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“How did you get up here?” I asked her. The lady replied, “They carried me.” As we continued our travels around Ethiopia, she was in the same places as we were, Lalibela, the Omo Valley and Addis Abba. 13-2I began speaking with her and learned this lady travels all over the world just like we do.pic7

But this lady travels in a wheelchair. Soon we became friends and I started asking how she makes it because I might need to know one day myself. And while we discussed all of her tips and ideas, I thought how many other people would like to know how she does it so successfully.

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Even the cattle were wondering how she made it to many countries around the world HANDICAPPED.

Following is her story and photos of her various trips around the world to Austria, Japan, Mongolia, Namibia, Norway, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Antarctica, Trans Siberian Express, Argentina, Bermuda and more.pic6

By Cynthia Henry

“Physically handicapped,” “disabled,” “physically challenged,” “differently abled”….. I have yet to find any term that feels comfortable for a life-changing condition that no one expects.  But, I no longer need to!  Thanks to Journeys International and API Tours of Indonesia (JI’s overseas operator), Focus Tours and more, I now use “World Traveler!”  What a thrill to return from two and a half weeks in Indonesia and say, “What a grand trip—and it was do-able!”pic1

Were there challenges? Well, sure.  Did they work out?  Yes, with the help of my traveling companions, Molly and Carolynne, and the operators, drivers, guides, boatmen and local people of Journeys/API and Focus Tours.  Were the challenges overwhelming?  NO!  Could I do every single activity that Molly and Carolynne did?  I never planned to and did sit out some, but was thrilled and amazed at what everyone made possible!pic5

I had done much traveling over the years and planned to continue as I eased into retirement in 2003.  I got in four overseas trips until… March 2005.  Who was to know that I would then topple off an exercise ball and suffer a spinal cord injury? As I lay paralyzed in rehab, thoughts of going to such remote places flowed out of my head while I instead worked on feeding myself a cheese sandwich. 

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Does this look handicapped accessible? It is if you have several strong wonderful men helping you in every way.

Well, movement came back.  I eventually returned home, learned how to live from a wheelchair and soon “graduated” to a walker.  I continue to use the walker and always will; I take a wheelchair on trips, which I use as a walker when not being pushed.   I can go up and down steps, either with a railing or with support from two companions and someone hauling the wheelchair up.    I am slow, awkward and have a variety of physical issues, but…I can also travel around the world! 

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My wheelchair was welcomed in all countries I visited and so was I. We both were treated with a “can do” attitude and they figured out every way to make the trip an enjoyable experience.

After I began experimenting with shorter and then longer excursions and finding out I could fly (get down the aisle and use the bathroom), a major life goal, I began thinking of the possibility of travel outside the country.  Since then, I have been on several overseas trips!  Five of my trips have been with Journeys International, that company rep providing the warmest and most hopeful and helpful response to my tentative query of  “….uh….what do you think?  Here’s what I can do.”   Pat’s response, in essence, were six magic words, “Our guides will get you up.”  And, they did!

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Stairs were no problem. Several men just picked me up in my wheelchair and carried me right up the stairs perfectly. But many times I was able to climb a few stairs using handrails and a helper.

JI’s philosophy is that people with special needs have rights—the right to travel, the right to have “inaccessible” places made accessible, the freedom to go places they may have thought impossible… They then provide the support of so many staff to make this happen.  Each JI agent has been wonderful in working with me.  They assure me this will work and take every step necessary to see that it does.  Many thanks to them!

