Some of them pooled their money to rent a bus in Nanjing, where the Yangtze River cruise began, for the 10-hour drive to Jianli, near where the Eastern Star capsized late Monday with more than 450 people aboard
. More than 370 are still missing.
Other relatives arrived by train.
Through the night they marched, more than 50 of them, depending on the kindness of strangers, barging through a phalanx of police, walking past midnight Wednesday, heading ever toward the river, where they hoped to find some kind of understanding, some measure of peace.
The march was organized on WhatsApp, which allows text messaging between cell phones. One woman said she paid 200 Chinese renminbi -- about $32 -- as her share of the bus rental.
Once in Jianli, they congregated outside a government building, where they had a heated confrontation with an official.
"Everybody is saying they're here to help us," one woman cried. "But they're just lying!"
Then they set off for the river.
The relatives are being sustained by the people of Jianli. Some residents are driving with yellow ribbons tied on their cars to show their willingness to give free rides. Some are distributing water.
And always, of course, they answer the most pressing question of all: Which way to the river?
'He wanted to see China'
Chen Su Hua said her 78-year-old husband was among the passengers.
"I didn't want him to go," she said. "It was a dangerous boat."
She last spoke to him around noon on Monday.
"We had plans to visit so many countries," she said. "And now he died in such a disastrous way. But he wanted to see China."
After a time, the marchers encountered a group of People's Armed Police, clad in camouflage uniforms and orange life jackets, trying to block the road.
"Don't you have parents?" the relatives yelled, and forced their way through.
Two brothers on the walk say their mother, Xu Xin Fang, took the cruise with three friends because she wanted to see the Three Gorges, a stunning area of the Yangtze where the mountains plunge almost vertically into the river.
The brothers hold little hope that she survived the accident.
"We just want to go to the river," one of them said. "I simply want to see the place where the accident happened, to maybe have a little comfort in my heart."