Time has flown by in a blink of an eye. Traveling in a country as massive as China can often feel like a whirlwind, particularly when you’re backpacking. Sprawling cities abruptly end and the colorful patchwork countryside of rice paddies and orchards begin without suburban transitions. From the window of trains, buses and ships, it all seems like a haphazard puzzle of modernization and agrarian culture.
Melissa and I have been on every form of transport imaginable at this point (except for a mule. But we’ve still got time, so I’m not ruling anything out.) Some days we move at mind-boggling speed, touching down in two or three cities in one day. Other times we hang around cafes and linger at a snail’s pace. However no chronicle of our travels would be complete without a faithful account of our trip to the Three Gorges.
The Three Gorges
The heart beat of China is the Yangtze river. It begins in the frigid Tibetan plateau and winds right through the Middle Kingdom and is the dividing line of northern and southern China. The Three Gorges Dam completed in 2007 and flooded a region the size of Singapore, and caused the relocation over 1.2 million. Roughly 90% of the historical sites on the famed cruise is now submerged, with relics dating back to the Tang dynasty (aprox 600 AD) and beyond.
The best way to experience the gorges is on a three day cruise from Chongqing, ending in Yichang, Hubei. From there, it’s a four hour bus to Wuhan, another mega-city in China.
The Roach Boat
Melissa and I decided to take the cruise, and whattheheck, fighting back the guilt of not sticking to our backpacking ways, we splurged and got a first class ticket. Thank God we did. At the docks, we fought off porters insisting on carrying our bags (“only 10 kuai! you foreigner! you girl! I carry!”) and stepped on board the boat.. to find ourselves in the dingiest, dreariest, barely sea-worthy ship. After aimlessly wandering around what I figured to be the engine room, we realized the docks were filled over capacity and they had lined up several ships. We eventually found ourselves in a slightly more stable looking ship. With air con, thank heavens. There’s a reason they call Chongqing and Wuhan the furnaces of China.
We settled into our bearths, and got ready for the journey. In China, “classes” are something of a misnomer. Almost every hotel you see will likely be labeled three or four starred. Usually that means unfinished lobbies, fixtures that don’t work and if you’re lucky – a working toilet. On this occasion, it meant mouldy ceilings and a shower over a squatty potty. (We were quite bewildered as to how we would be able to use it without flooding the bathroom.)
To be clear, I don’t particularly like entries like this. I’m not fond hearing stories from travelers who go to developing countries and only come back complaining of the bathrooms and local habits. Yes, there is much to adjust to, but if you can look past the bathrooms and “adventurous” foods, China is an ancient culture with so much to offer in culture and heritage.
That said… you still need to see the humor in situations ;)
So with that, we drifted into the sunset along the Yangtze, our first night as sea-faring backpackers. Sometime around 5AM or so, I heard a loud gasp and found Melissa sitting straight up in bed.
“what happened?” I mumbled
“something ran across my hand. omg. I’m afraid to look.”
In the semi-darkness, she lifts up her pillow and a tiny “eep!” escaped. We’re not sure what it was, but all bets are that it was a roach. You gotta hand it to the girl. I’d a) either have slept right through it and wound up with it in my hair or something or b) had a much more forceful reaction than just “eep!”
Suffice to say, there was a mild sense of paranoia for the next two days. I eventually managed to get the sucker with a well-timed whack with a sandal (ok, maybe several wild flails of the sandal) but we sleep with all the lights on and with one eye open.
I R Cattle.
I have a particular loathing for tours. Maybe it’s an authority issue, but I hate being hearded like cattle, following an obnoxious mega-phone and flag. Although I’m sure the sight of us in the tour must have been pretty funny. Melissa was the only caucasian on any of the cruises we saw, and with her, a rather surly-faced Chinese translator. Me. Everywhere we go, people seem to think that either I’m her translator or accompanying her as a foreign investor in China. We are quite a pair.
Now that majority of the sites along the gorges have been flooded, the government has come up with some interesting gimicks to keep the tourists happy. Our first stop, Ghost City. A temple dedicated to the Chinese god of the underworld and a depiction of the eighteen levels of hell dating back to the Tang dynasty. The site is rather small and located on a hill, and to accomodate the flood of tourists, the government built a second site on an adjoining hill. The lamest, cheeziest haunted house you can possibly imagine. What got me really puzzled however, were that tourists kept pausing in the middle of the haunted house to bow to the mechanized “ghosts”. That or the finer points of Chinese superstition is just lost on me.
The Little Three Gorges
If you can endure the Roach Boat, and the lameness of the first day of “cultural sites” on the Three Gorges tour, you will be richly rewarded once you hit the actual Gorges and the spectacular “Little Three Gorges” and “Little Little Three Gorges”. We disembarked onto a smaller ferry followed by a small bamboo boat, ferried by a singing local of the area.
The next day, we toured some of the most mind-boggling natural senery I have ever seen, walking on floating bridges of recycled plastic and climbing the narrowest gorges and the home of Qu Yuan, where the Dragon Boat Festival first originated.
In my mind, that more than made up for the half sleepless nights, the moldy walls, and heck, even the haunted house.
Oh, and in the end.. we did figure out how to work the shower without the toilet overflowing. But… I still flooded our floor. Oops :) Sorry Mel!