I Sailed Away to China

Just not the way I expected

My Chinese adventure started on one snowy day in November. I had a doctors appointment, I was on my way back to work when I got no fewer than 30 text messages. Work had been running a raffle for our social committee, the top prize was 1,000 dollars, the second prize was 750 dollars, and the third prize was 250 dollars. According to the text messages, I had won the top prize. When I got back to the office I found out that wasn’t exactly true. I had also won second prize. I had split a ticket with a friend. I also won the third prize, they had been selling group tickets in a last-ditch effort to sell all the tickets and our group of four got lucky. All said and done I won close to 1,500 dollars, not a bad day.

I started looking at vacations right away. I found an amazing deal with Sinorama, it was a little over 2,000 dollars but it included flights, hotels, and some meals leaving the second week of September. I was going to see the pandas! This was a lifelong dream come true for me. Panda’s had always been the animal I related to most. I find them utterly fascinating, all the odds are against their survival, and yet here they are.

Anyone who’s from Montreal will know this story isn’t going to end well.

Five months later, Sinorama was in receivership. No one saw this coming. They were a well-established agency and had a good reputation. No trips had been canceled we were told, they were mismanaging funds, it would be ok. The company that had taken over was supposed to be correcting the issue. In August I got the email I was secretly dreading, all trips after September 4th have been canceled. I can’t even explain the emotions when I read that email. I googled, I called and I emailed hoping beyond hope that my trip would magically be the last one to happen. It was not.

I was less than a month away from departure, the travel agency had closed and to make matters worse they had my passport (they had been assisting with the tourist visa). The next few days were a mad panic, getting my passport back was my first concern. After three days I managed to get it back, the upside, they had gotten my tourist visa.

I’m fortunate that Quebec has strong consumer protection laws. I was getting my money back, there was no risk there. The process was long, getting in touch with the right people was hard, but the funds were being returned. I ended up getting the money back in November, almost a year to the date I booked the trip.

I had to decide what I was going to do next, was I going to wallow in self-pity or was I going to China. After many calls to many travel agents to find a trip of a similar length, for the same dates and a comparable price (ok that’s a lie it was WAY more expensive) I booked a last-minute China trip with Contiki.

I was nervous about going with Contiki. I had heard stories about their Europe tours and was thinking I might be too old for that kind of trip. My first day with them changed my mind completely. Our trip manager was one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met. She was all about seeing the experience as the locals do and leaving behind our western views and judgments. If you don’t want to travel alone they are worth checking out.

The trip was everything I wanted and more. The pandas were fantastic, if you ever find yourself in Chengdu they are a must-see. It’s not a zoo but a sanctuary, they rescue and rehabilitate injured pandas from the wild. You get to walk around and visit them in their own habitat. They have pandas of all ages but only the youngest pandas are able to cohabitate any panda past teenage years is housed alone (their preference). This trip will always be a reminder for me that when you put your mind to it, you can make anything happen