As there was a long weekend at the beginning of May for Labor Day in China, so we decided to go on another China vacation to go the Three Gorges Dam. The dam itself is one of Chinas most expansive undertakings, which is located in Yichang set to become the worlds largest hydro-electric power station, along the Yangtze River. Construction began in December of 1994 and it is not expected to be fully operational until 2011. While there are many benefits to the dam, such as flood control and clean power, it has also been a controversial project because the flooding of the reservoir has already displaced approximately 1.4 million people and submerged many cultural relics. The water wont reach its maximum level of 175m until the end of 2008.
We booked a Yangtze Cruise tour. For any kind of trip to a scenic spot or tourist attraction, you really need to go through an China Tour agent. We settled on a 3 day/2 night trip through the China Travel Depot. We would take a bus due east to YiChang where we would board a boat. The boat would take us through the locks of the dam and into the gorges. We had an incredibly vague itinerary, but for the most part we had no idea what was going to happen over the next few days. We were lucky enough to get a private mini-bus to take us all the way to YiChang. The short 4 hour bus ride ended up being closer to 6 hours, so I spent most of May Day sitting/sleeping en route to the boat. We boarded the ship of dreams around 7pm and we took off immediately. We didnt really know what to expect, so I was pleasantly surprised when we had nice, 4 person rooms on the third floor complete with their own bathroom/shower.
The evening was quite warm and the air was hot and still as we worked our way through the series of locks. In addition to the air being stagnant, it was also noxious from fleet of boats all packed together in the lock spewing black smoke out of their smoke stacks. After dinner, we went back up to the third floor and sat in the lounge area at the back of the boat. There were tables and chairs so we could talk and just hang out as we worked our way to the reservoir. Shortly after 9am, we headed off of our boat toward shore. We were docked up against another boat, so we had to walk through 3 other boats until we actually got to land. We were walking through the crews quarters and they had their laundry hanging out to dry. It was a cloudy and smoggy day, but it was pleasantly cool. I was so glad that it wasnt hot and humid like it had been for the previous few days. The trip through the gorges was really amazing. The natural beauty of the rocky cliff faces was stunning. As we cruised along, I couldnt help thinking of all of the people who had lived here for generations that were suddenly told that they had to leave. Or, I wondered what treasures were now submerged deep in the water that took us between the cliffs.
After cruising through the Lesser Three Gorges, we got onto even smaller boats. We had a very energetic and enthusiastic guide who was emphatically describingsomething. I wish I had been able to understand him. It was a nice change to be so close to the water, rather than being up a few levels on the bigger boats. We returned to Boat-The Second, and we were all pretty hungry. It didnt look like we were going to be stopping any time soon, so most of us caved in and got a cup of ramen noodles. We made it back to our original Ship of Dreams in the early afternoon. We lazed around reading, playing mahjong and napping until we got off again in the early evening. This time, we were headed to a temple. The temple itself was kind of underwhelming. We have seen so many beautiful temples that this one was not that impressive. There were some beautiful tablets with Chinese script carved into them. Ever since I took the Chinese Literati class, I have a great appreciation for calligraphy and beautiful characters. It is hard enough to capture the elegance and energy of each stroke when you are using a brush, so I cant imagine how hard it is to achieve that same effect while chiseling out of stone.
Friday morning began with the same shouting speaker waking us up at 5:30am. We got a knock on the door and it was our guide. Laura asked her what the plan was for the day and she said, Sleep and then get on the bus. We were going to be on the boat until 6pm when we transferred to the bus. I was in no hurry to sit around and wait. When I finally got up, we went to the lounge and played mahjong and cards for a few hours. We ate some more ramen. In the early afternoon, it started raining. Then, it started to HAIL! I couldnt believe it. The hail was big, too. I would say it ranged from peanut sized to grape sized. We were all starting to get a bit stir crazy by the time we started to head back through the locks. It was much better going through them in the daylight. We could actually see the gates opening and closing around us. The fumes were just as bad, but it wasnt as hot. Finally, around 6pm, we left the boat and headed for the bus. It was good to be on the water and see the gorges. There had clearly been some intense storms here, as well, because streets were flooded and there were trees down everywhere. Out poor taxi driver had to drive far out of his way to find a path that would get us home. We were all hungry, so even though it was about midnight, we went straight to our favorite place for noodles and had a late dinner. When we finally got home, I took one of the most refreshing showers of my life. It felt so good to wash away all of the boat grunge and smog film.