26-Jan-2004 -- This is a continuation from 25N 109E of a
four-point Confluence hunt in Guangxi Province during Chinese New Year..
Having lost my traveling buddy, the Confluence King of China, Targ Parsons, I went to
Liuzhou solo by bus. The two-hour drive on the smooth highway passed by a range of
sleeping dragons; the magical limestone karst hills of Guangxi and Guangdong provinces.
Much better viewing than the Chinese rock video playing on the bus TV.
This was my second time to Liuzhou, and once in town we passed familiar landmarks. The
city is the business center of northeast Guangxi province and one can feel that the pulse
here runs much quicker than its more well-known and richer neighbor, Guilin. Motorcycles
and buses crowd the streets jockeying for position at every intersection. The Liuzhou bus
station is massive affair and intimidating to the uninitiated. I needed to travel about
250 km to the northwest, and given a choice between the bus or train, I will take the
train every time. Riding Chinese trains has become my second favorite mode of
transportation after the bicycle.
So instead checking for buses, I headed directly to the train station. The ticket agent
was unusually patient with me as getting a ticket to the tiny town of Nandan was
difficult. A seatless ticket is easy, but since I haven't had a full night's sleep in a
few days, I really wanted a sleeper. She checked about 15 or 20 options before coming up
with a soft sleeper leaving in an hour. That gave me just enough time to have dinner and
buy a few snacks for the trip.
The soft sleepers are four beds to a compartment with a door and I was concerned I
would get stuck with a bunch of smokers in the other three beds since the majority of
Chinese men smoke like chimneys. However, I had the luxury of having the compartment to
myself, and I settled down to write up the latest confluence report.
The only downside was arriving in Nandan at 1:50 AM. It turned out to be okay as I
rolled out of bed off the train, stumbled out the gate and into to closest guesthouse.
Cheap, but clean it was just what I needed.
The receptionist brought me a big bucket of scalding hot water to wash my feet telling
me it would make me sleep better. She also said the buses started running at 6 AM, so I
set my alarm for 5:45. Walking up I noticed it was just turning light and the time was
7:30 AM. I had set the alarm for 5:45 PM, not AM! Oh well, I needed the sleep.
The train station is actually in Xiaochang so I needed to take a bus into Nandan and
from there go to Tian'e and then yet another bus toward Xiangyang getting off Banai and
then head toward Linlie. It was a complicated itinerary, especially since my memory is so
bad I had trouble remembering what was the name of the next place I was supposed to go.
Once in Tian'e I was approached by a boy of 18 who wanted to befriend me. I told him I
needed to eat first and then find a map second before heading toward Xiangyang. He was
more than willing to accompany me.
We found a bookstore with a map, but it only had a huge wall-sized one for sale. It was
much more than I needed and it was expensive. I asked if I could borrow the map to make a
copy of the small area I needed. They said no, but I could buy and return it latter if I
wanted. That was just what I was hoping for.
The bus to Xiangyang passes by a HUGE hydro-electric project currently under
construction. They are building nine tunnels to funnel water to power turbans and also a
network of roads and bridges to accommodate road traffic once the area is flooded. In
fact, getting to this confluence in a year or tow will likely be much different than it
was for me.
I got off the bus at the ferry crossing just before Xiangyang and started to walk up
the hill toward Linlie.
I must confess that I came ill prepared to do this confluence having not even brought a
decent map or looked at the aerial photos. This is stark contrast to Targ who plans his
trips in great detail and has worked up a small file on each one including a list of
directions on how to get to each one. Maybe it is just a difference in personalities.
Anyway, we get along get together, and I miss having him along on this one.
Nevertheless, I very much enjoy the challenge and excitement in trying to figure out
how to get to these places without a lot of information. But along the way, I was
astounded at the size of the mountains I was passing through and thought I may be in way
over my head.
Walking up from the ferry I was 2.49 km straight-line distance from the confluence. In
these mountains, that could be a VERY long way. The dirt road was quiet and steep. Along
the way a mianbao van was heading down the hill and offered to take me to Linlie.
