Saturday, August 19, 2006

Low point

Thursday, August 17th

Every trip must have its low point and today was it.
To begin with, it is never a good idea to leave a Five Star hotel if you don’t have to. Our every need was either on-site or blocks away.

Katie, Sophie, Anne and Steve almost missed the plane because of a mix-up with the tickets and boarding passes and if that wasn’t bad enough, baggage pick-up on the other end was self-serve. We almost left the plane without our luggage and that would have been the end of most of our stuff.

We took a short ride to have the worst Chinese food we’ve ever had and had to confront the potty monster. What’s the potty monster? Most toilets here are simply a foot and a half long trench that you squat over, squatty-potties. They can be quiet challenging to use and we ended up having to find a hotel with western toilets.

The ride from Chengdu to the Wolong Panda Preserve was originally reported to be between two and three hours. Then four. It took us over five hours and some of it was actually quite dangerous. To get to the Preserve we had to leave the main highways and travel on narrow, two lane, switch-back, precipice hugging, roads, go over bridges with very low retaining walls and through single lane mountain tunnels. All at high speed and often with us passing other vehicles (buses, trucks, motorcycles, farm tractors) or with them trying to pass us. Nerve racking. Then it got worse. The actual road to the Panda Preserve is also made up of narrow, two lane, switch-back, precipice hugging, roads but it’s under construction. So it’s often only one lane, maybe. The construction is never ending and what we would do by machine, the Chinese do by man-power. Boulders too big to haul away? Hammer them into smaller pieces. Or better yet, sculpt them into a wheel shape and roll it away.

We finally arrive at our hotel. As Dorothy said to Toto, “We are not in Kanas anymore.”
It had rained today and eventually the hotel leaks when it rains. The floor in our hotel room, which is quite scary to begin with, is wet. The room is musty and there is no place to even open our suitcases. We all met for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Just when we thought things could not get worse, we were faced with lousy food, nothing that the kids could eat, no high chairs and two rats running up the wall. Granted this is a mountainous place and the hotel has a rustic feel but the rats put us over the top. Many of us asked to leave after we visited the pandas tomorrow but that will not be possible. We will need to spend two nights here.

One cool thing was the people and the shopping right outside the hotel. The grounds are really breathtaking. There was music and some people dancing right outside. The tiny shops had beautiful wall hangings, knitted socks, and lots of stuffed animals, pandas of course.

The people in China come right up to you and talk to you in Mandarin. We have no idea what they are saying most the time. They do not gesture much, but one person made it clear that Sophia did not have enough clothing on (the clothing police) and another that her nose needed to be wiped. Sophia does not like it when people come up to her and touch her, shake her arms and legs. She usually calls “mama.” This area is much different from the cities we have been in. There are many more Tibetian people here. The handmade items are colorful and beautiful.

Sophia was a joy tonight. She played on the bed, laughing and smiling. She is really starting to crawl. She also pulls herself up to her feet. She copies everything we do. She even helped clean the bed full of her cookie crumbs after she saw Anne brush them away.

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