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Published: January 22nd 2008
Tuesday 15th January
After a fairly sleepless night, Rags suffering from toothache and Judy getting a neck ache from the high pillows, ending up using her jacket as a pillow, we headed out into the cold dark street at about 8am. It only took us 15 minutes to walk to the air ticket office where a bus was waiting, and still waiting until almost quarter to nine even though it was absolutely full.
The bus trip was absolutely amazing with the sun coming up over the valley as we meandered our way out of Lhasa past villages and through a long tunnel that passed through a mountain, to reach the airport after about an hour.
Rags was a little hesitant flying in China but Sichuan Airlines dispelled all his fears - quick check-in, a modern plane, service that American Airlines could learn from and a good meal thrown in. Added to that the landing was as smooth as you could wish for.
After collecting our baggage we found Mix Hostel awaiting us as we had requested yesterday. We were glad that we had agreed to pay for this transfer (about $A10) especially when we realised how far
it was. We drove through the centre of Chengdu. It appears to be another big, dirty and smoggy city. Visibility is similar here to Xian.
When we reached the hostel they informed us that the expected departure of other guests hadn't happened in their double room so we had to wait while they found us alternate accommodation which turned out to be a 3 star hotel, Tengyun Lou, just half a block away. They had negotiated the cost so it was no extra and we had a pleasant room (with soft pillows but the typical hard Chinese bed) at the same rate.
After checking in we went back to the hostel to avail ourselves of their booking service and wifi. Tomorrow we are going to the Panda Reserve, leaving at 7.40 and the day after we have now booked to cruise on the Yangtze River for a couple of days from Chingqing to Yichang. From here we need to find a way to get to Shanghai our penultimate destination before we leave for Australia.
Wednesday January 16th
Another early morning saw us on the way to the Chengdu Panda Reserve at about 8am. There was a large
group from the Mix Hostel and we were joined with another hostel group at the gates. Although we thought it was free explore our “tour guide” marched us quickly through the entrance and led the way to the young pandas enclosure where they were already munching on their morning feed of bamboo. We were entranced to see these huge creatures so close at hand, ignoring us as they busily stripped and ate their way through a prodigious amount of bamboo. Apparently only about 20% of what hey eat is nourishment, the rest, being so fibrous, passes straight through their system and is excreted in the many motions they pass each day.
From here we went to observe a group of adult pandas before being led to the babies. Our”guide” managing the word baby and and some grunts and arm actions to let us know we were to follow him. These were in a small cage and photos or video were not allowed as the flash can damage their immature eyes. They, in contrast to the older pandas, were playing with each other, climbing and diving into odd places. They were a delight to watch and even though there were
Naughty Rags - not supposed to take photos!
signs around telling us to be very quiet people in the group couldn't help but break out into laughter at many of the antics.
Some much older pandas followed before we arrived at the red panda cages. These were a cross between a raccoon and a lemur and we hadn't seen anything like them before. At one stage we were witness to their fiery temper when one snapped at a keeper who was in the enclosure raking up faeces.
The cinema was next and here we watched the engrossing story of birth, life, courtship and breeding of these giant pandas. The panda museum was the last stop before we were returned to the hostel.
It still not quite lunch time but we'd heard about the Sichuan Hotpot and thought we'd look for somewhere to taste this local speciality. Dean Jacobs, who we'd met earlier in the panda group, decided to join us. We asked for directions from the woman at the hostel and set off. Rags was sure we had to go under a bridge, which we did but when we came up on the road we discovered we were on the other side to a line
of restaurants. We walked along until we could cross. This meant that the restaurant we first came to wasn't the one most of the tourists went to. We saw the special hotpot tables with the burner in the middle and entered but their wasn't a word in English and the staff didn't have any either. Luckily, a lovely young girl, Panda, sitting in a large group at a nearby table rescued us. She spoke some English and we explained what we wanted and she ordered for us.
Once staff understood we needed assistance they also helped by putting some of our plates of food including rolled pork(bacon), potatoes, fish, quail eggs and other items for which we have no name, into the hotpot. This was a huge pot filled with oil, spices and chillies. In the centre was another pot of broth or soup into which some of the items were also placed. What a dining experience! The three of us had a fantastic experience and became the staff entertainment. Panda also kept coming over to explain what to do. At one stage Rags had some chilli go down the wrong way and started coughing, tears pouring out. Next thing
a staff member brought out a jug of white liquid, we couldn't work out what it was, but it certainly eased the pain. The other two didn't like the taste much but Rags thought it was manna from heaven.
After lunch we returned to our room before setting out again. This time walking in the direction of the Manjushri Monastery. After exploring this we caught a taxi(cheap here at less than $A2) to the People's Park. People we'd spoken to on the panda tour told us it was one of the best places to visit in Chengdu and they were right! What an atmosphere - people everywhere, dancing, singing, playing instruments and just enjoying the traditional Chinese park.
This wasn't far from Tanfu Square and Mao's Statue so we went there before deciding to head back to the hotel. What a mistake - we'd left it too late and now in peak period all the taxis were busy. We walked and walked, eventually becoming a bit disorientated. We saw a bus that we knew went past the end of our street so walked to the next bus stop and caught one. It was getting dark by this stage
Boy was it hot!
so even though we watched for the rocket landmark at the end of the street we ended up at the bus terminus, north of our hotel but at the train station. Here, we reasoned would be empty taxis and we were correct. After almost being bowled crossing the heavy traffic we were “safely” in a taxi and for the princely sum of $A1 we were deposited outside the hotel.
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