29-Jun-2005 -- On Tuesday 28 June 2005 we awoke at 5:00am on Lamma Island to prepare to travel to 30°N 116°E, the first of four confluences that we would visit on this trip. This was to be the third confluence visit for Sasha, but her first in China, and the very first confluence visit for Carmen.
With our backpacks brimming with items we weren’t sure we needed or not, but were taking just in case, we met up with Targ Parsons and Ah Feng at 6:05am and walked the short distance from our Seaside Holiday Resort to the 6.20am ferry for Hong Kong. At 7am, whilst walking to another ferry terminal to catch a TurboJet ferry to Shenzhen, Carmen and Sasha, neither of whom can function very long without breakfast, bought toast and jam, and Ah Feng purchased a coffee. After immigration procedures, we boarded the TurboJet at 7:50am for an 8:00am departure. From the Shenzhen ferry terminal we were conveyed by bus to the airport to catch our 10:50am flight to Wuhan. Sasha had two bottles of water tested for explosives during the security check. Carmen and Sasha sought out what was to be their last real (and very good) coffee for the next five days, but they didn’t know that at the time.
Although it was only a short one and a half hour flight to Wuhan, we were pleasantly surprised to be served a full meal on the flight. We arrived in Wuhan at 12:30pm to a sunny and pleasant 28 degrees C. At 12:45pm we caught the airport bus for a 45 minute trip to the long-distance bus station at Wuchang. Along the way we passed over the very impressive Yangtze River. We arrived at the very noisy, bustling Wuchang bus station and kept very close to Targ, who braved the queue to buy our tickets to Huangmei. Of course, as we were to discover as our multiple confluence trip progressed, there was inevitably a bus just about to depart. At 1:45pm we secured our seats and wedged our backpacks on the floor in front of our knees. The ‘bus conductress’ was very efficient and had a very animated discussion with several passengers who then disembarked. To our surprise, these same passengers rejoined us a short distance from the bus terminal. We had a reasonably slow start as we ‘trawled’ for more passengers along the way, with several ending up sitting on little colourful plastic stools in the aisle.
Sitting in front of Sasha and Carmen were Evelyn, a 13 year old girl, and her mother, Ellis. Ellis was very proficient in English (she was an English teacher) and Evelyn was very keen to try out her English skills. Initially using phrases such as “How do you do?” and “I’m very pleased to meet you”, we ended up having a good conversation, and she was very excited that we were heading for her home town of Huangmei. They kindly invited all four of us back to their house.
The highway was in excellent condition, and the trip was progressing very steadily until we came across an unexplained traffic jam. We sat stationary for about an hour not knowing what the hold up was. Luckily our bus was air-conditioned. Finally when we started moving again it was still not clear why it had taken so long, but we then merged into single lanes, passing the first of many road works. To ensure safe travelling on these single lanes, there were kilometres and kilometres of thousands of red and white witches hats, spaced about 30cm apart.
Our arrival at Huangmei saw us greeted by a bevy of waiting taxis and tuk tuks and a semi-circle of curious onlookers formed around us quickly. Ellis and Evelyn explained to the group that we were visitors from Australia. We felt like celebrities. Whilst such scenarios were somewhat routine for Targ, Sasha and Carmen were rather amused and quite happy to indulge the crowd. A few of the curious onlookers said “Hello!”, to which we smiled and responded, much to the group’s amusement. As Targ and Ah Feng finalised our arrangements with Ellis, Evelyn and a driver, all six of us travelled in a mini van to our hotel to book in at 6:40pm. The driver waited and drove all of us to Ellis and Evelyn’s home. After being shown around the house and its views, we went out for a traditional meal in a private dining room which was up several flights of narrow stairs in a very ‘un-restaurant like’ building. We arrived back at our hotel at 9:30pm. The confluence point was now 11.8 km SE.
On Wednesday 29 June 2005, after a good sleep we headed downstairs for a 7:00am breakfast. The variety of food was very interesting, especially for Carmen and Sasha. At 8:10am we set off in a tuk tuk to the bus terminal to purchase our tickets for our next trip to Daye. From the bus terminal we set out for the CP. Targ negotiated with a taxi driver to drive us to the village of Zhouzui near the CP. We all crammed into the taxi, but as the driver started, loud “oi’s” and much excited pointing by a group of men alerted us to a flat tyre. So we hopped out again, into yet another taxi offering the same deal. We were on our way by 8:40am.
Our new taxi driver quickly and efficiently negotiated the short drive through some side streets, through the main ‘business district’ of Huangmei, then onto an arterial rural road. Dotted along the entire 10 km trip were an array of small buildings and endless fields, cultivated with rice and various other crops. This road carried only light traffic, some push bikes and motor scooters. All the while, we followed our route according to the indicated direction of the GPS. Sasha and Carmen started to get excited, when at about 2 km, the driver followed Targ’s request to turn into a narrow dirt road. As we learned on our subsequent CP expeditions, such small roads exist quite simply everywhere, and lead to yet another village, not visible from the major roads. On this road we only encountered a motor scooter and some pedestrians. We stopped at the small village of Zhouzui, and hopped out ready to walk the final stretch.
Being the true confluence hunter that he is, Targ confidently assured us that we needed to pass through this village and into the fields beyond. Armed with our GPS and the associated feelings of navigational empowerment/prowess, Sasha and Carmen set off, too. And indeed, there was a short walk through the almost deserted village. We saw only two people; one man disappeared quickly, but the old farmer seemed unperturbed by our presence as we trekked towards our CP.
Based on western notions of ownership, Carmen had a distinct sense of invading someone else’s private space, although ultimately no one in the village demanded any explanation as to our intentions, either within the village or the adjoining fields.
Constant checking of the GPS led us through a cotton field, directly towards a rice paddy. For Carmen (obviously not the intrepid adventurer), horror set in! ‘Please, do not let this CP be in the centre of that rice paddy!’, she was heard to say. The gods smiled upon us/her, as the CP was on a very small, slippery, muddy and overgrown weedy 1m high verge. It was 9.13am, when Targ, ably assisted by Sasha and Carmen, scrambled onto the small verge and with not much standing room, obtained the desirable 0.00 reading and the requisite NSEW photos. Once all details were accurately recorded, we quickly retraced our steps. Still, the fields showed no sign of anyone working in them and the village showed no signs of habitation. However, much to our delight, back at our taxi, next to the track, a beekeeper was tending to the bee hives. Sitting across from the hives, in the shade, was an old lady. Targ and Ah Feng exchanged some pleasantries and established that the beekeeper lived in a tent alongside the track in which she also stored and bottled her harvest.
As Carmen and Sasha were very keen to record all the scenes experienced in achieving this CP, we indicated our wish to photograph the old lady. She very adamantly shook her head to decline. Then Targ found out from the beekeeper that the old lady expected that we would ask her for money to take her photo!! Once we were able to assure her that we had no such agenda, she happily posed for several photos, with a smile that made us suspect that she felt like quite a star.
Our taxi driver returned us to our hotel at approximately 11am. This left us time to explore the diversity of shops in Huangmei, before departing for Daye, and our next CP adventure.
Story continues at 30°N 115°E.