17.07.2015 - 23.07.2015
I woke up to the monks chanting again this morning but they must have been in a different temple because it wasn't as loud today. I decided not to bother going to watch them so rolled over and snoozed a bit longer. I got up at 7 to pack my stuff up as we're leaving the monastery today to head to our boat which is going to be our home on the Yangtze River for the next three days.
All packed and sorted, we took our bags to Patrick at the side gate of the monastery and walked down to the restaurant for breakfast - Patrick's enterprises have definitely had the monopoly of business from our group while we've been here but he has looked after us fabulously and everything has been very reasonably priced. My breakfast this morning was omelette and toast and a coffee. Then we got taken to the bus stop on a fourteen seater golf buggy which was a bit hair raising as we wove through the traffic but at least we had built in air con (ie no windows!!).
We're taking a public bus to our next stop, it's not as glorious as the South America public buses but much better than the Central America chicken bus although the personal hygiene of some of the native passengers left a lot to be desired! The bus was more or less full when the driver decided to take us through the bus wash - think a giant sized car wash which was quite a fun way to start our journey! We were on the bus for six and half hours, I wrote for an hour, snoozed for a bit then read the rest of the journey, my poor kindle which I loaded with books before I set off hasn't been looked at once (in fact I'm not quite sure where it is) but there is a book being passed around the girls called The Little a Coffee Shop of Kabul which is an easy read but is also a good mix of niceness, drama and grittiness so I got through half of that on the bus ride. We stopped once at a kind of service station where we could buy food but it all looked a bit grim so I bought a lolly and a bottle of coffee (cold stuff).
We got off the bus at Chongqing which is where we're getting in the boat on the Yangtze, apparently the population of this city is about 34 million - Wowzers!! It's full of high rise apartment blocks and not the prettiest of cities. We were supposed to be getting a taxi to the dock but apparently the taxi queue was huge so Jakkie arranged for us to get minibuses - although the woman she was booking them with might have told a bit of a fib as to how big the minibuses were, there ended up seven of us crammed into a tiny little vehicle with our bags on our knees, thankfully it was only for a couple of miles - although we got dropped off and quickly escaped the van only to be told we were in the wrong place and we needed to squash back in and be taken to the right place - groan.
When we finally got to the right place we had to lug our bags down loads of steps to our boat. Jackie had been told yesterday that we had been upgraded from the usual boat to a five star boat, it didn't look very spectacular from the outside but inside was quite grand - like a mini cruise ship. Apparently, it can hold 300 guests but there are only going to be about 120 of us on board for this journey.
We had a quick look around the boat and then Jakkie got our room keys, me and Elin are sharing, she'd disappeared so I headed to our room with my stuff, it's a lovely room - nicer than some of the hotels we've stayed in!! I was going to go straight back out to find the others but the bed looked very comfy so I had an hour more reading my book til Elin came to find me, excitedly waving a sheet of paper - the others had found details of the drinks packages (and were already propping the bar up!). We could pay around £110 per cabin (so £55 each) for unlimited beer and cocktails, soft drinks and tea and coffee - we worked out that if we had ten cocktails each it'd have paid for itself - we're on the boat for three nights so really it was a no brainer!! We went to sign up for it and of course start sampling the cocktails (they have strawberry daiquiris - mmmmm!!) We headed for dinner at 7pm, that's another package thing which works our at about £20 in total and covers 2 x dinners, 2 x lunches and 3 x breakfasts - another very good deal!
Tonight's Dinner wasn't part of the package, we had a group banquet thing with lots of plates, the two plates of veggie stuff was a bit bland but filled a hole but only cost about a fiver so we can't complain, then we headed back to the bar and carried on with the cocktails. The boat set sail at 9pm so we went to the top deck to take some photos of the Chongqing skyline which looked more impressive lit up in the dark than it did in the daytime and then spent the rest of the night chatting and having a laugh. Several drinks later (todays tally = 6 x cocktails and 1 x beer) I headed to bed round about midnight.
I'd set my alarm for 6.15 but was awake at 5.45, me, Mary and Ben had signed up to do a morning excursion off the boat to a place called ghost city today but as I was getting ready it came over the in cabin speaker that the trip had been cancelled because not enough people had signed up for it - turns out there were only another two people wanting to go. I didn't mind being up so early though, breakfast is only served between 7 and 8 so I headed up to the restaurant where some of the others were. Breakfast was a good selection of cereal, hot food, cold stuff - in fact virtually everything you could think of for breakfast plus noodles.
