We had to be at breakfast at 6:30, so we got up at 6:00 – no time for showers this morning. Off the boat by 7:30 (once again the first ones off the boat and our own guide for just the six of us – gotta love it!) for our tour of the Dam Project. Very heavy smog today – worst we’ve had.
First we drove through the “resettlement village” of Sandouping that was fairly attractive. The public landscaping is very beautiful and no trash at all along the sides of the road. The architectural detail of the apartment buildings themselves was better than we’ve seen elsewhere – perhaps the government did this on purpose knowing that tourists would be coming through. But, when we stopped at a light or had to slow down, we noticed how squalid the people’s houses have become in just the 10 years they’ve been living there. Don’t know if this is because so many people live in one apartment, or they just don’t “see” it. The wash hanging out the windows and balconies everywhere doesn’t help, but junk is just sitting everywhere on their balconies and everything is dirty and grimy. We didn’t notice this when we were speeding along.
Once we got to the Dam Project area, we had to get out of our van to go through a brand new Security Building to be scanned and our fanny packs x-rayed, but we had gotten there so early we had to wait about 10 minutes for the place to open at 8:00. After clearing security, we went out the other side of the building and our van had driven around to pick us up again. Supposedly, it had been scanned and searched while we were being screened. Then we were driven to a new “scale model” building to see an overview of the whole Project. Outside a team of employees looked to be getting their daily pep-talk.
Then we took escalators up to a small tower overlook where you were supposed to be able to see the whole Dam Project. Of course, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see much of anything it was so smoggy. The tower area was nicely done though, with potted flowers making colorful sweeps, even in the smog. Notice the bottom lower left corner of the picture below. I noticed here and elsewhere in China that they keep the potted flowers in the containers and simply line up the containers to make a colorful statement. They don’t actually plant them in the beds. A lot less work. Something to keep in mind for home.
We dutifully climbed to the top of the Viewing Tower, but it was so foggy/smoggy we could not see the dam at all, and could only see the locks that we had gone through the night before.
We could see the ship elevator, which is under construction and won’t be finished until next year (right pic – large concrete building, upper right).
We went to several more viewing sites but never could see a lot of the Dam – could not see from one end to the other. At the final viewing site, we could see maybe half way across the Dam, and the faint outline of the hill on the far side, but that’s about it.
Unfortunately, they only show you the upstream side of the Dam where the reservoir is, which is not really all that impressive. We tried to get our guide to take us to the downstream side, where you’d see the more massive side of the Dam, but this is not allowed. All in all, none of us was totally awed by the Dam. DH and I have been through similar large locks in Russia – just not five in a row. Perhaps if the sky had been clearer and we could have really seen the thing, or we could have seen the backside, it would have made a difference. I would have rather had another foot massage, or slept in!
Back to the boat via the van and sailed through the Xiling Gorge. This is not nearly as impressive as the other two, but it is more settled. This part of the Yangtze is below the Dam and so was not flooded. Although the natural surroundings might not be as spectacular, we did see some interesting sights along shore. This village grew up around an old Buddhist monastery from the 12th century called the Qingtan (Blue Cliffs) Monastery.
After another rather mama-huhu (remember that means so-so) buffet lunch on board, it was time to leave. We said good-bye to our wonderful China Spree guide (Jo) who has looked out for us so well, and indeed made us feel “special”! “Bam-Bam” men (porters) came onboard to get the luggage and carry it to the buses. They picked up 4 suitcases at a time, dangling on ropes that were at the end of bamboo poles on their shoulders. Our suitcases were 2 of the 4 and we know ours weigh 40 pounds each. So they are lifting at least 160 pounds and going up and down one flight of stairs and the gangplank of the boat and then up the hill to the correct (hopefully) bus or van. Incredible!
The “Cruise Terminal” when we got to Yichang was a joke to say the least. A bunch of concrete stairs leading up to a single lane semi-paved up-hill road lined wall to wall with busses and vans, who had clearly backed down as there was nowhere to turn around. How are we ever going to find the right van?
Another van ride, this time an hour, to the Yichang airport. Almost had a crash as our van was driving along a 4-lane highway at about 50 mph when another car came out of a side street turning left, right in front of us. Our driver had to swerve into both oncoming lanes to avoid him. Thankfully, no one was coming towards us. I was in the front passengers seat. Heart pounding! Nearest miss we’ve had yet.
We flew out of the small Yichang airport. This was a huge benefit of our luxury status. We had found out that the regular China Spree travelers were going to have to take a 4 ½ hour bus ride to Wuhan airport, as there was not nearly enough room on the Yichang flight. Apparently, the airlines have cut back dramatically on the number of flights out of Yichang, so they’ve had to bus people to Wuhan. Because we were only 6, we could fly out locally and not be facing this long bus ride. Whew!
We took off only about 10 minutes late at 4:00 on Shanghai Airlines. We were met by our Shanghai guide, Rocky – young playboy type guy who’s still searching for what he wants to do when he grows up. He ran away at 15 to Beijing to become a rock star; but that didn’t work out too well. At the airport, our 4 travel mates discovered that he had been to Tibet and Nepal and off they went into a conversation about that – I hope we don’t spend the whole time in Shanghai discussing the Himalayan mountains.
After more hideous traffic, we got to the Portman Ritz-Carlton and had a late dinner buffet (once again great!) in the Tables restaurant in the hotel. Our room was fantastic. Only downside of this hotel is that it’s a ways west of the old part of town and most of the sights, but at least it’s on Nanjing Road, so there’s plenty of shops nearby – not that we’ll have any time to shop! And tomorrow we found out it was actually in a great location after all…