Coordinator's note: This confluence was also attempted by Tony Basoglu.
18-Apr-2003 -- Having been granted three weeks' leave by my very accommodating boss, I was able to embark on another serious Chinese confluence hunt, this time with the rather ambitious aim of finishing off both Hunan Province (11 confluences remaining out of 18) and Chongqing Municipality (4 confluences remaining out of 9). I was very pleased that my colleague and original confluencing mentor Tony could accompany me, although for only the first four days, coinciding with the four-day Easter long weekend.
Thursday 17 April 2003 (Day 1) - Tony and I met up at Hong Kong's Hung Hom railway station in the afternoon, from where we planned to catch the 3 p.m. Shanghai-bound cross-border train. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic was at its peak, both in Hong Kong and in mainland China, and most of the waiting passengers were wearing face masks for protection.
Our train left on time, and we enjoyed the luxury of our modern hard-sleeper berths for the eight-hour journey to the south of Hunan Province. We disembarked in the city of Chenzhou at 11 p.m., and immediately checked into the Tianhu Hotel, conveniently located right next to the Chenzhou Central Bus Station. Convenient, that is, if that's where your bus leaves from. We subsequently discovered that ours didn't.
Friday 18 April 2003 (Day 2) - We were told that the bus we wanted to catch to Guidong would leave at 9:30 a.m. from the Chenzhou South Bus Station. On a hunch, we decided to check out of the hotel early, and go and see for ourselves what the actual state of affairs was at the Chenzhou South Bus Station. When we arrived at 7:30 a.m., we were delighted to find a bus bound for Guidong all set to leave at 7:50 a.m.
This was a typical example of the sort of disinformation one gets when making such enquiries in China. Our helpful informant had indeed directed us to the correct bus station, but obviously knew nothing at all about the bus timetable itself. In order to save face, any gaps in knowledge are simply filled in by fictitious answers plucked out of thin air. This is considered preferable to admitting to not actually knowing.
We bought our tickets, hopped on board, and promptly set off down an excellent four-lane highway, basking in the beautiful warm sunny spring weather. We understood the total journey would take approximately four hours, and cover a distance of 157 kilometres. With 120 kilometres left to go, we turned off the highway onto a bumpy two-lane road. By way of compensation, the driver switched on the video at full volume. It blared away for about 15 minutes, then the picture on the screen suddenly compressed into a one-pixel-wide thin vertical line, and the thing was mercifully shut off.
We passed many rice paddies along the way, most of which were being busily prepared for planting. With 72 kilometres still to go, we encountered road works, which went on for some 20 kilometres, requiring us to crawl uncomfortably over an incredibly bumpy, dusty, unsealed surface, while at the same time engaging in some serious climbing. We finally arrived in Guidong at noon, with Tony wondering if there were any more palatable alternative to returning the way we'd just come. This is how he put it: "My gluteus maximus hasn't hurt this bad since, since....mmm ever. I have been on a lot of unorthodox transportation, but this was one of the most painful."
The next stage of our journey required travelling 16 kilometres southeast to the small village of Niaolingjiao, which translates as "The Foot of Bird Mountain". All but the first 3 of these 16 kilometres were along a dubious thin red line on the map. Not surprisingly, we soon established that there was no public transport available to Niaolingjiao, so we resorted to hiring a minivan and driver instead. Tony thought the agreed price was a bit excessive, but the state of the road (nothing more than a dirt track really), and the considerable patience later exhibited by our driver, made it seem worthwhile in the end.
The closest the track came to the confluence was about 450 metres to the north, but from this point the confluence was obviously at a much higher elevation, and a great deal of climbing up a steep slope would be required. Instead, we urged our driver to continue uphill along the track, with the hope of finding a better approach.
This particular confluence is located at the extreme eastern edge of Hunan Province, and our driver seemed hesitant to go any further. He stopped to consult a local who, with a dismissive wave of the hand, informed us that continuing along the track would merely take us to Jiangxi Province, which may as well have been on another planet for all the relevance it seemed to hold for him.
Nevertheless, we urged our driver on, and eventually found what looked to be the ticket, a long aqueduct that began at the side of the track, and appeared to snake its way around the hills pretty much towards the confluence, now some 750 metres to the west.
Now, as any of you who may have read some of Tony's earlier confluence visits will know, Tony is not renowned for his ability to remain upright for extended periods of time, and traversing this aqueduct required a balancing act extraordinaire. The hillside was dangerously precipitous, and a fall here could have had dire consequences indeed. After boldly making our way a hundred metres or so, Tony wisely decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and we abandoned this line of attack.
I scrambled up the hillside and found an old disused path running about 20 metres above, and parallel to, the aqueduct. This seemed more promising, and I urged Tony to scramble up and join me. We followed this path for several hundred metres before it eventually petered out, totally overgrown, making further forward progress virtually impossible.
So we made our way back to the minivan and our patiently waiting driver, and instructed him to take us back down to the spot 450 metres north of the confluence. This was the site of a small hydroelectric plant, which generated its power from water that flowed down a large-diameter pipe from a concrete tank several hundred metres above, at the end of the aqueduct we had begun walking along before.
There was a good--albeit quite steep--path running up beside the pipe. Tony didn't like the look of it, and decided to remain at the bottom, reading his paperback, while I tackled the incline. I eventually made my way up to the concrete tank at the end of the aqueduct, at which point I was now only 270 metres north of the confluence. I continued to climb to the crest of the hill, then down into thick vegetation in the next valley, where I was eventually rewarded with the highly coveted perfect reading. The elevation was 1,252 metres.
I took the regulation north-south-east-west photos, then headed back down to the waiting Tony and our driver. By the time we had covered the 16 kilometres back to Guidong, the last bus back to Chenzhou had already departed, so we checked into a local hotel, giving us the night to relax, and to psych ourselves up for the gruelling trip back the following morning.
Story continues at 25°N 112°E.