Monday, October 03, 2005

Yangtse River,

Our Yangtse River tour was a great way to avoid the crowds during National Holiday. We left Chengdu at 6am on Friday morning. This was the big first day of the Holiday and transportation was already too crowded for English speakers to navigate on our own. The van that departed from our hostile took us to a bus-lined alley where we sat for nearly two ours with fellow Westerners while our ticket agent argued with scalpers and bus drivers until he was able to place us on a bus to Chongqing, where our cruise boat was docked.

The cruise was full and we were relieved that we payed the extra 500 yuen (about 65 dollars U.S.) to travel first class. This didn't buy us a lot of luxury but it meant that Devin and I had our own tiny room and didn't have to share an equally tiny room with four other people on a three night cruise. Having our own mini bathroom meant that we could finally wash the ultra dirty laundry that we had worn for a full two days during our sweaty climb up Mt. Emei. (You thought I would leave that kind of detail out, didn't you?).

The cruise stops were cute but super-touristy and the souveniers cost twice as much as they would anywhere else. We visited a "ghost-town" in Fengdu. The town on one side of the river has been evacuated and residents have been relocated across the river in new government apartments built on higher land. When the Three Gorges Dam is complete, the old Fengdu will be completely flooded. While we were there workers were tearing down remaining buldings and destroying gas and power lines so that the old city won't pollute the new river too badly. In the afternoon, we visited an ancient 12 story Taoist pagoda that was built into a cliff. I paid my respects to the Jade Empress just because I was happy to find a supreme god who is a woman.

On day two we entered the first of the Three Gorges. It was pretty magnificent, but it was also 5am, still dark out and freezing at the front of the boat so we didn't stay out long. Later that day we took a ferry through the mini Three Gorges and small wooden rafts through the mini mini Three Gorges. The real Three Gorges span 200 kilometers and are difficult to appreciate because they take 18 hours to travel through. The smaller sets of gorges were absolutely breathtaking. Traveling on a raft through a narrow river outlet with mossy cliffs and waterfalls overhead will be a lifelong memory for me.

Later in our second afternoon we visited a museum/shrine dedicated to Qu Yuan, a B.C. era warrior-poet who is a hero to the region. To celebrate Qu Yuan's life, we raced dragon boats across the Yangtse. This was not fun. All of the Westerners got into one little boat designed to float when filled with smaller Chinese people. Our big Westerner boat was riding pretty low in the water. The English tour of the shrine had taken longer and the Westerners left late, so we didn't even have other boats out there to race. Most of the people on our team also didn't want to row. The experience added up to a few people straining to paddle big Western tourists across a river in a boat that looked like it might sink, with our Chinese boat master yelling at us to "row! row!" I am sure that more than a few Chinese tourists were standing on the dock laughing at us. I can't blame them. If I had been on the dock, I would have been laughing at us too.

We passed through the second of the Three Gorges in the afternoon, and the third in the middle of the night. They were as amazing as they look in photos. We spent much of the afternoon and early evening watching for signs that mark the final height of the Yangste when the Three Gorges Dam is finished. It looks like many river cities will be moderately affected, and many peasant farmers are going to lose everything. People displaced by the water are supposed to receive between 2,000 and 4,000 Yuen. This is pretty fair and well over a year's earnings for most Chinese people. I hope it actually happens. Right now, between 60 and 600 million U.S. dollars earmarked for relocating people along the banks of the Yangtse have disappeared. This money was last accounted for with some very corrupt party officials.

We passed through the locks in the Three Gorges Dam in the middle of the night and were kicked off of our boat at 6am.

Devin and I are here at an internet cafe in Yichang. Our flight departs for Beijing at 9pm, so we have some time to spend here. Our Lonely Planet guide makes it clear that there are no must-sees in Yichang aside from the construction of the biggest Dam in the world. So, it looks like this afternoon we'll take a break from tourism and I'll have a chance to practice my Chinese over a Pi-Jou (beer).


  • At 4:04 PM, Blogger Julia Elvarado said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wish I could have been with you. Ah...someday. Off and on I think about what I want to do when I am "older." Ha.
    A Friend


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