Chongqing (Three Gorges Cruise)
6 Aug 2006
|Started the tour to Chongqing watching Arnie movies on bus in chinese! Hilarious and as you would expect pretty easy to follow! Chongqing is our starting point for visiting the famous Three Gorges on the Yangzi River. For us, we see it as an easy way to get away from the hustle and bustle of overland travel! Booked first class tickets, but not sure what that really means in China, as we know we are not on a luxury liner!!
Chongqing is exceptionally hot. Known as one of the three furnaces of China. ie. One of the three hottest cities, and it was. It is built up on a hillside and very very big - like everywhere else in China. We did a short political tour of the city, as this is the place that the KMT (the Chinese nationalists - now living in Taiwan) made their last stands when the Japanese invaded China and when the civil war took over soon after. We went to memorial SACO prisons that the KMT had established (with the help of - you guessed it - USA) in the 1940s, and held some of the top elite of communist prisoners. Most of them were excecuted as the KMT realised the game was up, and then they themselves fled to Taiwan. Amazing how they got there from the middle of China. Guess they had some help.
We also visited the People's Hall and the ex-premier Zhou Enlai's House - he was one of Mao's mates during the revolution. The tour was all in chinese, and we had a whole chinese family along with us. But grandad spoke a little english and proceeded to introduce his whole family which was really sweet. And explained a small amount to us.
The boat trip started with us having a massive and frustrating argument with the tour organisers. There was about 40 of us booked at the same hostel and they sent all but 5 of us off. After everyone had left they told us they had put us on another boat, because the other first class section was full. We were exceptionally peeved as we had met a nice couple from Italy who we had met the day before and we were keen to spend some time with. We had even organised to meet them for a few beers that night on the boat! Our main reason for frustration was that the tour organisers would firstly apologise to us, and then turn it around to blame us by saying we should have let them know we wanted to be together. Our argument was they should have informed us of the possibility that we could be on different boats, given that we had all booked at the same hostel and were standing in front of her (the four of us) so she could see we were together. It ended in swearing, cursing and tears (6 months of built up frustration vented in one go), but eventually we left for our 'other' boat. As fate would have it, we caught up with the others a couple of times on the river, and we were on a much better boat. They were not very happy about being split up either and apparently said something to their tour guide as well. So not a great start but things got better and better thankfully.
And yes we were impressed with our room. First class tickets, where we get a room to ourselves. This was our safe guard against the possibility of ending up in the same room with chain smoking chinese. And it worked. We had a pretty good room, nothing flash but at least it was on the top floor (4th), had some essential AC, our own bathroom, and even a TV (all chinese channels though!) There were awesome views as the boat pulled out of built up Chongqing late that night, it was a great place to be. It actually looked like a mini-Hong Kong. So we sat in our room, feeling a little bit embarrassed about both of our outbursts at the tour operators office, but at the same time, the principle was justified and I think they definitely realised we were not happy!!!
And so for the most part, we stayed in our room watching the world go by, enjoying not having to do too much. On the first day, it was pretty industrial and more big cities. The boat would stop to visit temples, of which I went to one. Nancy was not so well that morning (dodgy dumplings the day before..). She did not miss much - we are a fair bit templed out now after months of visiting them, and it had been an early start which I regretted (5.30am). All along the route we saw the markers of where the water level will end up once the Three Gorges Dam project finishes in 2009. Incredibly the water is already well over half way up the 175m extra height that it will end up having in many places. We were practically already sailing over old villages, that have been replaced with monstrous tower blocks much higher up the hills. Over 1.5 million people have been displaced by this gigantuan project which backs up 550kms of the Yangzi River, flooding an area the size of Singapore!
On day two, the awesome scenery of seeing these massive boats going through the first (Qutang) of the three main gorges is still incredible, despite the extra height of the water. One can only wonder at how it used to look. Amazing huge cliffs tower above you, and we were in a pretty big boat. We then went to what many people now see as the highlight of this whole trip. We went on to smaller boats and entered the three lesser gorges on the Daning tributary, and then an even smaller boat to go to a mini gorge. (the latter was impossible to enter before the dam project). The lesser three gorges was the overall highlight for us as well. Stunning scenery and mountains towering over our boat, and the misty clouds made it look just like those old chinese paintings on calendars that used to hang at my house as a child. Nostalgia! For the most part, we had really really hot days, but even the haze of the heat had a beautiful affect on the gorges - making them look even bigger. The mini gorge was really narrow and we sailed over trees that used to grow up to 45m over the valley floor. Amazing. We were also thankful during this time to some really lovely young guys from Hangzhou for explaining some of the many tour announcements - especially the part about when we had to be back on the boat!. They are still at high school, and on their first trips without the family, and were keen to practise their english. The main one we got to know was Frank (english name) and we may meet up with him in Hangzhou (East Coast) if we get there on our journey. They were also horrified, whenever we got off the boat, at how much each street vendor wanted to rip us off as foreigners!
On the third and final day, we sailed very early through the very beautiful Wu Gorge. This is over 40kms of jagged mountain tops looking down on us very eerily in the early morning mist. Again, pretty awesome. And then in the afternoon, the last of the gorges Xiling, where the great dam is being built. This took us nearly three hours to navigate the massive locks of which there were four. Each lock would shut enclosing five or six ships - yes ships! and we would go down about 25m each time. The Dam is absolutely massive. We spent our last evening on the back of the boat with a dutch couple who we had got plastered with two nights earlier - again on the back of the boat,(but this time we did not drink as much). The Chinese beer gave us nasty hangovers, or it could be because we are not used to drinking so much anymore...We have decided we do not miss hangovers at all!!!)
After going through another older Gezhou Dam, we tried to get a few hours sleep in port at Yichang before evacuating in the early hours to try to find a bus/train to Xi'an and see the terracotta warriors. We also desperately want to find some decent food. There was not much on the boat and three days of pot noodles is not the way to live!!
Hope everyone is well. We have perked up a bit after three days of relaxation, ready to face the masses of chinese tourists who are all on their holidays at the moment.