Cruise Control

By Stephen Ewashkiw | November 12, 2013

7,593 km so far.

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of water rushing past my head. In the fog of being half awake, half asleep, I was confused. And then I remembered. I’m on a boat. I never thought I’d be on a cruise ship.

My grandmother took many cruises, and I remember fondly her photos and the souvenirs she would bring back for me. Jane’s parents often talk of the excitement of seeing the world in this very civilised manner. However, I didn’t see myself ever being on a cruise, at least not yet, and especially not while we are supposed to be on a bike trip.

Life throws us many curve balls, and we can either jump out of the way, or stand our ground and take a swing.

So here we are, cruising down the Yangtze.

cliff over the green yangtze river

Small boat, big cliff, Yangtze River.

Because You’re Gorges

We woke up early today as we were due to enter the first of the three gorges, the Qutang Gorge, at 7:30am. This gorge is the smallest of the three but one of the most famous pieces of scenery in China – it even appears on the back of the ¥10 note. With mountain peaks rising more than a thousand metres on each side, and a maximum width of 150 m, it is quite spectacular.

The Qutang Gorge on the Yangtze River.

The Qutang Gorge on the Yangtze River.

It was also quite brisk this morning, with the wind whipping around outside, so I let Jane pop out for a few photos, while I mostly stayed inside with my coffee, enjoying the views through the huge windows at the front of the boat.

The Wu Gorge is the second of the three gorges as we head downstream. Its cliffs have jagged edges, rough razorback tops, and climbing plants draped along the hillsides.

Entering the Wu Gorge on the Yangtze River.

Entering the Wu Gorge on the Yangtze River.

We stopped at Badong where we headed up the Shennong River on a smaller boat. We passed one of the Hanging Coffins, a 2,000-year-old coffin that has been placed in a cave a few hundred metres up from the river. No one knows what prompted the Ba people to hang their coffins, and no one knows how they managed to get the heavy wooden coffins up the steep cliff sides.

A Ba hanging coffin on the Shennong River.

A Ba hanging coffin on the Shennong River.

We docked at a barge where we got on to small wooden sampan boats, manned by members of the Tujia ethnic group. Traditionally these people pulled boats up the river using bamboo rope, since the river was only one metre deep. With the building of the Three Gorges Dam, the depth increased to 50 metres, so their way of life had to change from aiding in navigation, to carting tourists like us up the river for an ‘authentic’ Yangtze experience.

stephen on a small boat in the yangtze

Stephen scanning the hillsides for monkeys, Shennong River.

Jane’s note: Our guide on the small boat told us that she had grown up on this river, and her family home was now under water. Her family were relocated 500 km away, but she was allowed to stay because of her job.

By evening we had entered the final gorge, the Xiling. This is the longest, and since we are not far upstream from the dam by the time we enter it, it is the least impressive. The river is essentially a reservoir at this point, and the water level has been raised 175 metres above its original height, obscuring the features that made the gorge dramatic viewing.

Dance Off

Dinner included birthday cakes for all the passengers who had birthdays during the voyage, so we got to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese, and Jane got a hand-painted scroll wishing her good fortune, which we hope means flat roads and clear skies.

Jane’s note: And cake! I got cake!

The crew performed a cabaret for the final night, which included our first sight of Chinese dragons like we are used to seeing in Canadian parades. There were many costume changes, and several traditional dances performed. They then ended with the less traditional Macarena, YMCA, and Gangnam Style, for which they pulled a bunch of us up on stage to join them.

By this point it was getting late, and we had entered the first stage of the Three Gorges Dam lock, so we all spilled out onto the front deck to watch the slow process of moving through a gigantic lock. Jane and I headed back to our room before long, and watched from our balcony as the water drained and the wall of the lock rose up past our window.

Entering the first stage of the locks at the Three Gorges Dam.

Entering the first stage of the locks at the Three Gorges Dam.

We crawled into bed to the sound of metal on metal, scraping, heaving, and grinding. Each of the five stages will take roughly 50 minutes to pass through, so it’s earplugs for bed tonight.  

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  1. Comment by Diane

    Diane November 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Thanks Stephen for a different perspective of the Yangste cruise. So glad that you had a nice

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 16, 2013 at 5:35 am

      It was a great experience, and the weather was so unpleasant I was happy to be off our bikes for a couple of days.

  2. Comment by Milena

    Milena November 14, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Gorgeous place!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 16, 2013 at 5:35 am

      Totally gorgeous. I wish I had seen monkeys though.

  3. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie November 14, 2013 at 7:42 am

    You DID get cake! YAY! This cruise experience sounds really cool, thanks for sharing this.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 16, 2013 at 5:34 am

      I am so happy they got cake for her, even if it wasn’t entirely vegan. Although the chef assured me there was very little in it to make it not vegan (he’s American).

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