Terra Firma

By Jane Mountain | November 13, 2013

7,603 km so far.

Last night, just after remarking to Stephen how glad I was that we had nothing special to get up for the next morning, we got today’s schedule. Breakfast at 6:45am, leave for a tour of the Three Gorges Dam at 7:45am.

Damn dam.


Feeling not-so-well rested, we boarded a tour bus with the few other English-speakers on the cruise.

For an independent traveller, being part of a bus brigade is kind of odd, but it was also comforting. Everything was taken care of for us, we didn’t have to find the ticket booth, or decode the information signs. Our guide told us what we should see, where we should look, and when to be careful – which included but was not limited to: getting on the bus; going up an escalator; crossing a small road; and walking down some stairs.

A pretty cool scale model of the Three Gorges Dam. It had running water and everything.

A pretty cool scale model of the Three Gorges Dam. It had running water and everything.

We didn’t have to think at all. It was kinda nice.

I expected to be more impressed with the engineering marvel that is the Three Gorges Dam. It took years to build, contains 27.2 million cubic metres of concrete, and has impacted the lives of millions of people.

Power to the people, via the Three Gorges Dam, which supplies 3% of China's power.

Power to the people, via the Three Gorges Dam, which supplies 3% of China’s power.

As it turns out, it’s just a very large concrete structure stretching across the river. There’s not even any rushing water, since all the hydroelectric turbines are below surface level.

three gorges dam

The Three Gorges Dam from the viewing tower, high above the structure.

You don’t even get to walk on the dam, and from the viewing platforms, most of it is lost in fog.

By far the coolest part of the dam was passing through the locks last night.

The Three Gorges Dam locks by day.

The Three Gorges Dam locks by day.

On Our Own Again

Back on the ship, today’s lunch was burgers and fries. We had to make do with all the burger trimmings and some spicy tofu in place of the patties, but it was fun to eat some all-American(ish) food for a change.

At lunch, Luther, one of our “river guides” presented us with a piece of paper he had prepared for us that had the directions to Chibi, our next destination four days ride away, in English and in Chinese. It also had several sentences translated such as, “Could you tell me where road S138 is?” and “Could you show me the way to Xiantao?” We hadn’t asked him to do this, he just knew it would be useful and wanted to help.

And then we loaded up our bikes, our friendly crew members said goodbye to us, and we wheeled ourselves off the boat.

Thanks Dick, Luther, Jack, and the rest of the crew of the Victoria Jenna for taking such good care of us for a few days!

Now I finally understand what my mom means when she says it’s sad the day you leave a cruise. It’s kind of like leaving home for the first time. You get used to having someone look after your every need, with multiple people worried about your well-being and prepared to fix whatever petty problems you might have, and then suddenly, you’re on your own again, wrestling with traffic, maps, and language barriers.

Talk about culture shock.

Fortunately, we only had to ride a few kilometres before we found one of the chain hotels we’d been looking for. If you’re travelling around China on a budget, keep your eyes open for Home Inn and Hotel 168. They are simple but clean, with WiFi, enclosed showers, real toilets, and all the things a budget traveller needs for a good night’s rest.

After checking in, we blasted through a few blog posts (you’re welcome!) and went for a wander in the local market, ending our evening in the busiest noodle stall we could find.

Tomorrow we’re back on the road, and I for one feel (almost) rested, reset, and ready for whatever is next.  

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