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Published: January 22nd 2008
Thursday January 17th
Our third early morning in a row saw us waiting at the hostel by 7am. From here we were transported to the train station for the 7.57 to Chinqingbei. This has given us the time to sit, crammed into the train, and catch up on our diary ready to upload at the next opportunity. We are passing many small farms and villages. The scenery here is much greener than we've seen in other parts of China but the same smog hangs over the countryside and unfortunately the train windows are so filthy we won't even attempt to take photographs through the glass as we did on the train to Lhasa.
The countryside we passed through consisted of market garden after market garden, each extremely lush. These would be the main suppliers of vegetables for the cities we have seen so far. Except for the smog, this area would have been most scenic.
We were met at the station by a driver and taken to the cruise agency as arranged. Here we had our next hassle and disappointment, even though we had been assured they would take our Visa card,they couldn't/wouldn't. The earlier disappointment was that we
expected to be taken here by bus or car, not put on the train in a 2nd class carriage! The Mix Hostel travel section needs to be more forthcoming in this respect, they tend to keep you in the dark about what they are providing. After the two young staff had several loud discussions and several phone calls Rags was taken into the centre of town to the Bank of China. The ATM was used to draw money from our account, and using two different cards for the machine's maximum of 2500 yuan, allowed us to get enough to pay for the tickets.
We still had 4 hours to kill before getting back to the agency for our transfer to the boat and after walking along the harbour front came to a touristy-type square with its own waterfall and pagoda which also had attached all types of shops and eating places. For lunch we had a chicken hotpot, a claypot full of chicken broth & chicken, plus a plate of chicken & greens.
This square was at the foot of a tall cliff but we found a lift which took us up 8 floors to the roadway above.
This road led to the modern shopping precinct Rags had been to previously. Judy was interested for a short time but fatigue caught up so we made our way to a..... (please forgive us!) Macca's! Here the much appreciated loo was found and we had a bite to eat & drink as we weren't to be fed tonight on the ship.
The atmosphere in the square was intense when we emerged an hour later, with people everywhere and light displays and singing competing with our senses. It was almost as good as we experienced in Times Square five years ago. Added to this Judy found a little arcade selling all sorts of trinkets and added to her collection of scarves and baubles. We found out later that Chinqingbei is the largest city in the south with a population of 34 million people! That amount of people is mind-boggling when you think of Australia's total 22 million.
We were finally taken to the ship, along a makeshift pathway of planks on pontoons, sitting on sand, to the ship. The pathway was lined with boat staff, dressed in red, each one greeted us and told us to watch our step.
As we boarded a band struck up a fanfare welcome!. Very impressive, but we were still rather apprehensive of what the ship & cabins would be like. We needn't have worried, not only were the cabins very luxuriously fitted out, we had scored an upgrade to a Junior Suite, extremely nice even if it was with two singles.
At 2130 we met a few of our English speaking companions at the briefing, the majority of the passengers being Chinese with a group of Thais as well. Should make for an interesting mix.
Friday 18th January
Comfortable beds and pillows gave us a good sleep despite having to turn off the air-conditioning and open the outside door due to it being too hot. The air-con seems to have two settings, off and hot. Rags did witness the thoughtless way the environment was treated when at 3am water, probably from the grey-water tank, was discharged into the river for over an hour. The Yangtse River will become almost a lake in a couple of years time when the 3 Gorges Dam Project is completed and pollution is going to be a big issue.
We were too late for
the commencement of the 0715 Tai Chi class so we watched and then made our way to a good breakfast. This was followed soon after by a presentation on theYangtze River and one on Chinese medicine.
After lunch the ship anchored off Fengdu, a city originally on both sides of the river but now completely rebuilt on one side with multi-storey apartments, as the water level will cover the original township as the dams are completed. Our guide later related how the government had ensured all were now housed in better quality housing and that their living spaces had been at least doubled, a measure to make the people agreeable to the disruption of their lives.
A shore excursion was the afternoon's activity, climbing Ming Mountain to a temple area which pays tribute to the “King of the Underworld”. This involved climbing up 450 stairs but the guide broke the journey into sections by stopping regularly and relating the legends surrounding Fengdu. When we returned to the base of the hill we were inundated by locals trying to sell souvenirs, fruit and drinks. As soft-drinks and beer are so highly marked up we did a little haggling, two
stalls competing with each other, and walked away with we thought, four of each at a good price. We must have haggled harder than we thought we had as when unpacked on the ship we found we had five of each!
We chilled out in the cabin for a couple of hours before getting ready for the “Captain's Welcome Reception”. We think we could get to like this life, will have to see what other river trips are available in the world when we get home!
At the reception we were served a very cheap fizzy drink, you couldn't call it champagne! This was an enjoyable start to the evening and from here we went to dinner where we were served a Chinese banquet. All on our table agreed that it was the worst Chinese food we had eaten!
After dinner we had a fashion parade of Chinese fashion through the ages put on by the staff. Some very beautiful young Chinese girls and guys!
Saturday 19th January
We awoke abruptly to a ship's announcement this morning that we were coming into the first of the gorges. It was still dark! We showered and dressed
The newest tourist trap.
As yet unfinished and unopened.
quickly and went upstairs to the observation deck. It was b.. freezing! Judy was well insulated in her long padded jacket but Rags stayed for only a short time before disappearing below!
