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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 29.5591, 106.518
After our spiritually uplifting, much too short time in Tibet, we flew back to China, to Chongqing to meet and board our cruise ship, our home for the next three days. I did not want to leave Tibet, to leave Yarpel, our guide and teacher. Tibet is unique; it pulls you in and thumps you on the head, challenging you to breathe, to regain the normal functioning of your body, to wonder what will happen to this beautiful, intense country, and ultimately, to be a better person. But we left.
Late on Tuesday we finally boarded the Victoria Anna. Everything was very comfortable, but unlike the other ships I've been on --to Antarctica and to Holland & Belgium-- the bathroom had not only an enclosed shower, but a bathtub as well. No more flooded bathroom floors after a shower! What luxury! And despite the fact that their vegan offerings were not nearly as good as on those other two ships, over the next three days I immensely enjoyed sailing down the peaceful Yangtze River. Its real name is Chang Jiang, Long River, but the Chinese accommodate foreigners by letting it be known by what we call it: the Yangtze.
At 6:45AM each morning I joined Dr. Xu for tai chi. The first day there were 5 or 6 of us, but the following mornings we numbered only two. Breakfast followed, but I rarely am hungry for breakfast, so I usually do something else. In Holland I escaped to quickly explore around whatever town or city where we were docked, returning before others even arose for the day; on our way to and from Antarctica I usually went to the gym and pounded on their treadmills. On the Victoria Anna we were told that to leave the boat we had to pay 100 yuan, about $17 US! On this ship there was also no free beer or wine included with meals; I learned from others that the initial cost of a cruise covers very little; almost everything other than the boat and ordinary food is extra. But not being able to leave the ship when it was docked was what I found to be the most constricting. Some of our group learned of a loophole, however: during the outings for other groups onboard, people could leave for 15 or 20 minutes, just to stretch their legs, get off the boat and be released into the greater outdoors. So the first morning, while most of the rest of our group was at a meeting, I released the Victoria Anna from being my keeper and took a free shore leave. We were docked in Fengdu; all I wanted was to run across the pontoon bridges and up the steep steps to the road above, just to see what was there and to work off some of my energy. I was given 15 minutes, and it was enough. The pontoon bridges were (to me) beautiful; it was fun to walk and bounce my way along to the other side, and then, of course, back again. My mood and spirit were refreshed; I didn't mind being on the boat again after that little break.
That afternoon we went to visit a relocation family; as the Yangtze River was dammed, thousands upon thousands of families had their houses, their land, their livelihoods and their known lives covered by water and were --or still are-- being relocated. Some of us disagreed on whether their lives were made better or not; it became a philosophical discussion with rather heated results.
The second day we sailed through the gorgeous Qutang gorge, considered the most magnificent, and then the Wu gorge, the most lovely. (What is the difference?) Incredible beauty all around us! We were surrounded and enfolded by beauty. Mountains rising high into the faded blue sky bookended the wide river, the third longest in the world. The Yangtze River Valley is home to 1/15th of the world's population, 1/3 of China's! On our last day onboard we went through the third gorge, the Xiling, the most dangerous, at least before the dam was built. Trackers, men who did the treacherous job of using ropes to pull ships through the gorges when the water was much lower, are no longer needed, although we still could see some of the dizzyingly steep narrow paths they climbed to do their work. Those men played roulette with their lives every day, pulling the boats through. But sitting on the deck, surrounded by friends and other passengers who also came to sail on the lovely grey Yangtze, reveling in the abundance of beauty on this river in China, was a peaceful, wondrous experience. Tempered by knowing we all would be parting in a few more days, this time was bittersweet. We were lucky enough to be here, together if only for a moment in time, to have such intense experiences that will ultimately become more memories to be cherished. But again we move on, even when we don't want to.
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