If you can't beat 'em... join 'em

Trip Start Jul 21, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

.... it just tickled me, all our whinging about Chinese tour groups, then the following day we go and book ourselves on a Chinese tourist cruise down the Yangzi...HAHA!! anyway...

Some of the magic of the river cruise has been lost over the past couple of years (siigh)though I say this not as a disappointment (huurray), but to introduce what an exciting time this is to be visiting this part of China because of all the incredible things that are currently going on. Whereas the 3 Gorges that gave the tour its name used to be towering sheer cliffs, narrow gullies and raging torrents, the scenery is still pretty though now softer and more sedate, and the water has slowed - on account of the fact that the Chinese are flooding this area by building the 3 gorges dam.. The 400 mile river section that we cruised has been subject to steadily increasing water levels (though due for completion in 2009, the water level has already risen by more than 500ft). So far this has caused the necessary relocation of many thousands of people who have lost either their homes their livelihoods or both, the submersion and obliteration of many important cultural sites (and the relocation of others), and also the long term environmental damage. At one end of the river Chongqing (upstream.. been there!!!) the municipality of 33million Chinese has always pumped untreated waste and chemicals into the Yangzi. Unfortunately now that the river is no longer able to naturally flush this away, the fear is that it (along with all the other stuff collected from elsewhere) could all collect and stagnate within a 400mile cesspool. Other less headlinegrabbing impacts include the silting up of tributaries, and closing the migration routes of many fish and rare species such as the "fresh"water dolphins - all in all having rather a significant effect on the whole ecosystem of the area.
Enough of this woe anyway (which we found fascinating in a concerned but slightly ghooolish sort of way)- about the lovely river cruise....

After a day or so on the boat we took a tour off the main part of the Yangzi, up a series of rivers known as the "lesser Three Gorges"

- this was a lot of fun as it provided some diversion from life on board the big boat and we got to explore some narrower faster flowing sections of river. We left the relative comfort of our bigbig boat, and hopped on a smaller tourist barge (decorated in old traditional Chinese Style) with a large group of tourists, this took us through some more lovely scenery (high cliffs, green mountains, blue(er) waters) for a couple of hours. We've attached some photos so you can see what it was like. We left the barge when we arrived at a smaller section and exchanged them for some lovely wooden Chinese punts. We drifted upstream in these, accompanied by fantastic warbling from the local guide which seemed perfect for the mood of the trip, we passed through narrower sections and saw some of the steep cliffs that we missed on the Yangzi, every turn taking us past caves, more cliffs, random people singing on the banks, and local labourers clearing all of the foliage from the waters' edge (on account of the water rising and flooding trees and bushes). The whole trip took about 6hrs from start to finish, but the sights, the atmosphere, and the relative cleanliness of the the smaller river were a very welcome diversion from the main part of the cruise.

The following day we left the boat to take a bus to the dam. I have heard that the reason the locks were not functioning is because of routine repair, however we are fortunate that we don't only listen to Chinese people, and it transpires that whilst Chinese politicians and engineers say this is all normal, independent engineers say that the large cracks that have appeared in the dam (the cause of the locks being closed) is a result of cost cutting in the cement used, and that the structural integrity of the structure currently more closely resembles papier mache than the desired impenetrable surface. Ho-hum, I suppose time will tell, won't it. (I also heard tell of a smaller project that took place 20 years ago, broke, wiped out several communities and many thousands of people, the news of which was suppressed by The Party so never really got outside of China) - all very interesting!!!

In order to add to the industrial feel of the area and the construction around it, him upstairs was good enough to preserve the smog and mist on the day we visited the dam, so visibility wasn't that great but definitely added to the atmoshere. It's certainly a mighty impressive structure though, and the locks (the largest such system in the world) are over a mile long and consist of football pitch sized sections that lift a boat 370ft. Unfortunately we didn't get to experience it firsthand, but the process from top to bottom takes about 3hrs to complete. I'll let you all have a quick butchers at each of the photos rather than give you too many spurious statistics on the whole thing. I'm very glad that we went and got to (almost)see it (through the mist).. I hope that it is a success, as it is important that the benefits of the project such as providing a significant amount of power to China (in place of coal and such) are realised, as all of this faff and destruction would be a terrible waste if not.

After seeing the dam we made our way by bus to Yichang, and then after a pause, by bus again to Wuhan.

Wuhan is another enormous Chinese City (8million people), and was intended as an uneventful stop on the way to Yangshou. It was uneventful except unfortunately (following some rather choice street food) I finally succumbed to what is termed in our reference books as travellers' diarrhea. I was losing rather a lot of water over a short period of time, and sustained the behaviour (shouting at Mohammed on the big white telephone) for most of a night and haven't eaten more than a couple of meals since (today 4 days later) - I have been drinking a lot of water though, and despite for once doing the sensible thing and Tamsin kindly visiting the train station to delay our departure the next day we found ourselves with no choice but to start our 18hr hardsleepertrain trip later in the day. pheewwee don't want to do that again. Though I suppose that if you never try anything (like street food) then you miss out on far too much excitement and good stuff, so once the belly gets it's growl back we'll still always ALWAYS choose local over KentuckyFriedChinese, or a BigMacAndFlies.
Anyway - after the long train journey it was straight on a bus for our intended haven of Yangshuo.. we had planned to spend some time here in this gorgeous place to relax (hard work all this travelling) - but hadn't counted on the coinciding national Chinese holiday to throw a spanner in the works... But more about that later.
Take care of yourselves and we'll write more soon!!!
PS - Congratulations Mr and Mrs H (thinking of you both)
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