Tuesday 24 May Shennong Stream, Wu Gorge, Qutang Gorge

(After a glitch with the internet on the ship, we have now posted the rest of the photos into the Three Gorges gallery.)

We woke this morning to another misty morning, which developed into a beautiful sunny and very warm day. We went out on our balcony when we saw a beautiful ferry-boat passing close by that had a little Chinese pergola on the top deck. We are now in Badong, which is in the Hubei Provence with a population of 500,000 people – the Tu Jia and Miao minority nationalities live here. The Yangzi Valley was flooded early in the 21st century after the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, but, although some of Badong’s docks, roads and houses were flooded, Badong was mostly above the flood line and so more of the original town survived, and the economy of Badong recovered quickly.
After breakfast, we disembarked the ship and boarded a ferry exactly like the one we had seen earlier, for our 3-hour shore excursion. The ferry took us up the Shennong Stream, which is a tributary of the Yangzi River. The scenery was spectacular as we sailed up through Parrot Gorge, which is 75 kilometres long – the strata in the cliffs was beautiful, with the mountains above them and the beautiful colour of the Shennong Stream below.

We saw some more hanging coffins up a steep cliff; a section of the cliff that looked like an elephant; a fisherman in his sampan; a Buddhist temple where the Tu Jia people go to pray about having a baby (if they want a boy they take rice paper sandals with them and if they want a girl they take a wooden comb); golden swallows nesting in a cave in the towering limestone cliffs as well as some monkeys and goats. We also saw the Shennong Highway Bridge high above the Shennong Stream. We stopped at a floating dock in the Shennong Stream, where our ferry tied up and we disembarked in smaller groups and boarded some Sampans (longboats that the locals call Pea Pod boats). Each Sampan had about 12 people in it plus five boatmen, who rowed us along the stream – at one stage two of them jumped out of the sampan and pulled us along a mini gorge with rope made from bamboo, just like the trackers used to, in a section that used to be quite shallow and had lots of rapids. The trackers of old used to be naked while they did this (we couldn’t quite understand why this was so) but our trackers kept their clothes on. We continued along the stream with the boatmen pulling the oars from a standing position – they all worked up quite a sweat!

We saw a Suspension Bridge for the local people that our local guide, Lisa, told us was only 5 years old as we continued along the narrow Bamboo Gorge, and we saw a formation in the cliff that looked like a snake drinking from the stream and not long after that, we turned around and came back to the floating dock. It was a fun sampan ride not only for the beautiful scenery as we were gliding along the stream, but also because there was some friendly rivalry between the boatmen and at one stage our boat speeded up so that we could beat the boat in front of us, with lots of friendly shouting between the two teams.

Our local guide also told us that all the boatmen live with their families in houses high above the stream not far from the suspension bridge and that after getting back from taking us in the sampans, it will take them between 90 minutes to 2 hours to walk back up the steep mountains to their homes.

We re-boarded the ferry to take us back to our ship and thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed return journey along this beautiful stream. One of the local Tu Jia men did a demonstration on the ship of how they make sandals from rice straw or cotton & plastic. They take 5 hours to make using a special wooden bench with pegs in it. We arrived back at our ship at about 20 to 12 and had enough time to freshen up before heading down to the dining room for a delicious buffet lunch.

We entered the Wu Gorge, the second of the three Gorges system. The Gorge has sheer cliffs and towering peaks and is surrounded by the Wu Mountains. Wu Gorge is the longest continuous gorge and is 45 kilometres long. We stood up on the top deck for ages listening to the commentary of Willie, our Cruise Director. We saw coal bins and trucks carrying the coal out of the mountain as well as a towpath beside the gorge. Wu Gorge is known for its deep valley, its 12 limestone peaks and its beauty.

We passed underneath the Wushan Bridge and between the majestic Chijia Mountain and Baiyan Mountain to enter the Qutang Gorge, the shortest, narrowest and most dramatic of the Three Gorges. The highest peak of the Red Armour Mountains looks like a frog and the White Salt Mountains were amazing. The Qutang Gorge, which is considered to be the most beautiful, is bordered by a white cliff face, which is known as the chalk wall. As we cruised past the south bank, we saw ancient inscriptions engraved into the white chalk cliff faces. As we sailed to the end of the gorge we saw the Red Armoured Temple and White King temple on top of Small Hill and looking back up the gorge we could see spectacular scenery.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Explorer Bar Lounge, looking at the scenery and chatting to some of our group.

This evening as we were finishing our delicous dinner, we passed through Yun Yang a beautiful city with the most amazing bridge that lit up in sequences and coloured patterns, so a few of us went upstairs to the rear of the boat and watched the lights for some time. This evening we were entertained by the crew members’ variety show, which was a lot of fun. The show started with some very talented girls, dressed in beautiful gold outfits, performing a dance for us called 1,000 Arms. We were then entertained by 4 young male members of the crew who did a Trackers’ performance for us, and then a lovely young girl who did a modern dance. Vivian and some of our group did “Waltzing Matilda”, which was a bit of hoot and then we had a hilarious magician followed by a talented young man who did a Tai Chi performance, a comedy Wedding Ceremony, a modern Apple Dance and then all the performers did YMCA together. It was a fun night with lots of laughs.

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