Lost on Planet Earth – Yangtze River & 3 Gorge Dam Project

The Princess Elaine

Yangzi River, China ~ 7th – 10th September 2012

Friday, 7th September 2012 – After a very early 5am start we transfer by bus to Jishou and board a day train at 6.45am (the only one available) to the Yangzi River city of Yichang (approx 8.5 hrs).  Although we are travelling during the day, we travel in hard sleeper class.  It’s a long day journey, but a great chance to catch up on sleep. I spent the day watching the landscape change as we head to one of the most industrialised regions of China.
At 2.30pm we arrive in Yichang, a relatively small city by Chinese standards with a thick smog of pollution in the air.  Yichang is the site of the massive and controversial Three Gorges hydroelectric project, we will have the chance to visit this incredible feat of engineering tomorrow – by far the largest hydroelectric power station in the world.
Our tour plans to meet the boat at 4pm on the Yichang dock have change, and while our tour leader organises a new plan to meet the boat down river at another dock, our tour group are shown a decent sized mall to shop around until we meet back at 7pm to transfer to the boat.  We enjoyed a lunch together at Teddy’s Kitchen.  I felt like some solo time and ventured around the mall buying nail polish, eye-shadow, peach coloured heels, and a visit to Walmart (my first ever) to purchase bottles of water, 1ltr of cold milk tea (I became addicted to the flavour), dragon fruit, banana’s and croissants from a French Patisserie.  About 6pm the girls of the group enjoyed a “Boho Party” drinking beer outside the mall, we looked like crazy Westerners drinking on the side of the road.  At 7pm we meet Richard to board a bus to take us to the boats location, the bus (1.5 hrs) also has another China tour group Go Gecko travelling with us to the same boat, we begin introductions and sharing our recent experiences of China.
We will be spending four nights on board a the Princess Elaine a basic tourist class boat, cruising through the Three Gorges en route to Chongqing.  Our cabins are simple and clean, twin-share with private bathroom facilities.  Full board buffet style lunch and dinner, including local style breakfast is provided while on the boat with typical but often quite plain Chinese cuisine.  The gorges are spectacular and most travellers enjoy their time on the Yangzi boats but some words of warning are necessary about the Princess Elaine Cruise Boat.  We travelled on a Chinese tourist boats rather than a luxury western tourist vessels. I found that quality and stability of service isn’t high on the boat staff’s list of priorities.
The first night aboard my room buddy Laura came down ill, we requested the air condition be turned on and were given a fan instead to help cool the room.  I spent my first night on the boat watching a Chinese program about the Japanese as Richard interoperated what was being said on TV, later in the night I ran into Russell and got to know more about him up on the top deck. It was a big day of travelling, I went back to my rooms around 10pm to find Laura sound asleep.
Saturday, 8th September 2012 – Being woken up by the morning announcer who alerted passengers to the serving of meals and the days date and weather conditions to be expected (we later called Speaker Box Girl after Russell appeared to have a small crush on her voice), eating breakfast in bed with the food supplies I had purchased, Laura was sound asleep still, and wasn’t looking any better today.  I had a shower and washed my worn cloths in the sink.  I left the room and visited the Bar room to read a book, I was kicked out after 30 minutes.  I found Richard and gave him an update of Laura’s condition, and wondered the boat’s two levels.  We still had not left the dock, and I wanted off the vessel.
Lunch was at midday, after the unsatisfactory conditions of the boat, I expected lunch to be an awful experience.  The dinning room was huge, with working air conditioning, the tables sat 10 people and the amount and variety of food was perfect, I never missed attending a meal on the boat again.
The Three Gorges Dam Project
At 2.30pm we were taken by bus to visit the 3 Gorges Dam Project.  Except for a ship lift, the dam project was completed and been fully functional as of July 4, 2012.  As well as producing electricity, the dam is intended to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. The Chinese government regards the project as a historic engineering, social and economic success with the design of state-of-the-art large turbines,and a move toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced some 1.3 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes, including an increased risk of landslides. The dam has been a controversial topic both domestically and abroad.

The installation of ship locks is intended to increase river shipping from ten million to 100 million tonnes annually. Shipping will become safer, since the gorges are notoriously dangerous to navigate. Ships with much deeper draft will be able to navigate 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) upstream from Shanghai all the way to Chongqing.