Afterwards, it was actually quite nice not to have to get off the boat so I just lounged around all day finishing off The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, sorting out some photos - my three memory cards are virtually full so I needed to cull some of them and snoozing. We had lunch and tea in the restaurant which was buffet style and there was plenty for me but for both meals I also got a special portion of veggies brought out for me too. After dinner we all put on our glad-rags and headed to the captains welcome party and the ships cabaret show which was quite good - there was singing, dancing, a changing masks show, a bit of a magic show and then some people were pulled up on stage for a game of musical chairs, it was a bit amaturish but good. We then hit the bar - 4 x lagers, 1 x strawberry daiquiri, 6 x Kir royals, 1 x B52 and 3 x glasses of fizz, I've definitely had my money's worth of the drinks package and there's still another day to go. I've switched from the strawberry daiquiris because they've run out of strawberry purée so tried making one using jam - yuk!! When the bar shut at twelve we headed up to the top deck with a big bottle of "champers" (5% vol plonk) where we chatted and watched the stars for another hour. I headed to bed at 1.30.
I was up bright and breezy at 6.45 waiting for my alarm to go off for breakfast at 7.15, being so with it probably shows how much the drinks are being watered down which is perhaps not a bad thing. Breakfast was yummy again and then I headed back to our cabin, I'm having another chilled morning today. I'd enjoyed reading that book so much that I found my kindle at the bottom of my bag, charged it up and found a book to read, I've got about 140 books on but I've not picked the thing up since I started travelling.
Lunch was at twelve and then we all met at 1pm for an excursion off the boat. We got off and transferred to a little boat for a trip up Goddess stream to see Goddess Peak. The Yangtze isn't the cleanest of rivers, it's a mucky brown with lots of rubbish floating in it, the scenery was very pretty though. It was a cute little boat trip though and when we got so far we got off on a little floating platform where the local guides did a little dance and singing performance for us including a rendition of Auld Langsein?? Then it was back on the boat and headed back to our ship. I toddled off to the bar with my kindle and had a couple of cocktails before dinner.
After the buffet dinner we all headed to the bar and started on the cocktails, today's choice was Cuba libre which is basically Bacardi and coke with lime. We were planning to stay up tonight because the ship is going through a lock gate tonight with five gates at the Yangtze three gorge dam - so basically the ship is travelling uphill and over the dam by going into a kind of pen that fills up with water so we rise up to the next pen and so on and I was pretty keen to see it. It had been announced that we'd get there at about 1am, we'd packed our suitcases and were comfortably waiting on the top deck and at 2am we were at the dam in the first pen but nothing was happening and I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer so I had to go to bed and missed the lock gates - boo!!
My alarm went off at 6.15 - groan I'd had about four hours sleep and I think those Cuba libres had been pretty strong!! We had made it through the lock gates about 3am and i'd slept through it all.
We headed to breakfast at 7am and were ready with our bags to leave the ship by 7.45. We're going on a bit of a trip to see the Yangtze dam before we get off on our travels again. The dam is huge at 1.4 miles long and took about 10 years to build. As they were building it, several towns and villages were in the way so about 1.5m people were displaced and a new city was built to house them all. The dam was pretty impressive and all the parkland around it was very pretty and well kept but I think I was a bit too tired to appreciate it properly.
The rest of our day today is travelling, we had an hour and half bus ride although we stopped after an hour to call at a Walmart supermarket which was the size of a small city itself to stock up on provisions because we're on another overnight train again tonight - other than the train loo situation which are always grim but I'm half looking forward to it cos I sleep like a baby on trains and I know I'll catch up on last nights sleep!
The train set off at 1.20pm and I think I was asleep by 1.30pm and I was fast asleep until 7 pm - ha ha! I read a bit, nattered a bit, got ready for bed and was back asleep by about 10.30.
My alarm woke me up at 4.30 which is what I'd set of for cos we were going to be at our stop at 5am. There weren't many happy campers in our group this morning, the train loos are pretty disgusting so everyone was complaining about them and not many people had slept well overnight - I felt a bit smug but also a bit guilty cos I'd had a lovely sleep and was lucky to only have needed the loo once the entire journey. My favourite exchange of the morning was Nat's outrage that Elin had let her walk in a loo where someone had left the biggest poo Nat had ever seen - Elin knew it was there but hadn't warned her! Chinese people aren't the most hygienic of toilet goers in the world - the contrast between Japan's super dooper super clean loos and China's grotty squat holes in the floor is amazing!! Anyway, enough bog talk - sorry!
