28-Dec-2005 -- With a few days to spare between Christmas and New Year's, we decide to head off to Guizhou to tackle our first couple of confluences there. As it transpires, we have time for only one, but it is nevertheless quite a rewarding experience. We hope to do many more Guizhou confluences this summer, when the weather is warmer.
Mon 26 Dec 2005, 7:20 a.m. - Our journey begins in Ah Feng's home village of Longfeng ("Dragon Phoenix") in Guangxi. We arrange for two motorcyclists to pick us up from her home and take us to the nearest township, Xiangqi ("Chinese Chess"), a 15-minute ride.
7:55 a.m. - We take the bus from Xiangqi north, via another township called Jinji ("Golden Chicken"), to the capital of Teng County, arriving there in just under two hours. The road between Xiangqi and the county capital is being upgraded, and the road works make today's journey slower than normal, however it promises to be a lot quicker once the new road is completed later in 2006.
10 a.m. - From Teng County, we catch an express bus east to the prefecture capital Wuzhou, arriving exactly one hour later, at 11 a.m. Our next bus, from Wuzhou to Guilin, does not depart until 12:30 p.m., leaving us an hour and a half to kill. We buy our tickets, then leave the station and go for a walk. After half an hour, we come upon a nice restaurant, and decide to go in and have lunch.
12:30 p.m. - Our bus northwest to Guilin departs. The temperature gets progressively colder as we go along, and by three hours into the journey the mist outside has turned into a light drizzle. We start to feel quite cold inside the bus.
Our journey takes us past hundreds of kilometres of pointy (karst) mountains, which stick up all over the place out of the surrounding plain. The misty rain accentuates the beauty of the scene.
9 p.m. - By the time we arrive in Guilin, eight and a half hours after leaving Wuzhou, the rain has really set in. We check into the small Taihe Hotel, conveniently located next to the main Guilin bus station--the same hotel in which Peter Cao and I stayed a couple of years ago when we visited 26°N 111°E and 26°N 110°E.
In addition to its convenient location, this hotel is also both safe and reasonably good value in a city that is renowned for the big tourist rip-off. On this occasion, security has been raised to a whole new level however, as the girl on reception asks me if I have any other form of identification besides my passport and ID card!
After dumping our stuff in our room, we go back to the bus station to purchase our tickets for tomorrow morning, then brave the cold rain to walk into town for a satisfying meal followed by a pampering hair-wash and blow-dry. It's past midnight by the time we're back at our hotel and in bed.
Tue 27 Dec 2005, 6:20 a.m. - After a quick breakfast in one of the small restaurants next to the bus station, we board the slow sleeper bus west to Congjiang County, just over the provincial border in Guizhou. It's still raining.
The bus leaves just a few minutes after its officially appointed departure time, but then immediately pulls into a parking space at the back of the station, and waits there for no apparent reason. Eventually we learn that the stretch of road between Longsheng County and Sanjiang County, en route to Congjiang, is blocked in three places due to landslips triggered by the rain. This immediately brings back memories of our recent epic visit to 32°N 110°E in Hubei Province, where we found ourselves marooned for days when all the roads out of the place we were in were similarly cut by landslips.
Dawn breaks as we wait for an hour and a half in the stationary bus. Other passengers are starting to grumble, but no one has yet given up hope that word will soon come through that the road has been cleared and we will be on our way. At this point though, Ah Feng and I decide enough is enough, and we demand a refund for our tickets. The ticket seller takes me outside and around behind another bus to issue the refund, so that the other passengers won't see and get the same idea.
We return to the bus station and purchase tickets on the 8 p.m. overnight bus to Duyun. Although this roundabout route is much further, it will allow us to approach the confluence from the west instead of the east, and thus avoid the trouble spot between Longsheng and Sanjiang.
8 a.m. - With exactly twelve hours to kill, we return to the nearby Taihe Hotel and leave our bags with reception, then go for another walk in the cold and rain. At least this time it's daytime, so we get to see a different face of Guilin from what we saw--or didn't see--last night in the dark.
After an hour of wandering aimlessly, we find a nice second-floor coffee house overlooking the city's main square. It's one of a Taiwanese-owned chain of coffee shops called U.B.C. Coffee. Inside it's warm and cosy, and the menu has enough to keep us going all day, including such questionable delicacies as "iron-plated steak" and "spicy pig penis" (the latter listed right below the "deep-fried ice cream"). Although we refrain from ordering any of the above, everything that we do order turns out to be delicious beyond all expectation.
We while away the day enjoying the good food and the pleasant atmosphere of soft music, a large, well-maintained tropical fish tank, a good assortment of interesting magazines, excellent service, and most important of all, very clean toilets. Meanwhile, outside, the rain continues unabated. We wonder what our fellow passengers from this morning's stillborn bus journey are doing now--are they still desperately clinging to hope, lying in their bunks in the freezing bus parked at the back of the bus station?
7 p.m. - After occupying the same table for 10 hours, we finally leave the comfort of the coffee house. We take a taxi back to the hotel, where we collect our stuff and clean our teeth prior to tonight's overnight bus ride. The rain has thankfully eased off a little, so things are starting to look a bit more promising.
