27-Oct-2001 -- (This story continues on from our account of confluence
23º north, 111º east).
FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER 2001
At 2:50 p.m. we boarded a luxury air-conditioned bus, which travelled east on route 324, from Cenxi in the Guanxi Autonomous Region, to Luoding in Guangdong Province, arriving at 3:50 p.m. Half an hour later we were on another luxury bus that took us further east along route 324 to Yunfu, arriving there at about 5:30 p.m.
We decided to take advantage of what little daylight still remained to conduct a reconnoitre of the nearby confluence, which lay roughly 10 kilometres to the north, close to the border between Yunfu and Yun'an counties. We waved down a taxi, and off we went, arriving in fading light. The confluence was about half a kilometre off the road to the left, in some very hilly and seemingly inaccessible terrain. In fact, we estimated that it might actually be in a valley between what appeared to be two mountains. It was very hard to tell in that poor light. Our taxi driver asked the police at a nearby police post, and it was surmised that there might be a road serving a mine that ran down this supposed valley, but that we'd have to go all the way back into town to get onto this other road. Tony also remembered seeing a side road some way back down the highway that he thought went up the side of the mountain in the general direction of where we needed to be. We had our taxi driver go back and look for Tony's road, but we couldn't find it in the dark. We then went down another road chosen by the taxi driver, but the GPS soon showed that this road was leading us in the wrong direction, and in the end we decided to abandon the search until the morning.
During all this time, our taxi driver revealed himself to be the "know-it-all" kind. He was from Sichuan Province, and had been driving a taxi in Yunfu for only three months. Previously he had been a policeman for two years, and a doctor for eight. When we told him, on the way back into town, that Tony needed to buy some shoes, he proudly added to his past exploits a spell working in the shoe industry. He knew "for sure" that the only place we would find a pair of running shoes big enough to fit Tony's size 46 feet was at the local sports complex, which didn't close until 11 p.m. Of course, when we arrived there at 7 p.m., it was already shut! Undeterred, our driver spotted a sporting goods shop a little further down the road, and stopped there for Tony to get out and take a look. They didn't really have what Tony was looking for, but they did have his size. Targ urged Tony to at least buy one pair, because his last remaining pair of footwear had been destroyed in the quicksand during the previous confluence attempt in Guangxi earlier that day, leaving him with nothing at all. Besides, one really couldn't go wrong for only 40 yuan (US$5). The deal was done, and we piled back in the taxi one last time for the short trip to the best hotel in town. The entire taxi ride out to the confluence and back, including the excursion down the wrong road, and the stop to buy runners, came to 80 yuan (US$10). The hotel was 150 yuan (US$18) per night for a double room.
It came complete with a non-stop series of telephone calls and knocks on the door from hopeful prostitutes. We'd experienced the telephone calls at our hotel stay in Cenxi the night before, but the knocks on the door were a new twist, especially the one we were to receive from three extremely hopeful girls at 7 a.m. the following morning!
We went out for a walk that evening. We passed through a whole mob of prostitutes hanging around outside the front of the hotel, and made our way to a nearby department store. Tony bought a pair of shoes for his elder daughter, after a quick call to his wife on the cell phone to confirm the correct shoe size. Targ bought a jar in which to put his crown of thorns plant cutting, collected on the journey to Cenxi the day before. We then walked through a market, where Tony bought a second pair of little girl's shoes, looked at backpacks (worried that with all these purchases, he wasn't going to have sufficient room in his current backpack to fit them all in), but didn't find one he fancied, and also looked for a better pair of runners, again not finding anything to his liking.
Finally we stopped for dinner at a roadside restaurant. Targ tried to impress the very outgoing young lady who ran the tiny establishment by helping her to make dumplings, but gave up after making only one quite hideous looking abomination. The ruse must have worked however, as he eventually left with her name, address, and contact telephone numbers, all neatly written down on a piece of paper!
