Milly told us that the boat they used to use for this trip was a refugee boat so we were all a little apprehensive about what our accommodation would be like for the next few days
. Fortunately for us when GAP upgraded to a new boat they choose one that was a smaller version of a cruise liner. There were 5 decks, a shopping mall, ball room, sun deck, bar, restaurant and very nice bed rooms. Mazza and I were put in the last room at the end of the second floor which was just above the very noisy steering mechanism and just next to the anchor. It was very comfortable though and thank god for MP4 players ;-]. In the evening of the first day we were introduced to our "river guides" Colour and Chris, they gave us a brief outline of what happened on the boat and what our excursions would be for the next few days. (We have found that the Chinese try to make life easier for us westerners by taking on western names but I am not sure what name book they use, Colour, Tiger etc but then I suppose some random actresses call their children weird things like Apple)
Each day either Chris or Colour had the job of being in charge of our early morning wakeup call over the intercom. The wakeup call started with some really bad music and then one of the guides proceeded to tell us what the date was and what the weather would be like (Although I'm not sure what I am supposed to do when she tells us the temperature will be between 23degrees and 33degrees, a lot of difference there).
Our first excursion was to what seemed like a purpose built tourist attraction called “Ghost city” not as cheesy as it sounds but not far off
. All but one of the buildings has been built since the 1980’s. The story told to us was that the local Chinese believe that when they die their spirits come to this place. Then they have to go through three tests to see if they will go to their equivalent of heaven or hell. There were gates in place for these tests and large statues of their gods. For the tourists there were also little tasks. Some tasks to see if we were good or bad and some for good luck or wealth etc. The first task for the tourists was to cross 3 bridges, the first one in the middle in exactly 7 steps (This apparently was to wish you luck in love), the second one to the left in as many steps as possible (For long life) and the third bridge to the right in as many steps as possible (For wealth). It was funny so we all went along with it and hay if there is any chance of it working I’m willing to give it a go. The next task for the tourists was to climb a section of 50 steps in one breath if you could manage it you are supposed to have good luck. (Again when in Rome) The next amusing ritual for the tourists was one that Iris seemed to go for but Stephan seemed a little worried about lol. This ritual was for the girls, there were three large statues in a temple that girls had to kneel in front of and pray to if they wanted children. (Didn’t take part in this one, as a single women didn’t think it appropriate lol) After our amusing excursion we went back to the boat and decided to go to the top deck get some sun and watch the amazing scenery as we went buy. Our day of amusement carried on into the evening and the captains welcome event in the ball room. We watched some of the staff do some traditional dancing and comedy acts and then it was our turn. Stephan and Kit were our representatives in musical chairs. It was extremely funny watching them dance around the chairs. Stephan came joint first with a Japanese guy that REALLY didn’t want to lose.
After breakfast the next day most of the guys went back to bed but I didn’t want to waste my cruise so I went to watch the Chinese painting, calligraphy and seal carving demonstration
. As one of my best buds Laura will tell you I am not much for the art thing and Chinese art is definitely not for me but I appreciated the work that went into it (They don’t try and stay in the lines or anything it’s all flowing, I could feel the OCD setting in) In China for hundreds of years instead of signing their name they use a personalised seal. (I suppose like the lords and ladies of GB had when they used to use wax and a ring in the old days)
From the balcony of the Sunday club (bar) the groupies watched as we went through two of the three gorges. I know what a gorge is and had seen pictures but it was still different to how I imagined. The first of the gorges was “Qutang gorge” which is the shortest gorge at 8km. They are basically just long u shaped valleys, a little underwhelming if I’m honest but still pretty. After the second gorge the boat docked and it was time for the second excursion. This excursion was along a stream called “Shennong stream”. When the excursion was being explained to us we were told that it was a shallow stream that in order for boats to go along men had to get out and pull and that these men were naked. However in reality now that the dam has been built the stream is deep and the men fully dressed only pull you along a 30 meter stretch and form the bank just for tourist purposes. (It is kind of like how you see the horses pulling canal boats)(I was promised naked men, not impressed lol)
. While we were floating along the stream there was some nice scenery and some great stalactites.
It was night time when we got to the dam its self so you couldn’t really see much. In order for a boat to go down river of the dam it has to pass through 5 locks (Again like canals but on a huge scale and multiplied). At this time of year the water level is such that we didn’t have to use all 5 locks we went straight through 5 to 4. We were in a large ship approximately 4000tonnes but in each lock you can fit approximately 6 ships of a size equal to ours. At present although the dam project cost approximately 130 million to build (so far) it is free for the boats to travel through up or down stream but they still have to book in advance. The whole process of traveling through the locks takes about 3 to 4 hours. In 2003 the ship lift will be finished and then boats up to 3000tonnes will be able to travel up or down stream quickly but they will have to pay for that privilege.
This section of the trip brought back memories of an essay I wrote in my first year at university about the Yangtze river and the Three Gorges Dam. Although I knew specific facts on this topic and had used diagrams and pictures, it is amazing seeing it for real and hearing some of the pros and cons behind the building of the dam from a locals perspective was very thought provoking. From what I have gained from the local people the older generation resent the building of the dam because they were moved out of their homes and away from their land. Away from their land also means some had no jobs and no income. The younger generation love the fact that the dam was built because they now have modern towns to live in with modern conveniences.