20-Jul-2003 -- This is the second confluence of two that Targ Parsons and myself are doing together. Targ is a venerable "China Confluence King" with the majority of China confluences visited by him. On this trip, he is on an 18-confluence hunt and I was fortunate to be able to join him for the first two in Chongqing not far (relatively speaking) from my home in Chengdu. This confluence hunt is dedicated to my lovely wife, Xiaorong Cao.
In the morning, we had breakfast in the hotel. Targ opted to grab a bite to eat
outside, but I took full advantage of the buffet breakfast, consuming six plates of food, including five sandwiches, three glasses of milk, and a dozen slices of watermelon. When we left, I was pretty full and felt it would tide me over for a while. I hate to be hungry.
We started an 8 AM from Qijiang, first taking a bus to Chongqing which took about 90 minutes. Targ had sussed out the transportation options to Guanjian while he was waiting for me to arrive on Friday night, so he knew how we needed to get to our next destination. This meant we first had to transfer to a different bus station. Long-distance bus stations in China are amazingly well organized now, particularly in the large cities. Computerized ticketing automatically assigns seats and picks the next available bus. Buses are
corralled in the rear of the station and only ticketed passengers are allowed in after they and their luggage has been screened with X-ray scanners and most recently with temperature scanners for passengers to prevent the spread of SARS.
Chongqing is a maze of bridges, tunnels and pedestrian underpasses. Finding one's way around can be quite confusing, even for the locals. Targ has a great sense of direction, and skillfully guided us to the right spot. We got a mini bus to Tongliang, where we had to change bus stations again to get a bus to Guanjian, which was 2.5 km from the confluence. Generally, the smaller the bus, the slower it goes. The amount of time it takes to get there is directly related to the cost. At five yuan, it was going to take about an hour to go 20 km, whereas the highway minibus cost 25 yuan and covered 100 km in 90 minutes.
Targ had five different maps and they showed conflicting information as to the exact location of the confluence. It was near a fairly large river, so Targ had used a NASA satellite photograph to determine the best strategy to get to the confluence. It appeared that the confluence was on the west side of the river, near a village called Meizi. He had hoped that we would be able to hire a boat, or take a ferry down stream and get off close to the confluence. However, when we arrived, there where no ferries, except for crossing the river. The few boats nearby where empty, so we crossed the river and started to ask about transport options.
A couple of ubiquitous sleezeball motorcycle guys were milling around, and we asked them how much to Meizi. A local woman was listening in and piped up that Meizi we just over there. The motorcycle guys took down a rough trail, and dropped up off about half a kilometer closer. They pointed down a small muddy foot path, and laughingly said that was the way to Meizi. Targ took one look at that and decided to change to his hiking boots. I only had my Teva sandals so I had to make due by splashing through all the puddles to keep my feet relatively free of mud. It was very slippery, since the recent rains made the trails pure muck. We hiked along the river through the bamboo stands and past the
cross-river ferry. After about 500 meters, the we came across the first set of houses and the trail became a half-meter wide concrete trail. We marveled at our good fortune and wondered how long it would hold out. The weather was overcast and threatening rain, but held off. After about 700 meters, the main trail turned away from the confluence and we started heading down progressively smaller and more poorly maintain trails. At 1,000 meters from the confluence, we came to the end of the valley at a U-shaped ridge. Targ and I debated as to whether or not there would be a trail over it. He contended that since this land was so fertile, and every square inch was cultivated, that there would certainly be a trail regardless of the ridge.
He was right. As usual, the trail passed right through the front yard of a house and we climbed up to the top of the ridge. From there we had a good view of the where we were headed and guessed that the confluence was in fact on this side of the river. We continued walking, picking paths by the largest path that went in the general direction of the confluence. It seemed that the paths closer to the houses were in better condition and easier to follow, but nearly all houses had a dog chained up that would start barking like mad. The startled owners would come out and start asking where we were going and what were
we doing here. Often they would invite us to stop to drink some tea or eat something. The confluence project is difficult to explain to the farmers, so we usually said we were coming to look at the landscape and nature. This explanation seemed to marginally satisfy them and we continued on our way.
Over the next hill, I spotted the river, and was concerned that the confluence may indeed be in the water. I told Targ, I brought my swimsuit, so I could swim out with the waterproof GPS if necessary. Down past some more farmers working in the fields, another old couple came out and looked at us very suspiciously. This was perfectly understandable: not only were we foreigners in a area that rarely if ever gets any, but given the difficulty in getting to this place, very few people outside of the community would ever go there and we were traipsing through their garden and front yard. It had taken us more than an hour to get there on foot, and there was no motorized way to get there. Along the way, I was thinking about how much easier life in the city. Going into town to get something like an ice cream would be a major expedition.
