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Holy places

I'm burned to a crisp, a whole lot broker, and smiling away.  Decided to
bite the bullet and pay for a car and driver to go the hour or so out to
a national park from here.  It was only 25 bucks for the whole day, but
considering that could get me about a month's worth of either food or
hostels (literally!)...on top of which, entrance to the park was another
$25 - incredibly steep for China.  But it was so worth it!!  

The park is native habitat for pandas (both kinds), monkeys and leopards
(none of
which I saw), and stretches up, up, up the side of a 5000+ meter
mountain.  The whole way up, there's a peculiar river full of calcium
that has deposited intself into a series of walls over several thousand
years, so now it's a series of multi-coloured pools and waterfalls -
incredible!!  From bright yellow to green to turquoise to bright robin's
egg blue to snow white, depending on how much mineral is in the
particular pool...all against the backdrop of this snow-capped mountain.

I went out early, so there were almost no people there.  I think I saw
no more than a dozen the entire 4.2 km climb up to the temple at the top
(not the top of the mountain!  just of the park...) - which is
surrounded by over 600 jewel-clear pools in various shades. 
Unbelieveable.  Felt like heaven!  In fact, the temple was built about
1500 years ago there and people believed that if you saw the pools there
you actually saw an opening into heaven.  Spent a leisurely few hours
wandering around, munching on my packed lunch (the lady at the
guesthouse is SO helpful - she arranged everything for me and even
reminded me there's no food available there...), and reading surrounded
by the sounds of rushing water.

On the way back, nearly at the end, I ran into the incredible tide that
is the Chinese tourist network.  Literally thousands upon thousands of
people!  Didn't see another white face the whole time, which is also
pretty awesome.  I was definitely the salmon swimming upstream!  But I
made it out to my driver just in time, and the ride back was deserted
since all the vehicles were parked with the tourists as the park.  

On the way back, the road follows the ridge near the top of the opposing
mountain.  Luckily it's a new road with good siderails, or it would have
been terrifying to see those multi-thousand foot sheer drops to the
valley bottom.  No shoulders here!  Almost an hour of hairpin turns up
and down, up and down.  Not far out of the park, we spotted a chinese
panther stalking a herd of sheep on the side of the hill.  And we're
talking CLOSE.  Like, 20 feet or less.  What amazing animals!!!!!  I
couldn't believe it would just be out in the open, with that huge road
so near, and since the driver was also surprised, probably it wasn't a
common site.  The whole trip was worth it just for that!

It's very, very hot here today, and I'm getting on another 9 hour bus at
6am tomorrow (to Chengdu, to figure out my train tickets to Shanghai on
the 13th), so for the rest of the day I have big plans to relax with my
drink tea, and have a Tibetan massage.  I had a foot massage yesterday
(an hour for $3!), which was awesome, so figure I'll have the full body
today.  This is the life!!  And on that note...

Happy day to you and hope you're well!  Love, Roberta