There are two ship locks installed near the dam. Each of them is made up of five stages, with transit time at around four hours. Maximum vessel size is 10,000 tons. The locks are 280 m long, 35 m wide, and 5 m deep. The total capacity of the ship locks is expected to reach 100 million tonnes per year.  As there are separate sets of locks for upstream and downstream traffic, this system is more water efficient than bi-directional staircase locks.

Vessels being transported through the locks
Returning to the boat for dinner at 6.30pm, I stayed back afterwards and enjoyed a cup of coffee with some Go Gecko and my own travel companions before attending the Captains Welcome Party, were the Captain did not attend as he was preparing to set sail, finally the boat was moving, we are on our way to Chengdu!  A odd tasting toasting drink and nibbles were serviced, the Chinese passengers bolted to the table to eat as much free food as possible.  I thought a million dollars had been placed on the table the way the locals behaved.  I spent much of the evening on the top deck with with Bea, Russell and Richard discussing the service staff and conditions on the boat, we all decided everything will get better when we arrive in Chengdu.
Sunday, 10th September 2012 – As well as spending time in our non air-conditioned rooms and taking in the sights of the river, and assessing how much has changed since the implementation of the Three Gorges Dam, this morning we have the opportunities to visit some riverside attractions and towns on an optional group excursion.  After breakfast we leave the boat for a river boat to take a side trip down a tributary of the Yangzi River, Shennv Stream.
Boat cruising down Shennv Stream
We did not have an English speaking tour guide, instead I enjoyed the peacefulness of the mountains and beautiful scenery around out on the stream.
The mountains

Mars, Bea and Judy on the river boat

Stepping off the boat onto a half sunken platform to take photos, of the now underwater village, an effect of the dam’s implementation.

Underwater pathways

Back on the boat, I find Laura is still asleep, she’s looking much better today.  On the top deck with Bea, Judy, Russell I view the Wu Dam as the boat passes around midday.  I spent much of the day in our room (coming out for meals) due to the pollution fumes from our own and other boats travelling down the stream, the day was extremely hot, having the fan in our room was a blessing, I curled up in bed watching TV episodes on my laptop and reading a book.

At 8pm the Boat Crew Show (30Yeun to attend with 1 free 500ml beer), our whole tour group attended the event, it was great to have Laura with us again!  The performances were a Trible Dance performed by two girls, a song sung by a Bar girl, and the video guy sang a beautiful song.

The evening then turned into an audience participation, the first game was a Musical Chair Hunt, where you play musical chairs as per normal, but! instead of racing to a chair you must find a audience member with a named object, being – a mobile phone, a t-shirt, and a Bar Girl.  I raced around finding a mobile from a Chinese lady, I ripped Russell’s shirt off him (I’ve never taken a shirt off a guy so fast! lol) and nabbed the Bar Girl who had sang earlier in the evening to have beaten 3 boys and take home the winning prize of 1 free Beer!

The Mobile Phone! Round 1!

The Games continued with a Go Gecko girl playing a drinking game where you drink a glass of beer with two peanuts at the bottom, through a straw, then suck the peanuts out and place on the table to win.  She won!

After the games were over the  Intrepid and Go Gecko Groups took to the top deck to talk and view the amazing city of lights as our boat passed by.

Passing over the Bridge in under 9 Steps is a test to make it to heaven in this ghost town.

Monday, 11th September 2012 – Today I spend most of my time in the room again relaxing, watching TV and reading.  After lunch we are taken ashore to visit the Fengdu Ghost Town. The Fengdu Ghost Town is a legendary old town famed as immortals and ghosts. Located on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, Fengdu is a city made famous by the ancient legends of sinister spirits and terrible ghosts that are the essential ingredients in Chinese culture.

The Fengdu’s hills, The Palace of the Ghostly Nation and The Hellish Street in the downtown are all concerning the old stories of ghosts. Traditionally, it is said that Fengdu Ghost Town is the end result of human souls after they died in the earthly world. They are to be judged by the Hell Emperor whether they are good or evil, and he will decide where will be the proper place of transmigration for them. If people have done evil during their lifetime, after their death, they will be tortured in hell, and then their appearances will become so terrible. The sinister spirits will go out at night and the people who did wrong in the daytime will be scared by them. It is also said there are 18 layers in this afterworld. Each layer means the different sin. Generally, the deeper the ghost they are, the more sin they have.

Some of the Good Gods.
More good and evil Gods

After passing the tests to enter into heaven, we left the Ghost Town to return to the boat, having dinner and going back to my room to finish my packing to depart the boat for Chengdu early tomorrow morning.

More Pictures of the Yangtze River