Sunday, December 9, 2007

Yangtze River Cruise!

We have just arrived in Shanghai after a nice 4-day cruise on the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world! The main attraction on the Yangtze is the Three Gorges area, which was quite beautiful. The cruise also acted as a nice segment of our journey from Chengdu to Shanghai.

From Chengdu, we took a 4-hour fast train to Chongqing where we were greeted by a China Highlights tour guide and driver. The guide gave us a nice explanation of the significance of Chongqing in today's China and they dropped us off at the bus station. Unfortunately, being December, the water was too low on the river at Chongqing Port, so a large bus drove us 2 hours to where the boat was docked in Fuling. We boarded at around 10pm and settled into our little cabin on the 4th deck for the night. It was a pretty nice boat, the staff were quite nice, and all of our meals were included.

The first day of the cruise included an excursion to the Abode of Ghosts, across the river from the town of Fengdu. It included numerous temples and statues dedicated to demons and devils, as well as many superstitious testing spots to prove if you were bound for paradise and to test if you were a good or bad person. It was quite amusing following our guide's instructions in passing each test. Passing over a bridge in 9 steps holding hands meant that our relationship would last, holding our breath up 30-odd steps meant we were bound for paradise, and being able to balance on a certain semi-spherical stone for 3 seconds while looking forward meant that we were good people. Men had to enter gateways with their left foot first, while women had to enter with their right foot first. There was one gateway where if we went straight through the middle of it, we would come back half human, half beast in the next life. A chairlift took us up the hill from the river. It was quite strange getting off a chairlift without a snowboard attached to our feet!

On each excursion, we were grouped with the 7 other individual English-speaking passengers on board. 2 were Australian girls, both named Katie. Tracy and Lisa were a couple from Portland. And the other 3 were Swiss, but they mostly kept to themselves. We were also grouped with the Katies and Tracy and Lisa for meals. The other English-speakers on board were in a large group who were all involved in coast guard in developing countries from around the world. There were representatives from many African, South American, and South-east Asian countries. We played crazy eights with the Australians and a few others from the coast guard group each night of the cruise while having a few drinks. We bought beers for cheap offshore in preparation. :)
Our second day is that which brought us past all three of the Three Gorges. The first one at 7:15am was likely the most impressive. Shier cliff faces on each side, rising to mountains barely visible in the clouds beyond. This section lasted for 20 minutes. The second gorge had large tree-covered hills rising out of the river on each side of us. The sun also made an attempt to break through the clouds, making it a little more beautiful. At the tail end of this gorge was the city of Badong where we began another excursion. We transfered to a ferry which took us up the Shennong Stream, a tributary to the Yangtze. This river was much narrower and included some hanging coffins lodged into cliffside crevices and a very large rectangular cave. It was a pretty impressive winding journey. After an hour or so, we disembarked the ferry and boarded little pea pod boats, which looked somewhat like a wide version of a dragonboat. Each boat held approximately 20 people, 3 people per seat row. There were 3 people paddling at the front, with one paddler and one sternsman at the back. They took us 30 minutes upstream then dragged us up through a stone bed area before turning around and using the current to whisk us back down through the stone bed before padding back for another 30 minutes. Apparently, in the summer heat, the men get naked when they drag you up the through the stone bed. No such luck being in December. :)

The ferry returned us to the cruise boat and then we passed through the western half of the third gorge shortly after sunset. We passed through the 5-stage Three Gorges Dam lift lock between 10pm and 1:30am. We only watched as we went through the first lock before playing some more crazy eights.

We were up early on our third day for the Three Gorges Dam excursion. We were first bused to a viewing platform on the boring side of the dam. Since the dam is still under construction, this was the only way to view the dam at the same level as the top of the dam. Then they took us to a viewing platform at the top of the hill which gave us views of the cool side of the dam as well as the 5-stage lift locks. It's pretty DAM large! Not height, but it is 2km long! Once completed in about a year's time, it will be the largest dam in the world, the water level upstream will have gone up 175m in most places, and it will displace about 1.5 million people! The power of communism... It will produce the energy equivalent to about 18 nuclear power plants. The largest engineering project in China since the Great Wall. Impressive.
Back on the boat, we enjoyed massages and Nicole tried a foot reflexology session. We also learned how to play Mah Jong! Much like rummy, except you use domino-like blocks with Chinese characters on it. Pretty fun. We bought a travel set so that we don't forget how to play. We then enjoyed a complimentary glass of champagne with the crew before dinner and then they hosted a night of entertainment for us. The coast guard group sang We Are The World for us too. Quite fun and we got to know enough people that it was actually sad to say goodbye.
We were up early the next morning to take a 4-hour bus ride to Wuhan. Again, the boat was meant to take us all the way, but the water level was too low. Fog on the highway extended our trip an hour as well because they actually don't allow you past the toll gate when the fog is too bad! We had another China Highlights guide and driver in Wuhan who taught us all we needed to know about Wuhan before dropping us off at the train station. We had 7 hours to wait until our train, but the train station wasn't anywhere convenient and we didn't want to venture into the city with our packs, so we passed the time in the train station. We had a soft sleeper on a super fast train which was very nice. We even had our cabin to ourselves! We also talked with a nice man in the next cabin who knew English well. Jason even talked to his son on his cell phone! Quite fun.

We arrived in Shanghai at 7am this morning and found our hostel with no problems. Shanghai is very modern and actually fairly nice! We think this will be our most "normal" experience while in China. Our hostel seems quite nice too. Looking forward to a nice few days here.

Yangtze River Cruise Pics


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