03-Jul-2012 -- Story continues from 38°N 113°E.
We elect to return to Tàiyuán (太原市) via national route G307 rather than retrace our steps to the freeway entrance at Shòuyáng County (寿阳县). At first this seems like a good decision, because the road is exceptionally good, with very little traffic. But later on we discover the reason why there is next to no traffic. The latter half of the journey is a seemingly endless series of roadworks, and we wonder if we shall ever get back to Tàiyuán.
Eventually we do reach Tàiyuán, and at around 5 pm I book into a nice hotel, conveniently located near the central bus station and railway station. Peter has time to have a shower before heading out to the airport to return the rental car, and catch his 8 pm flight home to Chéngdū (成都市). The damage to the car is assessed at 600 yuan (around US$ 95), which we agree is pretty fair, and we split the cost.
I am now on my own, in terms of both company and means of transport. I walk down to the train station, and buy a ticket on the 6:43 am train tomorrow morning to Zhènchéngdǐ Town (镇城底镇). When I get back to my hotel room, there is a small chocolate bar on the bed, together with a card detailing tomorrow’s weather forecast. It’s going to be a scorcher: sunny and 34°C!
The next morning I get up early. I must forego the complimentary breakfast in order to catch my 6:43 am train. As I walk to the train station, I stop at one of the many street vendors to buy a pancake, rolled up and stuffed with a variety of things including egg and lettuce. It’s a pretty doughy affair, requiring copious amounts of water to wash it down, but all in all, it’s not too bad.
The train station is extremely well organised—nothing like the old days! Although my train ticket cost only 4.50 yuan (US$ 0.70), I am still subjected to two ticket checks, including having to produce my ID card (just as I was required to do when I bought the ticket last night), followed by an X-ray of my bags, then a walk-through metal detector, and finally a pat down, and scan with a hand-held detector.
Strategically positioned, large electronic signs expertly guide me to the correct waiting lounge, where there is an uncustomary state of calm as passengers patiently await the call for the final ticket inspection and boarding. This is a far cry from the bedlam and crushing humanity previously encountered in large railway stations!
The train leaves exactly on time at 6:43 am. Travelling by train is very relaxing and sedate compared to the frenetic pace of driving, where one must remain continually on the alert to avoid being caught up in someone else’s accident.
The train arrives in Zhènchéngdǐ on schedule at 8:35 am. As I walk from the station, I’m approached by several minivan drivers, and eventually agree with one on a reasonable price to take me to the confluence, wait, and then bring me back.
We travel northwest on provincial route S252 towards Fénhé Reservoir (汾河水库). Shortly after passing Cèmǎ Village (策马村), at the turn-off to a very rugged uphill dirt track approximately 500 m from the confluence, we stop, and I get out and proceed on foot. There is an abandoned brick building at the commencement of this track.
Along the way, I see lots of butterflies and grasshoppers. There are pretty little pink flowers growing in the middle of the track. Many ants also make their home in the sandy soil of the track, as evidenced by the myriad small holes, each one surrounded by a mound of excavated earth.
About halfway up the hill to the confluence, I come across a bunch of much bigger holes, and a bit further on, two gentlemen in the process of digging more. By coincidence, I have just read an article entitled China leads march for green economy in the New Scientist magazine (issue no. 2869, 16 June 2012), in which it says: “China is paying farmers to reforest their land, adding to the country’s tree cover.” The track has already been planted with a line of evergreen trees on either side, offering shade to the weary confluence visitor.
Suddenly a rabbit jumps out in front of me, and takes off at speed up the track, before disappearing into the vegetation on the opposite side.
The confluence is located just a few metres off the track to the right, and is very easy to reach. I take the customary GPS and north-south-east-west photos, then head back down to my waiting minivan driver.
My driver drops me off at what passes for the Zhènchéngdǐ bus station: the back of a petrol station. I am soon on a bus to Gǔjiāo City (古交市), and once in Gǔjiāo, transfer to a Tàiyuán bus, which takes me as far as the Tàiyuán west bus station, from which a no. 852 commuter bus takes me the rest of the way back to my starting point, the Tàiyuán train station.
I purchase my train ticket for tomorrow’s confluence hunt, then walk back to my hotel, where I find a birthday cake and a collection of fruit waiting for me in my room. These are compliments of the hotel, which must have noted the birth date on my passport when I registered. A very pleasant surprise! Later that evening, I treat myself to the combination Western and Asian buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Story continues at 37°N 112°E.