27-Sep-2004 -- Story continues from 24°N 109°E.
Sun 26-Sep-2004, 4:20 p.m. - I arrive in Yizhou and transfer straight onto another bus heading northwest to Huanjiang.
Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County, located in the northwest of Guangxi and bordering Guizhou Province in the north, holds the largest population of the Maonan ethnic group in China: about 64,000 out of a total of only 107,200. Most are concentrated in the Xianan area, which is distinguished by a long stretch of scenic mountains, towering peaks of all shapes, and deep karst caves. Xianan is also where the confluence is located.
The Maonan are probably best known for their coloured, woven bamboo hats, some 70 centimetres in diameter with 80 to 90 patterns, which are often presented by young lovers as gifts to each other.
6 p.m. - I arrive in Huanjiang, and immediately fall in love with the place. Two very pretty young Maonan girls come up to me in the bus station and say hello. I ask them for directions, and they direct me to Huanjiang's best hotel, just a stone's throw from the station on the opposite side of the street.
My room is spotless, very comfortable, and unbelievable cheap; it ought to be two or three times the price. I deposit my things in the room, then head off down the street to a Guizhou restaurant specialising in dog meat that I'd spotted from the bus earlier. Having missed out on a dog meat fix the night before in Du'an, I am now able to make amends, downing a hearty, steaming bowl of dog meat and noodles in soup.
Mon 27-Sep-2004, 5:30 a.m. - The end of a very satisfying sleep. I check out, leave most of my belongings with reception, then cross the street to the bus station. I buy a ticket on the 6:55 a.m. bus to Xianan, then enjoy a couple of large, meat-filled buns while waiting for the bus to arrive.
There's a very detailed map of Huanjiang County on the wall of the station, and I take a photo of the Xianan area for reference purposes. It's much more comprehensive than any of the maps I've brought with me.
7 a.m. - Although my ticket says 6:55 a.m., when the bus finally arrives, the driver informs me that he doesn't leave until 7:50 a.m.! Such is the way in China. He also tells me the journey takes approximately two and a half hours, and that the last bus back departs at 4:05 p.m., which I calculate leaves me roughly five hours to do the confluence.
9:50 a.m. - I get off the bus a few kilometres before it reaches Xianan, when the confluence is just 800 metres to the west. From my vantage point on the road, I can see a couple of likely looking tracks disappearing into the foothills in the general direction of the confluence.
I make my way across numerous dried up rice paddies, at one point passing through a small herd of grazing cattle. All the while, I'm slowly but surely zeroing in on the confluence, which I now realise is located near the top of a hill. I need to circle around behind the hill in order to find a way up.
As I get to within a few dozen metres of the confluence, I traverse a field of harvested corn, the dead stalks silently encircling me like so many ghosts, with the tall karst mountains providing an eerie backdrop.
10:35 a.m. - The confluence is right at the edge of a long narrow field of huangdou (soya beans). The hillside location affords good views of the mountain range to the west and north. Views to the south and east are of the field of soya beans. I set up the camera on the opposite side of the field and use the self-timer to get a shot of myself standing on the confluence with the mountains behind me.
I take a more circuitous route back, sticking to a well-beaten path that heads north before eventually joining up with a gravel track that leads back to the main road. Along the way I pass a photogenic old lady who proudly poses for me.
During the return bus journey to Huanjiang, I take advantage of a protracted stopover in the small town of Chuanshan to wander around and take a few photos of the locals going about their business: a woman spreading corn out to dry while her son looks on, and a neatly stacked pile of piglets ready for market, each in its own handy bamboo carrying case.
Story continues with 24°N 110°E.