The mood didn't get any brighter when we were told the train was running late and we weren't actually getting off the train for another 45 minutes - oh dear, we could have had a bit longer in bed!!
When we finally got off the train we shuffled through the ticket barriers and onto a private bus which was going to take us the rest of our journey to Guilin Yangshou, I think that journey was about three hours but I slept most of it again - I've certainly caught up on my sleep the last few days.
In Guilin Yangshuo We dumped our stuff at the hotel which looks a bit tatty from the outside but Jakkie assures us it's better inside. We then head out to a little cafe called Minority for brunch, to start off with I ordered a cheese toastie but changed my mind when I saw the veggie Chinese breakfast and had veggie Chinese noodles and dumplings instead. We Spotted a place that did abseiling next door - with an absolutely awesome abseil off a karst mountain called moon rock which is a mountain with a crescent shaped hole in it - it looks fabulous but we need three people to sign up for it - watch this space.
We toddled back to the hotel for a chill, it's very very hot and humid here so a couple of hours in the air conditioning is lovely, I read a bit, tried to book a couple of hong kong trips but wifi is absolutely rubbish so didn't get very far and then Got ready to meet the others for an orientation tour - by the time we were ready we needed another shower - it's stifling! We met in reception at 4 for an orientation walk with Jakkie, this place is lovely, it's a bit of a back packers place so all a bit cool but quite touristy. As we were walking I spotted a veggie restaurant - a real one not just a figment of Trip Advisors imagination and made mental plans to go there for tea.
Me, Nat and Mary had booked to attend a Chinese Calligraphy class, it was good fun and quite chilled! I'll never become a professional though! I learnt to write the numbers 1-10 and a few random words like "person", "big", "tree", "forest" and "happiness" - like I'll ever fit them into a sentence - ha ha! I'd love to know what some of my words actually really say, I'm sure what I've written isn't what they're meant to say - there are about 5,000 characters in the Chinese alphabet so I'm sure my efforts look more like other words. Lilly the calligraphy teacher brought out a book of names, I laughingly said there was no way it'd have Batty in, I nearly fell off My chair when it did. Apparently, Caroline means longevity and Batty means beautiful - hmmmmm, I think she may have said that about all the surnames! ! It was a lovely way to spend an hour though. I mentioned to some of the others my plan for dinner, I'd planned to go on my own cos I feel guilty about dragging carnivores to solely veggie places but Nat and Jordan, Elin, Mary and Mereidh all decided to come with me - it was deeeeeeliciius, they let me pick the six plates for us to share - the pressure!! I ended up getting mushrooms and tofu, braised gluten balls, fried potatoes in a pineapple sauce, tofu and bamboo shoots, spring rolls, egg fried rice and noodles and we were stuffed as stuffed things when we'd done. Fourth time lucky with my veggie restaurants in China - hooray! There was a bit of a mix up with the bill, the waitress told us how much it was but took 100rmb (about a tenner) less off us, as we walked up the street, the poor thing came running behind us in tears trying to explain in broken English she needed more money off us, we got it sorted in the end!
We wandered round the market for a little while and saw some fab lightening flashes, the thunder came a little while later and then spots of rain so we headed back to the hotel.
I had a really good sleep in a bed in a building on solid ground for the first time in four nights although it was very hot through the night even with the air con on full blast. We were up and out trying to find some breakfast without much luck at 8am, I ended up finding a seeded roll with red bean filling (kind of a sweet thing - I'm looking forward to bread from home, the stuff here is more sweet than savoury) and a coffee and we scooted back to the hotel to meet up with the others (slightly late) for today's adventure - a cycle ride round the countryside of Guilin Yangshuo!
We got to the cycle place and it took us a good half hour to get sorted with our bikes, I half contemplated not wearing one of their crappy helmets but then thought that we had to get through the town roads to the country lanes first so better to be safe than sorry and vanity went out of the window! The bikes weren't brilliant but at least they had gears this time. We set off on a convoy of sixteen, our cycle leader up front and Jakkie keeping up the rear on a pink scooter! I was glad I'd got a helmet from the off, for the first twenty minutes we had to navigate the streets of Yangshuo - the traffic is chaotic, there doesn't appear to be any kind of Highway Code here although we did discover after a while that the bigger vehicles like buses and cars do eventually give way to smaller vehicles like bikes and scooters - someone not so jokingly said it's because they're worried about getting sued if they hit us!! We dodged through the traffic for a good while until we got on quieter roads and could take it a bit easier, it's very flat here so was quite a nice ride, we stopped at one point and all the girls bought little real flower headdresses from little old ladies at the side of the road.
