13-Feb-2002 -- This story continues from
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002. At the practically deserted Meizhou bus station, I inquired about buses to my next destination, Longchuan. Miraculously, there was a single bus leaving that afternoon, bound for Guangzhou, which would go past Longchuan. I bought myself a ticket. I had to pay the full fare to Guangzhou, but at least I had transport.
The bus did not leave until 3:50 p.m., which was unfortunate, because otherwise I might have been able to complete two confluence visits in one day. Instead, I had a good four hours to kill. I started with a big hearty lunch in a nearby restaurant, then went for a long walk around Meizhou, which on this Chinese New Year's Day was like a ghost town. Streets that would normally be bustling with traffic and pedestrians were empty and silent. The river, which should have been teeming with craft, was instead like a glassy mirror.
I stumbled upon an Internet cafe that was open, so took the opportunity to send e-mails to a couple of people to assure them that I was still alive. Then, after a bit of searching, I finally found a hairdresser open for business, and got my hair washed in the traditional Chinese style, which meant it included the standard hour-long upper-body massage by a pretty hairdresser
(picture #2). Then I grabbed a cab to take me back to the train station to pick up my backpack from the railway guesthouse, then back to the bus station to await the departure of my bus.
After studying the map carefully, I realised that, after going through Longchuan, this bus would go right past the confluence, so I decided to take a punt and get off at the nearby town of Zengtian, represented on the map by the second smallest sized circle. Zengtian proved to be full of very friendly, welcoming folk, and I was able to check into the only guesthouse in town without any problem.
I went for a stroll just as darkness was setting in, and drew a crowd of children that followed me everywhere, continually growing in number. These children were not as camera-shy as the ones in Fujian the day before, and several of them allowed me to take their photo
(picture #3). If you take a look at the ground in this photo, you will see that it is covered by red paper fragments, which are the remains of all the firecrackers set off during the previous 24 hours or so.
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002. I got up at the crack of dawn, waited a little while for a motorbike to show up, then negotiated a fare to the village of Xikang, just half a kilometre from the confluence. Although the confluence was only three kilometres from Zengtian, I'm glad I decided not to walk the whole way, because the route was anything but obvious. Xikang lay in a peaceful secluded valley, accessible only via a dilapidated dirt track through a high mountain pass.
From Xikang, I walked 500 metres up the valley, until I was very near the confluence, which was located a short distance up a hillside, on the other side of a stream. Crossing the stream required a high degree of courage; I really had to psych myself up before I could brave the slimy, slippery, narrow bamboo pole that was the only means across (picture #4). Crouching as low down as possible to lower my centre of gravity, and with my arms as outstretched as I could make them, I first made several abortive attempts before finally gritting my teeth and committing myself to the treacherous crossing, which thankfully I accomplished without falling in.
Next followed a short scramble up the hillside through thick vegetation, which was not without its own dangers. Someone had been through the area cutting bamboo. Because the bamboo had been cut at an acute angle, had I slipped and fallen, I would certainly have impaled myself on one of the many deadly stumps left sticking up out of the ground. However, I live to tell the story.
The confluence was reached before 8 a.m. I took the necessary photos, carefully made my way back down the hillside, once more made the perilous stream crossing, then walked back down the valley to Xikang, then followed the dirt track back over the mountain pass. In the village on the other side, a friendly old granny helped me to find someone with a motorbike who could take me back to Zengtian, from where I could collect my backpack and set off for