Cruising down the Yangtze

Trip Start Sep 17, 2006
Trip End Jun 23, 2007

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

After a happy few days chilling out in Chengdu, it was time to move on to Chongqing to join our ship for the cruise down the Yangtze.
Sailing through the Three Gorges is a traditional chinese holiday trip to make and to fully enjoy the experience, Chris, Jo and I had decided to travel on a chinese ship rather than the fancy western ones packed with fat american tourists. OK - it was actually more to do with the fact that we were on tight budgets and didn't really understand how to book anything else. It certainly turned out to be an intimate introduction to living with the locals...

When we boarded the ship on Monday evening, we were a bit disconcerted to find that it didn't look very like the photos that we had seen. Where was the clean linen? And the TV? And the lovely restaurant? And the loo?!?! Yes - we had the pleasure of sharing a (dirty) squat toilet which was handily combined with a shower so that you were in danger of putting your foot down the hole while washing if you didn't pay attention. Needless to say, none of us showered for three days. Luckily we had a four person cabin for just the three of us although this didn't really mean that we got any more sleep as the walls were paper thin and chinese people seem to have two volume levels for talking - loud and very loud. Breakfast started at 5am and was a noisy communal affair accompanied by much loud spitting. I have never seen or heard so much spitting in my life which continued all day until late at night. The ship would sail all night and then pull into port at 4am or so and announce itself by blowing the horn very loudly several times. Peaceful it was not.

The scenery itself was sensational. The Three Gorges, the stretch of the river for which the journey is famous, were spread out throughout the second day and were lovely. Even more special were the Lesser Three Gorges on a tributary of the Yangtze - you have to get off the big ship and get onto smaller boats to see it and it was the highlight for me. We also had a interesting side trip at 6am on the first morning to visit Ghost City at Fengdu which is a collection of temples in some way connected to death and the passage to hell. It was hard to tell exactly what the story was as the guiding was entirely in chinese but Jo and I got in the spirit by imitating the grotesque characters around the place.

Unfortunately the diet of pot noodles and bread and jam from Carrefour was not enough to stave off food poisoning which meant I spent most of the final night throwing up. Still, I was better enough in the morning to enjoy a visit to the dam at Yichang which they are building across the Yangtze. Designed to prevent flooding downstream, the dam will also provide 10% of China's electricity and is apparently an environmental disaster. It has already raised the water levels throughout the Three Gorges by 156m and there were white markers all along the route showing the 175m mark which the water will finally reach. Some stunning scenery has already been swamped and 2 million people have had to be relocated as their homes flooded. Still, the dam is the biggest of its kind in the world and is almost 2km across. Even more impressive is the enormous five locks built next to it to allow 10,000 tonnes of shipping through at a time. We watched 12 enormous coal freighters all fit in one lock and slowly be lowered down.

At the end of the cruise, I said goodbye to Chris and Jo as they headed down south and on to Japan, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. I won't see them again until our paths cross briefly in Perth in December. It was great to travel with them - I'm very lucky that they were heading in the same direction. They got some great pics of the trip too on their blog.
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