Today's shore excursion was under very gloomy, wet skies. However, we've been really fortunate with the weather so far, so consider ourselves lucky.
We docked at Zhong County to visit the Shibaozhai (Precious Stone) Pagoda, which is built on a steep hillside a short walk from the cruise ship. Access to the Pagoda is across a moving suspension bridge, so it was a case of “just don’t look down” for me. When the Three Gorges Dam was built, the rising waters would have submerged the lower three floors of the Pagoda but, the Chinese government made a decision to protect it. An 800m long dyke was built around the base that goes 30m under the ground/water and rises 20m above, so access is along a footpath around on top of the dyke.
The ground floor is at the bottom of the hill and the top floor, 12 stories up, well, it’s at the top of the hill, each floor becoming narrower the higher up you go. Originally there were only 9 stories, but in 1956 three more were added with a steep wooden staircase that is quite a workout. The Pagoda was built to make it 'easier' for people to get up to ‘Lord Bao’s Memorial Hall’, built at the top of the hill somewhere between 1368 and 1644. Bai was a well-known poet and influential minister of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) who was much revered locally. I was quite proud of myself going to the top of this edifice (not being a fan of heights), but the coming back down was much more of a challenge. The descent is by way of a steep set of stone steps set on the hillside. The kindness of a stranger helped me over a bad moment when I froze momentarily.
Coming back to the ship there was a sight that I was not allowed to photograph – in fact the lady was quite 'passionate' about it. Hard to understand though, because they were doing their thing right beside the path leading on to the ship that hundreds of tourists had to pass by. A woman had a bucketful of live eel-like fish, about 12” long, and she would pick one up and smack it on the side of the bucket to kill it and then pass it to a man to clean it. When she spotted me trying to take a picture she sort of lunged at me shouting “No photo no photo!” I wasn’t interested in her coming any closer with her eel-like object in her hand so quickly got out of the way and she was soon saying it to the next overly interested tourist.
Back on the ship I went to the hand-embroidered silk art shop where I concluded a deal with Angel, the nice young lady who runs the shop. She does incredible work herself but showed me some pieces by her mother who was a Master and her grand-mother who was a Grand Master of the art. These designations are given by the Chinese government. I ended up buying two pieces – one is definitely finer work (grandmother's) than the other but both are absolutely gorgeous. They each have a 'chop' that is only permitted with the approval of the Government to designated 'Masters'.
That evening was 'Captain's Farewell Banquet'. To be honest I couldn't tell the difference between the food at the banquet and the rest of the meals we'd had on board, but at least Captain deigned to come upstairs to the English speakers to say fond farewells. Actually, I can't say that he was wrong to not come upstairs for any longer than necessary. Some of our ladies from 'Family 10' were wearing rather fetching head-dresses of watermelon peel that had previously been garnishes on the table and he did an uncomfortable double take as he posed to have his picture taken with them.
After dinner tonight a talent show was held. I'm pleased to say that "Maggie's Group" as our tour-load is known, was well represented. Two guys from our Group did a duet, followed by four who sang "Sweet Caroline" to our Cruise Director, who happens to be called Caroline. Unfortunately the microphones were not working for the "Sweet Caroline" rendition so we could barely hear them. Then a young Chinese man took the stage and waited and waited and waited for his music to begin. He finally took himself off the stage, but had to skip back on pretty smartly when his music unexpectedly began. He than proceeded to knock our socks off with a stunning version of "You Raise Me Up" - what a incredible voice! This was followed by a Chinese lady with a beautiful operatic voice then by an older Chinese gentleman doing an (apparently) well-known Chinese opera piece that included very strange sounds and gestures. It's an acquired appreciation, I'm guessing, but he was very well received by the majority of passengers.
Then it was back to our cabins to pack our bags for our early disembarkation the next day.