29-Sep-2004 -- Story continues from 24°N 110°E.
Tue 28-Sep-2004, 2 p.m. - Inter-county buses heading east from Xiangzhou are few and far between, and an examination of the map indicates a dearth of major roads running in that direction, so I instead elect to take one of the frequent buses northwest to the major city of Liuzhou. I receive a 2 yuan (US$0.25) rebate on the 12 yuan (US$1.50) fare because the bus's air conditioner is broken.
3:25 p.m. - I arrive in the daunting Liuzhou bus station--quite the biggest, busiest bus station I've ever experienced--and manage to battle my way through the crowds in the waiting area, climb up the stairs to the massive ticketing hall (where today the queues are thankfully only two or three deep), purchase a ticket on the next bus to Lipu departing at 3:30 p.m., race back downstairs, find the bus, and get on board, all in just five minutes.
5:45 p.m. - In Lipu, I transfer straight off the bus from Liuzhou onto another one going to Mengshan.
7 p.m. - A pair of high school girls, eager to practice their English, point me in the direction of the best hotel Mengshan has to offer. There are no more buses to the neighbouring county of Zhaoping today, so this is where I'll spend the night.
It's mid-autumn festival, and Mengshan's entire population is in holiday mode. The streets are filled with families enjoying the carnival atmosphere. I eat dinner at a small outdoor restaurant, watching the passing sea of humanity. The noise is at times deafening.
Back in my hotel room, I find a plate containing a moon-cake and some grapes, compliments of the hotel. Moon-cakes are traditionally eaten to celebrate the mid-autumn festival.
Wed 29-Sep-2004, 5 a.m. - Another early start to the day. I check out and walk to the bus station in darkness. When I first arrive, there is nothing stirring but the cockroaches. Eventually the station staff come on duty, and I learn that the first bus to Zhaoping does not depart until 7 a.m., which is half an hour later than I'd been told the night before.
9:45 a.m. - I arrive in Zhaoping just after the 9:30 a.m. bus to Beituo departs, so I have to wait until 11:30 a.m. for the next one. I go out for a bowl of noodles, then decide to do a long, circular walk around town. Having visited Zhaoping once before, back in 1996, I look around for any familiar landmarks, but such is the pace of development in China that everything has since been torn down and rebuilt. What was then just a small town is now a bustling city. I can find nothing I recognise.
2:45 p.m. - The bus arrives in Beituo, and I quickly find the local guesthouse, where I leave my stuff in my room, then immediately head off in pursuit of the confluence, 2.6 kilometres to the southwest. Sunset is at 6:30 p.m., and I don't expect this to be an easy confluence to reach, so time is of the essence if I'm to complete it today.
I follow the road south out of Beituo until the confluence is 2.3 kilometres due west, then leave the road and start following a narrow walking trail towards the forest-covered mountains. A couple of times I need to make way for people coming out of the mountains carrying enormous loads of wood; it looks like incredibly backbreaking work. As I start to climb, Beituo is clearly visible to the north.
When I first enter the wooded area, every single tree has been neatly scored in order to collect the sap. Further in, the going gets tougher, and at one point the path is nothing more than a small creek.
I keep on climbing until I am deep within the forest, surrounded by mountains. Time is running out if I hope to complete the return journey before it gets dark. The path is very kind to me, taking me to a point just 250 metres from the confluence, but now it turns to the north, following the ridge; the confluence is to the southwest, way down below.
I decide, in the interest of time, to abandon the path and make a beeline for the confluence, scrambling downhill through the thick forest undergrowth. It is extremely difficult going and progress is painfully slow. I soon realise my decision is a big mistake.
I finally manage to get to 100 metres from the confluence, but when I check the accuracy, it's a woeful 22 metres, due to all the trees overhead and the surrounding mountains. I must get to within 78 metres of the confluence to make it a successful visit.
I continue to fight my way forward, now with added determination brought on by the ticking of the clock and the realisation that I'll undoubtedly have to go back up the same way I've just come down. Then suddenly I come upon a small trail, which leads to another, and then another, until I find myself just 20 metres from the confluence.
Being this close, I decide I may as well go for all the zeroes, and push my way back into the scrub until I bring up the magic reading. Time is now really against me, so I very quickly take the documentary photos of the GPS and the views north, south, east and west. The fading light makes for long exposure times, and a couple of the photos come out a bit blurry, but I'm too concerned about the time to notice.
Having stumbled upon the network of small trails, I follow them as much as possible upwards and northwards, towards the ridge where the path I abandoned ought to be. Sure enough, I eventually find it, and am much relieved when, after following it for some distance, I reach the point where I originally left it in my ill-thought-out straight-line assault on the confluence.
The walk back from here is all downhill and uneventful, and I manage to make it back to Beituo just as darkness falls.
And so my five-confluence expedition reaches its conclusion, the main objective having been achieved: Guangxi is now complete. The weather has been simply perfect throughout the entire trip--sunny every day, with not a drop of rain--and the transportation has, for the most part, just gelled beautifully, allowing me to finish the five confluences in just five days.