This is the second of a three-confluence hunt trip done in northeastern Sichuan in late
I felt things were going pretty well. I was back on the road waiting for the bus after
being freshly showered and laundered following a strenuous, but successful visit to 32° N 108° E.
Not far from the miners apartment building was a group of workers doing other
coal-related things. There was no sex discrimination here. A couple of women had the
unenviable job of loading the coal trucks. This entailed climbing into the dump truck bed,
and the opening a coal chute. Coal thunders into the bed of the truck a thick cloud of
fine coal dust engulfs the truck. The women were dusted black from head to toe. Their
faces were smeared with coal dust and they had filthy “dust masks,” mere rags, hanging around their necks.
I had nothing to do but wait in the hot sun, so I watched them work. They got curious
about me and came over to chat. They said buses to Dazhou were frequent which was
encouraging. One group, including two other women, was working on lowering the pavement
where the coal was loaded because the trucks could not fit under the loading chutes.
Buses northbound to Wanyuan where I just came from were passing by every five or ten
minutes, but the southbound us to Dazhou did not make an appearance for 90 minutes. By
this time I was very thirsty from having sweat buckets on the last confluence. When the
bus arrived, it felt like stepping into refrigerator; the air conditioning was on full
blast. When we stopped to get the bus washed, I bought two bottles of ice cold water. Now
I was in heaven.
The bus ride was a wonderful rest from the work out I got at the previous confluence.
Unlike most of the drivers in China, this one was in no hurry and eased on down the road
at a moderate pace. We arrived in Dazhou at 4 PM and the bus conductress said the best was
to Sanhui was by train. I jumped on a local bus to the train station. Once there, I took
one look at the lengthy lines and went to the information desk to ask about trains to
Sanui. The middle-aged woman said that the train cost 3.5 yuan and said she would buy me a
ticket before I could ask her about the schedule. I did not want look a gift horse in the
mouth, so with only 3.5 yuan at stake, I gave her the money and hoped for the best. She
came back two minutes later ticket in hand, saving me at least a half an hour of waiting
Fortune was similing on me; the train left in an hour, giving me time for a leisurely
dinner. The 17:30 train left four minutes early – I am glad I did not try to wait until the last minute. Thirty
minutes later we arrived in Sanhui. Stepping from the station an swarm of motorcycle taxis
beseiged me with offers to take me wherever I wanted to go. The time was 6 PM and I
thought if I was lucky, I might have a chance to do the confluence in Qinghua before dark.
A fellow train passenger came over to help. He said was going the same way and invited me
to join him. He led me through a tunnel under the tracks and then we boarded a mianbao
taxi. It was a ten-minute ride to the ferry and he would not let me pay.
The five-minute farry ride was also paid by him. On the other side, he contracted with
a motorcycle taxi to get us to Tuxi, a 15-minute ride. Once again, he would not let me pay
neither mine nor his fare. It was now 6:30 PM and I had a little more than an hour of
daylight left. I told my new friend my objective lay about five kilometers to the west
near the village of Qinghua. My friend suggested I get a different motorcycle taxi for the
rest of the trip, as the one we took was not familiar with the area.
My new motorcycle driver was a young man of 22, and very curious about what I was
doing. I showed him the GPS and told him that I wanted to go where the arrow pointed. This
is always a difficult concept to get across to people in the countryside, most of which
have no idea about latitude and longitude, never mind a GPS.
However, this young man was at least receptive, and kept asking me the way and how much
farther to go. The road detriorate to a small track, and then at 750 meters from the
confluence, it became a footpath which he would not ride on.
From the pointer of the GPS it appeared the confluence was just around the next hill. I
left my backpack with him and told him I would be right back.
I had about 30 minutes of light left, and I took off running down the path with the GPS
and camera. One thing I can not seem to do well, even after 17 confluences is estimate the
distance to landmarks, and this was no exception.
Just around the hill turned out to be just half the distance I needed to cover, with
the pointer going up the hill. I had come this far, and it looked like I could get there
pretty quick, so I decided to give it a shot.
The trails were like those throughout the fields of China: narrow, raised paths snaking
along the the edges of the fields of rice, corn, and rapeseed. Where the land is too steep
to culitivate, trees and thorn bushes thrive. Picking trails is a matter of choosing the
most used trail in the general direction of the pointer.
Along the way, I passed a farmhouse with two very protective dogs and no one about, so
using a fallen branch to keep them away, I safely made my way past.