We negotiated the price down a third and I jumped in.
Linlie is a one building town on a ridge 1.38 km from the confluence. I jumped out and
stumbled across likely-looking well-worn path that took me 200 meters closer before
pooping out. The cross-country option in the direction of my destination was straight up
the hill and relatively easy going since most of it had been recently cleared.
At the top, I got a big surprise. The confluence was 956 meters across a deep valley on
top of the opposite mountain. Oh my god! There wasn't much of an alternative. This is
where Targ's preliminary research really pays off. Oh, well, I had to bite the bullet.
Down, down, down 350 meters through brush and brambles sometimes on small trails to the
small stream. I was still 525 meters from the confluence and it looked like I had to climb
back up to the elevation I was. Along the way, I came across at welcoming committee of a
dozen or so water buffalo. Boy, where they startled to so me. I wasn't sure if taking
their picture would provoke something. Fortunately not.
The climb was difficult. There were no good trails, just a lot of cattle tracks that
zigzagged about. The terrain was at about a 45 degree angle and the ground was loose or
covered in slippery leaves. Near the top, I came across a well-worn foot path that looked
like it might lead to the ridge, even though it was headed away from the confluence point.
This was a mistake as when I started on it I was 240 meters away and it took me 480 meters
before I abandoned it and scrambled up through an evergreen tree plantation before finally
getting to the ridge.
In China, most ridges have trails along them and this was no exception. I followed it
up and down until I was 110 meters away from the CP. From here it was once again a
cross-country scramble down through head-high grass, sticker bushes and vines before
finally reaching the Confluence Point not far from a footpath.
After recording the event, I surveyed my surroundings for another way out. I was
definitely NOT going to go back the way I came. I could see the road to Xiangyang on the
other side of the valley, so it appeared to be a simple matter of getting to the bottom of
the valley and following the stream down to the river. The road to Xiangyang was on the
Going down was again much easier there was a multitude of trails used for harvesting
the lumber on the mountain. At the stream, I told a short break to wash my hands of the
blood from the scratches sustained on the scrambles.
Further down in an area used for corps there were some grazing horses and Mr. Pig.
There I set off the fireworks I hauled over hill and dale to celebrate the success of
finding the confluence. The horses were impressed.
Further down, I came across two guys leading three horses being used as pack animals
hauling goods up to the remote villages.
I reached the river about an hour after leaving the confluence. Now the problem was how
to cross it. It was too deep to wade across and too cold to swim. I thought I could walk
down along the south side to the point where the ferry was, but it was a quite a ways
(about 2 km) and there was no path along the south side. Then I came across a couple of
dug-out canoes and a bamboo raft. One canoe was in good shape, but was far from shore.
They other was at the water's edged but in terrible shape with a big hole on one side and
an old sock stuck in a big crack on the other. The bamboo raft was in similar condition
with several poles broken or cracked.
I thought that since the old dug-out canoe was in the water with a paddle next to it,
it must be still sea worthy. I was going to give it a try. But before I did, I thought I
better give it a test drive without all my gear including camera, PalmPilot, GPS, watch,
cell phone, money, passport and backpack. This turned out to be a good decision as the
moment I got into the boat, water started rushing toward me and I could feel that I could
not balance it without a lot of full tip-over experience. Scratch the dug-out.
The only other option was the bamboo raft, and its flimsy appearance gave me no hope.
The fact that there were several poles cracked, reducing the carrying capacity was
especially worrisome. So instead of not only leaving my pack and valuables on shore, I
also took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my pants past the knees.
The bamboo raft turned out to be more stable, but my weight was such that it floated
just below the water. Nevertheless, I was encouraged enough to give it a try with all my
gear strapped to my back. Also to reduce the likely event of losing my balance, I decided
to make the crossing kneeling down. There was 1.5- meter stick laying nearby so I thought
that must be to used to pole across the river.
