13-Oct-2002 -- It took considerably longer to get to this confluence than I had imagined it would. This was mainly due to the fact that the expressway, so confidently marked on my map as running all the way from Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, to Xiapu, 12 kilometres to the south of the confluence, stopped abruptly at Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province. The remaining 120 kilometres (as the crow flies) from Fuzhou to Xiapu required a six-hour bus journey over what started out as a four-lane highway, but gradually deteriorated into a two-lane highway, then finally a simple sealed road with no white line down the middle, the latter winding its way through hilly terrain and providing ample opportunity for treacherous overtaking manoeuvres. In places where the road ran parallel to the new expressway, the surface had been absolutely destroyed by heavy trucks involved in the latter's construction, making for an incredibly bumpy and dusty ride.
I eventually arrived in Xiapu, but that was by no means the end of the day's travels (or travails), for I was to face yet two more bus journeys over the course of the next three hours, before finally reaching the moderately-sized village of Chengtian (population 1,100), situated four kilometres to the north of the confluence. The last bus journey was conducted entirely over a bumpy, single-lane, mostly uphill dirt track. By the time I'd arrived in Chengtian, I'd endured a total of more than 22 hours' continuous travel, which had started in Hong Kong the previous evening on a sleeper bus to Fuzhou. I was tired.
It was already far too late in the day to consider mounting an assault on the confluence anyway, so my immediate goal turned to securing accommodation for the night. This proved easier said than done. I asked several individuals, from amongst the small but growing crowd of locals attracted by the presence of a foreigner in their midst, where I might spend the night, but no one was terribly forthcoming. With my entourage in tow, I strolled up and down Chengtian's dusty main street a couple of times, following several vague leads that were proffered but that inevitably came to naught. Finally, the village chief joined in the fray, and a short time later I found myself billeted at the home of a local woman. I don't think she so much volunteered as was coerced into offering me her hospitality, but she was nonetheless extremely kind and looked after me very well, including preparing a wonderful dinner, which incidentally, I found myself eating under the watchful gaze of several dozen faces, all jockeying for position outside her home's single window. It's experiences such as these that really make confluence hunting in China such an enjoyable, memorable and rewarding activity.
Hairdressers are ubiquitous in China, and in this respect, Chengtian was no exception. Before retiring for the evening, I treated myself to a wash and blow-dry, which, as anyone who has been to China (or who has read my previous confluence stories) knows, costs ridiculously little, and consists not merely of a wash and blow-dry, but also of a lengthy upper body massage--just the medicine after all that time spent on buses.
The next morning I set off shortly after sunrise, and enjoyed a very pleasant four-kilometre walk along a dirt track to the village of Changhu, just 800 metres north of the confluence. The weather was magnificent, and I was able to savour something I don't often experience in China. Normally, when the sun comes out, the sky just turns a whiter shade of grey, on account of the chronic air pollution, but here I was apparently sufficiently far removed from the deleterious effects of heavy industry to be able to look up and see real blue sky for a change.
Continuing south from Changhu, it was necessary to descend into a pretty valley, cross a small, partially dammed creek (stepping stones conveniently provided), then ascend the opposite side, passing on the way a small temple, the roof of which is just visible in the photo. This temple marked the halfway point between Changhu and the confluence, at precisely 400 metres.
Following the path as it snaked into the hills beyond, I was eventually brought to a point just 18 metres from the confluence. Getting to the exact spot from here required fighting through some dense undergrowth, in which numerous thorn bushes were hiding, just lying in wait for unsuspecting confluence hunters. Once I was a few metres off the path however, the dense undergrowth gave way to pine forest, where the ground was deeply carpeted with dead pine needles, making it considerably safer to move around. This notwithstanding, a certain amount of beating around the bush was still called for before the Holy Grail of a perfect reading was finally attained. I snapped photos looking to the north, south, east and west, and recorded an elevation of 650 metres.
On my way back, I called in briefly at the tiny village of Changhu (population 100+). On an area of flat ground, freshly harvested rice was spread out on bamboo mats to dry in the sun. The locals were all extremely friendly, and were more than keen to give me a tour of their humble village, which sported a number of beautiful old wooden houses. I learned that, apart from the schoolteacher who was Han Chinese (the predominant nationality in China), all the other inhabitants belonged to the minority She Nationality. I considered the facial features of one stately old gentleman to be particularly photogenic. Everyone implored me to stay longer, but with more confluences to visit and adventures to be had, I soon bade my farewells, and commenced my walk back to Chengtian. Just after leaving Changhu, I happened upon an exquisitely coloured butterfly, who conveniently remained still just long enough for me to capture him (photographically) for the project.
I arrived back in Chengtian at 10:45 a.m., just as a bus was preparing to leave, so I quickly collected the rest of my things from the home of my gracious hostess, once more thanking her profusely for all her trouble, then hopped on board, ready to tackle the long and arduous journey via Xiapu back to Fuzhou, which would be the stepping off point for my next confluence attempt, at 26°N 119°E.