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My traveling companions and good friends, Molly and Carolynne are always willing to travel with me and assist me

So, how did the staff on the ground make all this possible? First, the spirit of Journey’s International/API/Focus Tours was there.  I felt only support and no apprehension or dismay at the extra responsibilities that my situation meant for so many people. Every guide, driver (van or boat), hotel staff member and all others were kind, patient and helpful.Pic26.png

Bali, Indonesia had long been a goal, and so we finally booked it.  But, then, Molly called and said, “Guess what!!!  They have extensions to see the orangutans on Borneo and the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island!”  My immediate thought, was “Oh, no, extensive sitting in a van or on a boat or alongside the trail while my two friends go traipsing off on marvelous adventures.”  But, I weakly responded, “Uh, sure…take lots of pictures for me.”pic36

I generally have a “rule” of no pictures of me in the wheelchair, but the ingenuity, the creativity, the physical strength, the dedication of everyone, the incongruousness of it all—well, no choice this time around!  And, thank goodness, we did document, so that when our final guide, Yansur, asked that I do a report as a traveler with a disability, we were ready to say, “You bet!”    He hoped it would inspire more people with special needs to venture to the far corners of the globe.  I hope that will be the case.pic37

Now to my report on this specific trip, especially the parts that I had no expectations of seeing–the orangutans and the Komodo dragons…. Bali was lovely, fairly routine sightseeing , and we enjoyed the ease of driving around and staying at marvelous hotels.  Budi was our outstanding guide.  I did have to stay in the van for a few off-the-road surprises, but, am used to that.pic24 The main help provided that made a huge difference was our wonderful driver coming up with a step to make my way into the van without such massive bottom boosts.  Some vans are easier than others, and our driver throughout Bali converted this one into the “easy” category.  He and all drivers were so kind to wrestle that wheelchair in and out of the back area so I could enjoy the monkey forest near Ubud and a Rhesus monkey on my head.pic33

We flew to Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, for our orangutan experience  Again, I did not expect to see any, except possibly swinging through the jungle trees during the boat journeys or from the boat at the get-in site, both of which actually did happen.  Pic27.png

However, while still in Bali, my hopes were raised with a message from our wonderful companies that they were confident they had a plan to make it work!!! The word “palanquin” does not often come up in my vocabulary, but the written description brought it forth.  Sure enough…oh, my…  and my dream was accomplished well beyond anything I imagined.

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Momma and Baby at eating station in Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

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With my usual awkwardness and trepidation (all this isn’t emotionally stress-free), and with many hands helping many body parts, I am loaded bit by bit onto the boat, get comfy in my chair—and ponder my latest wheelchair riding in first class… rigged up with a rope loop handle attached to each of the four corners.pic34

After two hours, with a couple of orangutans along the way, we reach delightful Rimba Lodge and enough adventures for us all!  First by my just getting there…!   We begin with a nice boardwalk and board-carrying me in my wheelchair. And, off we go—some bare feet, tree roots, bumps, streams, slippery slopes…hard work, indeed!pic35

Success!   It can be handy to bring your own ringside seat for watching orangutans at a feeding station or mother and baby right in front of you.

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Dr. Birute Galdikas is the number one orangutan expert in the world and the creator of Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

I had long wanted to see where Birute Galdikas, one of the three Leakey women primate researchers, did her thing, along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall doing theirs in Africa.  And, here I am at Camp Leakey, thanks to my “four strong men” as Erwin reassured me!pic42

On to the Komodo dragons on Rinca Island, Indonesia…another “impossible” feat to get me to these remarkable creatures..pic41

My wheelchair and a vegetable cart are loaded onto the boat. The cart was unloaded, and then fitted with a lounge chair so that I could follow the path of this prehistoric reptile waddling ahead of me. We made it to the ranger station for some fun viewing while the others trekked through the wilderness, seeing six in the wild.pic44

The four men from API Tours who met with us in the lobby of our hotel in Santur, at the end of our Indonesia journey emphasized that dealing with my specials needs, and working along with staff on the ground to solve the issues required was not a burden, but an exhilarating challenge to be creative and to work out plans for me to see the animals.a-196

And then there was Harbin, China and the world famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival where my wheelchair was fitted with skis that I was told to bring with me so my helper could just push me on ice around the awesomely incredible illuminated sculptures in below freezing temperature.2017-wheelchair-skis-closeup

