03-Jan-2004 -- Story continues from 22°N 109°E.
Fri 02-Jan-2004 (continued), 6 p.m. - We arrived back in Qinzhou from Napeng shortly before sunset. Richard elected to walk back to the hotel, while Tony and I took the no. 2 commuter bus.
Much of the talk during our 20 km walk earlier in the day had been about rechargeable batteries--not the most enthralling of subjects, but it seemed to keep us "geeks" (as CNN once called us) occupied for a good deal of the way. As a result, I had become a convert, so when we got back, Tony helped me to select and purchase a good quality recharger and four AA batteries from the large supermarket on the ground floor of our hotel.
We then met up with Richard, and found we had all independently come to the same idea about where to eat dinner, at a Lanzhou lamian ("pulled noodles") restaurant, also on the ground floor of the hotel. After dinner, all three of us went to the hairdresser where I had received such good service the night before. Richard and I enjoyed very relaxing facials (I actually fell asleep), while Tony found that they had white hair colour, so decided to once again do the beard-dyeing thing. The result was much more to his liking this time. (Unfortunately, it was not to his wife's. Within hours of him returning home to Hong Kong, the whole lot got shaved off!)
Sat 03-Jan-2004, 8 a.m. - We took things leisurely in the morning, because our train to Huangzhou was not due to depart until 9:25 a.m. We eventually checked out of the hotel, and took a taxi to the Qinzhou Train Station, which was virtually deserted. The single ticket window was open however, so I went and asked for three tickets to Huangzhou. That's when we discovered that the train to Huangzhou operated only every second day, on even-numbered days. Whoops!
I suggested we'd better take a bus up the freeway to Nanning, then try to get to the confluence from there. But Tony had an even better suggestion. He said, seeing as we were already at the train station, why not just take the train to Nanning?
There was only one train a day to Nanning, and it left at 9:11 a.m. The train journey would not be as quick and luxurious as an express bus, but it would save us having to leave the train station in search of the right bus station, and besides, we were already psyched up for a bit of train travel, so that's what we decided to do.
We bought our tickets, and then Tony and I went off in search of some steamed buns for breakfast, while Richard sat down out front of the station, minding our bags and reading his book. Tony and I found some steamed buns after a 10-minute walk, and brought some back for Richard. We then entered the large, rather empty waiting room of the station, getting our temperatures taken on the way in as part of the government's continuing SARS prevention measures.
9:11 a.m. - We had stocked up on nibbles for the train journey in the hotel supermarket the night before, and en route enjoyed "dried rope", sunflower seeds and milk peanuts. A family with two young girls was sitting across the aisle from Richard and me, and they kept us entertained for much of the journey. We found the children's Mandarin pronunciation much easier to understand than the adults'.
12:15 p.m. - We arrived at the Nanning Railway Station in the centre of town, from where we made our way on foot about a block to the Nanning Central Bus Station. However it proved impossible to get a bus to our next objective, Gantang, from there. Instead, we were directed to a different bus station, the Nanning Keyun Zhongxin Bus Station, another block and a half away, where we found a bus due to depart for Gantang at 2:10 p.m. We considered ourselves lucky, because it was one of only two buses each day, the other left at 9:10 a.m.
With about an hour to kill, Tony had time to have some lunch in a fast-food restaurant adjoining the bus station, while Richard went to the Internet bar upstairs. I later joined him, only to discover that just about every website he or I wanted to access was being blocked, including the DCP's website. I subsequently received an e-mail from Peter Cao in Chengdu complaining about the same thing, so I can only surmise that it is part of some new Orwellian campaign to control access to information on the part of the central authorities.
2:10 p.m. - The bus from Nanning to Gantang was a very nice, clean, big, new, bright yellow, air-conditioned coach with VCD and free bottled water. As we sat on the bus awaiting departure, the VCD was blaring out ear-splitting Chinese opera music at maximum volume, giving us all monster headaches. Able to stand it no more, first Richard then I got up and fiddled with the driver's controls, until we figured out how to ameliorate the God-awful cacophony. We were surprised (but pleased) that no one later tried to turn the volume back up, even when the feature movie started.