8 p.m. - We are aboard the huge Guilin-to-Guiyang express sleeper bus. It is luxurious beyond our wildest imaginations. Never before have we seen--let alone been in--such a magnificent bus! It's like a hotel on wheels. Everything is spotlessly clean, well-lit and incredibly spacious. We have front row bunks on the upper deck. The ride is smooth and quiet, and we quickly fall asleep without any problems at all.
Wed 28 Dec 2005, 4:45 a.m. - The hostess wakes us a few minutes before our wonder bus arrives at the outskirts of the county capital Duyun in southeastern Guizhou Province. Another foreigner named Mick gets off here too.
Despite the hour, there are two three-wheeler taxis waiting, offering to take us the three kilometres into town for 10 yuan (about US$1.25). Although it seems a bit exorbitant, split three ways it's not too bad, so all three of us prepare to climb into one three-wheeler, but we are told no, there is a limit of two passengers per car. This is undoubtedly simply a ploy to ensure that both drivers get a fare, however Mick "outwits" them by electing to walk instead! Fortunately for him, it's not raining.
Ah Feng and I arrive at Duyun's main bus station in plenty of time to clean our teeth, then enjoy piping hot bowls of beef and noodles in broth for breakfast, before it's time for our next bus trip.
6:30 a.m. - We take the bus southeast from Duyun to Sandu, capital of the neighbouring county in which the confluence is located. It's still dark out as we set off. Along the way we pass lots of children walking or cycling to school, and even a few lucky ones riding on donkey carts.
The road winds its way through the hills, passing by pretty, terraced valleys dotted with uniquely shaped haystacks. At one stage, the driver slows right down to let everyone get a good view of--not the scenery--but the bloodstains still remaining on the road following a recent fatal accident in which he says a motorcyclist was killed.
9:30 a.m. - Three hours later, we arrive in Sandu, with the confluence still a further 12.4 kilometres to the east. Sandu County is home to a large number of China's minority Shui ("Water") nationality. China has over 50 distinct minority nationalities, as well as the majority Han nationality to which most Chinese belong.
9:40 a.m. - Ten minutes after arriving in Sandu, we are on our way again, this time on a bus heading east towards the capital of the next county, Rongjiang. The road follows the north bank of the Duliu River.
10:35 a.m. - Just under an hour into the journey, we ask the driver to stop, and get off at a point where the confluence is less than 750 metres ENE, on the opposite side of the river. We follow a path down to the river, where we find a fisherman hanging up his nets on the riverbank to dry. We ask if he can take us across the river, and he says yes.
Behind him in the river are three wooden boats: two perfectly serviceable ones, and one filled to the gunnels with water. Naturally, it is the waterlogged boat in which we will be making the crossing! We wait patiently as our fisherman friend begins the slow process of bailing out the boat with a small plastic container.
Safely on the other side, we make our way through the small village of Dalüe, which we learn is home to people of both the Buyi and Miao minority nationalities. The houses are typical of those in this part of China: two-storey wooden structures with all the living quarters upstairs, and the ground floor--often without any walls at all--used mainly for storing firewood, etc.
11:15 a.m. - Emerging from the eastern end of the village, we soon locate the confluence in the middle of an empty field. No crops are being grown at the moment because it's the middle of winter.
The view to the north looks across the river to a couple of houses on the main road. To the south of the confluence is a small valley, to the east is an uninhabited, two-storey wooden shack, and in the distance to the west is the village of Dalüe, through which we've just come, most of it hidden behind the hill.
It takes an exasperating 15 minutes of the confluence dance before all the zeroes finally come up long enough to be photographed.
12:15 p.m. - Back at the main road, we wait patiently for a bus to take us back to Sandu to begin the long journey back to Ah Feng's home in Guangxi. We've decided not to continue eastwards via Rongjiang to the next confluence at 26°N 109°E, because we've already used up too much time getting to this one, and with dodgy road conditions further east, who knows how long the next one may take?
A group of three Shui women gather at the roadside near us, then get into a three-wheeler and head off towards the nearby township of Dayu. (Note: no two-person rule here.) We are still overwhelmed by all the different minority costumes, and keep asking everyone we meet: "What nationality are you? What nationality is she?" A man who overhears us making these inane enquiries comes over and says: "If you really want to see lots of minority people, why don't you go into Dayu? It's market day, and the town is full of all sorts of different minority people: Miao, Buyi, Shui..."
Well, this is definitely a good idea. Dayu is only one kilometre north of the confluence, so we decide to walk there. Along the way we pass within 225 metres of the confluence, and are able to take an excellent photograph of the general confluence area, looking southeast across the river.
1 p.m. - When we arrive in Dayu, the crowded market is in full swing. It's an exceptionally colourful scene, with most women dressed in their minority nationality costumes. Having such a large sample to analyse, we soon learn to differentiate the Miao, Shui and Buyi women. We wander around Dayu's market for the best part of an hour, taking no less than 200 photos between us! Pity we can't include them all in this report. Market day in Dayu has turned out to be the indisputable highlight of this confluence visit.