President No. 8 Riverboat

Our Beautiful Riverboat on the Yangtze

Shanghai    Suzhou    Guilin    Wuhan    Chongqing    Xian    Beijing


Cruising Down the Yangtze

As we boarded our ship, the President 8, two very young cabin attendants, one boy and one girl, greeted us. For the remainder of the evening, we explored our ship, which would be our home for the next three days.

Three Gorges

The Yangtze is far wider and more impressive than my uninformed previous impression. It’s hard to imagine anybody swimming across it, including the omnipotent Chairman Mao. I know I wouldn’t even give it a try.

Xiling Gorge

After an extensive breakfast buffet, we settled down for the cruise, with mouths agape at the gorgeous scenery. Soon, we came upon our first gorge, Xiling Gorge. The gorge passage zigzags for 47 miles down to Yichang. The longest and most dangerous of the Yangtze gorges, it was first tamed and made safe in the 1950s. Before then, the river consisted of a mass of swirling whirlpools.

The gorge comprises seven small gorges and two of the fiercest rapids between Yichang and Chongqing. As we sailed along in ignorance, we felt nothing of the power of these rapids, a testimony to advance nautical technology and to the skill of our captain and crew. As we navigated through the gorge and smaller gorges, the scenery took our breath away. We passed small villages along the way, allowing us to get a glimpse of the life the inhabitants lead in this unbelievably beautiful environment.

Wu Gorge

Next we came upon the mysterious Wu Gorge. Known for its deep valley and elegant beauty, the gorge is flanked by twelve peaks of the Wu Mountain, the most famous of which is Goddess Peak. The environment of the Wu Gorge seems mysterious because of its strange peaks, grotesque rocks, and the fog and clouds in amazing shapes, lending a spookiness to the gorge.

Qutang Gorge

We then entered the third and final large gorge, the Qutang. Again, the scenery was spectacular. The jagged mountains surging straight up, just like we’ve all seen in Chinese paintings, took our breath away. Later on, we spotted a shrine complex along the bank. The main buildings lay close to the river, and a trail led up the spine of a rock wall to a smaller pagoda about halfway up the picture.

Before dinner, the crew treated us to the Captain’s Welcome cocktail hour, followed by a fashion show.

Dinner proved to be an elegant affair, served Chinese style on round tables with a turn-table in the middle. The food tasted good and exotic, a great way to end the evening of our first day on the Yangtze. Part of our group posed with our assigned waitress, Agnes. After dinner, we filed into the large barroom to watch a talent show put on by the crew and some of the guests, including one of our group who sang brilliantly.

Lesser Gorges and Sampan Side Trip

Beyond the Wu and Qutang gorges, we passed through what the Chinese call the Lesser Gorges. Not as spectacular as the three main gorges, these smaller ones, never-the-less, possess a beauty of their own.

Next, the ship docked and we disembarked for a ride on sampans, which paddled up a tributary stream. A little concerned at for our safety at first, because of the narrowness of the boat, we soon became accustomed to the rhythmic whoosh of the paddles in the water. We sailed up the Shennong Stream to the land of the ancient BA people. At one point, a couple boatmen disembarked and towed us from paths on the side of the tributary, as they did in former times. This small passage afforded the only convenient landing for the rest of the trip because the cliffs dove steeply straight down into the water, with no footing or mooring possible.

Formerly, the oarsmen paddled naked to attrack females in their village, but now in a nod to modern modesty, they didn’t even strip off their shirts. We saw more incredible scenery as we paddled upstream, including a bridge suspended over the gorge making it easier for villagers to cross rather than paddling across especially since the banks are steep. Later, we saw one of the hanging coffins, wedged into a vertical crevice in the rock many years ago. Speculation is that the coffin is now empty, the body having disintegrated over the many years.

Farther along, the guide pointed out images in the rocks, such as this ... er ... snake hanging down the side of the cliff. Still farther, we spotted a waterfall spilling its contents into the tributary.

That evening, we enjoyed a special treat: The Captain’s Dinner. This occasion gave us an excuse to put on our finery and savor a special dinner. Once we took our seats, the captain entered, dressed in his best white uniform, and to a round of applause, marched up to the head table. Of course, we took some pictures of this occasion — one picture of some of us with our cute waitress Agnes and another with our outstanding national guide Sheila.

After dinner, we headed into the bar for a talent show. For a warm-up act, some Chinese dancers entertained us with their fancy red costumes. Then Robby, one of our own, stood up and sang a superb solo.

Visit to Ancient Pagoda

The next morning, we passed by some river towns, some with old walled fortifications. After breakfast, we stopped at one village and wandered in to town toward a suspension bridge that led across to an island with an old wooden pagoda. The suspension bridge was tricky because we had to share it with a herd of Chinese tourists who kept wiggling the bridge from side to side. With the length of the bridge and the frail-looking wooden planks we were walking on, I feared we’d go down to the rocks below at any minute. However, we all made it across safely.

The Dam and Locks

The next morning, we reached our goal, what we’ve all been waiting for — the Three Gorges Dam and locks. First, we passed through a series of three locks. The technology and use of gravity that goes into the engineering of locks fascinated us all. The ships ahead of us added to the thrill of our passage.

There we bid farewell to our ship and crew. As we filed out of the ship, dragging our suitcases behind us, we realized we had some steep stair climbing to get up to the buses. After our hearty buffet breakfast aboard ship, the stair climb gave us a chance to work some of it off and also get some aerobic activity going, which we all profited from.

After loading our luggage on our bus, we drove to the Three Gorges Dam museum and lookout points. Inside the museum, we saw a mock-up of the whole dam site — locks, dam, and the flood created by it.

Three Gorges Dam Mock-up

Three Gorges Dam — Site Mock-up

Outside the museum, we walked over to a grand viewing platform so we could see parts of the site for ourselves. Unfortunately, we could not walk on the dam. For example, we saw the view from the opposite side of the mock-up. You can see the bridge, which is in the foreground of the mock-up, is in the background. Looking down from the observation platform toward the vendors and to the left of the dam, you can see the other side of the Yangtze flowing downstream.

Finally, it was time to bus into Chongqing to see the pandas.