Wednesday, June 15, 2005

3 Gorges, Xi'an

We've covered quite a bit of ground since we left Chengdu where we last posted. We also seem to have hit the Disneyland circuit of China. In Chengdu we booked a tour through the 3 Gorges on the Yangxi river to simplify things as it is a major gong show normally.
Off we went by bus 5 hours south-east to Chongqing where we got a brief city tour (we got to see prisons from the kuomintang/communist battle days) and then got on our boat/home for the next 2 days.
I am vowing right now never to take another tour in China from a travel agency. Nobody can give you a straight answer because they just toss you around between 5 different companies all of which are doing their own thing. I am also sick of all the domestic tourists here. They are so annoying and from the perspective of the backpackers like us, just take up space. Everything is in Chinese all the time. The farther the tour agencies pass you along the worse the english gets until you actually get to the tour on the street where there is absolutely none and nobody can even tell you what time to meet back to move on. Much better to do it yourself.
Anyway, we were on a river cruise ship through the 3 gorges. The boat takes 2 days to get down to Yichang, several hundred km further down the river and after the 3 gorge dam. This dam is the largest in the world and is still being built. When it is finished the river will be raised a total of 175m. Right now it has already risen 135m so the gorges aren't as tall or narrow as they used to be. The boat stops at various temples and little towns (like the ghost city, a town with temples with ghoulish statues and creepy names but in reality little more than a huge haunted house) along the way which you have the option of going out and seeing for a little while. At one point we got out of our big boat and into little ones to go through the little gorges. All in all it was the least interesting thing I've done in China (as if you couldn't tell) but this is probably a factor of having seen the fjords in Norway last year (which are much better) and being sick of dealing with Chinese tours and their style (meaning herding people all wearing the same color hats around as fast as possible so they can make extra stops at souvenir stands and sell you jade). I don't know why the tourists haven't revolted yet.
There were a few interesting things however, like the signs on the side of the river indicating how high the level will rise, particularly interesting when it is in the middle of a little village (they must relocate over 1.5 million people as a result of this dam) or going through the 5 locks to bypass the dam and lower us the 135m to the rest of the river. We went through at night so the scale seemed even more impressive but these things were huge! Didn't see the dam though. The best part though was a completely crazy French guy staying in our room with us. He was excited about everything and after a while we just started to follow him around to see what he would do next. We had to wake up at 5am everyday, including the day we arrived in Yichang and had to leave. We then caught a bus to Wuhan, 5 hours farther east so we could catch an overnight train to Xi'an. Wuhan was brutally hot and we ended up sitting in the train station for 5 1/2 hrs waiting for the train because the station was not very close to town. The train to Xi'an took 15 hrs and was the nicest ride we've been on in the 6 weeks we've been out here now.
We arrived here (in Xi'an) on the morning of Savannah's birthday and after checking in to our hostel took the bus out to see the Terracotta Warriors. Very impressive. It is the buried army in the tomb of an emperor that lived over 2ooo years ago. Huge tourist attraction and truly one of the wonders of the world. They are still working on it as it covers an area of 56 square km. Maybe the weirdest part was seeing tons of western tour groups. First time in 6 weeks we've seen more than half a dozen at once. And wow are they big (fat) compared to the Chinese! We've seen a few chubby Chinese guys but it was quite embarrassing to see almost all the westerners easily 2 or 3 times their size.
The pollution here is something else too. The sky is just totally that smoggy grey so you really can't see very far. All the big cities seem to be this way but Xi'an seems to be particularly bad though it only has 7 million people like all the rest of them. It was at least 36 degrees yesterday too.
We will be in Xi'an for another day before making our way up to Beijing via Datong. I am definitely getting to the point where I am ready to leave China and get on to the next leg of this trip.

I know a lot of you guys are wondering what it's like traveling with 3 females so I will try to give you an idea of what this is like for me.
First, I have a rule (rule #1) when I travel that if at all possible, walk everywhere and avoid taxis and buses except in extreme circumstances. I am tempted to completely abandon this rule as every time we try to walk across town to see something I feel like I am entering the 8th level of hell. These 3 have to stop every few feet to shop. Bras and tanktops that's what it is all about for them. Even though we've been in a million shops selling these things and I know some stuff has been bought they are always looking for more. They are also obsessed with animals. They only thing that will delay them longer than a bra shop is someone walking their dog or selling puppies on a street corner. If we go into a temple to take a look they get totally distracted by the turtles in the pond or a frog that they caught instead of the site. How is it possible for girls that don't have any clothes to spend so much time figuring out what to wear? There are no options, there is no choice so why all the time wasted? Oh, and the best part. We have been getting up really early (~6am) all the time, catching buses, getting off trains, starting tours (or trying to get ahead of them. Well, with only a little exaggeration I can say that these 3 girls haven't seen the morning side of noon in years so you can imagine the morning moods. Scary.
Don't know how I am surviving........


At 11:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew you were brutally outnumbered and outgunned. Fight on my minority friend.


At 12:50 AM , Blogger Sandra said...

haha... I am not going to say anyhing about the "bras and tank top" issue until I hear sth from Maggie-the-mom (aka the truth teller).. but it is not hard to associate girls with morning moods. This is the reason why we, girls, never talk before breakfast!! Amo should now understand why I have my coffee during the ride to school and after all... "mood swinging" is not that bad, eh?? I feel good about my swinging mood!


P.S.Remember no more local tours.. join them only if they make stop at shops which sells bras or tank top.

At 1:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon, I know it seems bad but just wait a bit till the girls all start to cycle at the same time, then we can talk about PMS Hell. FOFLMAO.
Love and Big Bear Hugs to all.

At 11:09 PM , Blogger Jesse said...

Ammon... I though the first rule was don't die, and rule #2 was no taxis (I think #3 was no McDonalds?). How wimpy are you being if you don't even need to state the REAL rule #1 anymore?

Anyway, if I could keep up with your walking, then those women have absolutely no excuse! And my pack weighed twice yours to boot. Don't let up on them... you need to toughen them up for the sketchy countries to come!


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