We ended up eating an eight-course dinner consisting of stewed cat, boiled dumplings (including Targ's hopelessly malformed one), snails, pig penises, eel, local medicinal tea, tapioca, and bean jelly. The cat stew was by far the tastiest of the lot, however with only a fifth of a cat per serve, and that one serve shared between the two of us, not to mention the fact that the cat was probably pretty skinny to start with, there wasn't an awful lot to go around. The whole meal came to 75 yuan (US$9), which made it the most expensive meal of our entire trip (excluding the dinner for four we'd had at the Shenzhen Airport two nights before). On the walk back to the hotel, Tony elected to pop into a hairdresser, and emerged practically unrecognizable. He first asked for his thick black beard and moustache to be completely shaved off, and when the gentleman with the cut-throat razor had gained Tony's confidence by successfully carrying out this task unaided by shaving cream, Tony asked him to continue with his entire scalp as well. He went in looking like a Muslim, and came out looking like a Buddhist!
SATURDAY 27 OCTOBER 2001
This morning we elected to sleep in a little, and did not check out of our hotel until 7:30 a.m. Mr. Know-It-All was waiting with his taxi parked right outside the front door of the hotel when we emerged. We'd decided, in the interests of time, that we wouldn't go on any more wild goose chases hunting down mythical roads which may or may not lead us closer to the confluence, but rather to just bite the bullet and climb the mountain from the main road. We therefore asked our taxi driver to simply take us back to the border post. He would have stayed there and waited for us, but we explained that after this, we would not be going back to Yunfu, but instead continuing north to Yun'an. We left our backpacks at the police post, and proceeded to tackle the mountain. It wasn't long before we found ourselves making our way upward along the tiny paths between rubber trees. The whole mountainside was virtually one big rubber plantation. The bark of each tree was carefully scored in a V shape, so that the sap would run down and be collected in a small plastic container attached to the side of the tree. We encountered a couple of people doing this scoring of the trees as we made our way up. We made reasonable progress until we got to within a hundred or so metres of the confluence, whereupon the rubber trees suddenly stopped, and we were faced with a virtually impenetrable wall of dense foliage. Tony had found the ascent quite taxing thus far, and this was all the excuse he needed to give up the chase, claiming he could climb no more. Targ tried to find a way through the thick growth, and after 20 minutes or so of clambering and rolling and slithering his way forward, finally emerged upon some more rubber trees. These he followed all the way up to the confluence, which lay just a couple of metres above one of the tiny paths, next to a large boulder amid some very heavy foliage.
Targ quickly took the photos looking north, south, east, and west, while at the same time being consumed by swarms of zebra-coloured mosquitoes and all manner of other tiny flying life forms. Fortunately for him, he suffered no apparent ill effects from this feeding frenzy. The same could not be said for Tony however, who himself was being eaten alive at the spot where he was patiently waiting for Targ's return. Later on, Tony's arms were to swell up into thousands of nasty-looking red welts. Targ followed the rubber trees back down from the confluence, rather than fighting his way back through the bush the way he had come. This meant that finding Tony again became a bit of a problem, made even more difficult by the fact that Tony is somewhat hard of hearing. Eventually, by carefully examining the breadcrumbs on the GPS, Targ managed to get to a point close enough for Tony to hear his cries, and it was then a relatively simple task to locate one another by following the sounds of our voices.
We descended together back to the police post, and arrived completely drenched in sweat, but happy nonetheless. We washed up and changed our clothes at the police post, repacked our bags, then crossed the road and waited for a passing bus heading north to Yun'an. A policewoman from the police post joined us, and when we all boarded the bus, she insisted on paying our fares, which was extremely kind of her. She got off not more than a hundred metres up the road at the tollgate, where she worked as a toll collector. (This story continues with our next confluence attempt at
24º north, 112º east).
(N/S/E/W photos are available but due to dense foliage not included. Available if requested.)