02-Jan-2004 -- Story continues from 22°N 108°E.
Thu 01-Jan-2004 (continued), 12:20 p.m. - We caught a big old red sleeper bus from Shangsi ESE to Qinzhou. Fortunately it was not crowded. One young passenger kept pestering Tony and me for money. About an hour into the journey, at a rest stop, Tony finally gave him two cigarettes. Instead of lighting up, he stuck one behind his ear, and gave the other to his friend, who also put it behind his ear. Not much further along the route, the pair of them thankfully disembarked, and peace was once again restored.
Except for that minor irritation, it was a comfortable journey, as we lay relaxing in our well-padded bunks. Richard had a top bunk towards the rear, and spent most of the time quietly reading his novel, managing to avoid the unwanted attentions of the beggar. The final stretch of some 35 kilometres was along a major freeway that links the capital Nanning with the port city of Beihai.
When we arrived in Qinzhou, we asked the station staff which was the best hotel in town, then took a three-wheeler to get there. We checked into the three-star hotel after a protracted but successful round of negotiations to get the rate down to something affordable: 100 yuan (US$12) each, for one double room and one single room. (They didn't have any three-person rooms). We drew straws (ballpoint pens, actually) to determine who would enjoy the single room, and I won.
After leaving our stuff at the hotel, Richard went out in search of an Internet bar, while Tony and I set off to see about transport options for the next day. We first took a no. 2 commuter bus to the City East Bus Station, from where we established that there were buses heading to Napeng every 20 minutes, starting from 7 a.m.
We then took a three-wheeler to the train station on the other side of town. It was virtually deserted, but according to the timetable on the wall, and subsequently confirmed by a station official, there was a train going north to Huangzhou that departed at 9:25 a.m. This would be handy for 23°N 109°E, which we intended to visit after the current confluence.
Leaving the railway station, we walked about 10 minutes to a large open area filled with thousands of people, many purchasing "scratch-it" lottery tickets. The ground was covered in discarded tickets. The whole scene had the air of an outdoor carnival about it, with all manner of sideshow attractions, including a Chinese variation on horseshoes, where players were required to toss a ring over a sitting duck's head. The ducks were arranged on the pavement in a neat rectangular grid, prevented from wandering off by virtue of their legs being tied up. They were still pretty adept at dodging (ducking) the rings flying their way though, thus ensuring a good profit for their owner.
All manner of bizarre food items were on sale, one example being pig penises neatly curled around wooden skewers, and deep-fried until just right. I had no idea they were that long!
There were a number of people of various ethnic minorities touting their wares, such as Turkic-speaking Uygurs from Xinjiang selling traditional cake, and the attractively clad women of one of the southern minorities selling handmade trinkets.
We met up with Richard back at the hotel, then all three of us went out to a nearby restaurant that served a mixture of Western and Chinese food, the latter definitely being the more palatable. Without much of an appetite, I left first, and sought out a reputable hairdresser for a relaxing hour-long wash and blow-dry. Later in the evening, back at the hotel, the ubiquitous hookers plagued both our rooms with unwanted phone calls until we disabled the telephone handsets.
Fri 02-Jan-2004, 8:30 p.m. - We decided to stay on in Qinzhou for a second night, so we left our bags in our rooms. We made our way to the City East Bus Station on a no. 2 commuter bus. In the large market next to the station, we found a stall selling wontons in soup. There were some tables and chairs set up behind the stall, so we sat down and ordered a bowl of wontons each. They were very good, and Tony ended up having two bowls.
9:50 a.m. - We boarded a waiting Napeng bus, but not before precipitating a protracted argument over the price of the wontons. The stall owner had asked for five yuan (US$0.60) per bowl, which was ludicrously expensive. We gave her one yuan per bowl and walked away. Her offsider then followed us onto the bus, and shouted at us for a good quarter of an hour. Eventually, after having sufficiently vented her spleen, she left the bus.
An elderly gentleman passenger then suggested that the correct price might be around three yuan per bowl. He was employing his wisdom to defuse the situation, knowing both that the stall owner had tried to rip us off, but also that the amount of money was so small that it really didn't matter to us. He was thus providing a means by which everyone concerned could save some face. Richard got off the bus and went and paid the stall owner another two yuan per bowl, after which we all relaxed and were able to forget about the episode, turning our attentions instead to the confluence hunt ahead.
The confluence was 40 km to the east. When the bus got underway, it first travelled ESE down the highway (not the freeway) in the direction of Beihai, then at the town of Nali, 18 km southwest of the confluence, it turned off the highway and headed NNE towards Napeng.
11:15 a.m. - We arrived in Napeng, where our GPSes told us that the confluence was exactly 7 km east, and the satellite image indicated that we would have to cross a river to get to it. We headed off down a side road and soon left Napeng's busy main street behind us. After about a kilometre and a half, we came upon the river, and crossed over on a solid stone pedestrian bridge. The bridge supports were so solid in fact, that we conjectured it must have once been, or was intended to be, a much bigger bridge, probably for vehicular traffic.
We continued our pleasant walk in perfect weather conditions, following a dusty road as it wound its way 10 km through relatively flat countryside to a village that was literally just a stone's throw from the confluence. The confluence was at the edge of a recently planted mandarin grove. As evident in the shots facing north, south, east and west, much of the surrounding hillsides had been burnt, presumably deliberately. We set the camera on the tripod for a victory photo in the mandarin grove, before going over to chat with the locals in the village.
The walk out was equally as pleasurable as the walk in, and the 20 km hike did us all good. By the time we got back to Napeng, we'd exhausted our water supplies, so were quite thirsty. Richard and Tony knocked back a couple of bottles of local beer, while I drank tea and tucked into a tasty bowl of dog meat and noodles in soup.
Story continues with 23°N 109°E.