April 29
Yi Chang

Well, today was quite an adventure. It started in Wuhan and was spent, for the most part, in a 5 1/2 hour drive across the countryside roughly following the Yangtze river. Unfortunately, owing to a smart-media card going fritz in the camera, none of the pictures of the day have survived (and too bad, too!) so I'll just have to describe the events.

It was a nice, warm, sunny day, quite different from what I had experienced in China so far. The road itself was quite picturesque once we left Wuhan; the chaos of 7 million people going about their business receded to lush pastoral countryside where water buffalo pulled plows through wet rice fields in preparation for planting next month. Villages, towns, even tiny single huts dotted the countryside. At times it looked quite Chinese, at other times, though, the rural landscape seemed almost European. Odd.

Toward the west end of the drive we started heading into mountainous territory, with sudden, plunging gorges heavily wooded with orange and tangerine trees; how farmers manage to harvest their goods is amazing.

But the adventure truly begins when we finally reach the new dam at Yi Chang. We had actually arrived early, since many of the venues were closed due to government stipulations. My local guide was apologetically at wit's end attempting to find places of interest that were open. Things were coming up bust.

So there we are, in the mid-day heat of Yi Chang overlooking the dam project. During the construction of the dam, the flow of ship traffic is effectively cut off, so numerous barges and scows were collected just upstream of the unfinished dam. And of course, since the valley -- soon to be inundated by the rising waters -- is being systematically dismantled, the entire site is a huge construction/demolition site, with roads being rough and almost impassible.

As it happens, my driver and guide were given incorrect information about which of the temporary roads to take to get to the right part of the waterfront -- itself little more than an assortment of barges pushed against the shore where haven could be found -- and were placed into the thick of ship-to-shore transfers.

The roads proving too much for the vehicle, our driver declared that he could take the car no further, so we ended up walking about 100 meters over rough road to the shore, where we hoped to find the President 4 moored.

Well, not quite. It turns out that she was tied off somewhere down stream, and the narrow trail along water's edge was effectively impassible (with or without luggage.) My guide was on the phone to his superiors, who in turn were contacting the boat. "Wait here," he told me, inviting me into the tent home of a local worker, "They're coming." Well, they in turn reported that they, too, couldn't reach us, so we had to hire a sampan to ferry us to the ship.

Now, passing row upon row of freighter, I began to get worried. "The boat is over there," he indicated waving vaguely in the direction of clusters of decrepit vessels. I was beginning to get a little concerned: the four-star rating attributed to the President 4 didn't seem to apply to any of these.

Rounding one more point, she finally came into view and we hove beside her, with some of the staff roused to welcome me as what seemed to be the first guest.

It would be four hours before the other guests to arrive.