Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Three Gorges

After a long convoluted booking process, us and the bikes managed to get onto a Chinese cruise ship up the Yangtze River. This was a 4 day exercise in not understanding what was going on. We started out with an extremely gray bus ride (our own private van so we could take the bikes) to an unknown destination to catch the boat. Turned out this destination was past the Three Gorges Dam, so we missed seeing that, which was one of the main points of the trip...

The next day we were herded onto a smaller boat, off to see something but we were of course unsure exactly what. It was a trip to experience the local "boat trackers" who used to pull ships up the river by hand against the current. This involved yet a smaller boat, and a lot of explaining of what was going on in Chinese. Mercifully our guide's megaphone ran out of batteries. At one point there was a group sing along.

After returning to the cruise ship we headed into the gorges proper. Massive cliffs towered over the river with rocks jutting about at odd angles, reaching up to 900m peaks above us. One rock was said to look like Chairman Mao. These gorges appear on the 10 Yuan note so there was much photo taking holding up a note. There was also a Chinese celeb of some sort on board (we named him "Square Jaw") so there was all sorts of swooning and grappling for group photos with him as well. We too were the subject of many photos - as soon as one of them plucks up the courage to ask, the dam bursts and we are mobbed.

There was a museum along the way, showcasing one of the towns that was covered by the rising waters behind the dam. We got a private tour from the curator, who quit his job three years beforehand to chronicle the event and save as many of the local artifacts as possible. It was obviously a pretty heart-wrenching experience for the townsfolk to be forcibly moved on and their town demolished before being innundated. Something like 1.5 million people have been forced out of their homes' to make way for the dam. No idea what help they got to find somewhere to go.

After this the trip was pretty boring, through gray concrete towns and factories, before an unceremonious wake-up knock at 6.30 am to evict us from the ship in Chongqing. This place has the worlds largest public toilet but in all the excitement (excrement?) we forgot and missed it. It was a massive town, something like 30 million in the area, with not much to attract us so we headed to the bus station to make our way to Chengdu. The ride between promised 4 days of pollution and muddy wet roads, and as my health was still far from 100% a bus was an attractive option. Despite the attraction there was much spitting on the floor, smoking, and someone stopping to take a dump on the side of the road in full view of the bus so we were very glad to disembark.

We're staying in a great guest house which fully caters to tourists - this means English speaking staff, a great restaurant, no smoking in the rooms, DVD's for hire, a book exchange, other travellers etc. It's very nice to be here and very relaxing. We spent a day wandering through town, stocked up on some English books, saw a large Chairman Mao statue, visited a park, and had some tea at a tea house.

Yesterday we spent half a day visiting the Panda Reserach Centre and ooohing and aaahing over the baby pandas. Really the best way to describe pandas is cute, incredibly cute. However evolution has it in for them in a big way and I'm not surprised they are so endangered. When they're born the first-time mother is usually pretty shocked with this ugly screeching underdeveloped thing that's shot out of her (literally shot, we saw a movie) and will often kill it. If she has twins, the chances of her looking after both are slim to none, so only one survives. This is if she gets pregnant at all - pandas are only receptive to sex 1-2days of the year and finding a mate is hard as they are fussy rooters and live far apart from each other so often can't even find each other. In addition the males penis is short and the females vagina long. Not to mention working up the energy to copulate. Pandas need to eat up to 16 hours of the day, because bamboo is the food of choice. Bamboo doesn't provide much energy and the panda can only extract 2% of the energy available. Bamboo has a nasty habit of flowering before completely dying out every 25 years or so, leaving the pandas no living habitat, so they starve to death. Luckily for them they are adorable and a valuable political commodity so a lot of effort is going into saving them from themselves.

It's hard to tear ourselves away from this guesthouse where we can speak in English and people understand us, but we're going to spend the next 5 days making our way to a town called Songpan up towards the Tibetian plateau to do some horse trekking. Then back on the bikes (after 3weeks off, eek!) and onward to Beijing!

We've got some more photos for you:
http://picasaweb.google.com/steelbaker/CentralChina

Until next time, C&D

2 comments:

Mirrol said...

Hi, Great post,have just spent an hour following your route on my new atlas and found nearly everywhere except the small places and the Tibetian Plateau, it must have a chinese name?Am now going to google your pics.Hope you are feeling better Ed,Love to both, Mirrol

Barbara said...

Yangtse gorges sound stunning! I've google earthed your path - but photos are pretty high level and not clear unfortunately. Your descriptions make up for that though - wonderful to hear that you're seeing such amazing places and even better to find an english speaking outpost. Are you picking up any language at all? Take good care of yourselves - we're thinking of you here! Lots of love - Mum / Barbara