15-May-2003 -- Continued from 29°N 110°E.
Wednesday 14 May 2003 (Day 23) - Another day devoted exclusively to travelling. I checked out of my hotel in Yongshun early, and was at the bus station by 5:30 a.m., having seen a sign the day before stating that the first bus southwest to Baojing left at 6 a.m. However, I had to wait until 6:30 a.m., when the bus had filled to capacity, before we were finally on our way. Even then, it wasn't long before we were stopping again to cram in yet more passengers.
I arrived in Baojing at 8 a.m., and immediately boarded a minivan to take me further southwest to Huayuan. From Huayuan, another minivan ride took me west to Chadong, on the border between Hunan Province and Chongqing Municipality. Yet another minivan ride took me west to Xiushan, where I arrived at 12:45 p.m.
In Xiushan, I boarded what should have been the last minivan ride of the day, north to Youyang. However, at 3 p.m., halfway through the journey, the road became completely impassable, due to the combined effects of roadworks and heavy rain. There was nothing else to do but to get out and start traipsing through the mud. After walking some distance, a few of my co-passengers and I came across a motorised three-wheeler, and we engaged this to take us the few remaining kilometres to a town called Longtan.
There was no public transport available from Longtan to Youyang by this late in the afternoon, so instead I hired a car to take me the remaining 35 kilometres, a journey that was to take three and a half hours due to the very poor state of the road. My driver was excellent company--a pretty 23-year-old, married four years already, with a three-year-old son. She was a good driver, although I wondered how she managed with the super-long-toed high-heeled shoes she was wearing.
We arrived in Youyang at 6:30 p.m., and my driver dropped me off at a nice hotel. The confluence was 28 kilometres to the northeast.
Thursday 15 May 2003 (Day 24) - I woke shortly before 6 a.m. and checked out of the hotel, leaving my large bag at reception. I then made my way to the bus station, where I boarded a minivan for Mawang. We had to play the normal, time-consuming game of waiting until all the seats were occupied before commencing our journey. We were finally on our way shortly after 7 a.m., just as light rain began to fall.
I arrived in Mawang at 9 a.m., 13.3 kilometres SSW of the confluence. From here, I took a one-hour bus ride to Ganxi, just 3.9 kilometres ENE of the confluence. The rest of the journey was on foot, and in the rain. I began by following a road. When 750 metres west, I stopped to take a photo of the misty mountains in which the confluence was located. The task looked formidable. It was. In fact, this turned out to be the most difficult of the 12 confluences I tackled on this trip.
I proceeded further along the road until I found what I thought would be a good path leading off and up in the direction of the confluence. By now, the rain was coming down mercilessly. I climbed up the hill as far as I could, until the path petered out altogether and further progress became impossible, leaving me still 500 metres short of my goal. The confluence was ensconced in thick vegetation near the peak of the hill.
I descended some distance, then made my way around the hill, with a view to tackling it from a different approach. Once again I was thwarted, but this time only 160 metres away. With no other viable options evident, the only alternative was to resort to brute force. I had long since given up any hope of attempting to remain dry. Now I clambered up the very steep slope, pulling myself up through the drenching undergrowth an inch at a time by grabbing onto anything I could, including the occasional thorn bush. My goal was simply to get to the 100-metre mark, then register it as a successful visit.
After well over an hour of really hard slogging, I finally reached the 100-metre mark...and a path! Following the path took me to within about 25 metres, so I once more resumed my scramble through the rain-soaked vegetation, slipping and sliding my way downhill this time, until I eventually managed to register a reading 0.1 second adrift. The elevation was 645 metres, which was roughly 250 metres higher than the road. The views to the north, south, east and west were basically of nothing but the immediate vegetation, which, although not so noticeable in the photos, was indeed very very wet.
Readers may wonder why I did not persevere until I attained the holy grail of a perfect reading. But the signal was not good, and as a consequence the confluence kept moving about, even crossing the path at one stage. Making any progress at all, once off the path, was excruciatingly difficult and time-consuming, and I was miserable, uncomfortable and soaked to the bone, so I figured 0.1 second was exceedingly good given the circumstances, especially considering I was ready to settle for 100 metres earlier on.
