Sunday 13 August 2006

Shanghai to Chongqing and a trip down the Yangtze.

I'm penning this from my girlfriend's brother's apartment in the huge city of Wuhan in central China. Wuhan is massive (Population: London 8.1m, Wuhan 8.3m) yet not many people outside China are even aware it exists! After Suzhou we went back to Shanghai where I bought a Shanghai-Osaka ferry ticket for next month. We had a painful foot massage, got abused by street vendors and had a meal with one of Fen's friends. We went to the futuristic Shanghai Nan Station (Nan = South) to buy tickets for the 42hr train to Chongqing.

We boarded the train after the we-must-be-on-first locals and found our sleeper beds. The bunks were three high and we had the top two. On the four beds beneath were three families consisting of seven people. We befriended a couple of kids known as Jame and Ann. They both learn English at school and could speak a little. I tried to tell Jame that there's no such name as Jame and that the correct name would be James, but he was having none of it - hehe. His English teacher (a Chinese bloke called George) holds more sway than a bonafide Englishman!!

On arrival at Chongqing we immediately booked tickets for a four-night Yangtze cruise back east to Yichang in Hubei Province. We opted for first class so we could have our own cabin - the first time I've ever gone first class on anything! We were very excited at the prospect of being VIP passengers, however, this excitement was slightly misplaced. To call our cabin first class is like calling Easterhouse in Glasgow a leafy suburb.

Never mind though, we were determined to enjoy our river trip and enjoy it we did until El Capitano started blowing the loudest fog horn in the world every five minutes. Aaarrgghh man! Any time of day or night - he didn't give a shit. I laugh now but it nearly drove us crazy at the time.

We passed through some stunning scenery. The famous Three Gorges consists first of Qutang Gorge, followed by Wu Gorge with Goddess Peak and finally Xiling Gorge where the Three Gorges Dam sits. Really worth the effort to visit. We stopped at night markets, temples and all manner of towns and cities. We had the scariest taxi ride of our lives in the mountainside town of Wushan. I really though the driver was going to kill us!

The most fascinating part for me was the Three Gorges Dam. I'd given a one hour presentation on it at Newcastle University as part of my MSc in Renewable Energy Engineering in 2005. I'd covered technicalities such as electrical generation and distribution as well as economic, environmental and political concerns. It was a real treat to scrutinise this amazing feat of human ingenuity up close. Even more impressive than seeing a colossal Trident submarine being built at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

We passed through four massive locks to descend 70m downstream of the world's largest dam. There are five locks in all but the first one won't be used until the flooding of the Gorges is complete. The upstream water level still has another 40m to rise!

We were unceremoniously kicked off the boat at Yichang at 0500 on the final day (0500? and us being first class too? Eh?). A bus left for Wuhan at 0600. This 5hr bus journey was awful. We were squeezed on a hard bench at the back while being bi-laterally blasted by freezing AC. We alighted and instantly thawed out in Wuhan's 40C heat where we headed to meet Fen's family.

A canny hike from Shanghai to Chongqing. Two nights sleeping on here.

Jame and Ann my travel companions.

Wu Gorge on the Yangtze.

A 2006 Oriental tour. The first flight since leaving Newcastle was from Seoul, Korea to Kunming, China.

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