04-Dec-2005 -- Yingge (Qiongzhong) Zhongping Hainan China
Once again, a happy happenstance of a my wife's business trip allowed me an opportunity to combine a bit of Bike China Adventures bike route research into Hainan, China's tropical south coast island province, with confluence hunting. Given that where we live in Chengdu was in the midst of winter weather with sunless skies and damp moist air that makes it feel much colder than it really is, this was a most welcome trip. Notwithstanding, that the previous weekend the weather allowed for a most enjoyable bike ride to a nearby ancient village of Huanglongxi.
But I digress from the topic at hand. The plan was for me to fly down to Hainan the day before my wife arrived getting me a 24-hour window of opportunity to take a stab at one of Hainan's two land-based confluences. A cheap flight from Chengdu to Haikou made the trip all the more attractive. Flying in China in with a cabin full of first-time fliers can be entertaining provided you have the right attitude. The flight attendants show considerable patience in teaching a hole cabin full of newbies how to fly.
Arriving in Haikou at about midnight, I jumped on the airport bus and asked to be dropped off at the bus station where I planned to head out the next day as early as possible. It seems I am always making some silly mistake when traveling on my own, and this was no exception. Like most cities in China, Haikou has a multitude of bus stations serving different destinations. But I was so tired or excited that I neglected to ask which bus station serves Qiongzhong, the city closest to this confluence.
When I get off the bus there is a lively open-air impromptu night stir-fry concession going on so I plop down and order some fried rice noodles and veggies. Ordering a beer, I am delighted to discover they have beer on ice, a first for me in China, where room-temperature beer is par for the course.
After a satisfying midnight snack, I head across the street to the closest luguan, traveler's hotel. The outside sign advertises hourly rates confirming my wife's comment that Hainan has a thriving business in prostitution. Despite being a happily married man and not being interested in that sort of entertainment, I decide to check it out anyway to see if there is an acceptable room I am flop for six hours. I am amazed to find the place is spotless, being so recently renovated that the room still has a slight smell of drying paint. This no-frills hotel is near ideal for me, only 60 RMB, with the only drawback being the bathroom has hole in the window where an exhaust fan should be. Later that night, the mosquitoes feed on me resulting in a fitful sleep.
Waking up later than I wanted, I head out to find the bus station where I am informed of my error and sent packing to the far side of town in an expensive taxi ride. I tried to get a local motorcyclist to take me but he patently turned me down.
I get a haohua (deluxe) bus to a place called Qiongzhong on my map, but known to everyone else in Hainan as Yingge. The bus has a stewardess that distributes water and cares for passengers as they need help or get sick. The wife of one couple nearby tosses her cookies about midway and the husband asks to have some of my orange peel. I hand it over to him and he breaks in into a few small pieces and then sticks them up both his and his wife's nostrils where they stay looking like school kids trying to gross each other out for remainder of the trip.
My purpose here is to not only track down this confluence, but to also search for possible biking routes for future Bike China Adventures tours. The Mid-Island highway is gem with low traffic volumes, reasonable shoulders and most surprising a courteous and safety conscious fleet of bus drivers. The route to Qiongzhong is gently rolling through mostly agricultural land with a few villages and towns along the way to spice up the experience. There will be a new Bike China tour in this area soon!
Arriving in Yingge, the weather is misting rain and I decide to buy some cheap rain insurance, a small collapsible umbrella. Experience has taught me on many a confluence hunt that possession of an umbrella will almost guarantee there will no need to use it.
Distances in China are deceptive; seemingly short distances can take half a lifetime to cover in a Chinese bus. There are so many circumstances that crop up along the way that eat away at the time until there is nothing left. The bus from Haikou to Qiongzhong covered the 145 km in about 2.5 hours. The bus to Zhongping (Center Peace) took over two hours to cover 28 km.
About the only thing less reliable that Chinese maps are possibly the Lonely Planet guide to China. Spread out before me were three different maps all showing a different road configuration to the area I wanted to visit. The confluence point was once again located midway between two roads at least four kilometers from either road with a mountain peak of 1123 meters nearby. Given that the road elevation was between 200-300 meters, this CP promised to be a bit of work. Little did I know how much was involved.