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And then there was Antarctica where I thought I would just see it. But, no. The ship crew saw to it that I would experience and stand on THE island and even enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate making it.cynthia-on-cont

Our experience in Mongolia was another great experience. Several times, I left the wheelchair and one time I would be surprised when I returned to it, like the time a precious Mongolian boy taking a nap or working on a game. mongolia-2009

And in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, an iguana was resting on the chair’s arm and a chameleon sat on my arm.pic23

In Myanmar/Burma, we watched an ox harvest peanut oil while walking around and around. Afterwards, we could buy it and sample it. What an experience that was.burma-2013-3

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And in Papua New Guinea, we were so fortunate to experience the Asaro Mudmen. Amazing! I am so grateful for all who made feasible these incredible experiences that I never imagined would happen.

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Watching the tango being danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina was one highlight of our trip there. Photo by Carolyn.

I encourage anyone to contact me should you have questions or need additional information. Perhaps by knowing as much as possible about my physical situation and adaptations, this will help you judge your ability to travel to “far away places with strange sounding names!” If anyone can get you there, Journeys International/API Tours, Focus Tours and others can if you ask!

Cynthia Henry     cynthiahenry819@gmail.com

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Here we are going into Camp Leakey to see those orangutans up close and personal.

 

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When I visited the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, I learned they are equipped with a chair to carry handicapped persons up the mountain to be with the gorillas. So, I hired a crew of 8-12 men to carry me up the mountain for a one-hour trek. Four men rotated every 10 minutes. The experience was unbelievable and the scenery up and back was so beautiful and interesting. With those men carrying me, we crossed a creek like it wasn’t there in Uganda. Waiting for us was a family of gorillas going about their daily life for us to enjoy. It was worth every penny and a once in a lifetime experience I will treasure always. Emmy Maseruka (emmymaseruka@gmail.com) of Afrikan Wildlife Safaris, was our guide for the entire safari and visit to the gorillas. He did an A+ job for us. Emmy will take 2 persons or more to see the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda for 10 days for $4851.00 per person, (plus government gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda are separate). Carolyn

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Here I am in Lhasa, Tibet enjoying my favorite chocolate ice cream while riding in a wheelchair the entire 3 days because of my broken foot. My 2 helpers took me all over the nearly 11,500 feet high city. It was a wonderful experience.

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While sitting in a wheelchair, this beautiful lady in Saudi Arabia put henna on my hands. It was at one of the booths at an entertainment park during a special festival for the families around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. June Landrum, my adventurous travel companion and I were honored to attend this special festival. The people were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them and we took photos of each other on our cell phones! I was in a wheelchair for this event because I could not walk for 4 hours non-stop due to my chronic arthritic back pain.

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And yes, June Landrum and I had to have an ice cream like we do in every country we visit in the world. And everyone is delicious! Of, course, we are stared at everywhere we go and we become friends with them all. This Saudi Arabia tour with Spiekermann Tours (mideastrvl.com)  was a delightful, fun experience with the incredible country and we were welcomed everywhere we went.

 

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com

Photos taken for Cynthia’s story were by Molly.

 

 

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As I stepped off the plane in Lhasa, Tibet, absolute joy came to me because I was still breathing at 12,000 feet. And I continued to breathe normally hour after hour, day after day, making the 4-day visit my dream come true.

Portala Palace, home of the former Dalai Lamas.

Portala Palace, home of the former Dalai Lamas, in Lhasa Tibet.

It was the surprise of a lifetime because my lungs caused me great concern about visiting one of the highest cities in the world. At around 12,000 feet high, it was my first time to experience a super high altitude. I even Googled precautions suggested to be taken in a high altitude.

Portala Place, another beautiful view.

Portala Place, another beautiful view.

After consulting my physician, I was assured the altitude would not cause any breathing problems for me in Lhasa. And he was correct. I didn’t even know I was high in altitude and experienced no difference in my breathing at 1200 feet or 12,000 feet.

