30-Jun-2005 -- Story continues from 30°N 116°E.
Returning from our successful visit to 30°N 116°E in the morning, we spent a leisurely couple of hours strolling around the county capital of Huangmei, revisiting the town's old pagoda that we'd driven past earlier on the way to the confluence, and then embarking on a shop crawl. Carmen made the biggest purchase: a new pair of running shoes.
We availed ourselves of a late check-out from our three-star hotel, then made our way across town in two three-wheelers to the long distance bus station, from where we caught the 1 p.m. bus to Daye, the only bus each day that runs directly between Huangmei and Daye. It took us back west along the same highway we had traversed the day before, past the thousands upon thousands of witches' hats that divided the road in the long sections where one of the dual carriageways was closed for road works.
The Huangmei to Daye bus was very atypical in that it was not overloaded with passengers, and had no video blaring. I found myself nodding off in the warm afternoon of the gorgeous sunny day. The bus crossed the mighty Yangtze River at the city of Huangshi, then turned south for the final leg to Daye, one of the main cities in Huangshi Prefecture. We arrived right on schedule at 3 p.m., with the confluence point now just 11 km SSE.
A short taxi ride from the bus station got us to the best hotel in town, at the northern end of a very picturesque lake, which was certainly the focal point of this city. There were three grades of hotel rooms available, and we chose the "worst" for 198 yuan (US$24) per night, which was in fact a terrific bargain. The rooms were excellent--better than the more expensive ones we'd stayed in in Huangmei the night before--and the room tariff once again included complimentary buffet breakfast.
We dumped our stuff in our rooms, then set off for a walk around the lake, which was lined with very pretty, shade-giving weeping willows. Whilst the view of the lake from our hotel had been nothing short of picture postcard perfect, up close we began to notice something wasn't quite right. There were dead fish floating everywhere. And when we got downwind of it, the stench of dead fish putrefying in the hot summer sun was absolutely gut wrenching. Words alone simply cannot describe just how dreadfully awful the smell was! The locals told us that this was an annual event: when the temperature suddenly increases something in the chemistry of the lake changes and all the fish die. What a shame we had to come just when this phenomenon was occurring, because otherwise Daye was truly a beautiful place. (Just coincidentally, the name Daye means "Big Smelt", although a different smelt.)
At the far end of the lake was a large pagoda, and we all climbed up the many flights of the spiral staircase to enjoy the view from the top. Then we walked back to the hotel for a short rest before going out for dinner followed by a visit to the hairdresser, where Sasha and Carmen enjoyed a foot massage and Ah Feng and I had our hair washed. Sasha and Carmen couldn't believe the pampering and the attention to detail they received during their hour-long, all inclusive foot wash, massage and pedicure, all for the ridiculously low price of just 38 yuan (US$4.60).
At 7 a.m. the next morning we met in the hotel dining room for our complimentary buffet breakfast, and were not disappointed by the spread on offer. It was not until 8:30 a.m. that we finally emerged from our hotel and negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to the confluence and back for 40 yuan (US$4.80).
The intelligence gathered by Jim Sisson during his previous visit proved invaluable. We drove southeast via the township of Dajipu, then approached the confluence point from the east, avoiding Jim's mistake of tackling it from the west, which had involved crossing a range of hills. The most crucial bit of information that Jim had provided was the name of the village near the confluence point, Fujiashan (Fu Family Mountain). Without this it would have been much harder, and we surely would have made many a wrong turn.
Luckily, at a fork in the road, we stopped to ask a local the way, and found that we were about to go down the wrong road. Having turned the taxi around and set that mistake right, a short while later we encountered another obstacle when we found the road we were on suddenly blocked: closed for renovation. Once again, able to succinctly quote our destination to a local, he explained how we could reach Fujiashan via an alternate route that took us through the hills then along the northern edge of the Shijiatu reservoir, before rejoining the main road that ran along the eastern side of the reservoir.
Our driver was excellent value during all of this. The alternate route involved traversing a very substandard dirt track through the hills, which he negotiated with great skill and without a single complaint, unlike our driver the day before who had baulked at the mere sight of a dirt road. At 9:10 a.m. we parked on a small concrete bridge with the confluence point 335 metres to the north.
From here it was an easy walk through fields to the confluence point, located several metres in front of a farmhouse that had been built in the 1980s and was inhabited by Mr Fu Yuqin and his wife, as well as a marmalade cat and her three kittens. The surrounding scenery was beautiful, and even our taxi driver, who had accompanied us to the spot, remarked on this.
Pictures were duly taken in the four cardinal directions, north, south, east and west. The farmhouse is visible in the shots facing north and west, and the shot facing south is dominated by the well, which Mr Fu's wife happily demonstrated to us by pumping out some refreshingly cool water. She also made us tea, served in small glass bottles, to help quench our thirst. Even though it was still early in the day, the sun was already beginning to make its presence felt.
I had brought along a copy of Jim's visit report that I gave to Mr Fu, who well remembered the bedraggled foreigner who had appeared on his doorstep out of nowhere on May Day. The assembled crowd, which had grown steadily since our arrival, showed a keen interest in the report, which was passed around and studied intensely, even though I doubt any of them could read much English. One rather noticeable change that had taken place in the slightly less than two months since Jim's visit was in the rice paddies to the south of the confluence point, which had only recently been planted when Jim visited back at the beginning of May, but were now nearing maturity.
The throng of locals, including a number of young children who were squealing with delight, found great excitement and pleasure viewing the many interesting photos we were taking with our four digital cameras. It's too bad more photos can't be included in this report. They asked if we would send them some of our photos, and before we left, one of their number wrote their address down in my notebook for this purpose.
On the way back from the confluence, we stopped by a large wall in the middle of Fujiashan that featured a big five-pointed star with the name of the village in Chinese characters carved beneath it. Here we brought out the brownies provided by Tim Finucane's wife Tammy to celebrate our successful visit, sharing them also with our very accommodating driver. When we got back to Daye we gave him a 10 yuan tip on top of the agreed 40 yuan fare, which he definitely deserved.
Story continues at 30°N 114°E.