25-Sep-2004 -- I originally planned to make this confluence journey back at Easter time, but work commitments intervened, and it is not until late September that I finally manage to get away for a week, enough time to tackle the five remaining unvisited confluences in Guangxi.
Fri 24-Sep-2004, 5 p.m. - I'm safely on board the ferry, travelling from Kowloon to the Shenzhen Airport. But I only just made it. I got away from the office considerably later than planned, and was then further delayed when the M49 commuter bus from the south to the north side of Hong Kong Island got stuck in traffic. I eventually abandoned the bus and covered the final kilometre to Central on foot, where I caught the cross-harbour Star Ferry to Kowloon, arriving with just minutes to spare.
7 p.m. - A few pleasant surprises at the Shenzhen Airport since my last time here. I first look around aimlessly for the airport tax counter, which is nowhere to be found, until a helpful girl at a nearby airline counter explains that airport tax has now been abolished. Hooray! I then half-heartedly ask her if there's an earlier flight to Nanning than my 9:30 p.m. flight, not really expecting any joy, but am proven wrong when she directs me to another counter where I can exchange my ticket for the 9 p.m. flight. At this new counter, a whole bevy of young lasses fall over themselves in their efforts to please as they get me changed over to the earlier flight, for which I'm most grateful.
10:30 p.m. - The airport bus operates efficiently as always, whisking me along the practically deserted freeway from the airport to downtown Nanning. In town, I catch a no. 32 commuter bus to Nanning's northernmost bus station at Anji. Here I am once again assisted by several eager young ladies, who get me checked into a room in the bus station guesthouse. At 30 yuan (US$4) a night, it's Spartan, but clean, spacious, convenient and safe.
Sat 25-Sep-2004, 5:30 a.m. - I'm up before it's light, because I want to check out early and catch the first bus to Du'an. I hammer on the door of room 301 and wake up the poor guest inside. Whoops! I now remember the manager's office is one flight down, in room 201.
I just miss the first bus to Du'an at 6 a.m., but this means I'm first on board the next one at 6:15 a.m., and can sequester my favourite seat at the front next to the driver.
7 a.m. - Not long after heading north out of Nanning, we are travelling through the wonderfully picturesque karst mountains, which I once believed were to be found only in and around the famous tourist destinations of Guilin and Yangshuo, but which I now know extend across much of Guangxi.
Du'an County is situated just a few hours by good road NNW of Guangxi's capital city Nanning. Its topography is almost entirely rugged limestone karst rising in steep slopes. Although Du'an is largely rural, much of its 4,095 square kilometres is utterly unsuited for farming, with 89 percent being karst rock formations. Stretching both sides of a broad river valley are "sinkhole" basins interspersed between perpendicular outcrops. In these sinkholes, farms are clustered in areas often only the size of a football field.
Du'an County's ethnic mix is almost as evocative as its stony mountains. Du'an claims at least a dozen distinct minorities, among them the Miao, Mulao and Maonan. Yet it is denoted by Beijing as a Yao Nationality Autonomous County, since the Yao comprise 22 percent of Du'an's total population of roughly 620,000. The Yao aren't the major ethnic group however; that would be the Zhuang, a distinct Chinese people with their own language. Ninety percent of China's 17 million Zhuang live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
10:15 a.m. - The bus arrives in Du'an, and I check into the hotel across the street from the bus station, where I leave most of my belongings while I go off in search of the confluence, 12 kilometres to the northwest. Enquiries about local buses going that way prove fruitless, so I elect to engage one of the hopeful taxi drivers waiting out front of the hotel. We negotiate a fair price, and then head off in the direction of Bao'an, the gravel road passing just 1.4 kilometres from the confluence. At this point, the confluence is southwest of the road, apparently up a cultivated valley nestled between tall karst mountains.
After one abortive attempt that culminates in a dead end, we find the correct turnoff that takes us up the valley towards the confluence. I'm able to get out of the cab just 300 metres from my objective. Following the pointer on the GPS, I walk along the base of a karst mountain, past a small quarry, wondering if the confluence is going to be on flat ground or atop a rocky outcrop. With the point just 100 metres east, I'm still not sure.
At last I'm at the spot, thankfully still a dozen metres from the base of the mountain, in a field of huangdou (soya beans), which the locals use to make doufu (bean curd). Intermixed with the huangdou are some leftover dead cornstalks. The karst mountains tower all around, making it difficult to get the tops of them in when taking the shots facing north, south, east and west.
I walk back to where my taxi driver is waiting, now with an entourage of inquisitive locals. They are members of the Xiahua Production Team of Wanliang Village, Disu Township; the area where the confluence is located falls under their jurisdiction.
1 p.m. - I'm back in Du'an with plenty of spare time on my hands. I first watch two hours of pre-qualifying and qualifying for the inaugural Shanghai Formula One Grand Prix (Michael Schumacher spins and will start at the back of the grid tomorrow), then go out for a walk, taking in an Internet bar followed by a hairdresser. I finish off in a restaurant advertising dog meat in the front window, but when I discover the minimum order is half a kilo, I settle for boiled cow brains with mushrooms instead, trusting that the cows weren't intellectually challenged.
Story continues with 24°N 109°E.