Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Cruising The Three Gorges (Part One)

Day Two

Day two was a transition day.  We had a mid day flight to Yichang.

In the morning the guide took some of our group to the temple we'd seen on our first day in Shanghai.  Since we'd already been there we had a lazy morning sleeping in and having another good breakfast in the hotel.  I had my first taste of Dragon Fruit here.  The dragon fruit has a white pulp with tiny edible black seeds.  The texture is similar to watermelon.  People describe the taste as a cross between a kiwi and a pear. I definitely tasted the pear.  The flavor is a little too mild for me - almost tasteless actually.

We went to the airport and, as we were checking in the counter agent asked me where I was going.  One of the perks of being on a tour is that transportation is handled for you.  When the agent asked where I was going I came up blank.  Didn't have the foggiest idea.  Fortunately the guide was nearby and I discovered we were flying to Yichang.  The two hour flight, flight number three of the trip, was uneventful.  We arrived in Yinchang, picked up our bags, and boarded a bus.

On the bus our guide taught us simple Chinese words.  Ni Hao ... Hello.  How to count from one to ten.  She also showed us common one hand gestures for counting to ten.  Not much of that stuck with me though I still have the handout she gave us somewhere.

The bus arrived to the edge of the Yangtze river where we boarded the Yangtze Explorer.  The four year old ship holds about 124 passengers but, since we were traveling in the off season there were only about forty or fifty people on board.  After working for the navy for twenty years and riding several navy ships over that time, I'd developed a strong disinterest in taking cruises.   I'd enjoyed our inside passage ferry cruise on the way to Alaska but I'd never really considered that a cruise.  When we boarded my feelings were assuaged a bit by the rather informality of the ship and the large size of our room.  All of the rooms had balconies, large beds, and a nice bathroom.   Okay, we noticed something: The bathrooms on the ship (and in most of our Chinese hotels) had a large window looking from the shower area into the living area.  They all had shades that could be pulled but it seemed strange and a little voyeuristic.  Weird.

The hazy Yangtze river near Yincheng.
We spent the late afternoon and evening exploring our new home for the next four days.  As we ran into crew members, they would introduce themselves (their adopted English name).  After one such encounter, as we were walking away, we could hear her repeating our names over and over as she memorized our names.  The ship was proud of its personal service.  A nice dinner (with some awesome desserts) and an introductory movie about the three gorges dam rounded off our day.  The ship didn't set sail until the next morning.

Day Three

The ship had activities scheduled throughout the day.  Day Three started early with Tai Chi classes at 7:00 AM.  We'd taken Tai Chi classes before.  The young crew member who taught the class was not as good as our teacher.  She went through things a little too quickly.  There was very little warm up (The class was only 30 minutes vs the hour we'd had).  I remembered some of my class moves but it was hard to follow our new teacher.  We ended up skipping the other two Tai Chi sessions.

As we ate our awesome breakfast (The food aboard was incredible) the ship set sail and began chugging up the river.  We soon entered Xiling Gorge, the first of the three gorges of the three gorges dam.  This gorge, being down river from the dam, was the least disturbed when the dam was built.

Sampans along the shores of the Yangtze river.
As we went through the gorge a crew member top side pointed out the various peaks, towns, and other features along the river (I thought she kept pointing out the 'pigs' but she was saying peaks - crazy Chinese accent).  The crew member, Jane, was very knowledgeable about the places along the gorge and its history.

After exiting the gorges we approached the dam.  We docked and we got on a bus that took us to a three gorges museum as well as a large memorial garden which offered a view of the dam.  The dam, one of the largest in the world, generates electricity for a large portion of China as well as prevents flooding along the Yangtze river, something that occurred quite often before the dam was built.  The dam submerged 13 cities, 140 towns, and over 1,600 villages along the river.  All of these people were relocated to higher ground.  While the numbers are impressive, the dam doesn't seem that big.  I think, since you really can't get that close to the dam, it is hard to grasp its true scale.

The Three Gorges Dam.
After our ground tour we got back on the boat, had lunch, and then waited our turn for the ship to go through the locks.  As we waited we attended one of the classes/demonstrations offered by the ship.  This one was about Chinese Reflexology (Chinese massage).

