Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Tujia boat trackers of the Shennong Stream.

his is what the ticket showed we would be seeing ;-) Butt naked men pulling a boat. Hmmm....didn't know this was an x-rated boat ride. *blushing*

After we got off the ferry, we made our way to awaiting sampans owned and operated by the local Tujia people who are an ethnic minority. The wooden sampans would take us for a short ride up the Shannong Stream which was extremely shallow and rock filled. We started out moving upstream. The Tujia are very experienced boatmen. It took 6 boatmen to operate each sampan – 4 in the front and 2 in the back. The boatmen helped each of us on board. By the time I boarded, I ended up seated in the back row.

As the boatmen pushed the sampan off the dock, the water was deep enough that only the oarsmen had to do any work.

As we got further upstream, the waters got more shallow. Then, the poleman had to get into the act using a long, green bamboo pole to help push upstream and steering the rudder to keep the boat moving on track. The further upstream we went, the shallower the waters. Eventually, the boatmen had to get out of the sampan and pull it up stream. 
But wait....what's wrong with this picture? That's right....they have clothes on. What's the deal? Where are the naked boat trackers? Well, according to our guide, when the Tujia first started pulling the boats, they would wear their native costumes which we made of material that got extremely heavy when wet. The extra weight made it difficult for them to pull the boat so they opted to strip down to their birtday suits. As the trackers started to make more money, they could afford to buy lightweight material to make their clothes out of so no more need to go naked. Damn economic progress :-) Clothes or no clothes, the boat trackers work hard for their money. Each sampan costs about 6000 RMB and is shared by each of the 6 boatmen. They do this every day, as long as there are tourists around. Watching them work, you quickly realize this is not an easy way to make a living so I appreciated their efforts. Soon we it came time to turn the sampan around and head back downstream towards the dock.
We had a local guide on the sampan who explained more about the Tujia but unfortunately, I was too far back to hear what she was saying. She did end our ride with a love song where she traded verses with one of the boatmen. 
As expected, the ride back took much less time than the ride upstream and before we knew it, we were back at the dock. We tipped the boatmen for their efforts and joined Jenny to reboard the ferry. The ferry turned around and headed back down the Yangtze.