Monday 27 July

Chongqing Airport 4.30pm in transit to Jiuzhai Gou

Just eaten a disgustingly bread roll with what was described as ham – covered in some sweet sticky substance. Coffee is around £3.50 a cup so I’ve given that one a miss.

Glad I allowed enough time between flights as the earlier “connecting” flight had departed before I was near the departure lounge. Now a 2-hour wait and arrive at 7.30pm. Then it’s a 1 ½ hr bus ride from the airport to the town – but I think I’ll take a taxi and see if he can understand which hotel I want to go to – Frommer’s again. Apparently it’s a bit like running the gauntlet the strip leading up to the Nature Reserve entrance. Frommer’s gives the Reserve three stars, but deducts the town four for commercialisation, corruption and pollution. Great.

Jumping Back to Muyuping, Badong and The Three Gorges

While the visit to the Shennongjia Nature Reserve was extremely disappointing and had to be curtailed due to the appalling weather, the bus ride from Muyuping to Badong tried valiantly to make up for it – albeit incarcerated within a 16-seater minibus. There was spectacular scenery, winding up the sides of these mainly forested karst-like mountains, their form reminiscent of extruded mud between the fingers. I took far too many photos through the window, and will probably keep just one or two to remind me of the scenery – choosing to ignore my reflection and the water-stains on the glass!

Badong is tiered up the side of the Yangtze and like so many of the towns and cities here, is in the process of construction – the GDP of China is surely concrete – with massive new hotels and shopping centres. The consumer ethos here is astounding and comes at you from all angles including TV advertising on monitors inside ordinary buses. You just don’t seem to be able to escape it. Maybe nobody here even notices any more. Oh, just give me the sound of the wind in the trees and the stars in a clear sky.

We eventually booked into a nice hotel having checked out some appallingly grubby ones. We also had a long discussion as to how to locate the 250-year old Emmenopterys henryi which I have the GPS co-ordinates for and is recorded as being “in the hills behind Badong”. Eventually I was persuaded that it was an impossible task and that even if we were able to find an Official who would allow us anywhere near it, it would no doubt also have finished flowering, being on a slightly more southerly latitude than the one I had already seen.

Faced with defeat yet again, all that was left for us to do here then was some research into a trip up one of the gorges – paying a bit extra for a guide who spoke English. That evening we spent some time at a local internet café for me to check e-mails and update my blog – via my UK connection – and Scotty to update his equivalent of FaceBook with some photos I’d taken of him and the eclipse. Then we wandered around the sultry city coming across the People’s Square which looked like a local festival in action with food stalls, women doing formation exercise dancing, children running around and everyone generally having a great Friday evening.

Scotty had been particularly quiet and I thought it might be lack of food, but I soon discovered it was the money issue brewing. It was particularly uncomfortable discussing this in the street outside the ATM, but that’s how it was, and although we agreed on an amount, I refused to be held responsible for the fact that he had lost his mobile phone. Something he repeatedly brought into the equation. He had nearly lost his wallet earlier from the very same pocket – what can I say?

The next morning we left at 6.30am to board the boat to take us up the Shennong Stream, collecting hundreds of Wendy Wu tourists en route – only the second Europeans I’d seen since my arrival, the first being two blond-haired people in Muyuping. There was a mixture of English and German groups and I had a brief but interesting discussion with an Ornithologist from Norfolk. Their trip including viewing the eclipse from an area south of Shanghai, unfortunately thwarted by cloud cover – he is an avid eclipse chaser so has seen a fair few in his lifetime. After an hour we disembarked into low, wooden “peapod” boats, holding around 30 people each, and were rowed upstream by a small team of wiry boatmen or trackers – apparently mostly farmers who supplement their income in this way. No mean task in the 90 degree F heat and high humidity.

It should have been a really pleasurable experience, and indeed the scenery was lovely and I took many photos, but for my sullen travel-mate. Things got worse when we arrived too late to catch the 2pm ferry back to Yichang and had to wait until the next one which was nearly an hour late. It was an appalling journey in a disgustingly dirty and fume-ridden boat, the windows too grimey to see much of the scenery along the river bank. It disgorged us just shy of the Dam when we all piled into buses for the final leg to Yichang. I caught a glimpse of the massive construction by standing up and peering through a gap in the hoardings before we turned the corner and it was gone. We arrived at the bus station in Yichang at 10 to 7 – just minutes before the last bus to Wuhan. I was extremely relieved to board that bus as the thought of another night of this sullenness would have been really intolerable – my patience was being sorely tried at this point. The rest is history and I will now put this experience behind me.

I should say a bit more about Muyuping, as it really is a delightful little one-street town surrounded by soaring green peaks. It’s geared for tourism, being a good base to sightsee the many Nature Reserves in the area, with a great many small hotels, eateries and shops selling medicinal or otherwise dried herbs, fungi, seeds, fruits and other unidentifiable vegetable matter sourced from the surrounding area. But like almost everywhere in China, massive developments are taking place with new hotels and villas starting to line all the approaches.

An interesting phenomenon was the overwhelming police presence in the town. A police car or two was almost never out of site – and one wonders if there existed an underbelly of darkness that wasn’t at first apparent to the casual visitor.