Setting out was nerve racking but went smoothly until the water became too deep for the
pole. The raft was starting to drift toward the rapids and panic made a stomach-churning
appearance. Using the stick as a paddle was the only thing I could do at this point and my
years on the Purdue crew team paid off. I made it to the other side without going in the
But now the raft was on the other side and I had no way to return it. But I figured the
owner could retrieve it with out of his dug-outs. So, like Chairman Mao's Red Army, who
used to tie money to the fruit trees for the fruit they picked when passing through farms,
I stuck some money in one of the bamboo poles to pay for its use.
Back on the road again walking here felt ridiculously easy compared to where I had
been. I walked about two kilometers to the ferry where I waited for the bus to Tian'e.
The ferrymen were of the friendly sort and they invited me to join them on their trips
back and forth across the river. I asked them what they were going to do once the bridge
that was under construction above was completed. They said they would be transferred to
The captain invited me to join him in the pilothouse and we talked about the usual
China vs. the US topics. The ticket seller said he would try to find me a ride. A
mini-dump truck came on board and he asked if I would take it, but I said it was too slow.
Then a police car came on and the cop invited me to join him on his way back to Tian'e.
I was a bit nervous at first, but the young man, Wei Hua, was very nice, and explained
his outlook on life during our 30-minute ride. He thanked me for teaching his fellow
countrymen English and again when I told him I had a Chinese wife. He also invited me to
look him up the next time I was in the area and he would put me up, feed me, and take me
around to all the sights before dropping me off at the bus station.
I got another bus back to Nandan where I was excited to learn there was a train leaving
for Guiyang in 2.5 hours. However, it wasn't due to arrive in Guiyang until 7:10 AM and I
had a flight ticket for 7:50 AM. Would I make the flight to Chengdu? I certainly hoped so.
I really missed my wife, Xiaorong.
To my enormous relief, the train actually arrived 12 minutes early. Pushing and
bumping, I abandoned any and all sense of orderly conduct and become entirely Chinese in
my single-minded desire get out of the train station and into a taxi as quickly as
possible. The train station is in the south of town and I hailed the first VW Santana taxi
I saw. Breathlessly, I told the driver to take me to the airport as quickly as possible.
It was still dark and traffic was light, but infuriatingly, I seem to have picked the only
taxi driver in China that stops on the yellow light. I cursed, in English, but otherwise
held my tongue.
The driver was the silent type, looked like a college graduate, and drove like he just
his license a week ago. On the expressway he doggedly follows another taxi too slowly for
my tastes and I urge him to go faster. At the airport, I hand him a 100 note and he gives
me back too little change, hoping I would be in too big a hurry to demand it. I'm not and
he reluctantly gives me the rest of my change. Miraculously, I arrived with five minutes
to spare on check-in, but I was still in hyper-mode and unabashedly cut in line to get my
boarding pass, forgetting to ask for a window seat. Rushing over to security check I spot
with a start that there is a SARS temperature check station and I reminded of an article I
read about people who were found to have high temperatures at the train stations were
usually the result of rushing to catch the train. There is a remote scanner looking like a
police radar gun that screens all passengers, and those that are suspect get a personal
check with a handheld unit. I was pulled out for additional screening, but I squeaked by.
The aircraft was three-quarters full and I spotted a window seat in the row behind me,
so, without asking, I made the switch and hoped I wouldn't get evicted. Above the clouds,
it was a glorious day.
My wife benevolently agreed to let me go on this trip despite the fact that Spring
Festival is traditionally a time to be with family. She met me at the airport and looked
better than ever. I, on the other hand, look and smell like hell from not shaving in a
week and not showering in two days.
It was a terrific Spring Festival Confluence hunt. I wish to express my appreciation to
Targ Parsons for inviting me to join him and doing all the research for the points we
I christened this the "Ferryman Confluence"and dedicate this to my wife and
the wonderful people we meet in Guangxi province during Chinese New Year.
The Confluence Visit Details:
Accuracy: 4 m
Elevation: 586 m