The bus travelled northeast up the freeway, and we passed the confluence on our right at a distance of less than 900 metres. We had harboured the notion of shouting to the driver to stop and let us out when we reached the closest point, but one look at the hilly terrain put paid to that idea. Instead, we remained on board as the bus continued another 10 km up the freeway to the next exit, then doubled back down a secondary road south to Gantang. This time we passed by the confluence 1.5 km to our west.
4 p.m. - When we finally arrived in Gantang, the confluence was 2.25 km to the north, with a wide expanse of flat land in between. I had envisaged us strolling over to the confluence and back, then spending the night in Gantang, but Richard realised that the bus we'd just arrived on would be heading back to Nanning at 4:50 p.m., so suggested we do the confluence on motorbikes, and try and get back in time for the return journey.
We quickly engaged three motorcycle dudes from the waiting hopefuls, then donned our backpacks and headed off in the direction of the confluence, each of us clutching our GPS and guiding our motorcyclist by means of the arrow. When we reached the edge of the plain, it was obvious the confluence was just around the first small hill, and miraculously, that's where the dirt road led. My motorcyclist stopped, saying the road didn't go anywhere, and it took a considerable amount of persuasion before I could get him to continue on.
We eventually arrived at a quarry, the confluence just over 100 metres up in the hills behind it. The three of us set off, still carrying our packs, not wanting to leave them behind with the motorcycle dudes. As soon as we were within the 100-metre success zone, Tony, not a great fan of climbing, offered to stay behind and mind our bags while Richard and I continued up.
We reached a point where we could tell the confluence was near the top of a hill some 50 metres to our east, with certainly no way straight up the formidable slope. Richard, ever mindful of the impending bus departure, wanted to call it a visit there and then, but I persuaded him to continue on up the path we were following to see if there might be a possible approach to the confluence from the north. This we did, and after a bit of scrambling through ferns, tall grass and the occasional tree, we soon had the coveted zero reading. I hastily snapped the north-south-east-west shots, then we took off back down the trail to the waiting Tony, collected our bags, and continued down to the motorcycle dudes, still waiting for us in the quarry below (because we hadn't yet paid them).
4:40 p.m. - In the end, we made it back to the bus with 10 minutes to spare. Apart from the three of us, there were only four other passengers, and we spread ourselves out comfortably around the back of the bus. The bus hostess, who was understandably astonished at the brevity of our visit to Gantang, gave us two bottles of water each (instead of the regulation one), and also shared some mandarins with us.
6:30 p.m. - We arrived back at the Nanning Keyun Zhongxin Bus Station at dusk. The bus hostess had told us that we should check the Beida Keyun Zhongxin Bus Station for buses to Nalong, which would be our objective the following day, so we took a taxi there and learned that Nalong buses left every 10 minutes, starting at 7 a.m.
With that bit of intelligence safely tucked away, we then enquired as to the nearest three-star hotel, and were directed to the Fenghuang (Phoenix) Hotel back in the centre of town, not far from the railway station. Another taxi ride got us there. The hotel had incredibly expensive rooms, but also had very cheap budget rooms, as well as ridiculously cheap budget rooms. We opted for a very cheap budget room for three persons, and were escorted to, and issued the key for, room number 30,208!
We had dinner in a nice, second-floor restaurant across the street from the hotel, after which Richard went for a walk while Tony and I hit the hairdresser, Tony for a "square", Chinese-style haircut, and me for a wash and blow-dry. After asking our permission, the owner of the hairdressing establishment, who was cutting Tony's hair, summoned a friend to come and photograph the two foreign customers, recording the moment for posterity. The photographer was a rank amateur though, and Tony ended up showing him how to use the camera properly.
Story continues with 23°N 108°E.