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Published: June 25th 2017
Geo: 30.7, 111.28
As Kathy pointed out days ago, in retirement, Mac has enjoyed a leisurely 10 or 11 am start to most days so this morning's 5.30 am wake-up call was more like his bedtime during any northern hemisphere sporting event! But we were ready right on the dot of 6.15 am when the porter knocked at the door to take the luggage to our car (the new bag has worked a treat).
Jenny and Mr Shin were ready with smiles and a packed breakfast and the trek to the early morning flight began. The temperature was hovering around 14 C and the rain was falling steadily and had been persistent since about 10 pm the previous night.
Just saying ..... the whole guide thing is magnificent (and yes Von, that also means YOU).....Jenny had made allowances for the distance and the traffic, took us to the right terminal, checked our luggage, talked her way to our boarding pass and set us up in the right direction for the security queue. Life is easier in China with "a Jenny" in your life. Her knowledge of the history of this part of China helped to bring all of the stories alive. I do
hope that one day we see Jenny in Australia!
All the hard work of getting to the airport was done - and all we needed to do was to get ourselves through the security check on our own. The line was moving in an orderly fashion and we were snaking our way towards the check point. I am not sure what happened (language barrier makes it difficult) but for whatever reason there was a problem at the head of our line...a little bit of shouting and waving of arms, lots of people shuffling closer to the gate and without warning the previous order descended into chaos. Now there was a crush of people - we were stuck in the middle - lots of shouting and waving of boarding passes....more shouting and more pushing until the security guard came to sort it out. The gate was closed and a new one opened and we were barrelled along in a sea of people to a new crushing point! It took about 15 minutes for the security personnel to sort it out! Such foreign behaviour to us...but apparently very ordinary Chinese behaviour.
We found gate 24 after a few false trails and arrived just in
time for boarding.......not the plane....but the bus to transport us across the tarmac to the waiting aircraft. The plane was like a little grasshopper perched on the endless expanse of runway. ! It was so tiny - only 3 seats across! We settled in, and after a 20 minute delay waiting for visibility to improve, we were finally airborne and on our way to Yichang (pronounced 'e'change). And surprise of all surprises, it was an extremely smooth flight. Phew!
Aunty Gail would be very proud of me because I have had the crochet hook flying as well during the flights and have been working on my 'made in China' project. Progressing very nicely and I am up to the sleeves!
Our friendly guide Sophia was at the exit gate holding the obligatory sign - no mistakes this time as it was emblazoned with "MacNamara Wayne John"- Sophia had all bases covered. Sophia is our first guide from an ethnic minority (Tajio people) so of course our first stop over was to a silk embroidery workshop run by "her people" (I kept the wallet zipped) and then off to lunch for some "spicy" signature dishes of the region.
Our driver today was Mr Tam.
As quick as a wink Mac asked Sophia if his first name was Tim? The joke was lost on Sophia and about two hours later I finally got it and it cracked me up for about 15 minutes. Wayney-boy is so funny sometimes.
A different pace to this city - 21 million in Beijing, 10 million in Xi'an and just a mere one million in the urban centre of Yichang. This is an agricultural centre that produces oranges and tangerines as well as being a hub of industrial development with kilometres of impressively large and new factories churning out cars, trucks and vans and a myriad of manufactured goods. And like all of our stopovers so far, the sky was blanketed in a heavy shroud of industrial pollution and smog - not one cloud, not one sliver of blue sky nor a single ray of sunshine was visible in the rain and smog filled sky.
Lunch was the large scale tourist centre that caters to the needs of western tourists. One of the banquet dishes was the hot spicy chicken featuring the peppers from the local region and surprisingly also included a mound of baked potatoes. We continue to confound the wait
staff because Mac always has a coke (it has been flat at every stop) while I ask for the local beer. Invariably it takes some "convincing" that the male does NOT want the beer.
The activities in Yichang have been organised to "kill time" before we head to the boat at 5 pm. The walking starts in earnest after lunch and we begin the touring with a visit to the state owned Sturgeon Breeding Facility. The Yangtze Sturgeon is an impressive fish - it grows to 5 metres (a 6 metre specimen has been found) in length and reaches weights of 500 kgs. With the implementation of the River Project, the upstream spawning and breeding habits were blocked. The species healthy numbers have been maintained by the initiative of the breeding centre. The males are captured to harvest the sperm and the females are taken to the breeding centre and the "black gold" of the female is artificially inseminated. The fingerlings are raised in the centre and then released to the Yangtze.
The facility also feature an adjacent aquarium. Very sad. Run down and dirty with dead fish floating in the murky waters of the display. Not our number one recommendation for
places to visit.
Next stop is the Sanyou Caves. This is a large and beautiful park area that has gained fame because of the "second three visitors" who came to the area and wrote some now famous poems. It is a beautiful walk, up and down many stairs with nooks and crannies and impressive views of the excitement of the adventure to come on the river. As we were approaching the cave at the end of the 2 hour walk we watched 3 bungee jumpers leap from the overhead bridge. Now that we have seen this close up...riddle me this Batman...."What WERE you thinking Mindy?"
The expectation for us was something like the Jenolan Caves, but we missed the mark on this one. But still, a beautiful and reverent place. It was definitely worth the walk.
Time to head for the boat. We could actually see the Victoria Anna approach the docks so we knew that it was "in". Sophia and Mr Tim drove us the last 200 metres downhill and paid the porter to carry our luggage onto the boat. Our bags were suspended on a bamboo pole across the shoulders of a very little, shriveled porter. I felt guilty that our
stuff weighed so much.
It was a relief to finally be on board after a very long day. We just collapsed into a heap onto the padded bench. Sophia checked in for us and then we met the whirlwind that was Marion. Our Cruise Director. Marion is probably 70 plus, has a mixed German and South African accent and was vivacious and full of deals.
Waving her arms, smiling and speaking conspiratorially, Marion told us in her hushed whisper that she wanted to upgrade us to the Shangri-La stateroom but to do this, she needed us to pay an additional sum per head ($50) so that we could join the other Westerners on the 6th floor for the a la carte menu - otherwise we would be the only Westerners in the Level 2 dining room. We were way too tired to resist her winning ways and Mac had this vague memory of reading about the "stateroom"...so we said "deal".
Best decision we have made - the Shanri-la room is the premiere suite on the cruise ship. The suite is luxurious, spacious, features its own balcony and locked hallway entrance - and as chance would have it (read Marion here) our fellow Shangri-la
neighbours are Australians from Cairns.
How lucky are we?
Great introductory banquet. "Welcome Aboard" cocktails in the bar. Lots of smiling and talking with new people. We are away...well at least we are tied up at the dock...on the "Victoria Anna" on our virgin cruise.
We completed the essential safety briefing while enjoying another 'Slowboat to China' followed by a coffee. A little bit more exploring and then off to bed.
So a week in, here we are ensconced in the spacious luxury of the Shangri-La suite and stateroom in Room 401 feeling very very special. We haven't left the dock yet, but Mac is so far loving the "cruising" experience!
Signing off tonight as VIPs dreaming of the cruising adventure to come.
Pedometer steps: 10 766
Temperature: 18 C overcast, light rain
PS I wanted to tell you about the BEDS! So far, they have been immaculately clean and expansively wide, but OMG they are so very HARD. Mac and I have had a waterbed for 30 years so our immediate reaction to the beds is that we are sleeping on a slab of concrete. I am wondering if the floor would be softer?
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