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October 24, 2004 — Day 7

After breakfast we put on our life jackets and transferred to a smaller boat for an excursion to Shennong Stream in the Lesser Three Gorges. Other ships tied up signaled to us that this indeed was a popular spot. Flanked by rolling mountains, magnificent peaks and precipices, and brilliantly coloured exotic flowers and herbs, this is one of the most spectacular sights in China. Of particular interest were the monkeys and hanging coffins.

Disembarking we had to walk the usual gauntlet of vendors before being loaded into peapod boats. Our crew rowed and poled up the Shennong Stream. When it became so shallow that it was easier to walk — you guessed it — we were met with a local sales force. Meanwhile, the Tujia boat trackers were physically pulling our boat upstream. What was at the end of all this — You guessed right again — more vendors.

On our return downstream we were entertained by our guide and then a tracker singing songs as we passed the caves that not two long ago had been homes. Leaving the Shennong Stream we walked the gauntlet and boarded our vessel for a pleasant journey to our "Empress"

After returning to our ship for lunch, we set sail again for Wu Gorge, known for its haunting and misty rock formations and soaring mountain backdrop. Finally, as we observed the old trekkers trail we came to the third and most dramatic of the Yangtze’s Three Gorges — Qutang Gorge. This shortest of the gorges has steep cliffs and peculiar oddities. Gradually as we continued on we noted the coal mines that are at the root of the constant smog and the massive retaining walls where once buildings stood but that have been cleared so as not to obstruct shipping when the water rises.

We continued to observe until 5 when we came in out of the cold wind and saw a demonstration on the traditional art of Painting inside the Snuff Bottle. Who could resist?

After dinner there was a karaoke night. With the voice of a badger, participation was not an option. With word that we would be sailing through the night we opened our balcony door and enjoyed a sleep in the great outdoors. It was quite a treat.

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