Yichang, China
30° 46' N 111° 19' E
May 25, 2009 11:04
Distance 479km

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Blog 10 - Three Gorges and Yichang

These few days have got to be the most enjoyable so far. Having arrived in Chongqing tired and still waiting to see if we really did have a cruise ship or a glorified fishing boat, we were overjoyed to discover the Oriental Emperor tied to a pier on the Yangtse.

Having nothing else to do - and having not been overly impressed by what we had seen around the city of Chongqing, we were first onto the boat about 5 hours before it was due to set sail. It really was like a floating hotel - nothing desperately fancy but compared to what we have experienced over the past few weeks it was like a palace.

Setting sail after dark, we were amazed to see the city transformed into a floodlit thing of beauty but still weren't sure what we would wake to the following morning.

We very quickly found out: not quite Hi-de-hi but the excursion schedule meant that the relaxing few days we had hoped for started at 6.50 am with an announcement of the day's activities via a bedside speaker with no volume control...

Having dragged ourselves up to breakfast, we were allocated a meal table for the duration of the trip alongside a group of Australian tourists (and one New Zealander) on an organised tour complete with accompanying guide. They all very quickly proved to be friendly and welcoming people who immediately invited us to join their group and made us feel that, for the first time since we had left the UK, that we had some human contact which extended to more than pidjin english and telling people we didn't want a taxi!

I must also mention their Chinese tour guide, Gary, working for Peregrine Travel. Thanks to his assistance over the past few days, we have finally ben able to relax knowing that somebody else was looking out for us and not feeling as though we were about to be ripped off at every turn. If anybody is looking for an organised tour through China, he comes highly recommended!

The first trip was to 'The Ghost City' which is, according to Chinese beliefs, the place where all spirits go to be judged after death before being sent to heaven or hell. Personally, I didn't feel any real spiritual presence at the site but the carvings and sculptures showing what woudl happen to souls sent to hell were trully horific - if you ever want to have nightmares after commiting a sin, just check this place out. Quentin Tarantino has nothing on the imagination of these people!

Food on board consisted of buffet style meals with platters served to each table and was excellent both in terms of quantity and quality. After lunch (which was the first Chinese food we had been served that we had actually enjoyed - all those that know me well, I even tried some unusual things and ate the odd vegetable!!) we had free time which we used to catch up on some much needed sleep.

That evening the ships crew entertained us with amongst others, a Tai Che demonstration from Tony, the ships doctor, masseur, Tai Che instructor, singer, baggage handler and no doubt other skills besides.

The following day we had a slightly longer lie after turning down an optional (additional cost) trip in the morning and opting for the 'late' breakfast at 8.15. Later that day, we entered the first of the famous 'Three Gorges' which really is an amazing site and can't be given true ustice in a photograph. Apparently we were lucky in so far as the mist that hangs over the river on most days cleared to give us soem sunny spells and great views of the river valley. Despite not yet being at the final level, the river surface is now around thirty metres higher than it was before the hydro electric dam was constructed.

In the afternoon, we were taken on a boat trip up a tributary of the Yangtse and experienced a sampan canoe journey with local guide to give us soem history of the local area.

That night, we made our way through the ship locks adjacent to the dam itself. For any civil engineers, this was an awe inspiring experience, made even more so by the fact it was floodlit and we were witnessing it from the deck of a ship with beer in hand. The dimensions fo the locks and rate of descent are beyond anything you are likely to see anywhere else in the world.

After a few hours sleep, we were once more summoned to breakfast by teh Chinese verison of Ruth Madocs before being taken by bus to the dam site itself. Unfortunately, this was rather dissapointing and is the sort of trip that makes civil engineering look boring. There was no information on the capacity of the hydro electric scheme, impounded volumes, costs, etc that us sad people relish and instead we were simply shown a large lump of concrete. Still, it's always an extra day's CPD!

Having had to check out and take all our luggage with us (thanks again to Gary for organising and taking the hassle away from us), we had lunch with our new-found Anzac friends who were flying on to Shanghai and we got a taxi to our hotel in Yichang.

The hotel immediately seemed like something out of a Roger Moore era James Bond film with wood panelled lifts, beige interior and a large control panel for some long-outdated radio system next to the bed.

The location wasn't the best, being in a business district but I ventured out for a walk around the neighbourhood while Vicki did some washing (she must have been in a good mood because she even washed one of my T shirts for me). Again the local shops were the strange mix of small food stores and industrial supplies. Only in China can you buy a packet of crisps in one place and nip next door for a 600mm diameter ductile iron valve for a water pipeline.

I did also wonder at the strange row of glass fronted shop fronts across from the hotel which seemed to be empty other than couches. After dark, the red lights came on, the occupants arrived and the penny dropped....

We had planned to eat dinner in the hotel that night but having gone down to the restaurant to check it out we were faced with what, in most western countries would have bene a pet shop with tanks of fish, terrapins, turtles, etc. I have a funny feeling however I was looking instead at the menu so we ventured out and using our new-found confidence and knowledge of around three Chinese words, managed to order a meal that we liked!

Breakfast was only marginally better but since it was included in our booking, we struggled through whatever it might have been and checked out. After the world's slowest taxi driver (don't know why since we had already agreed a price)  finally dropped us off at the local airport (one that makes Prestwick look trully cutting edge) we got checked in and headed through to the departure lounge.

Despite the fact that our 60 seat plane was the only one in the entire airport at the time the announcer still seemed to feel the need to announce the gate number at least half a dozen times.

After surviving the rather turbulent flight and being two of only three westerners on the plane (made us feel like real 'off the beaten track' travellers!) we arrived in Shanghai, more of which to follow.

Photos / videos of "Blog 10 - Three Gorges and Yichang":

Entering the three gorges Yangtse River Yangtse River Sampan trip up a Yangtse tributary The Three Gorges Dam ship locks