Thursday, January 17, 2008

Trip Day 5 - On the Yangze and side river

Dec 30

Slept on and off. After the boat departed the temple, it cruised for a while then stopped. I woke when the boat started again about 6:30 am. Dozed until about 7:30 when all passengers were roused and told we were about to enter the first of the three gorges.

It was barely light and nearly freezing but the scenery as spectacular as promised. While the gorge itself was short and no better than some in Australia, ours don't have one of the longest and most powerful rivers flowing through at pace.

Breakfast had to be purchased. A helpful young woman with some English called Lucy explained what was on the menu and which items we could have more of. You could have as much watery unseasoned congee as you wanted, a boiled egg, two steamed buns (unfilled) and as much pickled veg and peanuts as you could eat. Jack took one look at the huge pile of peanuts and immediately returned to the cabin.

None of us could stand the congee, so Tom and I ate the steamed buns while John ate the eggs. We bought instant noodles for Jack and returned to the cabin to fill up on biscuits and jerky.

Around 9:30 the boat docked and we transferred to a smaller boat for a trip up a side river for what is known as the Lesser Three Gorges tour. Impressive scenery but the inside cabins were smoke filled and outside frigid. It appears there are about 150 passengers on our boat.

Two hous later we pass through the third of these gorges and are then transferred to even smaller boats (it took about 6 of these smaller boats to take all the passengers). As all announcements are in Chinese we don't know what is happening but we just follow the crowd.

We motor further up the ever narrowing gorge. We are treated to a horn played from a precariously perched hut on the hillside, singing girls on a barge and folk songs from our boatman with responses from the crowd. As this all takes place gliding along a blue-green river winding between vertical cliffs it is entertaining and relaxing. This side trip cost is a reasonable 8 Yuan - about 1.20.

We return to the mid-size boat. On the dock where we transfer there are a number of vendors but the only food is small BBQ birds on sticks. John buys half a dozen. Not as plump as quail and including heads and feet, I expect the kids to turn up their noses, but provided I tear the meat off the carcass, Tom tucks in. Eventually even Jack tries some and likes it.

Back in the boat we turn up a different river to the one we traveled up, and half an our later we pull into an obviously new town perched high above the eventual flood level. This means a climb of about 8 flights of stairs from our boat to the roadway.

We climb aboard large electric golf carts (seating about 20) and are raced through town to a replica ancient Chinese village / fort. The houses are mostly closed up, except for ones with food or souvenir vendors. The place has a feel of Sovereign Hill, but without the furniture and working exhibits. It also feels unfinished so maybe they will add more later.

Before returning to the carts we fill up on pancakes, fried eggs, BBQ buns and spiced roast potatoes from roadside vendors.

We return to the mid size boat to retrace our route back to the Yangtze. The kids are bored with looking at cliffs but amuse themselves playing chasey on the outside deck. Then Tom takes off his coat and runs around some more. All the grandmothers are terribly concerned and try to scold him but he just laughs and runs away, which they love. He has learned to say Ni Hao (hello) which wins him lots of friends. He keeps returning to me with nibbles and treats given to him by the passengers. He is a terrible flirt.

John had been up on the pilot's deck for most of the return trip. For some inexplicable reason the boat pilot showed John how to drive the boat and let him do so for about an hour. As the pilot did not speak English and John's Chinese is very minimal I'm not sure how this was accomplished.

Back to our original boat and I get mandarins and bananas from the dock. For the first time I suspect I am ripped off. I could not understand the price quoted, and only have a couple of yuan in change so give a 20, but get no change. Mostly the traders have been very fair.

Some hot food is again on sale in the small dining area although it is only 4:30 pm. John and I eat but the kids don't like the look of it. Jack again has packet noodles and Tom fills up on fruit.

We pass through the second gorge around sunset, and dark falls before we make it all the way through.

Around 8:30 a knock on the door informs us there is another temple tour at 9:30. As Tom is already asleep and John is not interested, jack and I are the only ones to go.

First we are treated to some locals putting on a musical telling something about the river history I think. The singing seems to be quite good although I know very little about traditional Chinese music, but unfortunately it is amplified to the point where the woman's high notes are actually painful. As we are in the back row we slip in ear plugs.

The temple is a working buddhist monastery. We follow the group but are not allowed through one of the rooms. Neither is another woman and her teenage son who turn out to be from Mongolia. We are allowed to wander through the garden and rear museum. It all looks to be post WW2 concrete inside although the outside looks as you might expect.

A couple of cheap souvenirs later and we are back on the boat and finishing up yet another long but fun day.

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