Tibetan lady in her native attire passes 2 Tibetan monks in the park.

Tibetan lady in her native attire passes 2 Tibetan monks in the park.

To make sure there would be no breathing problems, I even consulted a Travel Clinic. There, the altitude sickness pill, Acetazolamide, was prescribed and recommended that I follow the directions exactly as written for the medicine. It worked perfectly for me.

The beautiful massive 999-room Portala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.

The beautiful massive 999-room Portala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas.

The first afternoon after arrival in Lhasa, we rested as recommended by all advisors. But the next day, we went full time seeing Lhasa, truly a place of the Gods on that Himalayan plateau with many of the culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites.DSC_0012

Potala Palace, the home of Dalai Lamas, was the first place we visited and the most glorious of all with 999 rooms on top of a hill totally viewable from 360 degrees. It overlooked everything. Now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a magnificent discovering adventure.DSC_0646

Tibetans were performing their daily clockwise sacred circumambulation, called Kora in Tibetan. Carrying their prayer beads, they walked around the palace while rotating a prayer wheel clockwise in their hand and praying to Buddha. DSC_0045

The faithful pray for good luck, protection, long life, good health, well being of others, wisdom, peace, and happiness, plus it is just good daily exercise. When we finished touring the Potala Palace, we joined the Tibetans in their circumambulation around it.DSC_0702

The most enlightening was the people and their faces and being allowed to experience a sliver of their lives on a particular day. And when the sun came out in the afternoon, we spent several hours in the large park full of beautiful landscapes, flowers, and people dressed in their native Tibetan clothing with apron. And I was still breathing just fine.DSC_0114DSC_0036DSC_0070DSC_0091

Our second UNESCO visit was the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace, Norbulingka, with its very colorful décor and flowers everywhere.

UNESCO describes Norbulingka Palace, built in the 18th century, as a masterpiece of Tibetan art. And it truly is magnificent.

UNESCO describes Norbulingka Palace, built in the 18th century, as a masterpiece of Tibetan art. And it truly is magnificent.

DSC_0258DSC_0204 The palace was built by the 7th Dalai Lama in 1755 as the traditional summer palace and has the furnishings that the 14th Dalai Lama had until his exile in 1959 to India.

The grounds of Norbulingka Palace covers 89 acres (36 hectares) and is considered the largest manmade garden. It was covered with flowers when we visited and it was glorious.

The grounds of Norbulingka Palace covers 89 acres (36 hectares) and is considered the largest manmade garden. It was covered with flowers when we visited and it was glorious.

Serving as the administrative and religious centers, it is close to Portala Palace and has 1 of 3 parks adjoining it that remain of the 22 original parks in Lhasa. The highlight of this visit was the opportunity to dress like a Tibetan princess for a photo.DSC_0279

Our third UNESCO visit was to the most sacred and important Jokhang Temple, located in Bangkor Square in the old section of Lhasa that is the site of the most famous kora circumambulation ritual.DSC_0387 Here, pilgrims prostrate themselves daily continuously by lying stretched out face down on the ground.

Prostration is lying face down on the ground.

Prostration is lying face down on the ground. They have to keep their legs together so they tie them.

Prostration involves the full body above the knees touching the ground especially the hands. This Buddhist practice shows reverence for the Triple Gem (comprising the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community) and other objects of great reverence and respect. After the pilgrim is face down on the ground, he then gets up, walks 3 short steps forward and prostrates himself again all around the Jokhang Temple or any sacred site until 108 prostrations have been performed. And many pilgrims do this daily.DSC_0543DSC_0544DSC_0545DSC_0546DSC_0547

Buddhists believe prostration to be beneficial for practitioners because it is an experience of giving or veneration, an act to purify defilements especially conceit, a preparatory act before meditation, and an act that accumulates merit.DSC_0686

