05-Jul-2012 -- Story continues from 37°N 112°E.
The alarm goes off at 5 am, and I am showered, packed, and checked out of the hotel by 6 am. The complimentary breakfast does not officially start until 6:30 am, but most of the dishes are already out, and I am allowed in for an early breakfast, before setting off for the train station at 6:30 am.
At the train station, I go through the now familiar rigmarole of ticket, identity, and security checks. My train to Dài Xiàn (代县) departs on schedule at precisely 7:36 am. It is an uneventful journey, and I arrive in Dài Xiàn at 11 am.
The public toilet opposite the railway station is not to be recommended! This is one of the worst public toilets I’ve encountered in China, and that’s really saying a lot.
I get a room at a nearby hotel, where I leave the bulk of my stuff, and am ready to head out at noon. This is when I discover that I am on the far outskirts of Dài Xiàn, and it’s a three-kilometre walk to the centre of town, where the bus station is located. I buy a ticket on the 7 am bus to Dàtóng Prefecture (大同市) for the next morning.
The bus station is quite near the start of the route I have mapped out for getting to the confluence. But before setting off, I pop into a small restaurant across the street for some lunch, and enjoy a really delicious dish called “twice-cooked pork” (Huíguōròu 回锅肉).
All the while I’m eating my lunch, a persistent taxi driver is waiting for me to finish, so he can hopefully pick up a fare. It’s difficult for me to explain where I want to go—the only place name I can provide is Hónggǔ Village (红谷村), which he’s never heard of—so we agree on a rate of 3 yuan (about US$ 0.50) per kilometre, and off we set in his air-conditioned car, following the route I have marked in my GPS.
When we get to about 1.7 km from the confluence, having just passed by a second large iron ore processing factory, and with the road completely ruined by a never-ending stream of huge ore-carrying trucks that we’ve been dodging, my taxi driver understandably cries uncle. So we settle up for the almost nine kilometres travelled, and I continue on foot.
I exit the factory compound under a large gate with a sign atop it that says “Happily go to work” (高高兴兴上班). A bit further up the road, I go past large piles of ore on my right.
As I continue up the dusty road, an unfriendly-looking guy driving a white SUV coming in the opposite direction stops and demands to know where I’m going. I give him some vague answers, which seem to satisfy him, and he continues on his way.
I go a few hundred metres more, past an old derelict stone-arch bridge that now goes nowhere, and suddenly the white SUV comes up from behind me, cuts in front of me, and attempts to block my way. The unfriendly driver is now even more unfriendly, and tells me I can’t go any further without first getting in the car with him, and going back to see his boss.
Fortunately, we are only 100 metres short of the point at which I plan to leave the road (“his road”) and head off to the left on a dirt track. I explain this to him, then continue walking towards the turn-off. He follows me in the car to the turn-off, once again seems satisfied, and I thankfully don’t hear from him again. I later learn that there is apparently a lot of illegal mining going on this area, which would explain why my presence here is not welcome.
Now back at one with nature, I follow a sheep trail up a valley until the confluence is about 20 metres to the right of the valley floor, but a damn site more than 20 metres upwards! I scramble up a small ravine, and after a lot of dancing to and fro on a precipitous slope, manage to get a GPS reading four metres from the confluence, with five-metre accuracy. It’s the best I can do without unnecessarily risking life and limb.
I take the views from this point looking north, south, east and west, then very carefully retrace my steps safely back down to the valley floor.
The way back to Dài Xiàn is uneventful, however passing through the two factories, with the streams of trucks filling the air with dust, is not pleasant. I stop in a shop in a village along the way to buy two bottles of refreshingly cold green tea. Shortly thereafter, a woman on a motor scooter stops and offers me a lift part of the way back to Dài Xiàn, for which I am most grateful.
No sooner do I say goodbye to her, and recommence my walk, than a family in a large car stops and gives me a lift all the rest of the way back to my hotel. I am back in my room by 4 pm. These two pleasant experiences make up for the encounter with the unfriendly fellow in the white SUV.
Story continues at 40°N 113°E.