When I got on the bus I told the ticket seller I wanted to get off at Lingtou since this was the closest village to the CP. Lingtou, however, was not where it was shown on the map, but rather much closer to Yingge. When we arrived there I checked the GPS and was dismayed to find that the CP was still over seven kilometers away, so I told her I would stay on for a while. The road roughly paralleled the 19-degree north parallel so that the bus was making a bit of progress toward the CP. The ticket seller kept looking back at me to see if I was ready to get off and I was making mental notes along the way whenever I spotted a likely looking trail headed in the right direction. It wasn't until over an hour later that I reached a point that looked promising with a bridge and a proper road. The CP was still over four km away, but from the way the road started to turn away from the CP this road looked my best bet.
At the intersection, there was a white concrete marker that looked like it was meant for a village name, but there was nothing on it. The road went about 200 meters before turning over a little hill and stopping at a decrepit village of close to two dozen homes. I made my way through the village, trying to draw as little attention to myself as possible since my motive of being there would be difficult to explain.
On the back side of the village were inundated rice terraces with no clear trail evident, so I gingerly traipsed over the narrow humps between terraces all the while thinking about Targ's partner in crime, Tony Basoglu, or my good friend, Mark Peters, who both have the unfortunate habit of falling off these whenever they appear. Luckily I didn't follow in their footsteps, this time.
After a couple hundred meters, the rice terraces ended and a small trail appeared heading in the right direction. I thanked my good luck and eagerly followed it as it climbed the hillside. At this point, I was at about 3.6 km from the CP and it was clear I would have to scale the hills in front of me that formed what appeared to be an amphitheater. The trail split off in many places along the way with me always choosing the one that appeared most used. However, as I neared the top I ran into a impenetrable wall of vines and brush that defy description. Think deep dark dank jungle and you will be close. Everything was wet from the earlier rain, and the foliage was tropical banana plants, coconut trees, and vines intertwining anything and everything that made any attempt at going in a direction other than where a trail had been previously cut completely futile.
As I neared the top and ran out of trails to go by I ran into a couple of water buffalo being watched by an older woman decked out in a dark raincape and hat. Saying that she was surprised to see me was an understatement, but surprisingly she spoke a bit of Mandarin (very rare in these parts) and told me there was no way to go over the hill and that I should look for a trail that goes around to the north. I thanked her for your advice and headed toward the semi-cultivated terraces over a gully to the north.
Along the way I met another huge water buffalo, which had gotten its tether tangled around a few small trees. Its nose was about as big as my head, but it was a gentle as a lamb. I untangled its lead and then continued on my effort to find a way to the north. My way was blocked at every turn as I bumped into one mass of jungle after another. Every so often I would come across small plantations of newly planted rubber trees or coconut trees where there was a bit area I could walk freely for a few meters, only to plunge back into the thicket again. I was wearing shorts and tennis shoes and fortunately there were few sticker bushes.
After crossing a small stream where I inadvertently stepped into a puddle up to my ankle, I felt a bit of stinging on my legs. Thinking I had run into another sticker bush when I looked down I found my legs dotted with small black globs. Reaching down and trying to knock them off I was shocked to discover that I had LEECHES! Holy Toledo! This was more than I bargained for and I went bananas trying to get them off. These slimy little black blood suckers where chewing into me with their narrow heads leading back to expandable hindquarters. I had nothing with me to take them off properly like salt, alcohol or matches, so I just pulled them off as quickly as I could likely leaving their despicable heads buried inside. Leeches evidently have some sort of anticoagulant in their repertoire of disgusting tricks as blood flowed freely down my legs long after I pulled them off.
Shortly after I cleared my legs of leeches I remembered someone telling me that if you get them you should check EVERYWHERE for them, including ones private parts. Dropping my shorts and doing a quick inspection I was dismayed to find a large bloodstain where a leech had been. I will spare you the photo, but suffice it say that it was not a pretty sight.
At this point I realized that I was clearly in over my head, and that I had better beat a hasty retreat while I still could. I tried several different ways to get back down the mountain but found my way blocked time and time again with jungle overgrowth. Finally, I happened across a section of land that had been slashed and burned (ardently abhorred in the west but if you were here you would come to see it does have its uses) and was able to get back down near the village.
By now I had arrived near a stream about four meters across and decide to ford it rather than going around. I dutifully stripped off my shoes and socks (luckily finding no more leeches in the process) and delicately tiptoed across. On the other side, I put my shoes back on and walked a 20 meters or so before finding I had to ford the same stream again. This time I left my shoes on and just crossed it. This happened yet again before I finally reached the road about a kilometer east of where I got off the bus. I started walking west back toward Yingge thinking that I could catch bus going that direction. I walked for about an hour and a half but inexplicably only saw buses headed east toward Zhongping (Center Peace). I tried getting a ride with the motorcyclists who plied the road ferrying people and goods between villages, but none of them were going back to Yingge.
