Yangtze Cruise - the first gorge - Xiling

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April 12th 2014
Published: June 25th 2017
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Geo: 30.7776, 111.174

Well that was a little surprising. Here we were thinking that we had been cruising slowly upstream through the night only to find out we were still moored at the dock.... The boat hadn't moved an inch,

If you think that life on board the boat is "cruisey" think again. The schedule is full and the activities come thick and fast. There is no rest for the wicked or even "the lucky ones".

Our dining table is set for the cruise and each meal is shared with an Australian family from Sydney (Nancy, Stephen and their son Matt) and a German couple (don't know their names yet). With 5 Aussies at the table we are already loud as our combined laughter echoes around the dining room. Our German colleagues try and keep up with very limited English - but we are somehow able to make connections. Mind you, their phone with a German-English dictionary helps. We are doing a lot of arm waving and miming and they are doing a lot of "yah, yah, yahs." Who knows what message they are getting!

The first adventure of the day is an "optional" tour to visit the village of an ethnic minority group. It is called "The Tribes of the Three Gorges" and it has been highly recommended by lots of travellers. Scheduled departure time was 8.30....and at 8.20 the phone was shrilling loudly in our stateroom with a demanding Marion on the line letting us know we were late. Oops, think we need to adjust our watches to Chinese time.

This was our first experience of a group tour - we had to be lassoed with the cruise lanyard, be responsible for our own tickets and march along in orderly lines. Oh dear, we have been spoiled in our first week by our "friendly" private guides.

We were herded to a large ferry as part of Lisa's dozen - she referred to us as her family! We made hasty introductions to our new tour mates including visitors from the US and Singapore. Heavy and persistent rain added to the mist on the river and we were glad we had our weatherproof gear. Jo (a 6 foot 4 inch American from The Virgin Islands) had an extra umbrella which was great protection for our camera.

What an awe inspiring tour. The Tajai people host visitors in this state owned tourist attraction. It features a two hour round trip walk that showcases the traditional lifestyle of this mountainous fishing and farming community. Lisa was full of stories and information, the costuming was wonderful, the cormorants and monkeys appeared as if on queue and the featured marriage ceremony was a lot of fun.

Mac was the target for the bouquet that was thrown to select the new groom, but he dutifully ducked the opportunity to join the Tajio virgin bride in the marriage bed...and left that honour to Jo! Jo emerged from the wedding room grinning broadly with a flushed face....Mac continues to be my hero.

We saw it all - junks, bridges, water wheels, fishing nets, hanging coffins, the beating of the clothes for washing - we heard the love songs echoing across the gorge, saw the musicians performing and the young girls dancing for the match maker.

I have to confess in reviewing the photos to accompany this blog I am in stitches looking at the "blue Oompa Loompa." What a sight I must have been for the locals! No wonder the monkeys scampered away when I approached them.

A quick return journey by ferry to the Victoria Anna and more food! I now understand what Gail and Paul meant when they said the only decisions you have to make on a cruise are what to wear and what to eat - there is just so much food. Mac is trying his best to sample everything I am trying my best to do all things in moderation.

The lunch break included a heart stopping 20 minutes where I lost my blue jacket. We were trying to get a coffee before lunch and in my toilet stop I left my jacket behind. Twenty minutes later we realised it was missing and went to retrieve it and it was GONE. A few tears, trips up and down the decks, reporting to lost property, checking with our new Malaysian friends...turned up nothing. Eventually, I remembered I had hung the jacket behind the door in the loo...so we raced back upstairs and there it was! A victory dance with all and sundry ... And have now cemented new friendships with an ever expanding circle of fellow cruisers. Good can come from a momentary lapse of concentration!

The afternoon shore excursion was to the The Three Gorges Dam project. It would be impossible to do this stop justice. The sheer size of the undertaking is beyond belief. The dam wall holds back the surging might of the Yangtzee and has raised the water level of the reservoir by 175 metres. The Three Gorges Dam project created a 600 km long reservoir that stretches from the dam site to Chongqing (we are cruising on this stretch). To create this site, the government flooded 570 000 hectares of farmland, thousands of villages and townships that impacted people in 19 counties and districts. Approximately 1.3 million people have been relocated to make way for this huge dam at a cost of $28 billion US. A brave, imaginative and visionary project that continues to be highly controversial.

The Xiling Gorge features steep sheer sided cliffs which provide the perfect backdrop for the reservoir. The dam includes a hydro electric plant that generates electricity for the power hungry population. The dam also controls the fierce rapids and dangerous flooding of the river and ensures year round navigation of the 6 380 "Long River" through an impressively simple five stage lock. (It takes approximately three and a half hours for each vessel to pass through the lock system....in our pass, there was the cruise ship and two barges.)

The Three Gorge Dam project features a tourist park that includes an expansive viewing area. Access to this spot is via a series of interconnected outdoor escalators. All of the "magnificent" places that we have visited on tour have also been host to an incredible number of local Chinese visitors. The Chinese people appear to be wonderful tourists listening carefully and intently to all of the stories, facts and details. And moving in orderly, herded groups waiting patiently for their turn.

The shore excursions were over for the day and it was time for "another" morsel. A la carte this time with extremely personal and attentive table service from Jason. Mealtimes have been great because after a week of concentrating so hard on the conversation in "Asian English" it is a great time to talk and laugh with the good old Australian idioms. Ripper mate!

Table 3 has become our favourite in the Yangtzee Club room and we finished the evening as the audience for the staff "Fashion Show" which featured costume and dance from the various dynasties.

Pre dinner the Captain welcomed us on board with champagne and finger food. We did get changed thinking this was a first introduction to formalities on board, but not many others had the same idea. We were welcomed with long flutes of champagne, listened to the Captain speak and then were invited to eat.

We had no idea or hint of the spectacle that was about to unfold.

Along with the other Westerners we had arrived close to the scheduled starting time only to find that every seat and table was taken so we happily pulled up chairs around the bar. As soon as the Captain mentioned "eat" the 200 Chinese passengers literally charged the food table - it was like a swarm of locusts descending. Within 90 jaw dropping seconds every morsel of food had vanished from the tables. One lady with a laden plate was swatting at other people who were trying to take food off her plate as she worked her way through the crowd.

This was almost a tourist attraction that you would pay money to see. It happened so quickly that it was not even possible to get your camera out and take a shot. We laughed at the replay of this for hours. Marion brought us a plate of cheese twists at the bar and we pulled up our stools and enjoyed the flow of more champagne. A truly memorable experience.

We wrapped the night up with a couple of margaritas (the cocktail special of the day) - and then signed off just after 11 pm - Yangtzeed out!

Pedometer reading: 16 919
Temperature: 17 C, persistent rain, showers, drizzle and mist (really added to the beauty and excitement of the day)

PS back to the beds...no complaints about the stateroom monster bed....still very firm....but extremely comfortable...maybe we just think we are on an enormous Yangtzee waterbed!


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