By 2:15 p.m., I had found my way back to Ganxi, and was waiting for a bus. I took the opportunity to take off my waterlogged boots, wring out my socks, and comb the leaves and twigs out of my sopping wet hair. The skin of my fingers was all wrinkled from the wet, as though I'd spent the past few hours in a swimming pool.
The bus for Mawang soon came, and in Mawang I immediately boarded a minivan for the trip back to Youyang, with hopes of catching the 6 p.m. bus from Youyang to Chongqing. These hopes were dashed however, when the minivan driver decided to stop and offer a tow to another stricken minivan, an effort that ended in failure after about 500 metres, when we hit the first uphill stretch, and the wheels started spinning in the mud.
It was probably just as well that I missed the Chongqing bus, because I was still very cold and wet, and in desperate need of a hot shower. I checked back into my hotel, and began to feel human once more after showering, changing into a set of warm dry clothes, eating a big dinner in the hotel restaurant, and availing myself of the hotel hairdresser. I also went out and bought the cheapest blow-drier I could find--not to dry my hair, but to dry my clothes, boots, and other saturated items. It was very effective, and I kept it whirring away most of the night.
Friday 16 May 2003 (Day 25) - When I awoke, the extent of all the cuts and scratches I'd sustained scrambling about in the vegetation the day before became painfully obvious. I went downstairs and decided to try out the hotel's 5-yuan (US$0.60) set breakfast, and was overwhelmed by the amount of food I received. I was glad I hadn't opted for the 10-yuan breakfast instead.
Normally, there are five buses a day between Youyang and Chongqing, but this had recently been cut back to two, due to the limited demand resulting from the SARS epidemic. The two remaining buses left at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. I had just missed the 6 p.m. bus the day before, so now I was going to catch the 10:30 a.m. bus. I checked out of my hotel and got to the bus station in plenty of time. I bought my ticket and got on board, and was soon joined by three other passengers. However, at 10:30 a.m., we were told the bad news. SARS had claimed another victim: the 10:30 a.m. bus. Now there was only one bus a day to Chongqing, and we'd have to come back at 6 p.m. for it.
Luckily, it was not raining. To fill in the time, I went for a walk around Youyang, snapping a few photos here and there, such as a roadside fortune-teller, the ubiquitous pavement Chinese chess match, and a one-man noodle factory.
As I continued to wander the streets, a university student from Chongqing stopped and picked me up on her motor scooter. She was an English major, studying to become an English teacher, and spoke very fluent English. Her university in Chongqing had been closed due to SARS, so she was back in her hometown of Youyang, looking for a way to pass the time, just like me. She drove me all over the place, including to her ancestral home in the countryside, and later to her parents' home in the police barracks; her father was a policeman. It was an interesting and pleasant way to while away the afternoon.
Saturday 17 May 2003 (Day 26) - The bus trip from Youyang to Chongqing took 18 hours. It was a sleeper bus, although I did not sleep all that well. The road was in a shocking condition, and driving at night was truly terrifying. There were huge holes, big enough to engulf the entire bus, which had been dug in the middle of the road and then just left totally unmarked. Fortunately both our drivers knew the road like the back of their hand, and we all arrived safely. The journey took a few hours longer than normal though, firstly due to a very lengthy stop at a SARS checkpoint during the middle of the night, and secondly because of a flat tyre.
I arrived in Chongqing shortly after noon, with no time left for any more confluencing, because I had to be back at work in Hong Kong on Monday. I'd managed to visit only one of the four remaining unvisited Chongqing confluences. My thoughts now turned to getting home. I wanted to catch the airport shuttle bus, but I soon discovered that even that had been cancelled due to the SARS epidemic, so instead I took a taxi to the airport.
Once at the Chongqing Airport, it was a simple matter to catch the 3:40 p.m. flight to Shenzhen, then a ferry from the Shenzhen Airport to Hong Kong Island, and then another ferry to Lamma Island and home.
During my interrupted three-week trip, I'd visited 12 new confluences, most of which had been done in the rain. Although I'd encountered some setbacks, these were more than compensated for by the highlights. Overall, it had been a tremendously enjoyable experience. Needless to say, I am now eagerly looking forward to the next trip.