early morning we made our way to the giant panda breeding research base. we were the first to arrive that morning and briskly set off to find some pandas. and we did! the pandas were amazing. the little ones that were not so little, at almost a year old, were playful and cute. when we got to see the big ones it was meal time and we were mesmerized by the way the pandas meticulously took off one leaf at a time from the bamboo and then stuffed the bunch of leaves into their mouth. from there we were off to try grandma chen's mapo dofu(tofu). we had had this before but this was the original spicy sichuan style and michael had a mouthful. making our way to our next destination we stumbled across chengdu's bike shop street. needless to say, michael had a heyday. we explored, tried, and finally test-rode dahon folding bikes. only at the last minute did we fore-go a purchase due to logistical reasons. after a long walk we made it to people's park, a large chinese park with everything from street performances to rides to ballroom dancing on the concrete. at the suggestion of the lonely planet we went into a "funhouse" that ended up being something like a 10 yr olds homemade haunted house. we finally sat down in our first tea house and got to play one of the chinese card games we learned
today is another milestone. we trekked for the first time with our big packs. after several buses from our hostel in chengdu to outside leshan we arrived at dafo, the grand buddha. the story goes that a monk started carving out a buddha out of the mountain overlooking a river hoping that the buddha would calm the currents. some 90 years later when the buddha was complete the river had calmed(apparently from the leftover chiseled rock falling into the river). the buddha is huge, 71 meters high. standing at the bottom we couldn't even reach the top of his toe. once again there were several gardens to explore around the buddha though it wasn't so easy to do with our packs on our backs. several buses later we arrived in baoguo village.
another early morning walking sticks in hand, we began the ascent of emei shan, a holy taoist and buddhist mountain. a guy named john,from our hostel wanted to tag along with us. we had no intention of making it to the top on the first day.but he did and the first half of our climb went by very quickly. along the way signs warned us of wild monkeys prepared to steal our stuff. at the elephant bathing pool monastery the monkeys were around and approached the shop we were sitting in. michael and the shop-owner beat their sticks against the ground and the big monkey scurried away. by 2:30, we had made it to the place we intended to stay the night, but it was so early and such a nice day that we decided to continue to just one more monastery. when we arrived we were at the peak. we are self-declared crazies. this was the hardest hike of both of our lives but the views did not dissapoint and the climb, several thousand slete steps, interjected with the occasional round of delirious singing, made it all worthwhile. with nowhere to stay for the night, due to high pilgrim occupancy and exorbitant prices, we inevitably descended back to baugou by bus. this time it was my turn to declare my favorite food in china. sichuan eggplant and garlic. delicious!
we are now writing from crouching tiger monastery near the bottom of emei shan. we decided to spend some time exlporing the bottom of the mountain and ended up seeing the best museum we have seen in china to date. now we are enjoying the blue sky, tall trees, and huge mountains surrounding us.