The Yang Tze River Cruise: Once is enough...
We never actually made it to Wuhan...we got on the boat in Chongqing and RAN off at Yichang. No regrets about cutting the boat trip short.
I don't tell the story as well as my friend Andrew...so here it is:
The Colourful Battle of the Chinamen's Pockets
By Andrew Lau
For the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (Oct 1st), the government declared a 7-day public holiday, which was cool by us students - no lessons and a good excuse to party.
A friend and I decided to go and take a cruise down the Yangtze River to see the Three Gorges before they get flooded by the Three Gorges Dam Project. The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world, and upstream from Yichang, it runs through some absolutely spectacular mountains. Hundreds of poems and songs have been written about the Gorges, so we thought we'd better go and check them out ourselves.
We flew down to Chongqing in Sichuan Province last Wednesday afternoon, two days before the beginning of the holiday, missing two days' worth of classes (what a shame). When we got there, we had to trek around the city looking for travel agents who would give us some sort of deal. We spent the whole frikkin afternoon bargaining, and finally got a two-day-two-night cruise with an all-entrance-fee-inclusive tour, hotel booking and return train ticket for 1450 yuan, which is about 110 pounds or 170 US. Bloody hell were we pleased with ourselves.
We got onto the boat at about 8pm that night, and met our tour guide at 10, who told us that our first tour would be at 5am the next morning. We were a little less pleased. Having got up the next morning, the 30th, we arrived at the bottom of a mountain on top of which was supposed to be some sort of temple, I forget which one. The tour guide told us to buy our own chair lift (very dodgy contraption) tickets to get up there. All things were supposed to have been paid for. Even less happy. We saw the temple, all very nice, and headed back to the boat.
Snoring our way along the Yangtze, we arrived at a pagoda built with no nails (not true) around 1pm. Our tour guide told us that we had one hour to scramble up the slopes of the mountain and push past all the American tourists and sprint all the way back. We got off at 1.15, intending to be back for 2.15. There was no sign of our tour guide on the shore, so we followed the multitudes until we spotted her with our entrance tickets for the pagoda. At the pagoda, we staggered up lots of stairs, said 'ohisn'tthatnicenowletsgoI'mstarving' and returned to the dock to find that our boat had left without us.
At this point we were a little miffed and pretty worried. A passing friendly US$800-a-room American boat radioed ahead and told us that our boat would wait for us where she would weigh anchor for the night, somewhere 7-8 hours away. We had to catch a ***ty little boat and share a cabin with six other Chinese for those 7 hours. It was disgusting. They spat all over the place, emptied anything and everything into the river, and then complained when they had something emptied on them. They kept the TV and radio on when no one was watching or listening.
My friend and I developed a theory: they did it because they could, because they wanted to feel that they were getting every last tenth of a cent of their money's worth. It was truly infuriating. Just before we missed our boat, we bought some little oranges and a large football-sized Chinese grapefruit. We peeled the overpriced oranges, and they were sour. The huge grapefruit was mostly pith.
When we finally reached the place that our boat was overnighting, we got off the ***ty boat, hiked up the side of a cliff, and found someone who told us where she thought our boat was. She pointed to the only other boat on our side of the river, so we went to check it out.
When we got there, it was, surprise surprise, not ours. We were ready to shoot someone at that point. We boarded the boat anyway, and asked a man for help. He turned out to be the only nice Chinese gentleman we met on the entire journey. He was obviously well educated, his cabin was bigger than ours, and he had the cleanest and most pleasant lavatory I had ever laid eyes on in this country. He had somebody radio around the river for our boat, which was on the other side of the river.
He asked a sampan that was moored to the side of his boat to take us over. They wanted 50 yuan for it, which is pretty steep here in China, where a bottle of beer costs about 70p-1 pound in a bar. Our guy was a little pissed off about this, but by this time we were so desperate to get back and use the toilet that we agreed. Cue the spending of ten minutes on a freezing cold river and climbing aboard our boat with everybody watching. Boy, were we jacked off.
The next morning our stupid tour guide came to our room and began to tell US off. She wasn't at all interested in what had happened or whether we had been beaten up or kidnapped. She claimed that the whole boat had waited for 10 minutes and that she had specifically said to be back at 1.40, not 2.15. She was, frankly, speaking out of her behind. We were too shocked at her attack to argue, so she left in a hurry.
We got off the boat and bumped from place to place in a bus, along unpaved tracks in 30-degree-plus weather until we got to a makeshift pier. Here we got on a boat, had a three-hour tour of the Mini Three Gorges, took lots of pictures, were sold some more rotten food, and came back. Then we got on the same dirty bus and bumped all the way back to our boat under the midday sun.
We ate and then had a nap, after which I woke up with a fever. This scared me ***less because there are a few pretty nasty diseases in that part of the world, like Japanese encephalitis.
Outside, it began to rain and as night fell, it also began to thunder etc. I promise you it looked just like something out of some horror movie.
We arrived at Yichang at around 12am, trekked a heck of a long way to the waiting bus, and sped off to the hotel. There, they pretended for a while not to have our booking, and then not to have our train tickets, which we had booked and paid for. The room was terrible.
We got up the next day around noon, waited until 3 and then took a taxi to the train station. The taxi driver took us for a ride and over-charged us. The train journey was 21 hours long, and every bit like what I've been describing.
When we got back to Beijing West train station, the cab drivers tried to rip us off. Even though our campus is only about 15 yuan away, they insisted on making us pay 60 yuan... the rest is history!