After about an hour we split into two groups and most people went for a ride down the river on bamboo rafts, I didn't fancy it - it was an hour and half with someone else doing all the work while we sat in kind of deck chairs enjoying the scenery, I'd have wanted to get down and dirty and do the paddling so me, Elin and Mereidh decided to keep pedalling and meet the others later. We headed off with Jakkie, still on her scooter, and carried on on the country roads. We stopped at a bridge over the river at one point thinking we might spot the rafters but we didn't, as we were taking a couple of pictures three Chinese girls came up and asked if I'd have my photo taken with them (wonder what happens to all these pics - wonder if our little faces will be gracing someone's holiday photo albums?!) and then in return I took a selfie of us all too!
After about an hour and half of pedalling through lovely countryside we Stopped at the place for lunch which overlooked Moon hills here I want to abseil off tomorrow. The lady who's "house" we're having dinner at showed us some of the crops they grow here, they have alsorts from peanuts to squash and all the veggies you can think of and also fruit including loads of Passion fruit just growing above our heads - she picked some for us and we wolfed them down, they were the most yummy passion fruits I've ever tasted, not too sour - between three of us we must have polished off twenty of the things!
We were expecting the others to be with us about half an hour after we got there and as we waited it started raining a bit then the heavens opened, we all looked at one another feeling a bit sorry for the rest of the gown who we were imaging getting soaked while we were sat comfortably in the dry munching on delicious fruit! They did turn up a bit later and were soaked - oops! Good decision by us staying on the bikes! Lunch was the usual banquet, the stuff I could eat was garlic morning glory, potatoes, aubergine and peppers (all grown here) and rice.it was very good.
The rain baited and we set off off again, it was a nice ride until we got to a horrid new highway that they're building and ugly new buildings are being chucked up all over the place - right in the middle of the karst mountains - it was so sad to see, awful civilisation taking over the beautiful natural landscape - it took me back to a sign I read at the panda place "this earth is big enough for everyone's need but not big enough for mankind's greed!" That certainly rang true here!
Off the country roads we had to do the really busy ones again before we got home, at one point Me and my little bike was just about to get squashed between a tuk tuk and a BMW I knew my saying anything would be pointless so I made the loudest grunting noise I could muster and thankfully survived! I keep thinking about getting a bike at home and one of my worries / excuses is traffic - after surviving this lot, uk traffic will be a doddle, bike shopping when I get home here I come!! The bikes were dropped off all on one piece although poor Mary was a but bruised because she'd collided with a scooter and come off at one point.
I'd rounded up a few people to join me on tomorrows abseil down Moon Rock so we headed off to book with a couple of others who were umming and ahhing about it - we were told we couldn't do it because the weather isn't going to be good tomorrow!! Boooo, I thought they were just making excuses up and just didn't want us to do it so I sulkily went back to hotel - I am like a petulant child sometimes but I really had set my heart on doing it.
Tonight the few of us who had booked the culture pack are off to see another show - this one is a light show so I got ready and decided to head out for some food beforehand, I'd enjoyed last nights tea so much I went back to a Pure Lotus, the veggie place and had the tofu and mushroom thing and rice again and scuttled back to hotel to be picked up to be taken to the light show. We were squashed in a minibus and dropped off at a place with hundreds of people, we didn't have tickets and can't speak Chinese so were a bit dubious as to where we'd end up but somehow it all went very smoothly and we got our seats - right in the middle of the front Row in front of a big lake. As it got dark, lights came on and the mountains lit up and the show began. It was mainly based on the lake and the performers - all 600 of them moved across the lake on floating platforms and little boats. Apparently, the show has been going for eleven years and there has been 4000 performances, the man behind the dhow is the feller who did the opening show for the Beijing Olympics.
The show was quite good and very visually effective, especially a bit where hundreds of people seemed to walk across the water with costumes that were lit up and they flashed on and off in sequence. The only bit I wasn't impressed with was them using animals in the show - at one point men walked past us carrying birds with their feet tied to sticks but the poor things were still trying to fly, they also used a couple of cows in one part - both bits were completely unnecessary. Another odd bit was when a woman on a giant moon writhed about in a peach coloured body suit - It looked like she was wearing nothing and cos we didn't really know what the story was about it was all a bit odd.
