It was still dark when we docked at Fengjie. There was a lot of rocking back and forth, and a lot of racket as we docked. Some passengers have opted to play in the rain on an optional tour of the White Emperor City. We stay on board to check out the sights (those that we could see). There is quite a big rise and fall in the river level here, a sign of how much the dam project affects the area, and it is now very clear why the floating docks are so prevalent in these parts. It is still wet with a lot of low cloud, we doubt we will see any improvement in the weather this side of the Three Gorges Dam. Tony is a bit surprised to see that there are only two small lifeboats to look after some two hundred passengers.
When we left here we travelled through the first of the three gorges, the Qutang Gorge, just 8km long. The high, sheer cliffs are impressive.
Further downstream the Wu Gorge is 45km long. We have a different view here, the gorge is much longer, but the peaks are not as high. The cities along the river bank are getting bigger, and the buildings higher. Some of the buildings are already looking a bit on the neglected side, and we wonder if this is due to the construction process (the build them in one hell of a hurry). Or perhaps the occupants cannot afford the upkeep, bearing in mind that many of the residents are displaced peasants from the flooded valley.
Mid-afternoon we transfer to a ferry boat that takes us from Badong into the
Shennong Stream for a sampan boat tour – we are told that in summer the men that pull our little boats up stream are naked! As it isn’t summer they wear clothes today, and don't even get in the water.
We are treated to the impressive sight of towering peaks above. We pass a hanging coffin (yes, several metres up the cliff a coffin is suspended), and then the massive Swallow Cave, some 8km deep. At the entrance you see the nests of the swallows. Because the water is high, the boatmen demonstrate how they would pull us along from a track on the shore (in summer, when the water is low, they are in the water dragging the sampan along with ropes).
The Captain welcomed us last night, and tonight we had his Farewell Banquet, followed by another talent show, with some of the passengers putting on an item.
Around 10.30 we begin travelling through the first of five locks on the system that will lower us 100m, 20m at a time. We are the last boat in the lock, with at least three others. Two directly in front are squeezed in side by side. The lock closes slowly behind us, but the water level drops quite quickly, a hell of a lot of water is moved very quickly. Each lock is taking about 40 minutes to clear.
At the second lock we end up side by side with a coal barge, and their lights shine in through out curtains (no black out curtains here!). There is a lot of banging and crashing, but we sleep through most of it, waking only occasionally.