Yangtze River: The Three Gorges & the Boatmen
Today we really got the feel of the Yangtze River area. On the top deck at 7 AM, we were outside for the entry into the Qutang Xia (Gorge). The weather has returned to being quite chilly, and we have a brisk wind blowing today. This is the shortest of the gorges, but maybe the most famous, since an image of its Kui Gate appears on the Chinese ¥10 RMB note; it took us just ½ hour to pass through.
About an hour later (well timed after having some breakfast), we entered the longer Wu Xia gorge for a beautiful 2-hour journey. It may have been windy and overcast, but we did not have the fog that so often obstructs much of the view. This gorge features the Goddess Peak among its 13, with what appears to be a solitary figure standing high above the river – worshiping at two facing peaks. I was running in and out from the enclosed lounge/observation area to the deck and back and forth from the port to starboard sides to try get some good shots while trying to stay warm.
In the late morning we took a smaller ferry down the Shennong Stream, a much smaller, more shallow tributary. The scenery here was really spectacular, you are away from the commercial and transit barges, and have a much more intimate experience. It was also a bit warmer, since we were protected a little from the wind. High up in a dramatic crevice we also saw one of the unbelievable hanging coffins placed by the Bai, ancestors of the Tu Jia, who are indigenous to the area. It’s right out of an Indiana Jones movie.
Eventually we reached the end and transferred to wooden sampan boats for a lively ride with modern-day “trackers”, boatmen who rowed, steered and pulled us for about an hour. These craggy boys and men range in age from 17-87, and actually pull the boats along the stream from the side with long ropes. The tributary is still shallow and narrow, but before the 1950s the rough conditions called for extreme measures and the system of rowing and pulling was the only way to move goods and people in the area. In the ‘50s the rapids that caused the difficulty in the area were cleared ending the need for the men to pull the boats. It’s amazing the strength these men have – and all packed into such wiry, compact frames. Of note, the original tribesmen used to work with no clothes when they were standing in the water – today they all wear clothes (thank goodness) and keep the tradition alive for tourists.
This afternoon, back on our mother ship the Yangtze Explorer, we traveled through what used to be the most dangerous of the gorges (pre-river enhancements), the western portion of Xiling Xia.
During the evening, we took about four hours to successfully traverse the five locks of the river and lower the ship 370’. Between all this activity, we grabbed snatches of television and internet updates to follow the news back home and the ultimate capture of the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing.
Tip of the day: God Bless America.