I mentioned that there was one main reason for us to visit Chengdu. That reason likes bamboo, is black and white, and isn't overly keen on mating. And there are more giant pandas here than in any other place on the planet.
As with the Great Wall, the tour worked out easier than an independent mission. So we were on a bus at 7.30am, heading to a big panda reserve. This didn't seem to be the most organised of tours, however. Matt and I were thrown - not literally - into our own minibus, away from everyone else from the hostel. After being wrongly told that the other bus, with Kelly on it, was heading for the airport, we headed down some rickety backroads...to collect people from another hostel.
We weren't concerned - we had other problems to cope with. The hotpot didn't seem explosive when we were eating it the previous night, but it certainly was that morning. Out of the three of us, I was the first to see the pandas, as the other two had sprinted to find a toilet. They're not 'toilets' in much of China. A squatter is sometimes a privilege, even though I still hate using them.
Whilst others were underwhelmed, I really enjoyed watching the pandas. They were adorable, seemingly blissfully unaware of the tourists clicking cameras in their direction. It is true that they don't do much - just eat or sleep - but you have to be pretty stupid it you go expecting a show. Its a protection reserve, not a screwed-up cirque du soleil. Besides, some were asleep in trees, which I found amazing.
Kelly and I became the brief subject of a search party as we lost the group. In that time, we came across a panda that was less than one month old. No fur, and so small that it had to be in an incubator, but so cute. Unlike an older panda, who spent a good five minutes rubbing his/her genital region on a stump. Either an itch had to be scratched, or we had all witnessed a furry sex show.
The problem pandas have, and the reason they have to be monitored, is that they don't like mating. This was made clear in rather blunt fashion in the museum. Like much of China, the literal translation in English are misspelled and often hilarious.
Having seen dozens of pandas - giant, small, red - we were back at the hostel. Kelly and I went across the street to a restaurant to get food, and were duly turfed out because we couldn't order anything. Chinese people have been nice to us on the whole, but they can be pretty rude. Not a patch on Bulgarians, though. We didn't care, as we bought dumplings nextdoor.
A short taxi ride later and we were in a packed Chengdu train station, sweating profusely and trying not to get frustrated that our train was delayed. We were not looking forward to the method - a 26 hour train ride followed by an hour bus - but we were excited for our destination. Off to stop number four - Yangshuo and the Karst Mountains.
Love you all