25-Oct-2003 -- I made a spur of the moment decision made a in the morning to try and visit two
confluences in neighboring Shaanxi Province. These two are close to the railroad, so I can
use my second favorite form of transportation after bicycling, and looked like I should be
able to visit two in a day if my transportation connections synched properly. That is
always a big "IF" in China. For the second Friday in a row, I bought hard
sleeper ticket for about US$8 on the overnight 1486 train at 23:36 to Tianjin with my stop
in Yangpingguan arriving at 6:49 AM.
The journey this time is not as peaceful as the last as there are a group of loud and
chatty older folks heading home after an excursion in Sichuan. Their northern dialect is a
sharp contrast to the southern Sichuan dialect I have grown accustomed to. About an hour
after they start to wear out, but a baby a few compartments down decides to fill the void
with astounding tenaciousness for such a small thing. I kept thinking that she must tire
out after more than an hour, but instead continued unabated most of the night.
Arriving in Yangpingguan, only a handful of passengers get off at this sleepy village.
There were the requisite gathering of buses and three-wheeled enclosed motorcycles. I go
down to see what my options were for getting closer to the confluence point (CP). The GPS
indicates it is 4.8 km away, but in this mountainous area, getting there can be far from
straight forward. One of the maps I have shows the CP along a road to Zhaojiahe, so I ask
about getting there. Nobody ever heard of it. Uh-oh, a bad sign. I bring out the map which
draws considerable interest and the verdict is there are no buses going in that direction.
I find this hard to believe, since buses can be found on virtually every road in China. My
advisors tell me I have to take a motor-tricyle taxi. The town on the map is 18 km away,
so I ask for a price. It is expensive, but the alternative of waiting may make me lose the
opportunity to get to the second confluence near Hanzhong, so I agree.
But first some breakfast. A nearby stand has Lanzhou pulled noodles, one of my favorite
dishes, so I tell the driver I am going to eat first. I make it rule to eat a good meal
before tackling a confluence, because I never know how long it is going to take. My driver
comes with me and studies my map while I eat. Two other locals come over to check out the
foreigner, asking the usual questions and they agree to be photographed.
The road is bad, the shock absorbers nonexistent, and the ride is painful. We bump and
bounce along at 10 km/hour as I watch the dawn break over the mountains. The town is
beside a large river, and using the NASA satellite photos I have seen that the confluence
is near a tributary. After an hour, I tell the driver I want to stop, seven kilometers
short of the agreed upon destination. I tell him I am going to walk around a bit and then
head back. He says he can wait, so I ask how much will it cost to go back. He tells me
more than triple what we agreed on originally. I realize I got another clown who things I
am his lottery ticket. I tell him to forget it, and just pay for the way there.
At this point I am 150 meters from the CP and the GPS arrow is pointing across the
shallow river. I look for a bridge, but there is none even though there are houses on the
other side. Following the road further I discover an ingenious construction. A 1-meter
wide path has been built across the river using river stones with a sand top. The water
continues through the porous wall and I am able to cross without getting my feet wet. The
CP lies on the east bank of the river between two mud and straw houses with a big brown
bull tied to a stake right at the CP.
After taking photos documenting the location, I head back to Yangpingguan, wading
across the river instead of backtracking. On the way back I am running against the morning
rush-hour traffic. I meet 12 bikes, 8 motorcycles, 5 trucks, 1 pushcart, 1 bus, and 1 car
all leaving Yangpingguan and nothing going my way, so I walk the 11 km back to town. On
the way back, there are a number of colorful birds like blue jays and white egrets
flitting about. I also spot marijuana growing along the road, a sign that some Muslim Hui
minority are in the area.
Details: Time: 08:34
Elevation: 603 meters
Accuracy: 4 meters
I christen this the The Big Brown Bull Confluence.
This story continues at 33N 107E.