13-May-2003 -- Continued from 29°N 111°E.
Monday 12 May 2003 (Day 21) - I slept for 12 hours! I awoke to rain, and realised just how lucky I'd been the day before to enjoy a rain-free day for the long walk to and from the confluence.
At 10 a.m., I caught the big old bus from Niuchehe west to Wangjiaping. It was crowded, including one lady standing in the aisle, carrying a baby on her back in a bamboo baby seat, a common sight in this part of China.
This day ended up being devoted entirely to travel. I arrived in Wangjiaping at noon, where I got a van to Yuanguping. In Yuanguping, I was able to catch a bus all the way to the very popular Chinese tourist destination of Zhangjiajie, arriving just after 3 p.m. It was not difficult to understand why Zhangjiajie is a tourist attraction--the bus from Yuanguping to Zhangjiajie travelled through some spectacularly mountainous country, offering fabulous views.
The last leg of the day's travels was on the worst road imaginable. I arrived in Yongshun at 7 p.m., 14.9 kilometres due west of the confluence. It had rained on and off all day.
After checking into a hotel, I went out for a walk. Not holding out much hope, I asked a local if there might be an Internet bar open anywhere. He led me down the street, through a darkened doorway of a nondescript building, up two flights of stairs by torchlight, and finally into an Internet bar very much open for business! Presumably it was not supposed to be open, because of the government order to close all Internet bars to help prevent the spread of SARS, but I wasn't complaining.
After a good session in the Internet bar, I had some dinner at a small restaurant, then returned to the hotel. In one of the hotel dining rooms, I saw the staff, dressed in traditional Tujia minority nationality dress, preparing for a banquet. A large wok containing a bull's head was placed at the centre of each table.
Tuesday 13 May 2003 (Day 22) - I awoke shortly after 6 a.m., and set off from the hotel at 7 a.m. My plan was to approach the confluence from the west, via a town called Laosicheng. By 7:30 a.m., after making a number of enquiries, I eventually located the correct spot for the bus to Laosicheng. Everyone I'd asked had been somewhat vague about what time it actually departed though. As I sat patiently waiting for it to arrive, it started raining, and then lightning and thunder started too.
I didn't have long to wait before the Laosicheng bus made its appearance, however that was when I learned that it would not depart until 12 noon. There was only the one bus to Laosicheng each day, and there would be no way for me to get back the same day.
So I decided to change tactics. I went back to the main bus station and got on board one of the many buses heading back down the dreadful road towards Zhangjiajie. At 9:10 a.m. I disembarked at a place called Macha, 6.5 kilometres northeast of the confluence.
I followed a gravel road in towards the confluence. The rain varied in its intensity, but never let up completely. I passed several distinctive Tujia minority nationality graves by the side of the road.
This turned out to be one of those pleasant cases where the road had seemingly been purpose-built for the convenience of confluence-hunters. I walked a total of 8.3 kilometres, following the road all the way, and found myself just six metres from the confluence! I climbed up the bank at the side of the road to get a perfect reading, and to take photos looking north, south, east and west. The elevation was 609 metres.
As I was preparing to leave, the peasant who had been ploughing the field just to the south of the confluence called out to me--in flawless Mandarin--asking me what I was doing. I was astounded. Peasants are generally not well-educated, and as a result have a poor command of Mandarin, if they can even speak it all. When they do speak Mandarin, it is usually with such a strong accent that I find it totally unintelligible.
But it turned out that this particular peasant had spent 10 years working in Dongguan (not far from Hong Kong, and site of another confluence at 23°N 114°E). He understood all about latitude and longitude, and had known that his farm was located roughly on 29°N 110°E, but had not known the exact location until I pointed it out to him.
Like almost everyone in the region, he was also a member of the Tujia minority nationality. I told him how I'd originally intended to approach this confluence from the opposite direction, via Laosicheng, where I'd hoped to see some of the Tujia cultural heritage there, but he told me that most of the relics had been destroyed many years before, during the Cultural Revolution of the sixties and seventies.
The rain eased off a bit on the return walk to Macha. Tadpoles were beginning to crawl up out of the rice paddies on their newly-formed legs, only to be quickly gobbled up by several different varieties of birds. I arrived at the main road in Macha, and was able to catch a passing minivan back to Yongshun without any waiting at all.
The rest of the day was spent on various relaxing activities, including another long session at the illicit Internet bar, a delicious bowl of noodles, and another hairdresser experience where the management brought in the local photographer to record the event for posterity (although no offer of free services this time).
This was the eleventh confluence I had visited on this trip, and the last remaining unvisited Hunanese confluence, so Hunan was now complete. The next day I would move on to Chongqing.
Story continues at 29°N 109°E.