Coordinator's note: This confluence was also attempted by Tony Basoglu.
20-Apr-2003 -- Continued from 26°N 114°E.
Saturday 19 April 2003 (Day 3) - There isn't really a lot to say about this day, which was devoted entirely to travelling. Three gruelling bus trips, back-on-back, over the course of 10 hours, saw us do a knight's move in confluence terms, from Guidong, in the vicinity of 26°N 114°E, to Chenzhou, then Lianzhou, and finally Mashi, roughly 10 kilometres south of 25°N 112°E. We both had very sore bums by the end of it. The last item on the agenda was a visit to the hairdresser, from which Tony emerged sporting a new Chinese-style haircut.
Sunday 20 April 2003 (Day 4) - Rain! We waited in our hotel room for it to ease off a little, then ventured out to have some breakfast at the open-air restaurant opposite. As we ate, we engaged the motorcyclists gathered out front in negotiations for transport the 20 odd kilometres up another of those thin red lines on the map, to the village of Xiao'aiping. We eventually struck a deal with two of them, and with Tony kitted out in his brand new bright pink raincoat, off we set.
By the time we arrived at Xiao'aiping, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. The confluence was 1.4 kilometres SSW. We began following a path up a valley in the general direction of the confluence, until we reached the first sniff of an ascent, at which point Tony wimped out, saying he'd wait for me back at the village. I felt this was a shame because the climb turned out to be very short-lived, and the path levelled out nicely for the remainder of the very pleasant one-kilometre walk, alongside a stream, all the way to the confluence.
With 100 metres still to go, I came upon a fairly impressive farmhouse, commanding a good view of the valley before it. Continuing upstream beyond the farmhouse soon led me to a field of houpo, or official magnolia (Magnolia officianalis), commonly grown in China for the medicinal qualities of its bark. The confluence was right in the middle of the small field, at an elevation of 858 metres, and it was from here that I took the customary shots facing north, south, east and west.
The walk downstream back to Xiao'aiping was equally as pleasant as the walk up had been. At about the halfway point, I came across a metre-long bright green snake, basking in the warmth of the sun on the path in front of me. The villagers in Xiao'aiping later assured me that this was a perfectly harmless, non-venomous variety of snake. I asked them to write down the name of the snake in Chinese, but what they wrote translated simply as "green snake".
During the time I'd been busy knocking off the confluence, Tony had not exactly been slouching around either. He had managed to find the village's small school, consisting of 19 students and one teacher. The teacher had promptly invited Tony back to his home, where Tony met the schoolteacher's "father" (not his real father, although that's what he called him). Despite language difficulties, Tony and the shoolteacher's father soon got stuck into some of the very popular--and very strong--Chinese baijiu (white spirit), and were both pretty merry by the time I got back, just in time for lunch.
The entire population of the village numbered just 300, and all were members of the Yao minority nationality. We seemed to have at least 10% of the population wandering in and out as we ate lunch, including a young mother and her baby. They were all no doubt curious to check out the two strange foreigners who had suddenly appeared in their midst, and of course our host was only too happy to show us off.
Thanks in good part to the friendship formed through Tony's drinking prowess, our host also helped to arrange for two villagers with motorbikes to take us the 20 kilometres back to Mashi. It was during the ride back that I experienced a real scare. I had my right arm extended behind me, holding onto the back of the motorbike to keep myself steady on the bumpy track, when I thought I sensed something brush ever so lightly against my hand. Instinctively, I moved my hand to my back pocket to check that my wallet was still safely there, but to my horror, it wasn't!
I quickly asked my rider to stop, hopped off, and started running frantically back up the track, looking everywhere for my wallet. Incredibly, after just a few moments, I saw it resting in an inverted V position in plain view on a dry part of the track. I was so lucky, because it could have easily bounced off into the vegetation beside the track, or submerged itself in one of the many puddles, or I could have simply not even have felt it leave my pocket at all. I vowed to take much better care of it from thereon in.
The drama over, we soon arrived safely back in Mashi, collected the bulk of our gear that we'd left at the guesthouse, then caught a passing bus back to Lianzhou, where we spent the night in a nice hotel--a pleasant contrast to the previous two nights' accommodation.
Story continues at 26°N 112°E.