24-Jul-2003 -- Continued from 29°N 116°E.
Thursday 24 July 2003 – For my next Jiangxi confluence attempt, I set my sights on the second closest, 74.4 kilometres south of Nanchang. I set out from the hotel at 7 a.m., allowing me plenty of time to catch the 7:30 a.m. bus to Fengcheng. Although the distance was not great, and the terrain exceptionally flat, it took almost two hours, because this was one of those notorious "trawler" buses that cruise up and down the city streets at an excruciatingly slow speed, trying to collect as many passengers as possible before actually heading off for the intended destination.
The confluence was still a further 29.7 kilometres southeast of Fengcheng. I took a minivan across town to the south bus station, where I was able to catch a bus departing at 9:30 a.m. for Xiushi. Arriving in Xiushi at 10:05 a.m., with the confluence now 7.08 kilometres due east, I jumped straight onto yet another very crowded bus, which travelled down an unsealed road to the east-southeast. There was nowhere for me to sit, so with the bus bouncing all over the place, I had to try and remain balanced while at the same time holding my GPS, periodically reaching over someone's head to stick it out the window to pick up a fresh reading. I finally disembarked at 10:30 a.m., shortly after we passed through the town of Xinjie, when the confluence was at its closest point to the road, 2.32 kilometres to the northeast.
I found myself faced with a plantation of pine trees from which the sap was being collected. Later that day, I quizzed several locals about what the pine sap was actually used for, but surprisingly they did not know. All they could tell me was that the plantation owners were from neighbouring Zhejiang Province, and that they used the sap to make pine oil. But no one seemed to know the ultimate purpose of the pine oil.
At first, it was relatively easy to make my way through the pine trees, following trails made by the sap collectors. But eventually the trees started to thin out, the trails vanished, and the intervening spaces were filled with nasty thorn bushes. With a comparatively low approximate altitude indicated on the DCP Web site, I had expected this confluence to be another walk in the park, similar to the one the day before, and had therefore dressed inappropriately for the conditions I was now facing. Wearing just shorts and sandals, my poor legs soon began bearing the brunt of the nasty thorn bushes, with bloody scratches compounding the previous day's sunburn.
Eventually I reached a hilltop, with the confluence down a steep slope on the opposite side. There was no path, and the only way down was to scramble through yet more thorn bushes, mixed with ferns and trees. I suffered many more scratches in the process, but was finally rewarded with a perfect reading at 12:30 p.m. Views to the north, south, east and west give a very good indication of the vegetation I had to fight my way through. I recorded an elevation of 46 metres, and my GPS was providing an accuracy of 9 metres.
The really ironic thing was that, just a dozen metres further down the hillside, I emerged onto a large, flat, cultivated valley, with power lines running down the middle of it. My two hours of hard slog through the forest had been entirely unnecessary!
I followed the valley north for one kilometre to the village of Xintian, which was not shown on any of my maps, but was obviously the preferred approach for this confluence. The residents of Xintian were a pretty jovial lot, quite surprised to have a foreigner suddenly appear out of nowhere. I enquired about any transport options, but there were none, so I headed off on foot down the dirt road that they told me would take me back towards Xinjie.
After walking part of the way, I was lucky enough to get a lift from a passing motorcyclist. I arrived in Xinjie at 1:50 p.m., where I tucked into a bowl of noodles before going to the main street to wait for the next bus back to Xiushi. At 3 p.m. a bus came along that went all the way to Fengcheng, so I didn't have to stop and change at Xiushi after all.
In Fengcheng, after taking another minivan back across town to north bus station, I boarded a bus due to depart for Nanchang at 4:30 p.m. It was still early, with some 25 minutes before departure, and the bus was filled with many women employees of the bus station, who had come to avail themselves of a brief spell of air-conditioning, escaping from the intolerable heat of the day.
Upon arrival back in Nanchang following a very good journey during which I kept falling asleep, I bought the necessary bus ticket for my trip the following day, returned to the hotel for a shower, then went out for dinner, followed by visits to the Internet bar and the hairdresser. Before retiring for the night, I prepared what I thought I'd need for the coming mini-trip, in which I planned to take in two confluences to the northwest of Nanchang. I selected what to put in my backpack based on a trip I expected would last two or three days at most, and put the rest of my belongings into one of those plastic red, white and blue zip-up bags, the type used by peasants all over Asia, which I would leave at the hotel.
Story continues at 29°N 114°E.