Having spent two nights in Xi'an we flew to Wuhan and then took a 4-hour bus drive to the city of Yichang (population of 1.5 million and was 712,000 in 2000). Here we were scheduled to begin our 4-day river cruise up the Yangtze River.
The bus trip took us through farmlands. The truck traffic was heavy in both directions. Here the heavy trucks have 6-axles (in the US it is mainly 5) so thus each truck can carry a heavier load. The roads were very good and they were two lanes in each direction. What seems constant wherever we have traveled is that if there is a modern road, we will run into toll road collection areas. Yet, I did not see as many as I have seen, and paid, in South Florida!
The homes of the farmers along the road seem modest and modern but it was hard to see persons in motion around the homes or fields. Quite a few of the homes had solar water heaters on their roofs. We learned that a greater numbers of the younger generations were choosing to move into the cities to find work and obtain higher education. Consequently, also because of the country's one-child policy, more elementary schools in the farming regions were closing down and in some cases students were so few in number and so spread out that it was easier to board them on the campuses during the weekdays.
I was amazed at how many fresh water fish farms there were. You constantly saw miniature ponds with these small air pumps refreshing them with oxygen for the fish. Along the road we kept seeing quite a number of water buffalo. We went over many nice-sized rivers so it seemed that access to fresh water was not an issue in this region.
We arrived late in the evening to the river boat passenger loading docks. Upon arrival we were reminded not to try not to compare this ship to a regular ocean cruise ship. The river boats accommodate only about 60 passengers. There are two floors for staterooms and the others for eating, viewing and lounge. The ship is sparse but overall comfortable. The staff on the ship was attentive and very helpful. It will be nice not to have to keep changing rooms every other day as when we were on land and now we are staying put in one room for four days.
Apparently our ship was schedule and waiting its turn to enter the Three Gorges Dam locks late at night. Most of us planned to stay up to see it move through the five locks.
As we started to relax and unwind from the rod trip, I began to imagine and wonder what we would see and experience as we were to cruise westward and upriver on the famous Yangtze River. This river is the longest in China and the third longest in the world (the Nile and Amazon are longer). I guessed that we would have the opportunity to see more of the traditional culture and lifestyle of the Chinese. I was expecting to see miles of open farm land with perhaps seeing a few towns in-between. I was hopeful to also see some of the natural wonders that I had seen on travel brochures.
We finally got underway and approached the locks of the dam late at night. We have crossed the Panama Canal so I had something to compare to. As we entered the locks, I was surprised to see that 5 long barge ships all fit in one lock area. Panama was moving one-by-one. This hydroelectric dam which also provides the locks, was opened in 2003, it is the world largest and when it was completed it provided 10% of the nation's electrical supply. Given the rapid population growth of China, it now only provides 2% of the energy demand.
The ships were raised very quickly through all the locks. What was surprised that I did not see any personnel working the lock system. In Panama, there was a small army of workers but that is clearly not the case here.
When we were in he locks I was recalling some of the details I had read a few years back. When this dam was being built I recall a report that highlighted a concern that it would hold back so much water as to pose a major danger to the nation. Apparently the dam was built over a fault line. There was also discussion about how to deal with the high level of silt that would be washed down by the river and possibly clog up the dam. I learned that the US Army Corp of Engineers, amongst other international companies and organizations, had also participated in the overall design of this dam. May it never happen, but if this dam was to ever break down, China will truly suffer by the flooding in many horrific ways. Each year billions of gallons of water is added and held back in reserve and all held, to date, by only this one dam.
When we were traveling through South America earlier this year we had heard that China was in the process of negotiating to build a new major shipping canal through Nicaragua. When I was in Xi'an I did see a BBC interview with a Chinese investor discussing the concept. The interview was short but direct. It seemed to me that the Chinese are highly focused on building it in the very near future.
We finally crossed the locks and immediately docked for the night. We would disembark in the morning to visit and tour the dam area and thereafter begun traveling up the river.