Approaching the dam locks along with a few of our lock mates.
After the demo I went topside to observe the transit through the locks.  This was the first time I've ridden a ship through locks.  It was pretty cool.  The locks were huge.  Along with our ship there were four barges in the lock.  You probably could have fit six full barges in the lock.  There are five locks, though, as the water level was a little low to accommodate the monsoon rains, only four were needed to raise the ships up to the level of the river upstream.  The fit was so tight that you could reach out and touch the slimy sides of the lock.

I left after we passed from the first lock into the second and went to a lecture and demonstration on Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The Wife volunteered for some acupuncture while another lady did cupping.  Our guide was a big proponent of cupping recommending it for everything from a cold, the flu, or just a long day at work.  After the demonstration I would begin seeing the large, perfectly round bruises on the shoulders of people who had been cupped.

After another good dinner we went to a "Cultural Cabaret".  The show, put on my the ship's crew, started out okay but, when the Spice Boys started performing, we'd had enough and we went to bed.

The Cultural Cabaret featuring the crew of the Yangtze Explorer ... a little too cheesy for me.
Day Four

Day four turned out to be one of the busier days of our cruise.  The ship had docked the night before at Badong.  (The view from our cabin that night.)  After breakfast we boarded a smaller ferry that took us up the Shennong Stream.  The "Stream", formerly a roaring rapids, was now a wide and very calm tributary of the Yangtze.

The ferry took us along the steep cliffs and mountain valleys of the Long Chang gorge.  On some cliffs we saw hanging coffins where coffins had been perched up on the cliff.  Many of these coffins were relocated (mostly to museums) when the water level was raised by the dam.

A Hanging Coffin seen in the lower end of the crack in the cliff.
The vistas, marred only by the ever present haze, were spectacular.  The views of cliffs, caverns, stands of bamboo, and more kept coming - the next view better than the one before.

A sampan passes our ferry along the Shennong Stream.
At the end of the stream, where it narrowed, we left the ferry and boarded a sampan.  We were given a demonstration of how sampans once were pulled along the stream by men on the shore.  (You can still see the paths the pullers would run along.) The sampan rowers were very competitive as we passed other boats full of sightseers.  Some of their local festivals feature sampan races and our rowers had won a few races.  We went up the narrowing stream for a while before turning around, returning to our ferry.

A sampan with tourists passes ours.
The ferry returned to the ship and we continued up the Yangtze passing through the other two gorges that make up the three gorges -  the Wu and Qutang gorges.  I was topside for both to listen to the crew commentary.  You wonder what was submerged below the waters when the dam was built.  The towns and cities you see along the shores now are all young ... less than ten years old ... even though they look like they've been there for many years.  Think what you will about the Chinese, they know how to build a city very quickly.

We docked at Baidi City where we took a bus to the City of the White Emperor.  The city, built by Gong Sunshu during the first century AD, changed hands many times over the centuries and is now said to have been built by Liu Bei, described by our tour guide as the ruler of the "good" side during the Three Kingdom wars.  The city and temple is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the intersection of the Yangtze and Mexihe rivers.

We crossed a foot bridge and then climbed some three hundred steps up to the top of the hill.  Many of the buildings here have been destroyed and rebuilt over it's 1,900 plus year history including during the cultural revolution - The Chinese have not been kind to their historical heritage.  I ended up not taking that many pictures up here.  Everything was beautiful but a lot of the interesting shots were in darker areas where my camera only captured out of focus shots.  The one place we did take pictures of is a view of the Yangtze that is famous as it's on some of their currency.  We fortunately got there and got our pictures taken before a large Chinese tour group showed up and crowded us out.

Famous view of the Yangtze displayed on their currency.
We returned to the ship tired and sweaty.  We skipped the ballroom dancing, variety/talent show, and the music of the Stardust Duo, instead opting for dinner, a shower and an early bedtime.   A very satisfying day of new experiences and sights.  One of the better days in China.

Pictures from days two though four (06/24 - 06/26/2012) can be found in my 2012-06 China Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

2 comments:

  1. Whaaaat? This all looks awesome! :D

    If you like learning chinese I recommend Mindsnacks! It's great!

    Uh oh! my nephewa;kjadflkj has decided to start typing! I'll be back!

    ReplyDelete