A great start to the trip so far! We’re currently in a dark, self-styled “cafe” with American 90’s soft-rock muzak playing at a highly-unnecessay loud volume. On right now: “Beauty and the Beast.” Why are we here? A look back at the last 18 hours…
6PM: We arrive in Yichang an hour late, after being told at 4:55 by the clueless train attendant that we were about to pull into the station.
7PM: We finally get to the hotel we want to stay at, after arguing extensively with our cab driver as well as a nearby police officer that the 7 Days hotel chain does, in fact, have a franchise in Yichang. Also included in the argument: whether or not there is a direct bus to Muyu, our next stop. After coming out of the bus station waving our tickets for 11:00AM the next day, and finding the 7 Days Inn, we are on a winning streak.
8:30AM: We get a cab to take us to the Three Gorges Dam. I estimated a half-hour trip there. After 30 minutes of driving through town, then starting a long climb up a twisty back road, I ask, “how much longer?” “We’re 1/3 of the way, the cab driver cheerfully replies.” With our 11:00 bus, we don’t have time. After having the driver turn around and head back down the steep, narrow road, we notice a highway on the other side of the valley. “Why couldn’t we have just taken the highway?” The reply: “Cabs and buses aren’t permitted on the highway. Yeah, it’s inconvenient.”
9:45AM: We are standing near the GeZhou Dam, one of the auxiliary dams that is part of the overall Three Gorges project. Our cab driver thought we might want to see this one, since it’s on the way back. It’s enormous, but there’s not really any angle at which a visitor can take it all in. We watch an enormous barge emerge from one of the locks and continue its slow chug upriver. A tout offers us a 30-minute boat ride around the dam. We don’t have time! Instead, we snap a picture while the PLA guard isn’t looking and use the nearby bathroom, which is a slit emptying directly into the reservoir. We wonder how many hundreds million people downstream drink from this source.
11:00AM: After our spending most of the morning driving nowhere, we come back to the hotel, check out, and rush to the bus station. Some food is bought and hastily consumed. Bathroom business is handled. Owen’s entertainment program is fully assembled, and the little guy is primed for his nap. The time approaches. No bus announcement. I ask a station attendant: “Has our bus to Muyu been announced yet?” She looks at my ticket. Calls another attendant over. This one waves a dismissive hand: “That bus doesn’t run anymore!” Looks at me, the foreigner, and repeats: “This. Bus. Is. No. More!” She studies me to see if I comprehend. My facial expression is: I am going to punch you in the face. “There’s a 1:30PM bus, better make sure they still have seats!”
11:20AM: After breaking the bad news to Bayley (and Owen, who now is in dire need of a place to take a nap), I fight my way up to the ticket window. “You sold me tickets yesterday for a bus that doesn’t exist!” Looking at my tickets: “Take the 1:30PM bus.” From experience, I know that this is about as far as I’m going to get with a lowly, unempowered ticketing clerk. What’s the use in complaining? “Well, switch these tickets then”. “No need! Just use these!” “I want the right tickets.” Sighing, she brings up the next bus on her computer screen. There are two seats left. “See? That’s why I want the right tickets!”
11:45AM: We find the “cafe” nearby and get some watermelon juices. Owen takes a nap on a sofa, serenaded by the muzak. Bayley goes to the bathroom. She has to hold her breath. Not because of it’s dirty; inside, there is a woman using a plugged-in soldering iron to re-attach the sole of her shoe. The room is filled rubbery smoke.
1230PM: Owen wakes, rested from the nap and the muzak. Time to try again!