Suitcase and World: Heading for the Yangtze River.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Heading for the Yangtze River.

ur wakeup call this morning came when Mairead's cellphone rang. It was a text message from her brother telling her that Michael Jackson had died. I thought I was dreaming until I woke up and logged on to the web to check. What shocking news and yet another reminder for me that you have to live each day to its fullest because life is too short :-(

It was an early morning rise for Mairead and I and as what would become a fairly common routine for us, we met in the hotel lobby to begin the day. Today, we all piled into a van for about an hour long ride to Nanjing Airport. Our flight destination was Wuhan.

Jenny already had our tickets but we had to check in our luggage and get our seat assignments. Oddly enough, I had no idea what airline we were going to be flying on…..I didn’t recognize the logo and there was no name in English. Hopefully, whatever airline it was, it was a safe one!

We all cleared the security check with ease. By the time we made it to the departure gate, we had about 50 minutes or so before we had to board. Jan and I decided to go to one of the airport restaurants – Jan needed her coffee fix.

We boarded the plane and took to our seats. I was seated between Jenny and Robbie. All three of us had a nice chat. I even got to see photos of Jenny’s fiancĂ© and to satisfy my curiosity, Jenny showed me how she does text messaging, in Chinese, on her phone. Basically, she has to use the numeric keypad and English characters to create the equivalent Chinese sound and then the phone’s software, which I think is a version of XT9, offers up Chinese words starting with that sound. Seems a cumbersome way to text message but I guess they’re all used to it so it’s not a problem.

Though it was just a short one hour flight to Wuhan, lunch was served. You had a choice between beef noodles or something fried rice. I opted for the noodles. Not bad for airline food but then I think any Chinese dish would beat western airline food hands down.

It was a smooth and easy landing into Wuhan. We all got off the plane and followed the signs to baggage claim. One by one, backpacks emerged. Of course, mine was the last to show up but it did show up! *Whew*

Robbie, Dean and Jan....ready to roll!

Jenny had arranged for a private van to meet us at the airport and when we exited, it was there waiting for us.

Luggage was piled into the back seats and then we all clamored in. It was going to be about a 4 hour ride to our next destination……Yichang.

It was a pretty uneventful ride. For a short while, I was focused on taking pictures of the landscape. We were in farm country and I really wanted to capture images of rice fields and lotus ponds. But it’s hard taking photos in a van that’s speeding down the road. Before long, I started to get droopy eyed. It was time for a quick nap.

Somewhere along the way, we pulled into the Chinese equivalent of a truck stop to gas up. It was also a good opportunity to get out and stretch my legs.

We arrived into Yichang around 5:30pm and despite the fact that we had done nothing but sit in a van all afternoon long, we were all ready to grab a bite. Jenny took us to a local hotel and we dined in the restaurant. It was another satisfying Chinese meal.
After dinner, we all got back in the van for another hour or so long ride. Our final destination for the day would be our boat on the Yangtze River. The schedule was for us to board the boat at 9pm.

We pulled into the town of Fenjie ("Fen-jay-ah") shortly before 9pm. The van deposited us at the terminal for funicular that takes you and your luggage from the terminal, which sits quite high above the level of the water, down to the boat. There are stairs that run alongside the funicular so you can go on foot if you choose to do so but it was dark and starting to drizzle so funicular it was.

At the bottom of the funicular was the loading dock for the boat. Not surprisingly, the dock was lined with vendors selling everything from kitschy Chinese souvenirs to food and drink to dried seafood. Yeah, I wasn’t too sure about the dried seafood....who would buy dried seafood to take along on a boat cruise?

We boarded the boat and Jenny got us checked in. We would all meet back in the lobby once we had gotten settled into our rooms – Jenny wanted to give us a brief orientation tour of the boat. Mairead and I shared a room. Small but comfortable enough. Accommodation wise we were fine but the room was w-a-a-y too hot for either of our comfort levels. We found the switch to turn the air on to high. I only hoped the room would cool down to be comfortable sleeping temperature by the time we got back from our orientation tour with Jenny.

 We gathered back up with Jenny and she gave us a tour of the boat – a pretty basic Chinese cruise boat with simple amenities…..there’s a restaurant, a small bar and a games room. No shop on board but drinks and munchies are available for purchase from a counter in the lobby. We did pass by a hair salon and massage room on our walk – nothing to write home about. The boat itself is also pretty small accommodating about 200 passengers and crew.

Jackie and Jenny chatting in the boat's lobby. The white box behind Jenny is a free standing air conditioner. You know where I was standing as soon as I found that out!

The ship's emblem. Chinese love dragons in case you didn't already know :-)

The tour was quick....too quick for the temperature in our room to have dropped to a comfortable level for sleeping. This was going to be a difficult night. Oh well.

I got in the shower and not to my surprise, only cold water was coming out of both taps. I prefer hot showers but I was so hot and sweaty that the cold shower was just what I needed. I climbed into bed, wet hair and all, and luckily because I was so tired from the day, I quickly drifted off to sleep. It had been a long travel day and although I was exhausted, I was really excited to know that I would finally realize my dream of cruising on the Yangtze River!