After another buffet breakfast we berthed and set off on a ferry into the Lesser Gorge along a tributary of the Yangtze, the Daning River. The first and most dramatic gorge was the Dragon Gate Gorge. Cliffs here soar 800 to 1000 metres high. In the Misty Gorge a 2,000 year old “hanging coffin”was seen suspended on a precipice high up on the cliff face. The coffin was a relic of the “Ba People” who inhabited this region 3,500 to 1,800 years ago. The final gorge was the “Emerald Gorge”, covered with lush bamboo groves and foliage. It's incredible to think that many of the places we've seen today, including a couple of islands will not be visible in 2 years time. When they closed the dam in 2003 the water level rose 60 metres in 10 days. This was very emotional for he older residents who saw their homes and land disappear. Our guide told us about her mother leaving something in the house and how
she realised that she would never be able to retrieve it! It is hard to imagine that this increase in depth reached back 600 kilometres up river and trying to conceptualise this amount of water is near impossible. From here we changed into a sampan which took us to a Lesser-Lesser Gorge. If you could imagine Geiki Gorge, but 3 to 4 times higher with snow on top, that would be very similar to what we passed through.
We were away about 4 hours and were certainly ready for lunch on our return. Judy's energy levels were low and and after lunch we retired to our cabin for a nap. We wanted to be up in the Yangtze Bar for the 4pm presentation on the dam project but it was 4.30 before we arrived. We could see other people hadn't rested because several were falling asleep and at one stage a snore could be heard. Our river guide, Luther was discussing the cons of the dam when we arrived and it will be interesting to explore pros and cons of the dam further on the Internet when we have time.
People dispersed quickly after this so we also adjourned
once again to our cabin for a pre dinner drink and to type up this blog.
After dinner we were entertained again by staff with Chinese dancing etc. This occurred while we were going through the locks of the Three Gorges Dam Project.
Sunday 20th January 2008
We had to be up for an early breakfast before leaving the boat at 8am for our last shore excursion to the Three Gorges Dam Project. This is the largest dam project ever undertaken and begun in 1994 and completed in 2006, although won't be fully operational until 2009. The dam will create a 600 metre long reservoir, incredible to think of this size and comparable to nothing we've seen in Australia but perhaps a little comparable to the Itaipu Dam, a joint Brazil/Paraguay development of the reputed largest hydroelectric power plant in the world which we had visited in 2002. Unfortunately the visibility at the dam was low but everything looked beautiful covered in snow. Apparently this is the first snow fall in this part of southern China in over 10 years.
The snow has presented us with some problems. The road to Wuhan, our intended next destination
is closed due to snow, so along with the other independent travellers that this has affected we have been discussing travel ideas. Luther, our river guide, has assisted us. He contacted friends in Yichang to see if we could hire a mini bus but nobody is prepared to take a bus through the mountains on these dangerous roads. After our return from the Three Gorges Project, eight of us met to discuss our options. One was to negotiate a passage in the bus that the Jules Verne (English tour group) have coming to take them to Wuhan. It was going to pick them up from Sandouping where the dam was situated but this road was also impassable so it is now meeting them further upstream in Yichang. Luther introduced us to their Tour Leader, who told us he would have to consult with their local guide when the bus arrived. We weren't to keen on the trip, which had to bypass the closed expressway and would take at least 8 hours. We decided to investigate flights to Shanghai, where we were headed after Wuhan. Luther rang for us and as there were 3 seats available on the 5.10pm flight. Rags,
myself and another traveller, Scott decided to take this alternative.
Luther also offered to organise a vehicle to transport us to the airport as he told us there would be no taxis available from the port. We later saw this to be untrue but had already agreed to the rather extortionate cost he proposed. After disembarking, it did take us an hour to reach the airport, far too early for our flight. Luckily when Scott and Rags went to pick up the tickets they were offered flights on the earlier, direct flight to Shanghai that although was scheduled to leave at 3.10 was now delayed until almost 4pm. We passed the time chatting to Scott and another cruise passenger, Nicki.
The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Shanghai just after 6pm. Scott and Nicki had retrieved our luggage before we arrived at the luggage carousel so we were away quickly. Nicki was being picked up so we said our goodbyes and the three of us went to the counter to arrange accommodation. We paid a deposit on the Piao Ying Hotel and thought we'd get a taxi as they are cheap enough here but when we found
The vanishing world
This bridge will be removed as the water will cover it when the dam is complete.
the taxi queue it stretched for miles. After arguing with touts for faster cars at over 10 times the cost of a taxi we made our way to the airport shuttle which would take us to the subway. This was cheap at about 60 cents each and dropped us right next to the subway. Here we had a bit of a problem as we didn't know the subway station we needed to get off but we looked at some maps in the station and took the advice of staff at the subway before alighting at Hanlen Road. Scott led the way with his compass and after walking for about a kilometre we still couldn't get our bearings so we asked a concierge of a hotel and he told us (in sign language) that it was far away. It was as, we'd got out at the wrong metro but the taxi was cheap!
The rooms looked nothing like the brochure we'd been given at the airport, but it was spacious, well lit and warm with great views.
After consuming the bottle of red wine that we'd carried with us the three of us headed to a nearby restaurant for
a dim sum meal. By this time it was after 9pm so we were happy to hit the sack after a long day!
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