We'd booked a trip through the hostel for this morning which we were very excited about....to a Panda rescue and breeding centre! We got picked up at 7:30am for the hour and a half drive to the centre out in teh countryside around Xi'an. Also on the trip were a Welsh guy on holiday, Bruno from Argentina and Hamish and Kat from Perth, Australia. We got chatting to Hamish and Kat and soon found out that Kat's parents are from Middlesbrough and emigrated to Australia over 30 years ago - small world! She couldn't believe we were from there and we had a chat about the places she's been to on visits. We continued chatting to them througout the journey, exchanging travel stories as they've been away over a year and have been to many of the places we have.
And then we arrived at the centre and our driver took us to the panda area; there are other rare animals also at the centre. The panda area was arranged in a big circle, with different enclosures around a central area. Each panda has an inside area as well as the spacious, outdoor area filled with vegetation. Our driver acted as our guide an explained that pandas don't like hot weather which is why most of them were staying inside where it was cooler. We walked past a few enclosures, not seeing any pandas yet, when we spotted one munching on some bamboo towards the back of his enclosure. I was stood next to Bruno, trying to get a good photo when he suddenly exlaimed 'Look!' and we saw a panda in a tree at the next enclosure! After that, we got sme very good sightings and took some great photos and videos. Our driver/guide grabbed a long branch and dangled it over one enclosure and the panda came down to get it, giving us a brilliant up-close view fo the beautiful animal. The funniest moment of the morning (and perhaps our whole trip) was when we were all taking photos of one panda relaxing when it suddenly lay down on it's side, facing us, then leisurely lifted one back leg and held it up with it's front paw. It held the position for a few minutes watchng us all laughing - such a funny pose (see photo)!
As we left the panda area at 10am - time for their milk and 'panda cake'; our driver said we were lucky to have seen so many this morning. We met some of the volunteers who come to the centre for 2-4 weeks through volunteering organisations such as 'eye to eye' and 'Gap'. They seemed to be really enjoying their experiences,a nd we felt lucky to be able to visit. We had a quick look around the other rare animals at the centre including golden monkeys, crested ibis, brown bears adn a beautiful leopard who looked very sad in his small enclosure. Then it was time to drive back to the hostel after an amazing morning - we were unsure whether to go on this tour as it was quite expensive, but we're so glad we did now!
Back at the hostel we ate lunch in the cafe, then had an afternoon nap before heading back out to the Drum Tower which we had a ticket for. We got up to the top just in time to see the performance which again was very impressive - the young peformers must be very strong to play the massive traditional instruments. We also had a good view of the tree-lined muslim quarter which was our next stop.
Inside the muslim quarter we found a narrow alleyway lined with market stalls. We managed to resist buying the packs of playing cards featuring Barrack Obama or Bin Laden (next to each other!), but did pick up a few presents as well as our China magnet - we now have magnets from every country we've visited and every US state! There were also a lot of food stalls and Dave bravely bought something that looked nice, not having a clue what it was! He asked what it was and after being told in Chinese, said 'OK, I'll have one please!'. Luckily, it turned out to taste good!
We slowly wandered back to the hostel and spent the night in the cafe, reading and eating. Tomorrow we're off to see the main attraction of Xi'an, and the reason we came - the Terracotta Warriors!