I’m writing this in my room in Ibis Hotel Ya’an. The road here was not littered with earthquake rubble. In fact, today’s journey was a journey like all my previous journeys to Ya’an. Perhaps the only difference this time is I have a travelling companion, a new friend from Malaysia; while we have been corresponding via email, we did not meet until at the airport about two hours before the flight.
We’d arrived in Chengdu late last night and stayed at a motel within walking distance of XinNanMen bus station. This morning, we got to the bus station at 8:10 a.m. I went to the ticket counter to ask the time for the next bus to Ya’an and was told 8:20 a.m. Such good timing, so that we didn’t have to wait long to be on our way to Ya’an.
What can I say about the bus ride? It was uneventful. The ride was smooth, there was little traffic, and in fact, the highway looked better than it did during my August 2011 trip. No disruption of any sort along the way. Actually, it wasn’t that uneventful; I had someone to chat with and make the time go faster.
We arrived at the Tourist bus station in Ya’an about two hours later. As there are two of us, I’d arranged for Mr Yang to fetch us but he was nowhere to be found. A phone call later, during which we made alternate arrangements, and we were both on our way to Ibis, each in a trishaw all to ourselves.
Mr Yang showed up while we were checking in; he’d got us another driver and was there to introduce us. And just like that, after putting our luggage in our rooms, we were on our way to Bifengxia Panda Base.
Like the highway from Chengdu, the narrow road to Bifengxia looked better than it did in some of my previous visits here. The day, too, had been unusually hot, and there’d been no recent rain to wash any of the mountainside onto the road.
Later, when I saw friends on the base, one of them commented that I dare to visit at a time when there’d been an earthquake recently. For me, it’s an opportunity to experience something new and to be with my beloved pandas and their keepers at such a time.
Come to think of it, while waiting to leave the airplane last night, I felt it sway. Was that an aftershock I experienced?
Bifengxia Panda Base remains closed to the public; so is the Bifeng Gorge scenic park. The main entrance to the Gorge was an unusual sight today – devoid of tourists. But the volunteer programme has reopened; this is what Soraya, my travelling companion, is here for. There are other volunteers here, too, including two women from Brazil and a woman from Russia who finished her four-day experience this evening and left for Chengdu to go on to Beijing and then home.
Perhaps Bifengxia Panda Base will be reopened to the public soon.