21-Jul-2003 -- Continued from 30°N 106°E.
Sunday 20 July 2003 – Peter jumped out of the bus so quickly that he forgot to take his big new plaid umbrella. By the time I realised, the bus was already on its way again, and it was too late.
Not very long afterwards, a matter of just a few minutes, we arrived back at the Tongliang bus station. I told the bus driver to keep Peter’s umbrella, for which he was most appreciative. I was already carrying a nice lightweight umbrella that my aunt had given me for Christmas, and I didn’t particularly relish the idea of adding any unnecessary bulky items to my burden.
There was a bus that left Tongliang for Chongqing at 5:20 p.m., and by 7:40 p.m. I was happily checked into the Fuyuan Hotel, very handy to both the railway station and the central bus station. After eating dinner in the hotel restaurant, I gave Peter a call on his mobile to check on his progress. Apparently it was not all that great. He was still in Chongqing Municipality somewhere, with 250 kilometres left to go to get home to Chengdu in Sichuan Province. It was ironic that, as soon as I’d stepped off the bus from Tongliang a short while earlier, I’d been besieged by touts offering me seats on express buses to Chengdu!
Monday 21 July 2003 – Although it rained overnight, it was sunny in the morning. I was on the 7:30 a.m. bus from Chongqing to Kaixian, hoping for an early start to the day, but once the bus departed, it travelled only as far as another of Chongqing’s many bus stations, where we waited for over an hour for more passengers. The one redeeming factor was that the driver was very kind to me, and insisted, without me even asking, that I sit in my favourite seat at the right front of the bus, forward of the door and opposite the driver, from where the best view may be had, and from where one can usually remain somewhat immune from the usual barrage of questioning by fellow well-meaning passengers.
I was quite pleased to have secured this position, because it was to be a long journey, this confluence being a good distance to the northeast. At 9:10 a.m. we were finally on our way. We stopped for lunch at about 1 p.m. Almost inevitably, shortly after we got underway once more, I could detect the unpleasant aroma wafting up from the rear of the bus of someone’s hurriedly scoffed down, then even more hurriedly brought back up, lunch.
At 2:45 p.m. I got off the bus at a place called Zhongxing, 3.1 kilometres from the confluence. On one of the several maps I had of the area, there was a promising road shown heading north practically right past the confluence. Not surprisingly, after some extensive questioning, I ascertained that this road did not, and in fact never had, existed. It was merely the figment of some Chinese mapmaker’s imagination.
I found a small hotel in Zhongxing, where I ate a bowl of noodles, then left my big backpack as I set off in search of the confluence. There was a gravel road that went off at a tangent to the confluence, and I employed a motorcyclist to take me up this for a distance. After covering 4.1 kilometres on the motorbike (which sounded like it would break down at any moment) I was still 2 kilometres distant from the confluence, but at least it was a small advance. At 3:45 p.m. I paid off the motorcyclist and set off on foot.
Quite a lot of climbing was involved. I left the road at an elevation of 239 metres, and by 4:30 p.m. had ascended over half a kilometre to 775 metres, which saw me at the crest of a hill, with the confluence still 662 metres to the west. By this stage, I was severely reprimanding myself for having once again forgotten to stock up with drinking water before setting out.
Descending down the other side of the crest towards the confluence took me through fields of corn, which seemed to be the favoured home of both stick insects and big, nasty looking spiders. It was 5:40 p.m. when I eventually found the spot, at an elevation of 661 metres. My GPS was registering excellent accuracy of 6 metres. It was getting late, so I didn't muck about, and quickly shot the regulation north-south-east-west photos.
To the north, above the confluence, was a farmhouse (visible in the photo), and it was to this that I now headed, with the dual goal of: a) getting something to drink; and b) finding out if there were a better, hopefully considerably quicker, route back to Zhongxing. I succeeded on both counts.
There was an old guy visiting the farmhouse at that time, whose own home was on the way back towards Zhongxing, and he kindly led me most of the way back. When we reached the turnoff to his home, I thanked him and bid him farewell. Zhongxing was now clearly visible in the valley, and it was easy to follow the path the rest of the way.
En route, I came across a couple of guys with long-barrelled muskets, who, with the help of their dogs, were intent on wiping out what little birdlife might still remain in the area. Further still down the path, I came across an area devoted to raising silkworms. At this stage in the season, the silkworms had all already matured to the cocoon stage.
It was a bit after 7 p.m. when I finally arrived back in Zhongxing, just as the light was beginning to fade. The manager of the hotel where I'd left my bag seemed certain that there would shortly be another bus passing by on its way back to Chongqing, so I grabbed my bag and waited patiently on the roadside in my sweat-drenched clothes.
I waited for nearly two hours, by which time it was well after dark, and my faith in the hotel manager had steadily eroded. But he remained adamant, and sure enough, a big Chongqing-bound sleeper bus finally rounded the corner. I jumped out to stop it, but once it stopped I was greeted with the bad news that it was already full. The ticket seller said there'd be another bus along soon that did have some spare bunks. Although I was more than a little sceptical, there wasn't much else I could do but go back to waiting.
Just as I turned away from the bus to resume my roadside vigil, the ticket seller called back to me to get on! He'd decided to give me the small fold-down seat in the middle of the front of the bus next to the driver, the one normally reserved for the ticket-seller himself. I was ecstatic. The seat offered a great view.
As we hurtled down the dark road through sleepy towns, dogs, chickens and people scattered in all directions. At one point my heart was in my mouth when a tiny kitten suddenly appeared in the bus headlights right in front of me. There was no way the bus could take any evasive action, other than to just straddle the poor thing. If it remained frozen in terror in the middle of the road, and didn't try to make a last-minute dash for it, then hopefully it would have survived with at least some of its nine lives still intact.
Perhaps it was the cat, but shortly thereafter we suffered some bad luck, when the bus broke down, and we had to stop for repairs. We'd been stationary for about an hour when the following sleeper bus that the ticket-seller had mentioned earlier arrived on the scene. The ticket-seller put in a good word for me ("He's already paid his fare."), and I was allowed to switch buses, affording me my own bunk. I was able to get a little bit of sleep before we finally arrived in Chongqing at 3 a.m., whereupon I hopped straight out of the bus and into a taxi for the short ride to the Chongqing Fandian (ChungKing Hotel).
Story continues at 29°N 116°E.