12-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 31°N 115°E.
Thu 11 Aug 2005 (Day 14, cont'd), 11 a.m. - We arrive back at the main road in the three-wheeler. After a short wait of just a couple of minutes, we catch a passing minivan north to the township of Baiguo. It is our intention to find a bus from Baiguo further north to the county capital of Macheng, and from there, a bus SW to the provincial capital Wuhan.
However, when we arrive in Baiguo, we discover a Wuhan-bound bus preparing to depart at 11:30 a.m., so we save ourselves some time by not having to go all the way to Macheng.
11:40 a.m. - The Wuhan bus departs Baiguo, 10 minutes behind schedule.
2:40 p.m. - Three hours later, we arrive in Hankou, one of the main districts into which the large city of Wuhan is divided. Our next goal is Jianli, a county capital some considerable distance further SW of Wuhan. There are no buses headed there from the small bus station at which we arrive, so we take a taxi to another bus station, where the taxi driver assures us we will find a Jianli bus.
Unfortunately, he's wrong. Well, sort of. There are buses to Jianli, but not until the next morning. Not good enough. We don't want to be stuck here in Wuhan overnight. So we get the two girls at the bus station's information desk to make some calls for us, and eventually they locate a Jianli bus due to depart the Hongji Bus Station, on the other side of the river, at 3:30 p.m.
It will be a close-run thing, but there's a chance we can make it. We hail another taxi out front of the station, and tell the driver we need to be across the bridge at the Hongji Bus Station by 3:30 p.m. He takes on the challenge, and gets us there with 10 minutes to spare. It takes us a few more tense minutes before we locate the Jianli bus in the hugely chaotic Hongji Bus Station, but eventually we are safely on board.
3:30 p.m. - Ah Feng overhears someone say it's a five-hour journey. It turns out to be closer to six! We depart on time, but the bus simply drives the short distance to the nearby Wuchang Long Distance Bus Station, where we wait while more passengers get on board.
4:10 p.m. - At last, we are finally, genuinely on our way. Just over half an hour later, however, we are pulled over by a police roadblock on the outskirts of Wuhan, where yet more time is wasted.
9:25 p.m. - Exhausted, we check into the three-star Keli Commercial Hotel, right opposite the main Jianli bus station. We have dinner at a nice little restaurant near the hotel. We are both ravenous after having spent most of the day on the road with nothing more than a couple of apples to eat.
Fri 12 Aug 2005 (Day 15), 7:45 a.m. - Having ensured we got our money's worth by consuming the complimentary breakfast--surprisingly not a buffet, but they happily gave us more of everything we asked for--we check out of the hotel, leaving our big bags with reception, then cross the street to the bus station.
We want to travel NE towards the township of Fenyan, however it turns out that buses to Fenyan do not depart from this station, and we have to take a three-wheeler to the Jianbei Bus Station instead. It's another scorching hot, cloudless day. I check my GPS, and note that the confluence is 21.6 kilometres NNE.
8:20 a.m. - The bus to Fenyan departs. There are roadworks in progress for almost the entire length of the journey, making it very dusty.
9:25 a.m. - We get off the bus at a bend in the road, with the confluence now just 1.16 kilometres north. Our first challenge is to cross a fairly wide canal. We start walking to the west, however it soon becomes apparent that there is not much likelihood of a bridge in this direction. This is confirmed by a local, who tells us exactly where we can find a bridge, about 300 metres to the east of where we got off the bus.
With this obstacle overcome, we follow a path northwards beside another smaller canal, until it becomes obvious that we need to cross this one as well. Fortunately we find a small wooden bridge to accomplish this. At this point, the confluence is 760 metres NW.
We follow a path west, then turn north on another, gradually advancing towards our goal, now just 300 metres WNW. However at this point we find ourselves trapped in a baffling maze of lotus ponds and small canals. It takes us some considerable time to find our way out and onto another path heading west.
We follow this path until we come upon a canal running north-south, with the confluence now 120 metres due north. We debate which side of the canal it's likely to be on, but the question is rather academic because there's no apparent way across anyway. So we head north on the eastern side of the canal, and eventually find ourselves a tantalising 20 metres from the point, which, true to Murphy's Law, is on the other side of the canal.
Ah Feng reckons this is good enough, but I am sure there must be a way across the canal, and am determined to find it. There is nothing to the north except rice paddies; certainly no bridge is visible. But to the south there are lotus ponds and trees, so we retrace our steps to the south, then spend an inordinate amount of time lost in yet another maze of lotus ponds and canals. Finally, a local in a red t-shirt appears, and Ah Feng asks him if there's a way across the canal. His answer is no. No, unless you want to wade across, that is.
So wade across it is. This is not Ah Feng's cup of tea, and she happily leaves me to tackle the canal on my own. It is deep, but I carefully make my way across using the vegetation growing up out of the water as support. The water comes well up over my knees, but I manage to avoid sinking in any deeper, and eventually emerge on the other side.
The confluence is located in a rice paddy, and after wading across the canal, I reckon the rice paddy will be a piece of cake. I try stepping in, but just sink down and down and down! The mud is way too soft to support me. It's like quicksand, and I panic a bit as I fight to extricate myself.
So in the end, I still have to settle for something less than all the zeroes. The confluence is seven metres from the edge of the rice paddy. I take the north-south-east-west shots from here, then once more carefully wade back across the canal to the waiting Ah Feng.
We head south to where the red t-shirted local lives. His home is 270 metres due south of the confluence. Here we meet several of his family members, and they invite us to sit down, drink some tea and eat some lotus kernels. We learn that, as well as growing both rice and lotus, they also raise ducks.
When it's time to leave, Red T-shirt kindly gives us some lotus heads filled with ripe kernels (in addition to those that Ah Feng has already stolen and secreted away in her backpack). He then walks part of the way back to the road with us, to ensure we don't get lost in any more lotus pond mazes.
Story continues at 30°N 112°E.