08-Aug-2003 -- It was a free Saturday, my wife and daughter were out doing their own things, so it was a good time to try and knock off another confluence. The number of unvisited confluences within a day's travel from Chengdu are rapidly shrinking, and this one was to be next.
The confluence is north-northwest of Chengdu about 150 km. There is an expressway for 100 km to Mianyang and from there to Jiangyou it is a good highway. The bus is the cheapest way to go, so with camera, maps and my GPS, I hopped on my bike to the bus station. Getting to correct bus station is the trick. With five million people in the city, there are lots of bus stations about 15, each servicing particular cities. I mistakenly went to the bus station near the North Train Station, only to be shooed away, It's not here, go to the Zhaojuesi Bus Station. Back on the bike for another four kilometers. This is a new bus station with guards and the guard at the gate kindly allowed me to park my bike beside the guardhouse.
I got the express to Jiangyou (which sounds like soy sauce, in Chinese), and had a quick bowl of noodles with jiangyou before departing on the 9:30 AM bus. Just over two hours, but not quite long enough to finish the "Die Another Day" 007 movie (video buses: the bane of long distance travel throughout Asia) and we pulled into the Jiangyou bus station. Even a small town like this had two bus stations and I had to transfer to the north station to continue.
The taxi driver tried to talk me into taking the taxi there, but the price was 15 times more expensive than the bus. I went to Xiaoxigou, a mistake in hindsight. My maps were not very detailed so I ended up doing some backtracking by taking a mianbao taxi ("little bread" because that is the shape of the van) to Chonghua 8 km away. While I was waiting for the mianbao to show up, I bought an umbrella. It seems that on most confluence trips I end up buying one of these. I got a red one, like the one I had when I went with Targ Parsons and Richard Jones back in January to find the confluences along the Yangtze in the Three Gorges.
In Chonghua, I was 5.34 km from the confluence and it was raining hard. There was a ford river crossing and it looked scary; the water was moving fast. I gingerly inched across the 30 meters or so with the deepest part almost to my knees. Once on the other side, the town looked closed down. Nobody was doing anything out in this weather. Where the doors were open, I saw folks playing mahjong and cards, as nearly everyone in these parts does when they have spare time.
Walking along I spotted a motorcycle at a noodle restaurant and asked he would take me to the only place name I knew in the direction of the confluence, Pingqiao. The driver said the road was bad and it would cost me half as much as it took to get to from Chengdu to Jiangyou, even though it was only three kilometers away.
It had been raining for the past several days and everything was saturated. The streams were everywhere and all fast flowing. The road to Pingqiao was a meter-wide dirt track with high clay content. My driver poked along most of the way at a walking pace with feet extended to prevent us from going down. He was using road bike tires in knobby country.
I watched the GPS as we went and was fortunate to find that this little village lay in the direction of the confluence. However, when we arrived, I was still three kilometers away. It was too far to walk and return to Jiangyou in time for the last bus to Chengdu, so I asked him to continue. Some more cost negotiations ensued and we agreed on a price. Miraculously, the trail continued in the direction of the confluence. We pass several other small villages before we reached the end of the road for my driver. I was still 1,300 meters away. I asked him to wait for me and assured that he would by not paying him until I returned and we got back to Chonghua.
The GPS was pointing up a small cultivated valley. In fact, everything in this area is completely cultivated this being the edge of the Sichuan basin. Nearby stood the range Chaping Mountains, the Himalayan foothills beyond which lay Tibet. Working my way up the valley using tiny overgrown paths between crop, the rain and small streams made for slippery going. I didn't tell my driver how long I was going to be, because I had no idea. But I knew that I better try to find this point as quickly as possible.
Over the first ridge and into another small valley were several farm houses and more fields of rice and corn. I passed under a small aqueduct and found a wide path leading in the right direction. At 600 meters I spotted a house in the distance and hoped that the confluence would be nearby so the paths would be easy to find and well maintained. However, I once again underestimated the distance, and when I arrived I still had 300 meters to go. I looked like it was going to be over the next hill.
Trudging through fields, I came to the edge of steep hill with 100 meters to go. Rather than backtrack to find a path around the hill, I thought I would just go for the headstrong assault. This was a mistake. The tilled soil was giving way and a whole row of corn came tumbling down. In the process, I must have met an angry spider, because my left leg near the knee became very itchy (a week later while writing this it is still itchy). Another assault and I made it up to the top finding paths snaking through the brush, turning left or right depending on the GPS arrow. My GPS seemed to acting up, however, as the arrow would move widely from moment to moment. I could only hope that I was going in
the right direction. Over the hill and within the 100-meter "success" zone, the
zero point was in the middle of a terraced corn field. As luck would have it, it was right between terraces, and I fell as I tried to reach out to get the "perfect reading."
Photos recorded, I tried to hurry back as quickly as possible, but I wanted to avoid the mean spider hill so I chose a good stone path. Unfortunately, it wasn't headed to where my motorcycle driver was, and once again I had to backtrack. Arriving about an hour after I left, my driver was waiting for me with a a rather impatient look on his face. He then asked me what it the GPS was. He seemed a bit knowledgeable about its use and function and relaxed a bit. We mounted his steed and returned the way we came. I was very fortuitous that I was able to locate a road this close to confluence.
Back in Chonghua with 20 minutes before the last bus left for Jiangyou, first I passed the old bridge, recently colorfully renovated and a hangout for the over 80 crowd. A jovial bunch they asked me to come join them, but I had a bus to catch. Then I came across a makeshift gambling casino. I wanted to take some photographs, but the operators sternly told me not to. Someone in the crowd said to go ahead, but I think they just wanted to see me get beat up. The arrangement was three huge softball-sized dice mounted on a bungy cord a meter above a table with a string attached to the middle. The gamblers would put their bets on the addition of the numbers being low or high with 1:1 payoffs. There was a third category that if you guessed exactly, it paid 20:1. Money has changing hands at a furious pace with a crowd of 50 or so in a tiny storefront.
Back in Jiangyou, again I had 20 minutes before the last bus to Chengdu. I got on board and was disheartened to find only two other passengers on a big aircon bus. The last time this happened, the driver cancelled the trip and said come back tomorrow. But luck was on my side, and we left as scheduled. In Chengdu the bus station was almost deserted, but fortunately my bike was still here.
This was my first solo confluence hunt and it went quite well. I decided to call this the Himalayan Foothill Confluence Point.