03-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 33°N 118°E.
Tue 2 Aug 2005 (Day 5, cont'd), 12:50 p.m. - I catch a passing bus SW from Mingguang to Hefei, the capital of Anhui Province. Hefei will be my base of operations for the next four confluence attempts.
3:30 p.m. - Upon arrival in Hefei, I check into the modest Donghua Hotel, conveniently located right near a cluster of about half a dozen different long-distance bus stations near the centre of Hefei. I go out and do a reconnoitre of the various buses and bus stations I will need for the next four mornings. Before returning to the hotel, I have a bowl of Lanzhou lamian for dinner and pay a visit to an Internet bar.
Wed 3 Aug 2005 (Day 6), 5:15 a.m. - I get up early and make my way the short distance to the bus station for my 6 a.m. bus south to Tongcheng. It's raining, and there are continual flashes of lightning.
I eventually find the Tongcheng bus (not an easy task, it is actually the bus to Anqing, further south), and we set off. It's an Iveco bus: not one of my favourites. These Iveco buses are compact affairs in which conditions for the passengers are notoriously cramped, and for some reason they are invariably driven recklessly fast. We are underway for less than half an hour--still in the suburbs of Hefei--when we crash into the back of a taxi.
Fortunately, I have noticed an identical Anqing bus less than 50 metres behind us, apparently trawling for passengers. I quickly let myself out of the stricken bus and rush back through the rain to get on board. I explain to the driver what has happened, whereupon he pulls alongside the crash scene, picking up the rest of the passengers, and we are all on our way again without too much delay.
The driver of the new bus thankfully turns out to be much more sedate. Within an hour or so, the rain stops. Following a rather inauspicious start to the day, things are now starting to look up.
8:50 a.m. - We arrive in Tongcheng. The confluence is seven kilometres SE. I take a three-wheeler to another bus station, where I catch a bus east to Gaoqiao Township.
9:05 a.m. - The bus drops me off on the main road near Gaoqiao, with the confluence 4.8 kilometres SSW. From Gaoqiao, I walk west along a back road until I come to a freeway, the confluence now 3.7 kilometres more or less due south. From here, I turn left and walk along a dirt road that runs beside the freeway.
At the point where it is joined by another dirt road that emerges from under the freeway (I wonder if this is perhaps the point where Ray & co., the previous visitors, crossed the freeway?), the dirt road veers away from the freeway and starts heading pretty much straight for the confluence. I'm hopeful that this is the road that Ray followed, which brought him to a point just 130 metres from the confluence.
I enjoy a pleasant walk along the meandering road, through several villages, getting closer and closer to the confluence. At one point, the confluence is just 900 metres west. But then the road turns south, and with the confluence now 1.2 kilometres NW, I have to concede that this is not Ray's confluence road after all.
I leave the road and walk along a series of paths, around ponds and through the fields, until I eventually reach the small thicket in which the confluence is located, just to the east of Jiangge Village, and just to the west of a pond. The thicket comes complete with its fair share of thorn bushes, which take their toll on my unprotected legs as I do the confluence dance.
I take the north and south shots inside the thicket from the confluence point itself, but step outside the thicket (still within 10 metres of the point) to take the east and west shots, in order to give a better idea of the surroundings.
Mr Wang Genfu, a 59-year-old rice farmer who lives in one of the nearby houses, invites me in for a drink of tea, then insists that I stay for lunch, which I very much appreciate. I take a photo looking out from the front of his house, showing harvested rice laid out to dry, and the confluence thicket beyond.
12:55 p.m. - Although Mr Wang says it hasn't rained here this morning, there are ominous sounds of thunder in the distance while we eat, so I make it a point to leave as soon as I can after lunch. Mr Wang tells me the best route back to Tongcheng, which is undoubtedly Ray's road. I follow it back to a sealed road where it crosses the freeway.
Just as I'm crossing the freeway, it starts raining. I shelter under the eaves of a house for the worst of it, then continue walking along the road to Tongcheng, getting a minivan taxi the final few kilometres.
2:05 p.m. - I arrive at the bus station, and buy a ticket on the next bus back to Hefei, which leaves at 2:30 p.m.
4:20 p.m. - The bus goes only as far as the Hefei South Bus Station. From here I share a taxi with two of my fellow bus passengers back to the main cluster of bus stations near my hotel. The guy who suggested I share the taxi won't accept any money for my part of the fare, which is very kind of him.
I buy a bus ticket for tomorrow morning, then frequent the same Lanzhou lamian establishment for dinner, stock up on bottled water and bananas for tomorrow's hunt, pay another visit to the Internet bar, and drop some dirty laundry off to be washed. I finish the day with a hair-wash and blow-dry at a nearby hairdresser.
Story continues at 32°N 118°E.