13-Feb-2002 -- This story continues from 24°N 115°E.
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002. It was now the second day of the Chinese New Year, and public transport was mercifully getting back to normal. At 8:50 a.m. I waved down a passing bus to take me from Zengtian to Dengta. Then followed several more short-hop bus journeys in succession: at 9:20 a.m. a bus to Zongxin; at 10 a.m. a bus to Lianping; and at 10:45 a.m. a bus to Xinfeng. I arrived in Xinfeng at 12 noon. My next destination was Xiaozhen, however I had a two-hour wait before that bus left, so I went for a short walk in Xinfeng, looking for a place to eat lunch.
As I was walking along, a cute girl on a passing motor scooter stopped and struck up a conversation. She explained she was out riding aimlessly around town because anything was better than being stuck with the relatives, which is where most good Chinese were expected to be during this festive season. She had been living in the provincial capital Guangzhou for the past five years, but tradition required her to make the annual pilgrimage home for the Chinese New Year family get-together. She pointed the way to a restaurant, then ended up coming and sitting with me as I ate my lunch. She refused my offer to buy her lunch, saying that she was obligated to show up at her granny's place shortly, and consume vast quantities of food there.
After lunch and pleasant conversation, it was back to the bus station for the 2 p.m. bus to Xiaozhen. As the bus reached its final destination, I was the only passenger left on board, and the young fellow who had been helping out the bus conductor (his sister-in-law, I later learned) came and asked me where I wanted to go. I pulled out my trusty topological map of the area, and explained my goal as best I could.
My explanation must have been comprehensible, because it ignited a keen sense of interest in him. We established that the confluence was located in the nearby mountains, and would require considerably more than the remaining available daylight to reach it. He also explained that there was no guesthouse in Xiaozhen, but that I was welcome to stay overnight at his place (he lived in the area), and that we could do the confluence together early the next morning.
That all sounded like a good plan, so off we went to his place, which turned out to be right next door to a mushroom farm. We walked right through the mushroom farm to get to his place (picture #2). I'm a great lover of mushrooms, but I'd never really known how they were cultivated before. I can now confidently state for the record that they're *not* kept in a dark room, and they're *not* fed you-know-what.
After depositing my backpack at my new friend's place (his name was Mo Daxiang), we decided to set off on his motorbike for a quick reconnoitre of the area of the confluence while there was still some remaining daylight. We were able to ride along a track to within 500 metres of the confluence, which put us at the end of a steeply sloping, very pretty valley, featuring many terraced rice paddies that would have looked even prettier had they not all been dry at this time of year. You can see the track and the terraces in picture #3.
We dismounted and climbed up the closest hill to get a better view of whatever obstacle lay ahead, and found it was a much higher, much steeper hill than the one we'd just ascended. Then we noticed a good path winding around this second steep hill, and started following it. As we made our way around the hill, the GPS told us we were ever so slowly reducing the distance between ourselves and the confluence.
When we had got to within 100 metres of the confluence, we could begin to sense victory! So, throwing all caution to the wind, we forgot about the fading light, abandoned the path, and started scrambling our way up a steep slope covered with many unforgiving thorn bushes. Finally, after tremendous perseverance and surges of adrenalin, we arrived at the confluence covered in sweat and scratches, but immensely pleased with ourselves. There was still sufficient daylight left to take the necessary photos, and I even tried out my camera's self-timer for the first time, in order to take a shot of the two of us at the spot (picture #8).
Coming back down was a lot easier than going up, as we found a proper path to follow, thus avoiding another round of punishment from the thorn bushes. The paths in these hills were made by loggers, and there was considerable evidence of their work. Later, back at Daxiang's home, he commented about the stream that ran through his village. It used to have quite a good flow, he said, but was now reduced to merely a trickle, as a direct result of the logging operations in the hills.
I was invited to share a delicious home-cooked dinner with the family. It transpired that the family business was the bus company that served the route between Xinfeng and Xiaozhen, and Daxiang's sister-in-law, the bus conductor, was one of those around the large dinner table. I retired pretty much immediately after dinner, tired, but quite happy to have once again visited two confluences in one day, making the tally seven in five days. At this rate, my ambitious target of 12 confluences in eight days still seemed attainable. The next morning I would set off in pursuit of number eight, at