The Life of Ri, by Rann Macktell

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We went mad in the supermarket and bought WAY too much stuff. It doesn't seem so bad when your in the store, then when you carry it to a taxi you realise that it's perhaps a little bit heavy. This is usually when the story ends but for us it was the start. We then had to return to our pickup point and retrieve our backpacks. So we have the three of us totally weighed down and not a single free finger, never mind a hand, to shake a stick at. Plus, it's boiling hot, within a couple of minutes the three of us are totally drenched in sweat. It's onto a small bus and to the port. We have to get off the bus and tool up once more. We're now in the port building waiting the the 'queue'. Now it'd be ok if it was actually a queue, but it was just a throng of people. "Oh naw, the bags are now bursting, the water and coke bottles have ripped through the side and the plastic bags are about to disintergrate". We're standing like this for over ten minutes while we wait for some cable car type effort to take us down to the boat. We manage to limp onto this contraption without any of our stuff going astray. This is when I remember about another bag that's in my rucksack, so I pull it out and put most of the stuff into this bag, but this now weighs a ton.

My back's really starting to hurt now, it started to get sore after the crap beds that we slept in whilst in Chengdu, and today's efforts are really trying to kill it off. Myself and Nicola have an end each of superbag while David juggles the rest of the crap we have. We finally get to our cabin throwing our bags onto our beds and standing there just dripping wet.

Now we start to consider what we've done. We had a choice of first, second or third class for the boat. We chose third, well, it was the cheapest! Now we're looking at the cabin which has six beds in it and nowhere to swing a hamster. I daren't even look at the toilet. Like on so many occations on this trip my guardian angle steps in to save me again. Our guide that showed us to the cabin must have seen our faces "You know you can upgrade to second class?". It was neither a statement nor a question but we pounced on the offer. "For 500 Yuan you can get a second class cabin to yourself". Right, sign me up right now, where's the pen? We gave her 500 Yuan (This is only 12 UK pounds each!) and the tickets for our turd class cabin, praying that she'd be back. Sure enough she returned, "Follow me". I'm on your heels, carrying these oversized bags with a back that belongs to a 90 year old, but I'm following. Three flights of stairs, not a problem. We get into the new cabin, it's a little slice of heaven. I collapse (very carefully like an old man) onto the bed, exhale very loudly and just thank my luck stars for getting out of the situation that we almost got ourselves into.

So this is how we started our relaxing two day cruise!

As we pulled out of port the sun was setting, streaming a golden orange sun across the polluted river and city. Bye Bye Chongqing. I'm not ashamed to say that I didn't do anything else for the rest of the day, nor the morning after. We were probably a good chunk of the way downstream before I really got exploring. I missed some excursion from 6-9AM to "Ghost City", I heard that it was pretty good but it'd have taken wild horses to have gotten me out of my pit for that one.

The boat made another stop in the early afternoon at a temple who's name doesn't escape me, I just never knew what it was in the first place. It was really spectacular, on the side of a cliff someone thought that it'd be a great idea to build a 10 storey pagoda made of wood that would allow tourists a chance to get off their boats for an hour, these Chinese can be very forward thinking at times. The climb up was pretty good, and there was a temple at the top that you could also wander around at your leisure, not to mention all the market stalls that you had to get through before you even started your climb. All this would have been ok if we'd had more time, but a check of our watches at the top showed us that there was a big deadline ticking that we just couldn't miss. The way down wasn't exactly obvious and took a bit of a leap of faith to get down (If we'd gone the wrong way then it'd have been a climb up again to get out). We rushed back to the boat causing causing more sweating than was really necessary and then sat on board for at least 15 minutes before pulling off, pah, typical.

We had a little wander around the ship in the afternoon, David discovered that it was possible to wander right down to the engine room, and if you were so inclined you could even do a little tour of your own. The boat was fairly large, perhaps about 400 meters in length and 4 levels of cabins. There was sadly a distinct lack of outside deck space. Fortunately for the foriegn tourists the local Chinese are totally addicted to Mahjong and spent much of the trip inside gambling. In the evening myself and Nicola (David was content to read his book) headed out to socialise with some of our fellow westerners on the front of the boat. This was definetly (or so we thought at the time) the best place on the boat as you could see everthing that was coming up, plus it was nice and cool when the boat was in motion.

The next day involved another early start, this time we joined in. It was a six hour journey up a little side valley to see the three little gorges. We were transfered onto smaller vessels and we were off. The little gorges were spectacular since the river was really narrow at this point, while passing through a gorge you'd look straight up at a few hundred feet of rock. It was also just really relaxing as we were able to sit out on deck enjoying the sun. We had a fairly quiet deck since most of the Chinese were inside again as many of them don't like sitting in the sun. At one point we were transfered onto an even smaller boat for the trip up the last little gorge. This one was amazing, it had lush vegetation that drooped into the water, the gorge was even narrower but I don't think that the cliffs were any smaller. This little boat trip was a big highlight. We headed back through the two small gorges again and back to the big boat.

Next on the list was the three big gorges. You come to China expecting only three gorges, and then these kindly Chinese provide you with six, now that's what I call value for money! I tried to get to the vantage point at the front of the boat but had discovered that the Mahjong games had been temporarily suspended, every man and their dog were up there. I headed to the back of the boat instead which was rather empty! I figured that this was a good a place as any since it was the same scenery as the front only slightly later than everyone else saw it. It was nice just watching it go by when two guys from the previous evening, Todd (Kiwi that works on a drill boat off Aberdeen) and Austin (Eire), came past. They had said that some people had been on the roof of the boat, sounds good. The woman with the key to the roof came past us to let some people off, but she wouldn't let us up. She just point blank refused. We considered climbing over the railings to get up there but decided against it since it was way too dangerous. After a while Todd went off to sweet talk the lady, and it worked. He came back with the key, he'd given her 45 Yuan (1 UK pound for each of us), money talks round here, and it's not even always that much.

The top of the boat was a big flat area with an amazingly cooling wind and 360 degree views. Now this was the daddy when it came to top places to hang out. We sat up there all afternoon, we even got some tunes organised and had a little mini party. One of the guys tripped up over a wire that was up there, this is usually a scary enough experience at the best of times but when his trip was accompanied by an ear splitting blast of the ship's horn it kind of trebles the surprise. Perhaps more worryingly we'd discovered that we could blow the ship's horn at will. A privilidge that I have to say we didn't misuse (too much).

I guess that I should say at this point that the three gorges were amazing. Well, they were pretty good. Take a book out the library and have a look at them because they're already under a bit of water, come 2009 and the water will rise again. They'll still be there, but not in the same way as they exist now.

In the evening we came across the mighty drowning dam, it was dark when we arrived so we couldn't get a very good look, but it looked big. We passed through the most amazing lock system that I've ever seen in my life. There were 7 large boats in each section. The doors that they had to close each end were absolutely immense, these must have been 100 feet high and made of triple coated titanium (I can imagine), wow. It took about 45 minutes to pass through each of the lock sections, and after 4 sections I got a little bored of it, I was knackered and it was time for my bed. It had been an absolutely amazing day though, well worth the money for the cruise.

It was just a shame that we had to get up at 5AM the next morning in order to disembark in Yichang. The party was over and it was back to terra firma.
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