08-Aug-2003 -- Continued from 26°N 115°E.
Friday 8 August 2003 (continued) – I retraced my earlier steps back from Yangdong--first a motorbike to Maodian, then a bus to Ganxian, then a commuter bus to the Pearl Hotel in Ganzhou--arriving at 12:30 p.m. after getting caught up in a bit of a traffic jam. I collected my bag and got changed, then headed for the main Ganzhou bus station, where I got a 1 p.m. bus to Xiaojiang.
In Xiaojiang I was told that there were no buses to my next objective, Jingnao, so decided to employ a motorcyclist for the journey. He stopped to refuel, then shortly thereafter his bike broke down. It took him about 20 minutes to fix it, during which time he was lucky that no alternative form of transport came along, otherwise I might have been tempted to just abandon him there in the hot sun.
When we finally got to Jingnao, I figured he owed me for the long delay, so I asked him to turn off down the side road towards Bankeng, in the direction of the confluence. I thought the confluence was going to be about a kilometre north of the road at its closest approach, but as it turned out, it was just a mere 200 metres away. I was ready to pay off the motorcyclist, but he said he'd like to wait, and also said he'd like to come with me to find the confluence, even though he had no idea what a confluence was.
We left the bike and my big bag at a house on the roadside, then made our way up a cultivated valley. It soon became evident that the confluence was on a hillside next to the valley, so we found a way to scramble up that. Fortunately there were no thorn bushes lurking amongst the ferns and other vegetation, because I had on only my sandals and shorts.
At 4:15 p.m. we reached the confluence, and I took the necessary north, south, east and west photos. We were at an elevation of 469 metres, and the GPS was giving 8-metre accuracy. I gave the camera to my motorcyclist to take a shot of me at the spot.
Getting back was a little easier. We were already near the top of the hill, so we continued scrambling up the rest of the way, and there we found a path along the ridge that eventually took us back to the road. We emerged in a slightly different place, a few houses down from where we'd left the bike and my bag. When we got back, the old couple living there offered us tea before we bade our farewells.
I'd now successfully completed all 18 confluences that I'd set out to do on this trip, achieving my goal of finishing off both Chongqing Municipality and Jiangxi Province. Now my thoughts turned to home. I decided to go back to Xiaojiang with my motorcyclist, then see what transport options were available from there.
At 5 p.m., as we were on our way back to Xiaojiang, I saw a big Shenzhen sleeper bus coming the other way. I waved the bus to stop, while at the same time instructing my motorcyclist to turn around and go after it. Fortunately the bus driver had seen my wild gesticulations and pulled over not too far down the road. After making sure that they had an empty berth, I paid off my motorcyclist and climbed on board.
My bunk was mysteriously missing a pillow, and I had to complain before rather grudgingly being given the ticket seller's pillow. Then all I had to worry about was the Michael Jackson video clips being played at full volume, and the screaming babies, of which there seemed to be a disproportionately large number.
I asked what time we were expected to reach Shenzhen, and the answer was 1 a.m. I figured I may as well stay the night in Shenzhen, then make the border crossing back to Hong Kong the following morning. It sounded like a good plan until the bus broke down just outside Huizhou, still an hour or so out of Shenzhen. I waited and waited, but no early resolution looked in sight, and no one was offering any estimates of when we might be on our way again. When the stroke of midnight came, I decided to bail out. I grabbed my bag, got off, and flagged down a passing taxi. I asked him to take me to the next hotel down the road.
This turned out to be a very swanky four-star establishment called the Three Suns Hotel. I did a good deal of negotiating before agreeing to stay at a semi-reasonable rate. One of the attractions was that they had a direct cross-border bus to Hong Kong that left at 11:20 a.m. the next morning. They told me I could relax, sleep in, take it easy, and just show up in the lobby five minutes before the bus was due to depart. There were plenty of tickets available, so no need to worry, they assured me.
This all sounded pretty good, so I decided to do as they suggested, and set about enjoying the comforts of four-star hotel accommodation. I got a shampoo and blow-dry in the hotel hairdresser (this one was legit), then spent some time on the Internet in the business centre, before finally going to bed at around 2 a.m.
Saturday 9 August 2003 – What a difference a day makes! I slept in until about 9 a.m., then went downstairs for a yum cha breakfast in the hotel dining room. I then popped into the business centre to purchase a ticket for the bus to Hong Kong. "Oh, that bus route was cancelled two months ago", they told me!
In true four-star style, they endeavoured to make it up to me by coming up with a highly convoluted, highly time-consuming, not to mention highly expensive, scheme to get me back to Hong Kong. In the end I decided to stick to my own devices. I went up and packed my bag, checked out of the hotel, caught a commuter bus from right outside the hotel to the central Huizhou bus station, then got straight on a high-speed air-conditioned bus to the Luohu border crossing in Shenzhen. It couldn't have been easier.
As we left Huizhou, I saw the stricken Shenzhen bus from the night before, still parked in the same place on the side of the road where it had broken down. A wry smile came to my face. How long had those poor passengers with the screaming babies waited there, while I was busy lapping up my four-star luxury?
And so ended another marathon confluence hunt. I wonder if I shall ever tire of the adventures and experiences and excitement that these endeavours bring? Well, not just yet, anyway.