Other than our overnight boat trip on Halong Bay in Vietnam on Christmas Day 2009, Richard and I had never been on a cruise until our recent voyage down the Yangtze River. On July 7, we flew from Xi’an to Chongqing where we were supposed to board the MV Jenna, the largest Victoria Cruises five star luxury ship to ply the waters of the mighty Yangtze. Unfortunately, the Jenna was unable to dock at Chongqing due to unusually high water levels so we were bussed an hour and a half downstream to Fuling where we boarded shortly before dusk. After settling into our cabin and exploring the ship, we sat on our little balcony enjoying the night air until everyone was on board and the ship set sail at 11:00 p.m.
There were 380 something passengers onboard. Most were Chinese but there was also a group of Taiwanese travelling together as well as a group from the University of Virginia that included retired American astronaut, Kathryn Thornton, veteran of four space flights and now a member of the UVA faculty. We were one of four couples referred to as the “independents” because we weren’t part of a larger group. The eight of us were table mates and were together on all three shore excursions because, though we represented Switzerland, France, Portugal and Canada, we shared the ability to communicate in English.
We struck up an instant friendship with Carla and Francisco, the Portuguese couple who actually reside in Macao. We shared so many values and interests in common that we could have happily spent the entire cruise sitting on one of our adjoining balconies talking! We didn’t do that though as the ship presented us with a busy schedule for each of our three days onboard.
Though I thought about it, I didn’t actually make it to any of the early morning tai chi sessions and we certainly didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to watch movies in our comfortable cabin. After all, we could do that at home! We did take in two very informative sessions with our river guide, Luther Zou, who shared not only an introduction to the Yangtze and the famed Three Gorges but also a fascinating glimpse into his life as a country boy growing up on a Chinese farm. We enjoyed sumptuous meals, took in two evening shows put on by the multi-talented ship’s staff and of course, spent lots of time on deck enjoying the magnificent scenery as we passed through the gorges. We can only imagine how much more spectacular they must have been before the Three Gorges Dam caused the upstream water level to rise more than 300 feet forming a 600 km long reservoir. Above the high water line along the river’s bank, we saw many of the relocation villages built to house many of the approximately 1.24 million people whose homes were submerged by the rising water. More than 1000 archeological sites were also flooded. Some cultural and historic relics were moved to higher ground but others have been lost for all time.
The dam has had a positive impact not only as the world’s largest hydroelectric project but also providing flood control downstream and improving navigation on the river but I wonder what its long term negative impact might be. How might the astronomical weight of that much water affect the earth’s surface? We saw evidence of several landslides along the river banks and I’ve read that the dam, built in the western section of Xiling Gorge, sits on a seismic fault!
We enjoyed all three shore excursions. The first day we climbed the steep incline to the temple area on the top of Ming Mountain. Known as the City of Ghosts, it pays tribute to the King of the Underworld. Though I found that concept a bit disturbing, the outing was fun and once again I was thankful that the 67 stairs up to our fifth floor apartment in Dalian had prepared my legs well for such activities! The second day’s excursion was by far our favourite. We first boarded smaller ferries for a trip up Shennong Stream, a picturesque tributary of the Yangtze, and then downsized to smaller sampans to travel even further upstream. The scenery was truly spectacular. After staying up very late that night to watch from the deck as the Jenna passed through the first of the ship locks at the Three Gorges Dam, we rose early the next morning to visit the dam.
After returning to the ship and passing through the eastern section of the third gorge, we enjoyed a final meal onboard then disembarked at Yichang where many of us were taken to the airport to catch the same flight to Shanghai. It was there that we had to say a sad farewell to our new friends. Even when we’re surrounded by some of the world’s most stunning scenery, life is still about people and ours have definitely been enriched by our time with Carla and Fransisco!