It was a little bit confusing at the end, we hadn't realised the show had finished and everyone just got up and walked out - there wasn't any applause or finale which must have been a bit odd for all the performers.
Somehow we managed to find our minibus - through a combination of Mary being sensible enough to take a photo of the buses identification number and me spotting that our driver had an interesting hair pattern (think of a crew cutted Cruella DeVille), we got dropped off at the hotel and I directed Jackie and Gary to the veggie place (I'm not exactly sure they enjoyed it ) then I called for a mango and passion fruit smoothie which was yummy and had big bits of delicious mango in it and then headed back to the hotel and off to bed.
I haven't got anything planned today, I'm still miffed that I can't abseil but when i opened the curtains it is absolutely wanging it down so the adventure company were right after all, it probably wouldn't be safe to do it in this weather and would also probably be a bit grim. Most of the others have got a cooking class booked, I've passed on it cos I assume they'll be cooking meaty stuff. The weather is awful so after I leisurely get ready I take some laundry to be washed, go and find a Chinese doctor that everyone has been raving about - for about £7 she does a diagnosis and let's you know if there's anything wrong with you, recommending massages, acupuncture etc to cure any ailments, I mainly went out of curiosity to see if she'd pick up my lurgy. I was also half expecting her to try telling me I needed this that and the other - obviously at a cost - she didn't! She examined my hands, eyes, had a look at my tongue and felt a few places on both wrists and the only thing she said was that my digestive system was slightly off balance and was more yang than ying so was a bit slow. To help this I need to stop eating and drinking cold things and perhaps drink a bit of ginseng tea - she suggested a bit of reflexology if I had time later but wasn't pushy and didn't try selling me the ginseng tea or anything else so I trotted off wondering if she'd picked up on my scepticism so not bothered trying to tell / sell me anything. Or perhaps I really am completely healthy and the lurgy has buggered off for good (Fingers crossed!).
By this time the rain was bucketing it down so I took refuge in Minority cafe (where we'd come for breakfast the other day) for a couple of hours, I had a grilled cheese sarnie and a couple of cups of coffee just watching the world go by in the rain until it stopped. I had a wander round the shopping streets and decided to head to find a pagoda which I'd seen perched on the side of one of the karst mountains it was a load of steps to get there and I flip flopped my way there, it only took about fifteen minutes and was alright but all looked a bit grubby and the view from the top wasn't very nice - it's a bit upsetting to see such an ugly city spreading out in what should be beautiful landscape. Ooh I feel a bit like I'm being a bit whiney about this place. I headed back to the hotel to find the others and hear what they'd been up to - am I glad I didn't give the cooking class a try, the food and cooking sounded alright but before they'd gone there they'd been to the market to buy fresh stuff and in the market there were live animals as well as dead ones - snakes, frogs and dogs - dogs OH MY GOD! This delightful lot had take photos which I made the mistake of looking at - uuuuuuurgggggggh!!!!
To get rid of those images and horrid thoughts I headed out with Elin and Mereidh and we grabbed a coffee at a nice little coffee shop and whiled away an hour or so. They then decided to walk up the little mountain to the pagoda so I went back to the hotel to have a chilled couple of hours before we head out on our farewell meal tonight - it's not our last night together but Jakkie has said it's easier to all eat together in Yangshou than in Hong Kong.
We headed out to dinner to a place opposite our hotel which is popular for it's goose dishes, the place isn't a particularly nice place, it's huge and must be able to seat a thousand people, we've got a booth booked but we were a few minutes late and they gave our booth to someone else so crammed us into a tiny space meant for about six less people than our sixteen!! The food wasn't brill either, all the stuff I tried was a bit bland. Afterwards we all popped to a bar hidden away on a hotel roof, I think I'm deffo getting old because it was all a but loud for me and thankfully we only stayed for a couple. As we were leaving Mereidh and Elin stopped in the hotel lobby to have their feet nibbled by fish, as me and Rachel waited for them we spotted the most adorable little puppy, it was just a ball of white fluff and looked like a tiny fluffy baby polar bear, I had to use all my restraint not to pop it in my pocket and steal it - perhaps saving it from ending up in someone's dinner plate!!! We strolled back to the hotel through the shopping streets which were still jam packed set 11pm.