Again, my sense of distance measurement, mislead me as I had only 400 meters to go, if
seemed as if the confluence should be on this side of the hill I was on, but as I got
closer I realized it was further still. So close, yet not there yet.
Time and light were both in short supply, so I made a dash for the confluence, and
reached it at 7:40 PM. It lay near the top of a cultivated hill. I quickly took the photos
and then monkeyed around with the GPS trying to get and photograph the "perfect
reading." Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it does not. This was the latter. Teh GPS elevation was 554 meters.
By the time I got the GPS photo darkness was falling fast. I did not come prepared to
walk in the dark as I had no flashlight. I knew that the straight line back would be the
shortest distance, but I felt it was better to retrace the way I came. I thought about my
motorcycle taxi driver and hoped that he would wait for me. Leaving my bag with him was in
a way a kind of insurance that he would not leave. That and the fact that I had not paid
The first part of the return trip was easy as I could still see in the fading light.
But then as I crossed back to the east side of the hill, the path became almost invisible.
I saved my route and then went traceback mode. This worked pretty well for a while.
I could hear the dogs at the farmhouse below and decided to hone in on that rather than
use the traceback function. But between here and there was a steep treed section of the
hill and I lost the trail for a while. Stumbling along blind, I slipped and went tumbling
down into a thicket of sticker bushes. Extracting myself from this mess was painful and
After brushing myself off and making sure I still had my camera and GPS, I continued
toward the barking dogs. Nearly all the field trails run from house to house, so getting
around invariably means going past the farmhouse front doors. I could hear the people
inside yelling at the dogs to shut up, but they continued barking up a storm.
When I got closer, I yelled to the occupants to get the dogs so I could pass. A young
girl emerged looking very surprised to see me. She grabbed one dog and yelled at the other
while I passed beside their house.
Safely past, I was back on track I took to get to the confluence. I could make out the
general layout of the land, but could not see the trails clearly. I continued to use the
traceback function on the GPS, but at some point I got off track. It appeared that I
should be heading down, but the pointer said go left. Checking the map page, I saw that I
was about 50 meters off track, but decided I would just continue along the path I was on
rather than climb back up and get on the original trail.
The narrow path, passed a rice paddy, and once I slipped and fell in sinking up to my
knees. Fortunately the camera did not get wet. But my feet kept sliping around in and out of my Teva sandals. I love wearing them, except when it gets muddy. I really should have worn proper shoes.
The night was moonless and lightly overcast making it very dark. By now I was only able
to move slowly, but could track my progress on the map page of the GPS. I was nearing a
turn in the hill where I would be in sight distance of where I left motorcycle taxi.
When I reached that point, I could see his headlight and hear him beeping his horn. I
yelled to him that I was coming. Hi continued to beep the horn, flash his headlight and
rev the engine. I still had 450 meters to go, and even though I could see where I needed
to end up, getting there was far from easy. I fell twice more, but fortunatly into dry
fields. Then I ended up in a rice paddy nearing harvest with the stalks up to my chest.
There was another farmhouse with dogs I needed to pass and I called out to the owners
to get the dogs. My driver kept yelling for me to hurry up while beeping and the horn and
reving the engine. As I got closer, he tried to be helpful by shining the headlight at me,
but it ended up just blinding me and slowing me down.
When I finally got back to him, he castized me for taking so long saying he was worried
to death. Looking at myself in the light, I saw I had ripped my shorts from the hem to the
belt exposing myself. Fortunately, I had my long pants that I wore earlier that day and
washed in Qinghua. They were still wet, but it was better than hanging out.
After changing, we hit the road, fast. I was in no position to tell him to slow down
since I had caused him to miss his dinner and his young wife and boy were waiting for him.
I asked him about trains going east, but he suggested that I spend the night in Tuxi
and catch the morning train.
When we arrived, his family and the man who helped me get to Tuxi in the afternoon met
us at the guesthouse. They confirmed that the best course of action was to spend the night
and I was put up in a big double bed room. After a desperately needed shower, I felt much
better and went down stairs for dinner.
The big thing going on at night in this village was the nightly barbeque. I was shown
to a table and everyone came by to have a chat with the foreign guest. By 10 PM I was
exhausted after a two-confluence day and retired to my room.
I named this the The Dreaded Sticker Bush Confluence
This story continues at 31°N 106°E.