At long last an ancient jeep appeared at my back and I made a desperate plea for them to stop. However, I was downhearted to see that it appeared full with two in the front and three in the back. I asked the driver if they had any room, and a young woman in the back said yes! Delighted, I joined them and we bumped and grinded all the way back to Yingge at a snail's pace as the road was a mass of potholes. They were evidently related in some way with three men and two women (likely mother and daughter). They were excited to hear me speak Mandarin and we conversed in a broken sort of way since their Mandarin was far from standard, and even makes Sichuan dialect sound good. They commented that my understanding of them was much better than the Chinese from Shanghai and Beijing. In the process of speaking a poor sort of Chinese, I guess I have become adept at understanding bad Mandarin. The young woman was an eighteen year-old high school student and we were encouraged to speak a bit in English, much to the delight of her mother who kept asking her and me, "Do you understand what she says??"
They asked me why I was here and I told them I wanted to climb the local mountain, but couldn't make it. They said I might have a better chance if I attempted it from the south via Changzheng, Heping and the go to the village of Xinxing.
About 5 PM we arrived back in Yingge, and they thoughtfully dropped me off at the bus station. Despite the fact that Sanya is Hainan's second largest city and we were on the mid-island highway, there were no more buses headed to Sanya today. They said come back tomorrow morning. But little did they know that would not fly with my wife who expected me to join her this evening at 8 PM. The only other option would be to take a bus to Qionghai on the east coast not far from where I was now. However, having spend the last two hours covering 30 km, I knew that didn't want to travel that road again and asked about the route. They said the bus back north to Tunchang which I passed on the way to Yingge, turns east to the east coast expressway and then south to Qionghai where I could catch a bus to Sanya. It was a very round about way to go, but I had little choice, so when the bus arrived a few minutes later I jumped on.
Bus rides in China are like a microcosm of social life in China. When I got on the bus was almost empty and the driver and ticket seller were talking up a storm. They were excited to learn I could speak Mandarin, but their accents made conversation difficult, so after a while they went back to talking between themselves. After they learned I wanted to go to Sanya, they said that there were no buses to Sanya from Qionghai and I should spend the night in Qionghai and have dinner with them. This was the second time today I had an invitation to dinner, and while I would have enjoyed it, I had other plans. In that case they told me I should wait on the expressway at the entrance ramp and flag down a passing bus. Given that it was pitch dark now and my total failure at doing precisely the same thing in Yunnan last month I was less than thrilled at the prospect of whiling away a couple of hours on the expressway staring into blinding high beams of vehicles passing by at100 km per hour. However, after the third vehicle passed, a bus screeched to a halt and let me on. Amazingly it was heading to Sanya and the driver let out a squeal of delight when I told him I was going there too.
Like most long distance buses in China now, this one was a video bus, but unlike their mainland brethren whose visual fare has to rank among the most violent and abusive movies anywhere, the buses here have been playing light drama and situational comedies, or even just music. What a pleasant change!
By this time it was after 8 PM, and after the time I was expected in Sanya. I got a call from Xiaorong asking where I was and when I would be there. She was distressed to hear I wouldn't arrive for at least another three hours despite being only about 130 km away. The reason being that the east coast expressway was closed for a significant stretch for reconstruction.
Arriving in Sanya, I was told that a taxi to the Holiday Inn would be only five yuan, but when I got in a taxi, they said it would be 20. The driver was from Anhui (one of the poorest provinces in China) and spent the last five years here driving his cab where he said he could make 5,000 yuan a month, and would fly home once a year to see his wife and kids. He said he was very happy with the arrangement since he could make a good living and he enjoyed the weather and driving.
It turns out there are two Holiday Inns in Sanya and, of course, I went to the wrong one. Getting to the right one cost me more than the two bus rides from Yingge to Sanya. But in the end, it was well worth it to be back in the sweet little arms of my loved one.
Another in a growing list of incompletes (this is such an unsatisfying term, but maybe it was meant to be that way), yet I felt I got a good look at quite a few of Hainan roads for future bike routes. Also, I had another mini-adventure, which was satisfying to my wanderlust soul.
This story continues at 19N 109E.