26-Jul-2003 -- Continued from 28°N 116°E.
Friday 25 July 2003 – I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., giving myself plenty of time to get organised and check out of the hotel before heading down to the bus station to catch the 7:25 a.m. bus from Nanchang to Xiushui. This was a four-hour journey, but Xiushui was still considerably short of my goal. In Xiushui, another passenger (a pretty girl returning home from college) and I shared a motorbike, which had been converted into a mini-truck, across town to a different bus station, where we caught a bus to Daqiao. I paid for the motorbike-truck, and she later reciprocated by buying me two bottles of chilled water.
We arrived in Daqiao at 1:45 p.m. From Daqiao, I started walking down the road towards Shuiyuan, although this was really too far to walk, especially in this heat. Along the way I learned that there would be transportation coming by in an hour's time, so I stopped in a small restaurant and ordered a bowl of noodles. It wasn't long before I drew an enormous crowd of curious onlookers, but when my noodles arrived, I managed to dismiss most of them with a big "Bye bye!" They thought I was hilarious.
The predicted bus arrived and I caught it, disembarking in Shuiyuan at 3:50 p.m. The confluence was still a further 3.5 kilometres to the west. I "checked into" (i.e. left my bag at) the local guesthouse, which charged a nightly rate of five yuan (US$0.60) for a private room with double bed. The bathroom was not nearly as salubrious as the one I'd grown accustomed to in my hotel room in Nanchang though.
I then set out for a reconnoitre of the area, without any real hope of achieving the confluence in the short amount of daylight remaining. As I walked westwards out of town, I passed a busy warehouse where silkworm cocoons were being processed. There was a truck loaded to overflowing with cocoons parked out front, and inside great mounds of cocoons were being swept and shovelled into place. Sellers were bringing more cocoons in through the rear of the warehouse, huge basketfuls at a time, where they were weighed and the details dutifully recorded by clerks sitting at a desk. It was quite a spectacle.
Continuing out of town, it soon became obvious that a ridge of mountains separated me from the confluence point, which looked to be high up in the hills. I followed the road as it cut through the mountain ridge, getting to within one kilometre of the confluence at one point. But even on the other side, the approach to the confluence looked anything but easy. I climbed up one hill for a better look, but couldn't identify any promising routes in.
From my maps, I knew the road eventually turned north and came back close to the confluence again, so I followed it a bit further, but eventually had to give in and think about getting back before the light faded. I was lucky to catch a lift on the back of a truck carrying what looked like gypsum. I was perched atop the load together with a bunch of itinerant workers from Guizhou Province, and although the ride was not very comfortable, it sure beat walking.
Back in Shuiyuan, I had dinner at the guesthouse, bought a few provisions for the following day (biscuits, bottled water), then went to bed early, at about 8 p.m.
Saturday 26 July 2003 – At first light, 5:30 a.m., I set off on foot down the road westwards out of Shuiyuan again. After walking a kilometre or so, I managed to get a lift in a passing truck carrying bricks. Every now and then the driver had to stop and throw water onto the brakes to cool them down. The truck turned out to be going just where I wanted to go. We followed the road west, then north, just as shown on my map, and at 7 a.m., after covering a distance of 10 kilometres, I hopped out with the confluence now 1.7 kilometres to the east. I was approaching it from completely the opposite direction to what I had the day before.
I was able to follow a dirt road part of the way up a valley to a collection of farmhouses. The confluence was located in the hills well behind and above the farmhouses, and there were trails to follow most of the way because much of the area was cultivated. I ended up taking a few wrong paths before eventually finding one that led more or less to the confluence, which was on a hillside near a disused paddy field.
Above the small stream that had once been used to irrigate this and nearby paddies, I saw a huge, brilliantly coloured dragonfly, hovering motionless, every few seconds dipping her abdomen into the water, presumably laying eggs. My close approach to take her photo didn't seem to affect her rhythm the least bit.
At 8:45 a.m. I made my way to the edge of the disused paddy field, as close as I could to the confluence, and recorded the GPS reading there, as well as taking the north, south, east and west photos. The hillside to the southwest, where the confluence was located, was pretty much impenetrable, so I decided not to go for a perfect reading on this occasion. Elevation at the paddy field was exactly 500 metres, and the GPS was providing 9-metre accuracy. I was 14.2 metres from the confluence, so the DCP aggregate accuracy was 23.2 metres.
By 10 a.m. I was back at the main road, walking back towards Shuiyuan. Along the way I passed a guy walking the other way, and he asked me where I was going. When I told him, he said to wait, while he rushed home to get his motorbike. He then gave me a free ride all the way into Shuiyuan. It seemed that, no matter where I went in Jiangxi Province, the people were all the same, so kind and eager to help the weird foreigner.
Back at my guesthouse at 10:45 a.m., I was greeted with the bad news that there were no more buses to Daqiao today. Based on my previous luck with getting lifts from passers-by, I decided to grab my bag and head on down the road anyway. Just out of Shuiyuan I bought a bag of small steamed pork buns. They were really good to eat as I walked along, and later I wished I'd bought more.
It was a very long hike back to Daqiao, although I did manage to get a lift for one kilometre in the same brick truck, now empty, that had given me a lift earlier that morning, the driver now returning home for lunch, which he really wanted me to stay and eat with him and his family. But I had my sights set on the next confluence, so I graciously turned down his kind offer. I was also given a lift the final kilometre into Daqiao by a passing motorcyclist, arriving at 12:55 p.m.
From Daqiao I took a minivan, which served as an alternative to the regular bus service, back to the county capital Xiushui. In Xiushui it was necessary to take a motorbike across town to another bus station, from where I could catch a bus heading in the direction I needed to go. Although there were no buses at that time, I settled on another alternative minivan service to the town of Huanggang, which got me at least part of the way.
I arrived in Huanggang at 3:35 p.m., and waited patiently at the eastern outskirts of town for any likely looking transport going my way, but after nearly an hour, on the advice of locals, I decided to pack it in for the day, and went and checked into the best hotel the town had to offer, where I got a nice clean room with an en suite bathroom for an extremely reasonable rate. After a shampoo and blow-dry, followed by dinner complemented by some fruit I'd bought, I retired to bed early.
Story continues at 29°N 115°E.