The old couple said we could get a boat on the river, which sounded like welcome news. My backpack was relatively light, but with my football (soccer) injury from the week before, if was starting to take its toll. Targ was carrying a bigger backpack than the last time and he managed to fill it with god knows what: it felt like half the Hong Kong Public Library.
We slipped and slid between the rice terraces and I was getting excited as the
confluence point came closer. Targ warned me to tread carefully: one misstep and down I would go into a thick mud soup. A farmer's house was dead ahead in line with the confluence and Targ said it looks like it is going to be in their front yard. We passed around it and zeroed in on the confluence next to the house at the edge of the rice field. From the bank, it was about three meters away. The rice plants were almost waist high, and I thought I might be able to get a perfect reading by wading out a few meters. Wearing Teva sandals, I gingerly stepped down between rice stalks and my feet sunk up to mid calf.
Walking was out of the question, and I was wondering if I would be able to get my sandals back. Pulling with all I had I freed one foot and the sandals slipped off just as I pulled my foot out of the muck. Targ suggested that I go barefooted, but I had had enough and was willing to settle for a slightly than perfect reading.
After taking photos of the NESW views and noting the time, elevation, accuracy, etc., Targ promptly set his sights on the next confluence, 241.7 Km away and I set mine on home in Chengdu, 250 km away. We decided to try and find a different way out of here. The thought of having to negotiate our way back the way we came was not very attractive, so Targ asked the woman who has a confluence in her yard, and I asked a neighbor. The neighbor said there was no ferry today, but that the confluence woman had a boat, and they could take us back up the river to Guanjian.
The confluence woman led us down to the riverbank where her husband was waiting in a small fishing boat. It was a steel hull boat about four meters long and less than a meter wide with a bamboo cover in the middle and bamboo sleeping mat below.
We asked him if he would take us back to Guangjian. He hesitated, and then asked us how much we would pay him. I always hate it when that happens, I never know how much to offer. We tried to get him tell us first, but he refused. So I offered what I thought was a reasonable amount. He countered with an amount 2.5 times more and then said that he risked a huge fine if he was caught taking us. He said he would only do it if he could drop us off before we got to town to avoid getting caught. We agreed to his terms and then his wife began off loading the fishing nets and cleaning up the boat. There were eight nets,
each weighing about 25 kg. She cleaned the front of the boat where we would sit and then we all got in. Before we left, the husband asked to see the money. I joked with Targ that we should follow Brian Ferry's advice and not pay the ferryman until he gets us to the other side. Satisfied that we could pay,
the husband fired up the motor and we puttered upstream at about 8 kmh.
A light rain fell and the pure white egrets took off as we passed them, their long necks outstretched and their black legs and yellow feet trailing. It was a peaceful journey of about 30 minutes and we were glad we didn't have to hike back to Guanjian.
We arrived about a half a kilometer from Guanjian and walked along the stone path along the river back into town. I stopped to clean my legs, feet and sandals one more time. All the locals stopped and stared or made comments as we passed.
The bus back to Tongnan was waiting when we arrived, a stroke of luck that boded well for getting to where we were going next. I bought some more snacks and then boarded the decrepit bus. As we returned, I asked to look at Targ's map of Chongqing and realized that I should be headed the opposite direction. It was almost 5 PM, and getting late for catching buses. I already knew there were no more buses to Chengdu leaving from the bus station. The last one left
three hours before. So I watched oncoming traffic and saw there were buses that I should be right for me, so I bid Targ farewell, and got off at the next stop. Targ caught the next bus to Chongqing and was ready to tackle the next confluence.
My trip home turned out to take much longer than I expected. Without a map, I could only guess what buses might be helpful. I waited at far side of the tollbooth and waited about 20 minutes the next likely looking bus arrived. I flagged it down and was given the second driver's seat sitting shotgun in the stairwell. An hour later I arrived at 6 PM in Tongnan, a small city in eastern Sichuan. Chengdu buses left at 8:30 PM, so I had dinner at an outdoor café
and worked on this report in the meantime. I had hoped that I would be back around midnight, but a combination of a late start caused by the driver trolling the streets of Tongnan for passengers and very bad roads pushed back my arrival until 3 AM. I would have made better time by backtracking two hours to Chongqing with Targ and taking the Chongqing-Chengdu bus.
I christened this the River View Confluence.
Here are the gory visit details, courtesy of Targ, who has a penchant for such things:
Coordinates: 30N 106E
Date of visit: 20 July 2003
Time of visit: 3:00 p.m.
Altitude: 214 metres
Distance from confluence: 4.23 metres
GPS accuracy: 6 metres
DCP aggregate accuracy: 10.23 metres
Targ's story of visiting the remaining Chongqing confluence, 31N 108E, continues
My next attempt, I will try to persuade my wife and daughter to go with me on their
first confluence hunt at 29°N 104°E.