thought it was better to walk. At this point we were 2.5 km straight-line distance from the confluence point. We walked along the dirt/mud road with our shoes getting gummed up with the clay from the soil. I wore sandals while Targ wore hiking boots. When we came to a puddle, I would wade through it cooling and cleaning my feet and legs.
We were slowly getting closer to confluence point and we kept trying to guess where it might be amongst the hills. At 1,000 meters, we came to a fork with the minor trail leading toward the confluence and the arrow pointing to a steep saddle, while the main road lead away from the point but with a hint that it might go around the hill. Targ wisely suggested sticking to the main road. We still had about 250 meters in elevation to gain and a straight-line kilometer can be a very long way away.
At 3:30 PM, Targ decided it was time to get something to drink, so he went up to a farmhouse braving the barking dogs. The owners were a farm couple who didn’t know quite what to do with us. They invited us to sit on a bench and then handed me a huge mug of cold tea with thick layer of scum on the top. I tried to blow the scum to one side, drank a bit and then handed it to Targ. He was also repulsed, but said we had to drink something. After a bit, we left, and continued up the road where it ended at a coal mine. The miners were inside a hut drinking and gambling but came out when we arrived. They kept asking where were we going, and we told them to see nature. Outside the entrance to the mine was a huge sign indicating “No Drinking.” The miners followed us past the mine and saw us off on the right trail.
At this point, there was only a small footpath leading up the hill to a few houses. The confluence point appeared to lie beyond the saddle between the hills. When we arrived near the top, we were surprised to find another road that ended at an even larger coal mine. This road showed significant promise as it appeared to go in the right direction. The rain continued on and off again, so that we were constantly opening or closing our umbrellas.
At long last we crested the saddle and were closing in on the confluence. At about 100 meters away, we could see a concrete post-making area that appeared to be where the confluence was located. In reality, it was about 10 meters away, and at 4:30 PM we were able to get the “perfect reading,” all zeros after the degrees at an elevation of 10?? meters. Details noted and photos taken, Targ promptly said, “Now let’s see, its 147 km to our next confluence, 30N 106E.
On the way back from the confluence to our hotel in Qijiang, the rain began to come down much harder and we asked everyone we saw if there was any transport to Conglingou where we hoped to catch a bus. A young father said he had a friend who could take us. We agreed to a high price, but given that we were tired and wet, we didn’t feel like arguing. The return route went down a different road that was in much better condition and straight forward than the way we came.
Getting back to Conglingou we had a wonderful dinner, and then caught a bus to
Wansheng. In this town, there were no more buses back to Qijiang, so we hired a taxi for the hour and a half trip.
I christened this the Concrete Post Factory/Coal Mine Confluence.
Here are the gory visit details, courtesy of Targ:
Coordinates: 29N 107E
Date of visit: 19 July 2003
Time of visit: 4:10 p.m.
Altitude: 1,005 metres
Distance from confluence: 0 metres
GPS accuracy: 8 metres
DCP aggregate accuracy: 8 metres
The story continues at