01-Jul-2005 -- Story continues from 30°N 115°E.
Shortly before noon, we left Daye on a bus heading west to Wuchang in the provincial capital Wuhan. Before our bus left, Ah Feng bought us all a round of ice creams to help counteract the blistering noonday heat. The journey in the air conditioned bus was quite comfortable, with pleasant music playing at an acceptably low volume throughout. At 2:15 p.m. we disembarked in Wuchang, and immediately lined up at the ticket counter inside the station to enquire about buses to our ultimate destination, Jiayu, only to be informed that we needed to take a taxi to another long distance bus station, fortunately not too far away.
Arriving at the Hongji Bus Station, we ascertained that buses to Jiayu ran not to any particular schedule, but simply left as soon as they were full. We walked round to the spot from where the Jiayu buses departed, only to find, parked in the spot right next to it, the very same bus we'd just got off at the other station! The bus driver found it all quite amusing, as did we.
By 2:45 p.m. we were on the move again, the bus SSW to Jiayu winding its way along the south bank of the Yangtze River, every now and then giving us great views of the huge river. Around mid journey, we came to an abrupt halt, and all the passengers were quickly bundled off the bus and into waiting three-wheelers, to be shuttled across a makeshift bridge. The makeshift bridge had been brought into service while repairs were being made to the main bridge. Our large bus was unable to navigate it, however there was another identical bus waiting for us on the other side. The whole operation was carried out with military precision, and we were back underway in just a few short minutes.
We arrived in Jiayu, a county capital in Xianning Prefecture, at 4:40 p.m. The confluence point was 7.3 km east. We got off the bus and piled into a minivan taxi, instructing the driver to take us to the best hotel in town, which turned out to be the Jiayu Hotel near the bank of a small reservoir. It was an attractive location, however the hotel was pretty old and tired inside. Sasha and Carmen discovered that the beds in their room had already been slept in, so we had to ask the staff to change the bed linen. Later on, Ah Feng discovered someone's clothes hanging up in the closet of our room! The shower was like a lottery, with the water temperature fluctuating wildly and without warning between freezing cold and scalding hot.
By contrast, dinner in a nearby restaurant was very enjoyable. We tried a local delicacy: soup that had been cooked for a long period of time in a special clay pot. There were four varieties of the clay pot soup available: chicken, duck, pork and seafood. We opted for the chicken, and were not disappointed; it was delicious.
We also went for a walk through town, during which we: a) utilised the services of an Internet bar; b) searched in vain for a Compact Flash card for Carmen's camera (she'd already filled her existing card to capacity); c) bought a t-shirt for Tim Finucane, whose wife's brownies we were consuming in celebration at the successful completion of each confluence visit; and d) bought half a kilogram of kuding (bitter nails) tea, a favourite of mine since I first discovered and purchased it on the way back to Nanning, capital of Guangxi, following a visit to 23°N 106°E with Peter Cao.
The Jiayu Hotel did not run to a complimentary buffet breakfast, nor to any sort of breakfast for that matter, so we agreed to forego breakfast and make an early start the next morning, hoping to complete the confluence visit in the relative cool of the early morning.
I woke to the alarm at 5:15 a.m. with a dull headache following a fitful sleep. The power went off just as I was finishing my shower, leaving me to grope around in total darkness in the unfamiliar bathroom. At least outside it was another beautiful sunny day.
We soon found ourselves a minivan taxi to take us to the confluence. We drove ENE, back along the main road we'd travelled the day before, until we reached the town of Xinjie, where the main road was closest to the confluence. The confluence was 1.9 km southeast of Xinjie. We turned off and headed down a dirt road directly towards the confluence, however there was a hill--the only one in what was otherwise completely dead flat terrain--directly in our path. We circumnavigated the left side of the hill, and parked in a fairly desolate spot on the far side, the confluence now 590 metres west, apparently up on the hill somewhere.
We headed up the hill, our driver leading the way, with Ah Feng close on his heels. From our vantage point on the crest of the hill, it soon became clear that the confluence point was in fact down the southern side of the hill, near a great expanse of strikingly beautiful lotus ponds. Nearby was a large stand of trees that were home to thousands of big white birds. We made our way down and walked along the edge of the lotus ponds, admiring the gorgeous flowers. After shouting out to, and obtaining permission from, the owner, who was tending a buffalo on the opposite side of the ponds, our driver daringly reached over and picked us some of the fruit, which he expertly demonstrated how to peel and eat. We all eagerly sampled it, and found it to be delicious.
Continuing on towards the confluence point, we finally located it 15 metres from the edge of one of the lotus ponds, just a few metres up the south side of the hill. There was a strip of rice paddy planted between the base of the hill and the lotus pond. The location of the confluence point itself was pretty overgrown, and whilst doing the confluence dance and taking the north-south-east-west shots, my unprotected legs managed to sustain some nasty scratches from the hidden thorn bushes that were dotted all around. The other members of our party gleefully pointed out the streams of blood trickling down my legs, and Sasha went so far as to photograph them for posterity.
The celebratory brownies were rationed out, including one for our driver, and we ate them right there at the confluence point. As we were walking back, Ah Feng noticed a pile of discarded shells, and we later learned that these were evidence of the local freshwater pearl industry. Also cultivated in the ponds were freshwater eels and shorter, eel-like fish, both of which we saw being sold live in Xinjie on our way back to Jiayu.
Story continues at 31°N 114°E.