The International Steam Pages

Shibanxi Holiday 2011 - Day 19 - Jiaoba to Caiziba - the unbelievably long way around

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After the long hike from Jiaoba to Huangcun, we and the blog took a day off to recover, I think Yuehong wishes now it had been a day longer although as I am writing this walk up, the rain has started. Yesterday, I went out occasionally in the hope that ex-Pengzhou #8 would turn up for a close-up portrait but as always it was elusive, it delights in whistling as it goes through Bagou while we are in bed. The plan today was quite simple, we were going to walk from Jiaoba to Caiziba down the new truck road taking in a second visit to the Water Heart Village along the way and then take the afternoon train back. This involved yet another dubious assumption on my part, namely that the truck road would follow the most direct route between the two villages. It did not and we never made it to Caiziba and had to walk all the way back to Bagou, this of course was 'all my fault', never mind the assumption would have very difficult for me to test. Outbound, we hitched a ride on the returning second passenger train, you can see from the quality of the light what sort of day it was... Ding Feng Yuan and son were off to see Zhao Gang who had got up at dawn to exercise some kind of masochism in the Mifeng area. After the train left, the coal pickers pounced, the house in the background didn't exist when we arrived nearly three weeks ago, it was simply a pile of rubble from the old hovel there.

The truck road went down a hill to the point at which we had started our climb two days earlier (Jiaoba West Side Story hike), but this time we kept right and climbed gently up the hill. One family was getting the Qing Ming duties over early:

At the top of the hill, there was a crossroads and we were told 'turn left for Caiziba'. Looking back towards Jiaoba, the countryside was still a sea of yellow and you can see that from here on, the road had recently been sealed with concrete.

As we descended into the next valley, with what would have been a splendid view on a bright day, it was dawning on me (if not Yuehong) that the road was perhaps not following its anticipated course and that we were starting to run behind time... In other words, I had only a vague idea of where we were.

At least the fresh concrete was well graded and that meant we could watch our surroundings instead of our next footfall. We headed for a junction, passing a typical new mansion, it was such a shame that either the money had run out or no-one had told them that people on the road can see the back as well as the front:

Down by the junction were signs that the Chinese can 'do' appropriate rural bridges - that on the right features in John Raby's recent blog - he reported that the coal mine up this valley has recently closed. We popped into the nearby settlement where for a change Yuehong was able to establish very quickly where we were, the bad news being that we were some way from where we wanted to be... Looking back up the valley, we could see the white house which gives some idea of how much we had dropped down.

There was almost no traffic to be seen, which was just as well as the road was blocked by a truck being loaded with bamboo. As I said before, it's worth about CNY 0.40 a kilo so most likely by the time it's all on board it will represent several thousand Yuan. Further down was a coal mine which was not working and looked as if it was being prepared for a new seam.

The thing about the Water Heart Village is that it is perched on the top of an isolated hill, there are said to be just four paths approaching it and each necessarily involves a steep climb. At this time, compared to the two we had used before, turning left we had a much needed head start. There was a stack of bamboo wicker baskets where we joined the track, anticipated use unknown, but they were similar to those formerly used as bodies for 300mm gauge wagons in the small coal mines before they went over to 600mm gauge and standard skips. The view down gives a good idea of the steepness of the valley sides in this area.

Eventually, the main track did a U-bend but we headed straight on to a nearby large white house which appeared to be more in the required direction. We were right, nearly. There was no one to ask and we started to climb behind it but the track soon died. Returning to the house, one of the occupants was just returning home and he soon put us right, we needed to go along the back of the house and then up the hill almost diagonally opposite the way we had come in. The picture looking back should make it clear for anyone else coming up this way, the path in is behind the solar water heater on the roof:

From here it wasn't very far to the top but by now Yuehong was firmly of the opinion that the day would have been more profitably spent in bed. "Don't know" was her response when I asked about the significance of the statuettes in the shrine, but she meant "Don't care". Eventually we made it to the the village gate, a most impressive piece of defensive architecture, said to be from the Ching Dynasty around 1850, which at least got her interest aroused again:

Just inside was the first of the scattered village houses, certainly it came with a spectacular view:

The official reason for our return was to hand over a picture to a lady who was particularly helpful during our previous visit. We knew she lived near the "Guan Yin Gate" but until we got quite close, no one we met could recognise her. Eventually, we found her and as you can see, she was most appreciative. We were immediately offered a lunch, but that would have meant missing dinner, we were that far behind schedule by now...

Down to the gate we went and posed for pictures. Yuehong may have been smiling for the camera but it lied. Ahead was a horrible steep descent and although she didn't know it at the time, a boring trudge two kilometres along a muddy truck road.

Down at the bottom, we finally reached a junction familiar from the last visit. In fact the road to the right was the one we had come down earlier, we had turned off it for the climb just a few hundred metres back. The road on the left with the empty coal trucks leads steeply up to Caiziba where we had intended to catch the train, but as we could hear it on its own climb from Mifeng in the distance obviously we weren't going that way today. As I said before, it was, of course, 'all my fault' as usual and mutterings were heard in Chinese (about my dubious ancestry, no doubt). I said nothing for a while but when I pointed out that at the present rate we would be at least an hour late for dinner and probably more, the potential loss of face brought about ever more angry mutterings but more importantly a significant acceleration. We flew past the first working coal mine and then past the next closed one.

Frankly, I was sweating profusely and was in serious danger of getting left behind. The track became a path and unusually Yuehong was most careful to check the way, although it all looked pretty familiar to me from earlier visits. Finally, we came to the pool where we had taken a dip in 2004 - the picture is still on the site somewhere, it was a major cause of my being sued for divorce, a step which eventually brought us all sorts of benefits in the 'immigration stakes'. It looked a lot more tempting then in the sunlight...

Up the steps from it we went and, having proved her point, Yuehong sat down for a rest and demanded I rush ahead back to Bagou and apologise for our late arrival for dinner. I tried to be too clever and my 'short cut' added the best part of half a kilometre to my walk to Jiaoba. I still beat Yuehong back, but not by much, I certainly missed the coal train which she managed to photograph. Needless to say, ex-Pengzhou #8 was on the front, but I had already worked that one out:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson