07-May-2003 -- Continued from 28°N 110°E.
Tuesday 6 May 2003 (Day 15, continued) - I caught the 9:48 a.m. train from Huaihua to Pingkou. "Hard seat" class is becoming quite comfortable these days, with cushioned seats and no overcrowding--the latter phenomenon perhaps attributable to the reluctance of many Chinese to travel during the SARS epidemic. At 1 p.m. I arrived at Pingkou, where alighting passengers were subjected to another temperature-taking and form-filling exercise before being allowed out of the station.
Pingkou is an interesting town, not very big, but with rail, road and water links heading off in various different directions. After checking into a cheap hotel (the best hotel in town), I went out for a walk. It was market day, and there were stalls all up and down the main street, selling goods of every description, sometimes in weird juxtaposition, such as a plastic shoe stall next to a tobacco stall. I went to the riverside and checked out the timetable for boats to Anhua, which would be my next major destination after completing this confluence, then walked across the railway bridge to see about possible transport options west to Tielu the following morning.
Once again, I found myself right on the extreme edge of a county (this time Yiyang County), trying to find transport into an adjoining county (Loudi County). There simply wasn't any. It seemed that an early start and another long walk awaited me in the morning.
A heavy thunderstorm delayed my return across the railway bridge back to Pingkou. I hadn't brought my umbrella with me, so had no option but to wait it out. When I finally got back, most of the market stalls had closed for the day on account of the rain.
I noticed an Internet bar that looked to be open, but when I went in and enquired, the pretty manageress informed me that the government had just ordered the closure of all Internet bars as part of its crackdown on the spread of SARS. She kindly let me use her own PC to send a quick e-mail though. She wouldn't accept any money for this, so I gave her some of the fruit I'd just bought instead.
The rain returned, so I went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hotel tea house, sipping tea, reading my New Scientist magazine, and listening to relaxing Chinese erhu music (a two-stringed bowed instrument). Eventually the electrical storm outside knocked out the power, so there was no more music. Shortly before sunset, the hotel staff went around and issued candles to all the guests.
Wednesday 7 May 2003 (Day 16) - The power blackout ended up lasting all night. I got up at the crack of dawn, at 5:30 a.m., and was soon on my way. I crossed over the railway bridge again, and set out on the 9.5 kilometre walk to Tielu. Only when I was one kilometre from Tielu did I encounter any vehicle at all, a light truck that stopped to give me a lift the final bit of the way. I arrived in Tielu at 8:15 a.m. The confluence was still another 3.5 kilometres to the southwest of Tielu, however there was no more road, only walking trails. I passed a young girl on horseback, making her way down a stone path into Tielu from somewhere in the surrounding countryside.
It took me just under two hours to walk the remaining distance to the confluence, initially up a river valley, then by following various paths through the hills. Light rain accompanied me most of the way. The confluence was on a slope about 20 metres down from a farmhouse. The elevation was 540 metres. I took north-south-east-west photos, the latter dominated by the farmhouse. The farmhouse was obviously lived in, but none of the inhabitants were at home at the time.
It took another four hours to walk the entire distance, some 15 kilometres, via Tielu back to Pingkou, and it rained all the way. Not surprisingly, there were few people about, and no vehicles at all. I passed a peasant wearing his full wet weather gear. It was 2 p.m. when I arrived back at the hotel to collect my bag. This left me just enough time to have a late lunch before making my way down to the river to catch the 3:30 p.m. boat to Anhua.
Story continues at 30°N 111°E.