24-Jun-2006 -- Story continues from 26°N 105°E.
The bus, which left Lóngyín (龙吟镇) at 12 noon, came by at 12:15 p.m. and picked us up. During the time we'd been waiting, we'd managed to clean most of the mud from our boots.
We arrived back in the county capital of Pǔ'ān (普安县) at 1:45 p.m., in time to catch the 2 p.m. bus south to Xìngyì (兴义市), capital of the Qiánxīnán Bùyī and Miáo Nationalities Autonomous Prefecture (黔西南布依族苗族自治州). We bought our tickets, then I took a three-wheeler back to the hotel to collect our luggage, while Ah Feng stayed behind to make sure the bus didn't leave before I got back.
The bus first travelled east to the neighbouring county of Qínglóng (晴隆县), along the same road we'd travelled the night before, affording us the opportunity to take in the scenery we'd missed in the dark, however we were pretty tired, and slept most of the way.
We arrived in Xìngyì at about 5:30 p.m., with the confluence 15 kilometres SE, and after checking out the bus situation for the next morning, checked into the very nice Pánjiāng Hotel (盘江宾馆).
Xìngyì is a big city, with all the mod cons. We went out for a long overdue hair wash at an establishment recommended by the hotel receptionist, followed by a session at an Internet bar, and finally dinner at an outdoor night stall.
Saturday 24 June 2006 (Day 25)
The alarm went off at 5 a.m. It was raining. We checked out shortly before 6 a.m., and took a taxi to the place from where the Lónglín (隆林县) buses depart. Lónglín is a county to the SE, across the provincial border in Guǎngxī (广西). We secured the two seats at the front of the bus, next to the driver. The rain was starting to ease off.
The bus left on time at 6:20 a.m., but then engaged in some customary trawling and the inevitable petrol stop. When we finally got going, we travelled through some very Guìlín (桂林)-like karst mountains, sticking up out of the surrounding flat land.
We crossed a bridge, after which there was no more flat land, only precipitous karst formations. A short while later, we got off at a dirt road which we were told led to Wángjiādàng (王家凼), the closest identifiable place to the confluence marked on the map. The confluence was 4.63 kilometres south.
We were surrounded by tall, daunting mountains. The prognosis for this confluence did not look good at all. We followed the dirt road for five minutes, until we came to the handful of farmhouses that constituted Wángjiādàng, the same number of vicious, barking dogs, and the end of the road. The confluence was still 4.3 kilometres south. We turned around and headed back to the main road.
Before long, a minivan came along. There were no seats in the rear, so we had to sit on bits of carpet on the metal floor, as we travelled further along the main road to a promising looking spot from where the confluence was only 3.13 kilometres SW. We got out here at 8 a.m. We were at an elevation of 1,190 metres.
There was a dirt road leading down a valley in the direction of the confluence, however the people in the village by the main road gave us the bad news that there was no bridge or any other means of getting across the Mǎbié River (马别河) at the bottom. Nevertheless, we decided it would be worth investing an hour or two to stroll down and take a look, as this might turn out to be the closest possible approach to this very difficult looking confluence.
The road became quite muddy after a while, and the mud stuck tenaciously to our boots, making them very heavy. At 8:45 a.m., with the confluence 1.7 kilometres SSW, the road ended. There was a tiny village here - just a couple of households - and the locals corrected us twice as we started walking down wrong paths in our efforts to continue down towards the river.
Along the way to the river, we were surprised to come upon a large patch of prickly pear cactus, which is common in Australia, but not to my knowledge in China. We descended an extremely long way, the path leading from one small collection of corn plants to the next. Corn was planted in every conceivable place.
When we arrived at the river, with the confluence now just under one kilometre SW, it was pretty obvious that there was going to be no way across. The river was relatively fast flowing, and rather wide. Ah Feng decided to wait while I continued on to see how close I could get to the confluence.
There was a good, seemingly well-used path running south down the east bank of the river, which I followed for a long way, until I was pretty sure I was at the nearest possible point attainable from this side of the river, with the confluence just under 400 metres due west. I couldn't be sure though, because the whole way I'd been unable to get enough satellites to obtain a reading; the surrounding mountains were simply too tall. The elevation at the water's edge was 788 metres, a descent of 400 metres from the main road. At 9:45 a.m. I turned around and headed back to where Ah Feng was waiting.
We could see some corn planted on the opposite side of the river, so we surmised there must be another village there, and decided to ask the people in the small village we'd passed if they could tell us the name of it. As we made the long climb back up the steep slope, the sun was shining brightly, making it quite a sweaty affair. We got back to the tiny village at 10:40 a.m.
A whole bunch of people were already eating lunch, and of course they invited us to join them. We explained what we were endeavouring to do (as best we could - confluencing is a difficult concept to explain even at the best of times), and they told us the village on the opposite side of the river was called Jīnzhúdàng (金竹凼?), and offered to take us there by motorbike.
We asked the price, and they countered by asking how much we were prepared to pay. Ah Feng and I figured that 100 yuan (US$ 12.65) would be reasonable, considering that it was an extremely long way around, and taking into account that our potential motorcyclist had offered to guide us all the way to the confluence. However, before we could make our offer, they came back with a price of 80 yuan (US$ 10.10), which of course we readily accepted. We left at about 11:20 a.m.
At 12:50 p.m., we arrived at the village of Gǔguǎngdà (古广大?), on the west side of the river, at an elevation of 967 metres, and with the confluence 1.7 kilometres SE. We left the motorbike here and set off on foot. One of the houses in the village sported a rice paddy on the roof!
At 1:10 p.m., having climbed a mountain, we came to the isolated village of Jīnzhúdàng, with the confluence 1.15 kilometres ESE. We were experiencing real Melbourne weather. Ever since we'd set off from the east side of the river, it had been alternating bright sunshine and rain, and now we could hear ominous claps of thunder in the distance.
From Jīnzhúdàng, we followed a pretty rocky and muddy path leading off to the right, which took us around a mountain. The rain made the rocks slippery and the mud sticky. With mud on our boots, the rocks became even more slippery.
At 1:25 p.m., we reached a mountain ridge, from where we could clearly see the river and the path we'd descended on the opposite side. The confluence was now 668 metres SE.
Five minutes later, it really started raining hard.
The trail we were following led to a large basin with a rice paddy about the size of a football field at the bottom. We followed the trail around the right side of this, well above the valley floor, passing by and through many patches of corn plants.
We then started another very strenuous climb, emerging at the top with the confluence about 100 metres due east. The final 100 metres were relatively easy, as we followed a more or less level path near the top of a deep gorge. Incredibly, the confluence point was located right on this path that we had been following for so long!
After taking the regulation north-south-east-west shots, we had a good rest at the confluence, eating the biscuits and apples we'd brought along. We left at about 2:30 p.m., and were back at the motorbike in Gǔguǎngdà at 4 p.m.
Our motorcyclist took us back to the main road, where we immediately bought several bottles of water to quench our thirst. We gave the motorcyclist 100 yuan in the end, because we were very pleased with him and everything he'd done for us, and because he was very honest.
We caught a no. 5 commuter bus back to Xìngyì, which stopped near the Pánjiāng Hotel where we'd left our luggage. Both Ah Feng and I were wet, muddy and exhausted, so we decided to stay another night in this comfortable hotel. There were no more 160 yuan (US$ 20) rooms available, which meant upgrading to a 200 yuan (US$ 25) room, but we didn't mind. We had showers, washed some clothes, then promptly fell asleep. When we woke up at 8 p.m., we didn't feel like going out for dinner, so ate in the hotel restaurant.
Story continues at 25°N 106°E.