Yangtze Cruising--August 30, 2004--Three Gorges, Shennong Stream, Lesser Gorges
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Today, during our passage through the Three Gorges we left the ship for an excursion to Shennong Stream. We transferred from the Victoria Queen (77) to a smaller ferry, traveling a distance (78-96) to a dock (97) where we transferred again, this time into small boats called pea pods (99). Because of the water depth, it is necessary to use the smaller boats rather than either of the larger ships.
A crew of six took us on the pea pods into the Lesser Gorges (100-120). The captain (117) guided the boat and gave orders to the rest of the crew who, during the trip either paddled or, when the stream became too shallow, hopped out of the boat and pulled it over the rocks. In the photos, the men appear to be barefoot on the rocks but they actually are wearing straw sandals, which seem almost invisible. In years past, before the Yangtze was deepened and became less dangerous, huge numbers of men like this would pull large ships down the Yangtze through the dangerous, shallow, rocky areas. Even for the small pea pods, pulling these boats is very strenuous work and it is said that most men cannot do this past the age of 40, after which time some of them become captains. These men pitched in years before and bought this boat and run the operation like a small business, taking one group of tourists on this route per day in tourist season.
The Three Gorges are Xiling, Wu and Qutang and are beautiful for their dramatic cliffs punctuated by caves, a variety of wildlife and some historical relics. Some of the more regularly shaped caves contain coffins which are said to be 2,000 years old. All along the river, there are markers indicating the 175 meter level--when the Three Gorges Dam is completed in 2009, the water level will be raised to that level. As one floats down the river, sometimes one can see whole cities, now abandoned, because they are below the 175 meter level (148). The population from those areas has been relocated and, as far as we could tell, persons seem to be generally happy with their new, more modern accommodations.
Later in the day back on the Victoria Queen, we noticed the great variety of traffic and sights we passed on the Yangtze including barges carrying autos from Chongqing, speedboats, hydrofoils and coal barge loading areas (130, 133, 135, 144). After a time, we tried our hand at flying kites from the top deck--it's remarkably easy to start a kite from the top deck of a moving ship. The kites rose quickly but one had to be careful for the occasional power line strung across the Yangtze (134, 136, 137).
After dinner that evening, there was an elaborate dance show in the ship's lounge; two couples from our tour group participated like dance professionals in the entertainment (149-153)
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