Today I spent a half day at the Boston Globe Travel show. I went because I was curious and it's like a mall of vacation and travel opportunities. Granted 70% of it was cruise, Caribbean and package travel companies. It was the 30% of other offerings that captivated me. My goal primarily was to talk to two of the companies that offer the panda volunteer experience in China. Three companies have that connection and two were there to speak with. Access China Tours, the company I wrote to when I was sick and first heard of this possibility, was there and the sales guy sort of gave me the car showroom feeling. What did pique my interest though was that this year's itinerary (which I am waiting for them to finalize) includes Xi'an, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. That is a huge score; if I'm going to China possibly once in my life, to see the Great Wall and the Warriors would be imperative. Access China's previous itineraries did not include Xi'an.
Where my well-thought-out plan went awry was when I attended the presntation on "Off the Beaten Path China" by Wendy Wu, owner of Wendy Wu's China, the other company I am investigating. She had me at hello. Her slide show had pictures of things I'd never have dreamt would attract me. She had several variations on lengths and depths of trips. Some "only for people who've been to China 6 times." Yes, that's right, six times. To me it just really seemed like she has her act together and knows how to do this right. She pointed out that she doesn't just take you to the closest, most crowded point at the Great Wall like everyone else does, she takes you to somewhere more secluded. "No photos with millions of other tourists", she says. Hmmmm. I've read that she is the UK and Australia's #1 China Travel Consultant, just now making in-roads in the US. This could be very good for me....
I sought Wendy out after her presentation and asked about the panda volunteer trip. She said it would be customized for me. Just me. There'd be no group of 15 going to volunteer, I'd be doing it on my own. I'd also have private guide and driver in the rest of China (where have I heard this before?). She recommended 9 days to see Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai, and end in Chengdu where the pandas are. Taking a very quick look at her catalog, this trip is already proving to be far less expensive than Russia. At least 30-40% and it includes air and visa. Yee ha.
I spent a fair amount of time signing up for raffles for free trips (I'd go to the Azores for free -- it's only 4 hours away!) and even spoke with a hot-looking South African guy about safaris (coming soon!) as well as a rep from the Turkish and Israeli Tourist Boards. I have bags of stuff I need to read!!!
So I'm waiting to see Access China's itinerary and will call Wendy later in the week (she said to call and ask for her directly!) But given that I just can't seem to get excited about Poland, or Germany, or Italy, but I have this simmering internal flame of wanderlust for China, maybe this is it. Stay tuned.