03-Apr-2002 -- This story continues from 28ºN 113ºE.
WEDNESDAY 3 APRIL 2002. The alarm went off at 6 a.m., and by 6:56 a.m. I was on a train heading north from Changsha to Miluo. Miluo is about 20 kilometres south of the confluence, and I was planning to go by road from there. But once on the train, I discovered that it would also stop at the tiny station of Taolin, less than 12 kilometres east of the confluence. So I upgraded my ticket on the train, and got off at Taolin instead. I later learned that I had been quite lucky, because this was the *only* train that stopped at Taolin each day.
It was now 8:40 a.m. What followed was a truly bone-shattering, hour-long ride in the back of a small, three-wheeled truck converted to passenger use. Conversion to passenger use meant the installation of two wooden planks, which were extremely uncomfortable to sit on as the truck bounced its way along the dirt road (picture #2). My bum was sore for days afterwards!
Finally, covered in dust and nearly asphyxiated by exhaust fumes, I arrived in Xintang, three kilometres east of the confluence. As I was paying my fare to the driver, we got to talking, and when he learned of my goal, he offered to take me as far as he could to the confluence. This turned out to be just 400 metres away. He parked the truck, and we covered the rest of the distance on foot, arriving at the confluence at 10 a.m.
The confluence was literally right up against the back wall of a farmhouse (picture #1). If it had been any closer, I would have had to go up to the roof to get the perfect reading (picture #3). Elevation: 49 metres. The farmhouse looked like it had been built only recently (picture #4). It faced south, as most homes in China do (picture #5).
The owner of the farmhouse returned as I was busy taking photographs, and invited the driver and me in for a cup of tea. We sat at a table with the confluence right outside the window (picture #6). The tea he served us was made from a mixture of tea leaves and sesame seeds. Both of these were eaten once the tea had been drunk.
Just after the driver and I left the farmhouse and were walking back to the truck, the driver suddenly shouted loudly and jumped high into the air! He had just narrowly avoided stepping on a snake, which was sunning itself on the path (picture #7). The inside of the snake's mouth was an ominous purple colour (picture #8). Neither of us knew whether it was venomous or not.
The driver took me back to Taolin, and this time I did the journey in the relative luxury of the truck's cabin. I just missed an 11 a.m. bus to Miluo, so had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. A small group of curious locals kept me company as I waited (picture #9).
When the next bus finally came, it was crowded with people and goods, including an enormous length of curled up PVC piping, and a large carton of eggs. The latter was sensibly placed in the middle of the aisle, right next to the door, so that everyone getting on or off was compelled to gingerly step over it (picture #10).
Upon arrival in Miluo, I checked out the train station, but it looked like a long wait before the next train, so I took a bus back to Changsha instead, arriving at the Changsha east bus station at 3:30 p.m.
When I got back to the Great Wall Hotel, the ticket booking centre was open, so I inquired about, and purchased, a plane ticket back to Shenzhen for the coming Sunday. This left me three more full days for confluence hunting. I decided to base myself in Changsha for the remaining time, travelling out to a nearby confluence in a different direction each day. This strategy was to prove quite effective for several reasons. I didn't have to worry about finding a new place to stay each night, and I didn't need to take all my stuff with me as I travelled. Furthermore, getting "home" each night was easy, because with Changsha being so big, there were always buses heading towards it, no matter where I went.
This story continues at 29ºN 112ºE.