This is the first of a three-confluence hunt trip in northeastern Sichuan province I
undertook solo in late August 2003. Living in China for the past five years and operating Bike China Adventures bike touring company, my schedule
always seems to be in flux making it difficult to plan things much in advance. So while I
had hoped that I would have four days to do this trip, I did not know for sure until the
day before. This poses problems when traveling by train as tickets go on sale four days in
advance. When I had stopped by one of the many train ticket agencies looking for a ticket
to Wanyuan, the agent said she did not have any for the time and date I wanted. After
seeing my dejected look, she added that I might be able to get one at the North Train
Station. It was on the other side of the city, but it was my only choice.
The North Train Station is like those in most of the big Chinese cities; a huge
sprawling affair teeming with people crowded into endless lines that fill from the front.
In China cutting line or jumping the queue is a fine art. Looking at the 50 people in
front on me and calculating the amount of time it would take to get to the front almost
made me give up. I spotted a sign indicating another line was for foreigners and soldiers,
and joined that one, though it was just as long as the rest. However, a few minutes later
one of the station attendants came by and asked me where I was going. I told her Wanyuan
and I needed a ticket on tomorrow's 1062 train. She disappeared for a while and when she returned she said I could
get a hard seat ticket. It was not a hard sleeper, but better than nothing.
The next day I had a busy morning seeing my wife and daughter off at the airport, then
visiting an old friend who returned to Chengdu for a short visit before getting on the bus
for the train station. Time was tight, too tight for comfort and I silently urged the
driver to make short work of it. But unlike most of the bus drivers in Chengdu, this woman
was in no hurry. Along the way, there was a traffic jam caused by a truck who hit an
overhanging tree and knocked it over. I had less than 20 minutes before the train left, so
I jumped off the bus, ran around the blockage, and jumped in a taxi.
The waiting coral and corridors to the train were empty, a bad sign, but luckily I had
just made it. The hard seat ticket had a seat number printed on it, so I was entitled to
eject the person occupying my seat. It was conveniently located across from the upgrade
counter and I inquired about moving up to hard sleeper. Even though it was only a
nine-hour ride in daylight, I only got two hours sleep the night before, and I was
exhausted. The attendant said to check with him in an hour. Doing so, I got my upgrade,
and happily left the hard seat behind.
My plan was to go to the furthest point from home and then work my way back. The train
passed through the general area of the last two confluences so I could get a feel for what
I was in for. At 31° N 108° E,
however, the map indicated that it passed very close and I hoped to get a look so I could
see what side of the river it was on. However, the closer we got to the confluence, the
more tunnels we passed through and it got so there was not enough time in-between tunnels
for the GPS to lock onto the satellites and I ended up missing it altogether.
Arriving in any strange Chinese city after dark is always a disorienting experience and
Wanyuan was no exception. It was a relatively small town that rarely if ever sees
foreigners. The hotel scene was mediocre and I ended up at the Sichuan Electric Power
Hotel. After dinner, I visit the internet bar and then went to bed.
The next morning I got a mianbao (stuffed bread) van that officially seats 6,
but in true Chinese fashion, was stuffed with 11 before we got out of town. I was headed
about 15 kilometers south of town. The area was a narrow valley with steep slopes and a
fast moving river. Coal mining is the industry of the area with mines, coal trucks and
coal trains seen all along the way. When I got to within 1.3 kilometers the GPS indicated
we were moving away from the confluence so I jumped out. Once out walking on the road I
realized it was premature, as just around the next bend the road made a long turn towards
the confluence. From the road, it appeared the confluence was located on the big hill dead
At the point where the GPS was pointing 90° perpendicular
to the road there was another coal mine located up a small valley. This looked like the
best approach and I had less than 400 meters to go. There was a trail leading up the north
side of the valley where the workers had planted some small plots of corn and beans. The
hills here were very steep and left little land to that could be farmed. At about 9 AM,
most people were in the mines, and I only spotted a solitary worker on the other side of
the stream pounding some rocks. The trail ended after only 100 meters and I was faced with
a steep slope with the confluence lying a tantalizing 300 meters away.
The foliage was very thick, so I put on my long pants despite the hot and humid
weather. The temperature was about 36° C. I was carrying my
small backpack, and even though it was not very heavy, I did not fancy hauling up that
slope. I quickly found a place to hide it and remembered to put a waypoint on the GPS so I
could find it later.
Now the work began. Unlike most of the rest of China, there was no path that I could
find in the area, so I began to do it the brute-force method and climb the at a small
break in the thick bushes. The slope was so steep that I was making more vertical progress
than horizontal. After 50 meters, I was drenched in sweat, and cursing the multitude of
thorn bushes. At 200 meters from the confluence I came to a ridge and stumbled upon a tiny
trail, which made progress a bit easier though I found that I was ruthlessly dogged my a
cloud of mosquitoes who thought my head was the next best thing to heaven. I tried waving
a branch of leaves in front of my face to keep most of them out of my eyes and nose.
The trail ended much too soon, and I was once again fighting my way through the sticker
bushes on a steep slope. A power line was overhead and the maintenance crew had cut trees
down making a thick canopy. It here that I found myself faced with an dense wall of thorn
bushes and steep slope that I conceded that 85 meters was good enough for volunteer work.
Climbing up on the cut trees and precariously balancing on the limbs and waving the branch
to keep the mosquitoes at bay with one hand, I was able to get the regulatory photos of
NESW, the GPS and one very sweaty victory photo.
Working my way back, I discovered that the needle pointing to the confluence was in a
different direction and since the going was marginally easier (uphill with the persistent
mosquitoes, but with fewer sticker bushes) I decided to see where it would take me. At 24
meters away, I reached a precipitous drop off in the direction of the confluence, and
conceded that this would be it. A tree stump covered with fungi made a handy holder for
the GPS while I retook the NESW and GPS photos. The GPS elevation was 836 meters. By now I was really fed up with the
mosquitoes and made a hasty retreat. The hill was very accommodating, too much so in some
sections as I made several 20+-meter butt-busting out-of-control slides down the hill
grabbing at trees and bushes to try and slow me down. On the way down I discovered a new
small electric power line that had opened up a small trail and gratefully took that
instead of the way I came up.
Ending up 100 meters from where I started, I used the waypoint to locate my backpack
and headed back down to the miners quarters by the road. Being totally drenched in sweat
and covered from head to toe in dirt, I decided to ask the people living there if they had
a shower room I could use. If I got turned down, my backup plan was to jump in the river.
The woman was startled to see me, but after a quick once-over understood my situation.
She said that there was not any hot water, but I told her that did not matter, anything
would be better than being like this. She lead me to another building where the water
boiler was and told me to go inside. There I found a dark but immaculate shower room cut
into the stone floor with 14 positions for miners to shower. There were two thick hoses,
and I could imagine the miners sharing the water and scrubbing each other down after a
long day in the mines.
I was extremely fortunate to be able to use this facility immediately after coming
down. I could imagine what my fellow bus passengers would think if I got on the bus
complete drenched and filthy as I was before the shower. Afterwards, I took my clothes
over to where I saw the locals scrubbing theirs on a large stone table and asked if I
could do the same. They cheerfully invited me to join them and shared their soap with me.
I tried to pay them for the use of the shower and laundry, but they refused. At 11 AM I
hit the road looking for a bus to Dazhou, the largest city in the area, 130 km to the
south. My destination was 31° N 107° E, where this story
I called this The Sweaty Mosquito Confluence.