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Published: October 30th 2013
Up at 6 am. A long day ahead. Another less than spectacular buffet breakfast, them hotel checkout. On the road by 7:30 We are driving east from Chengdu to Chongqing to begin our cruise on the Yangtze, stopping along the way at the Dazu rock carvings.
Our journey starts on major highways and then shifts to smaller two-lane and surprisingly narrow highways with no shoulder. Our driver, whom we nickname Horatio Hornblower for his almost constant use of his horn, is somewhat of a lunatic. We should already know that it is better not to watch the roads as we're driving, but we gasp as Horatio whizzes by bikes and old ladies with inches to spare. Just hang on and look at the floor.
We have two rest stops along the way, each with a small grocery store filled with unfathomable packages of strange food. We reach Dazu by lunch time and stop at a local restaurant. It's not a great lunch and our opinion is not helped by the smell from the disgusting washrooms wafting through the room.
After lunch, it's on to the famous Dazu rock carvings. Dating from the Tang dynasty (9th century) and Song
dynasty (13th century), these elaborate figures on Buddist and Taoist themes carved into sheer cliffs now constitute a Unesco World Heritage site. As we approach the site, we can see there is a massive construction effort under way: huge parking lots and a vast new main entrance. Clearly, this area is being pressed to become a major tourist attraction.
The carvings themselves are simply spectacular. The quality of preservation is amazing, given their antiquity. Many still have their original colours clinging to them. The ornate stairways and statues are moss-covered and radiate an aura of great age. To be honest, I can't help thinking of Indiana Jones. Jim has encyclopedic knowledge of the stories behind the many carvings and reels them off with great enthusiasm.
On the way out, Vi and I bargain down a vendor for a book on the carvings. Final agreed price is 75¥ (about $12). Bald-faced, she tries to cheat me by giving me as change for a 100¥ bill not 25¥ but 25 in jiaos (10 jiaos to a yuan). "No, no, no," I say, thrusting the bills back into her hand. She shrugs and gives me the correct change.
to downtown Chongqing, the traffic growing increasingly congested. I mentioned that Chonqing is China's largest city with a population of 33 million within its autonomous region, but Chongqing proper only has 7 million. Many major construction projects are under way. The huge number of construction cranes reminds me of Dubai, but here they are all active.
We stop right in the city centre of city for dinner. This is one of our better meals, especially after our rather unappetizing lunch. We leave the restaurant and walk through a massive pedestrian square or mall. It is night now and all the massive modern skyscrapers are lit up with striking automated lighting effects. Gigantic screens are everywhere. Right in the middle is an obelisk called the Liberation Monument celebrating the revolution. The area reminds me of downtown Tokyo and is not a sight I expected to see in China.
Our bus awaits us at the far end of the square. We have to wait a bit because one couple has succumbed to the siren lure of a KFC store. We're now on the way to the pier. A quick stop at a supermarket first by general request to, quite frankly,
stock up on booze for the cruise.
The bus deposits us at the pier and we manoeuvre our baggage and supplies to the boat–where we are greeted by a small brass band! We are glad to see that our main bags are already here.
We receive a safety briefing and shipboard instructions from cruise director Dick, an American who has been working here for over a decade.
Four of us, including Vi and I, have opted for the executive upgrade and have lovely hotel-sized rooms.
Not long after we settle in, the boat sails. We enjoy drinks in our room on the balcony as the river slides by. Never thought we'd be cruising down the Yangtze.
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