Embracing my new found ability, I got up at 4:30AM to get ready, round up the last of my things, and turn in my hostel key. We loaded up on the bus and headed towards Bifengxia PB around 5:20AM. I don't know if it's my body clock, the excitement, or the poor driving but I couldn't sleep so I was able to write my last entry on the way while listening to "The Dirty 2" (one of my playlists on Spotify; highly encourage you to check it out).
Back in January, Karaline, Paawan, and I went to Muir Woods in P's truck. I was terrified driving through the mountains and so close to the edge because one false move and you're flying to your doom. This was very similar once we reached the mountains, but I was in A BUS on windy roads where honking was the level of communication between drivers (BUSES and cars) coming from the opposite direction. To say my anxiety/stress levels were sky high is an understatement. At this point I was basically burying my face in my hands and trying to think of anything besides plummeting off the mountain.
We finally reached the Bifengxia Panda Reserve and it wasn't at all what I had envisioned. Not in a bad way, just different. I received an email from the operations team before I left telling me I should leave all assumptions behind because things are most definitely different than you imagine. OK. You right, Donna.
It is like a full functioning city. A Chinese Serenbe... ok maybe not. But that's what I thought of. Restaurants, shops, hostels, street vendors... but like not what you're thinking right now. Because the rain and carrying my luggage, I wasn't able to snap any pics but I will whenever we go back to that area. Also, this place is packed to the brim with tourists because of the holiday.
We got off the bus and took our luggage up to a buffet style breakfast. I had watermelon, cabbage, and Chinese steamed buns with pork. Random combo but rather good. We gathered our luggage and went back to a different bus to take us further into the reserve to our hostel. Once we got there we filled out some paperwork and then set off to get registered. The walk to the actual facility was insanity. 1. My right foot is not 100% 2. I'm not in shape 3. I'm fighting a pretty gnarly blister of my right foot.
When my family went to Rome, we walked all over the place. This doesn't even hold a candle. Not necessarily because of distance but this terrain is just crazy. I actually had flash backs of cross country at the Carrollton course but this was so much worse. I am definitely going to get a lot of exercise here. Oh! There was a lift/seat that 2 men were using to carry a woman on crutches. For a split second I was jealous.
We all filed into a meeting area which also had cameras on all the panda areas.
We signed some forms recognizing a lot of the obvious... Obeying our "master" (lead panda keeper), reminding us pandas are carnivores and can attack you, etc. They passed out our schedule and handed out all the uniforms, badges, and gloves.
It started raining on our way back (so thankful I bought a rain jacket) but we still went by some of the panda areas. I also was faced with my worst nightmare. A wet staircase.
But it was worth the climb to see the panda in the tree.
The panda kindergarten was boiling over with people everywhere trying to take photos. Our new project coordinator, Stella, reassured us that we have "special privileges" being volunteers that will allow us to go where tourists cannot. I didn't bother fighting the crowd.
We made the long journey back to the hostel and we were able to check in. I am sharing a room with a girl name Tasha (the Canadian). The beds are larger twins and actually very comfortable. My one problem is the bathroom. No toilet. It's a hole. Just a hole. A hole in the floor. I heard rumors about a real toilet upstairs but we think the room is now occupied. Talk about embracing the culture. I am not smiling. LOL
Anywho, the group hiked to a small waterfall but I stayed behind to give my foot a break. #dontgochasingwaterfalls I also put on my air conditioner sound track I found on Spotify and passed TF out.
I skipped dinner and ate a Kind bar instead because I was struggling to get up. After dinner, everyone came back up and we went to the "social" room to play a name game. We all sat in a circle and from the first to last you had to say everyone's name. So the first couple of people had it easy... guess who was last? That may have been the hardest I've had to concentrate since I've been here and considering my track record with names I couldn't believe I remembered all 15 names. Go figure. Stella gave me a cute little mug as a prize which was really nice.
I almost forgot! We joined 3 other volunteers that are on their 3rd week. Two girls, one from the Netherlands and the other from Switzerland, and a Swedish guy. l. All very nice but also into scary movies. There is a flat screen in the social room and I'm not sure what they decided to watch but that was my cue to exit. I can't watch horror movies in my apartment much less in a foreign country out in the wilderness... no way.
I have also decided to stop fighting the inevitable. I was going to use another girls hair dryer but it fried the moment she tried to use it (exact reason I didn't bring one). So until I get to the Westin in Shanghai, my hair will be air drying and in a bun. Makeup is also being suspended for the time being. Not even an hour into the day and my face has already melted off. No point.
My first day with the pandas is tomorrow and I can't wait. Wish me luck on the brutal walk.