28-Jul-2003 -- Continued from 29°N 114°E.
Sunday 27 July 2003 – I had it on good authority that the first bus going my way would not pass through Huanggang until "after 9 a.m.", but I decided not to take any chances, and checked out at 7 a.m. I walked down to the main corner of town, bought some steamed buns for breakfast, then proceeded to wait for the bus.
Close to where I was sitting, there was a proverbial snake oil salesman peddling his wares, with the aid of a microphone and an attractively laid out table featuring explanatory pictures of the snakes, and cartons of little boxes containing the elixir. Every now and then, as part of his act, he would perform a trick with a cigarette lighter. He'd daub a couple of drops of snake oil on the lighter, which would then, a few second later, miraculously billow forth a jet of white smoke. The locals were enraptured, although no doubt some of them were plants.
The time dragged by. Nine a.m. came and went. So did 10 a.m. Still no bus. Estimates by helpful locals of the bus's arrival time also gradually extended out into the future: 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m... The snake oil salesman packed up his table to move on to greener pastures.
I'd been caught out by the old "edge of the county" syndrome once more, where transport from one county to the next is sometimes totally nonexistent. The confluence was only a tantalising 27.7 kilometres northeast. I waited until five minutes past noon, then decided it was time to make a move regardless. It seemed highly likely that the mythical bus may never arrive at all. I set off on foot in the sweltering heat, armed with plenty of bottled water and my umbrella to keep the sun at bay. If the bus did eventually come past, then great.
I walked an awfully long way, but there was no bus, nor any other vehicles to speak of. I passed by a couple of small population centres, where I bought more bottled water to replenish my supplies. It was very hot, and without water, I would have been a goner. The road started climbing up into the mountains. At one point I passed a collection of beehives arranged by the side of the road.
At 2:40 p.m., two and a half hours and 12 kilometres after leaving Huanggang, I finally arrived in the tiny town of Maozhushan. I still hadn't reached the county border, and the people in Maozhushan told me that it was twice as far again to the next town! They were amazed that I'd already walked so far.
I sat down to a bowl of noodles while at the same time quizzing them on transport options. I was just in the process of negotiating the price of hiring a small truck (the only vehicle in the tiny town), when a large truck carrying bamboo scaffolding suddenly arrived on the scene, heading in my direction.
I rushed over to the truck to ask if I could hitch a ride, and they agreed. The driver and his two co-workers were very friendly, and we chatted a lot as we climbed up and up and eventually over the mountain range into the next county. At the top of the ridge marking the county border, they stopped to fill up their water bottles with what they claimed to be the best mountain fresh drinking water going. At the same time, we took the opportunity to pose for a group shot in front of the truck.
We parted ways two kilometres from the town of Zhongyuan, where their route took them south. They refused any offer of payment for the lift. After climbing down from the cabin of the truck, I was immediately offered a lift in a passing Chinese Jeep-like vehicle the rest of the way into Zhongyuan, arriving there at 5:25 p.m.
To my dismay, there were no more buses from Zhongyuan that day, it being too late in the afternoon. But after an entire day spent seemingly only inching my way towards the confluence, I wanted to finish up as close to it as possible. So I employed a motorcyclist to take me to the town of Shijing, from where the confluence was just 7.5 kilometres west.
I arrived in Shijing at 6:30 p.m., and checked into a fairly rowdy hotel, at the standard nightly rate of five yuan (US$0.60). I bought a few supplies for the next day, ate dinner, had a wash, then went to bed.
Monday 28 July 2003 – I left my main bag at the hotel and set off on foot at first light with only what I needed for the day. It was just 5:20 a.m., so five minutes down the road I was surprised to hear a bus come rumbling up behind me. Frankly, I was surprised that there was a bus at all, let alone one at this ungodly hour of the morning. The bus driver was really nice, and when I got off at 5:50 a.m. at the tiny town of Shuangxidong, the end of the bus route, he refused to accept any payment.
The confluence was 2.23 kilometres northwest of Shuangxidong. I located a road leading in towards the confluence that was hinted at on the NASA satellite image, although not represented on any map I had. The road took me to a point 750 metres from the confluence, then carried on as a walking trail. With the confluence 500 metres away, the path began to ascend into the hills.
I followed the path into the hills, taking what appeared to be the correct turns at the appropriate junctures, but could not seem to get any closer than about 170 metres from the confluence. It was now 7 a.m. After trying a number of different side paths, all to no avail, I decided to employ the brute force approach, setting out from the closest point I could reach, a group of disused paddy fields, with the confluence still 134 metres east.
Once in among the dense forest, the trick was not so much being able to move about, but being able to get a reading on the GPS. Instead of searching for the confluence point, I found myself searching for a break in the foliage where I could pick up some satellite signals. Eventually, at 8:10 a.m., I managed to get a reading 60.9 metres from the confluence, which, when combined with the GPS accuracy of 14 metres, resulted in an aggregate DCP accuracy of 74.9 metres, sufficiently within the 100-metre limit to claim success. The elevation read 724 metres. Photos facing north, south, east and west show little except the thick vegetation surrounding me on all sides.
I made my way back to Shuangxidong, then started walking back towards Shijing. I passed an old gentleman with a particularly photogenic face. He was happy to pose for his picture to be taken. The cigarette butt never left the centre of his mouth.
Not long after, a minivan came by and offered me a free lift back to Shijing, getting me back to my hotel at 10:10 a.m. I was still having trouble getting over the generosity of the Jiangxi people in this respect. In other parts of China, given similar circumstances, people would invariably try to take me for all I had.
I collected my bag from the hotel, then walked the kilometre or so out to the intersection with the main road. After waiting for a bus for a short while together with some other would-be passengers, a goods minivan came by and I was able to get a lift all the way into Jing'an, the county capital, where the driver conveniently dropped me off at the central bus station. Needless to say, this was yet another free lift. I felt a little bad about leaving the other would-be passengers waiting by the side of the road outside Shijing, but the goods minivan had room for only one.
At 12:35 p.m. I was on a bus from Jing'an back to Nanchang. I arrived shortly before 3 p.m. and, consulting my trusty Nanchang street map, worked out I needed a no. 9 commuter bus to get me back to the Nanchang Hotel.
The friendly staff at the Nanchang Hotel remembered me, and had even kept aside room 437 for me, the one with the palatial bathroom, because they knew I liked it so much. I submitted a load of laundry, not expecting to be able to get it back until the next time I returned to Nanchang, but they surprised me by telling me it would be ready later that night.
I went down to the train station and bought my ticket for the next morning, then visited an Internet bar, where I endured two power failures while trying to check e-mail, etc. It seemed like the incessant heat wave was taking its toll on the power grid.
On the way back to my hotel, I popped into the three-star hotel on the opposite corner. They still had all my photos on their PC, so I took the time to upload the remaining ones I'd not been able to get to Peter before. This time things went a lot more smoothly, due in large part to the fact that the hotel's IT guru was not around to "assist". I was finished in just over half an hour. Following that, I went upstairs to try out the three-star hotel's restaurant. The staff were all so nice, really friendly and helpful. I enjoyed a great meal.
I finished the day with a somewhat less than satisfactory shampoo and blow-dry. Some of the hairdressing establishments close to railway and bus stations are really just fronts for prostitution, and with hair washing not being their core business, they don't really provide the best level of service. I struck that one off my list for future reference.
Returning to the hotel, my laundry was not yet ready, but they promised me it would be waiting for me at reception the following morning at 6 a.m.
Story continues at 29°N 117°E.