The Yangtze: "Three Gorges Passage"
June 25, 2010
My Dear Cruise Aficionados,
After the Nile and the Amazon, the Yangtze is the third longest river in the world.
The Yangtze or Chang Jiang is also the longest river in Asia. That really is saying something when you consider that the Yellow River #2 is 5464 km, the Mekong #3 is 4909km, and the Indus #9 and Brahmaputra #10 are each 2909km. Numbers 4-8 are rivers in Russia that run from south to north in Siberia and flow into the Arctic Ocean.
The Yangtze rises in the west from the glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau and empties into the East China Sea, covering 6300 km/3915 miles, while draining eleven provinces from Qinghai to Shanghai.
It was my good fortune to take the three-night, four-day "Three Gorges Passage" on The President No.1. I boarded in the evening at Chongqing. We sailed down the Yangtze passing through the Qutang Gorge, the Wu Gorge, the Shennang Stream, the Three Gorges Dam and finally the Xi Ling Gorge. We disembarked at Yichang after the 660km/410mi journey.
My assigned cabin on the President was musty and small. But Rebecca, one of the "River Guides" was ready for me and pressed me hard for an upgrade. (I had already paid dearly for the single supplement.) We went back and forth but I insisted on my price. I saved all of 5 bucks! Rebecca escorted me to the cashier - credit card cheerfully accepted.
Most of the passengers were Chinese families or groups of enthusiastic business colleagues. In the spacious dining room I was seated at the round table with the other Westerners. The Chinese food was plentiful and varied and not too spicy. The kitchen accommodated any dietary needs. (This was no Column A and Column B emporium.)
We Westerners congregated in the ultra deluxe cabin of a couple from Texas. The cabin was at the very front of the boat. It had a comfortable lounge, a bedroom large enough for the captain and half the crew, a bed large enough for the other half, and an enormous outdoor private deck - perfect for viewing, chatting and the occasional adult beverage.
Most of the President staff were young university students working a summer job. They were delightful, friendly, curious and pleased to be able to practice their oral English. My waitress was the beautiful Shanny, a student at Wuhan University where she is majoring in Maritime Hospitality Management. Shall I volunteer to be a visiting lecturer?
But the River and the Gorges. What mere words would be adequate to describe them?
Modern, architectural giants span the broad river, some more than 1000m long (3280 ft). Cities of millions, towns and villages peer down on the river from the misty hills.
The statistics for the Three Gorges Dam are confusing. Is it the largest dam in the word? The highest? Does it have the most volume? The most electric generating potential? Is it a curse? A blessing? Regardless, this enormous structure provides flood control that protects several large cities downstream. It generates a huge amount of hydroelectric power. The ship locks provide safe and, usually, uninterrupted navigation.
The Yangtze River and the Three Gorges themselves? Majestic? Mysterious? Magical? Mere words. Suffice it to say, this is a very special place. A place to cruise. A place to dine. A place to be.
My friend Larry Benowitz is a serious traveler...a trekker actually. He has hiked the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern United States, he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and he has just returned from his second trek in Nepal. He commented to me that for any serious traveler, China is a "must see destination." He is correct, of course.
And for me, traveling in China, the Yangtze and the Three Gorges along with the Three Gorges Dam is also a "must see."
Magical cruising to all,