07-Sep-2004 -- This confluence was not easy, although in the end it turned out to be on a road. We spent two days and three separate attempts until we succesfully got to the confluence.
The confluence was only about 25 kms out of an ancient walled town called Pingyao in Shanxi province of China. The streets are paved in stone and the houses and buildings are traditional in design with swooping, tiled roofs and colorful paintings. We decided to attempt our adventure on bicycles. We rented two shiny one-speed bikes and tackled the outrageous traffic of the wildwest town. Once tourists leave the quiet, cobbled enclave within the walls they are back into Western China and emersed fully in the traffic and smoke and noise and pollution. We unfortunately headed down the wrong road as we left town and even though we were headed in the right direction the road slowly but surely curved away from our point. We spent the next few hours accending more than 1000m up into the mountains past belching lime pits and coal smoke. Gigantic trucks full of coal dust would blast past and blare a greeting on their airhorns almost knocking us off our flimsy rides.
Our bikes soon became no match for the road and incline so we were forced to push them up the hills for fear of losing the groaning, clanking chain. We finally had to stop when the road ended in a mining camp and so we sat in a small restaurant while miners observed us carefully and suspiciously. Outside the restaurant we could see a coal mine being worked. A pully system was rigged up and would pull small train cars full of coal out of the mine shaft. Three men, turned black by the dust, would dump the coal down a hill where it could later be picked up by a truck. As the coal was dumped down the hilll the pile became larger and additional sections of rail were laid on the pile of coal itself. When we left the restaurant we had a 45 minute coast back to town, downhill the entire way, where we gleefully put our feet on the handle bars and waved at school kids, making them laugh.
The next day we decided to attempt the confluence again and this time we caught a local minibus in the correct direction on the correct road. We hollered for the bus to stop on the side of the road and baffled the passengers when we got off. We started walking and happened upon a small town having a huge festival. Suddenly we were in the middle of a crowded market place where most people may never have seen a foreigner. We walked slowly through the crowd and laughed out loud as almost every person stopped in their tracks and stared. People would actually run into shops and call everyone outside to look at us. We soon had a following of small boys who seemed proud that they were walking with us.
Eventually we were out of town and into the countryside and we started walking quickly toward the distant hills in which we had biked the day before. The road started to ascend and we again passed lime pits and smoky coal fires. Jeff bought a traditional blue Chinese workers' cap and we yelled Ni Hao to people as we walked. Halfway up the hill a truck approached and we hailed it to stop. We jumped in the back and bumped the rest of the way up. At the top of the hill, within 500m of the point we came upon a beautiful eroded valley. The valley was horseshoe shaped and all up and down the slopes were houses carved into the hillside itself. In China 100 million people live with at least one wall of their house as part of a hill. We walked along a road to the other side of the valley and incredibly the confluence point was actually ON the road. If it had been 5 metres to the South it would have been on the side of a cliff and this story could well be an attempt.
In the end we succesfully nailed the confluence point and happily sat in the setting sun admiring the stunning arid valley with its clean mountain air looking out over the adjacent plain of factories and smoke stacks. Across the valley a goatherd lounged in the grass as his nimble animals grazed the cliffs.
A walk down and a hitchike back got us to our hotel where we celebrated our success with a 70 year old doctor and a bottle of 56% Baijou (Chinese liquor that tastes like fruit vinager and gasoline).