Each of the 108 prostration takes away defilement (greed, hate, delusion) and cleans a compartment in the mind. Sometimes a person has much anger, desire or a lazy mind and then must perform 300, 500 or 1000 prostrations. The person, then, is clean and is one with everything. Prostration purifies body, speech and mind.DSC_0850

Others circumambulate clockwise around Jokhang Temple and Bangor Square to shop in the colorful stores, formed as a bustling market for Tibetan and foreign goods. And I was still breathing just fine as I shopped.DSC_0894

DSC_0828Two huge prayer flag poles in front of Jokhang Temple were loaded with prayer flags. It is believed the energy of the prayers and sacred mantras on the flags flown in the wind will bring all good things to all who see them and their families, friends, and all people throughout the world. DSC_0387The red flags signify fire, blue for sky/space, green for water, yellow for earth and white for wind/air/clouds.DSC_0942DSC_0964

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The incense pots send smoke up to the Portala Palace and over the block long row of prayer wheels waiting for the faithful to rotate each one often.

Large incense pots smoked 24 hours a day non-stop as worshipers regularly prayed as they put offerings into the pots. The incense smoke is not considered smoke because it communicates with the Gods.DSC_0378

The wonderful visit to Lhasa ended at the Enlightened Blind Massage Center with a massage. Started by Kyila, a blind lady herself, who had a dream at age 12 to help blind people have an occupation, the center opened in 2014.

The blind lady who massaged my sore muscles at the Blind Massage Center.

The blind lady who massaged my sore muscles at the Blind Massage Center.

After studying massage in Beijing, the students then come to the center in Lhasa to gain work and experience and hopefully one day open their own massage center. Kyila also opened a kindergarten in 2011 for blind children and it is very successful.

This young lady, with her precious little baby on her back, sold items at the Jokhang Temple.

This young lady, with her precious little baby on her back, sold items at the Jokhang Temple.

Our wonderful enlightening adventure came to an end but the experience will remain with us always.DSC_0094DSC_0433DSC_0057DSC_0746DSC_0168 DSC_0166The beautiful and friendly Tibetan people, the sacred Jokhang Temple, the magnificent Portala Place, and the very colorful Norbulingka Palace were truly outstanding UNESCO treasurers. And I didn’t miss a breath of air the entire visit.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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The branches on top of the original Tibetan apartment buildings signify good luck.

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He appeared suddenly, carrying a wooden case. Chest bulging, he introduced himself as Mr. Cricket. Christina and I thought he was joking. We were eating a home-cooked Chinese meal in a Beijing, China Hutong when Mr. Cricket walked up and began telling us about cricket fighting.

In a deep raspy voice that matched his deeply wrinkled, suntanned skin, Liu Yong Jiang explained how he has raised fighting crickets for 30 years. He reached into his sweatshirt, pulled out a jar with a cricket inside, and set it on our lunch table. We started laughing. The man couldn’t be serious.

But he was.

A good quality cricket is very expensive, Mr. Cricket told us through a translator, and can cost as much as a horse.  A man can lose his wife, house, or land over cricket fighting.

Baby crickets take 100 days to mature to adulthood, but fighting begins at two months of age. Mr. Cricket explained that he uses a stick with two mouse hairs attached to it to train his cricket. He has to be very careful in handling a cricket, as picking one up with the hand could break its legs. He uses a wire strainer to catch and pick the insect up, and special utensils for cleaning and feeding it.

To prepare his cricket for a fight, Mr. Cricket bathes, feeds, and waters it. The fight occurs in a bowl. Competitors fight until one jumps out. The winning cricket sells for a lot of money, sometimes into the thousands of dollars. Mr. Cricket showed us his 2005 China Cricket Fighting Championship certificate. His prize was a car.

As he was leaving, he told the cricket to tell us goodbye. The cricket raised his right leg and waved.   Mr. Cricket was no longer a joke to us.Cruise-SydBei2011 523

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She was sitting on the ground and needed a hug and someone to play with, so I sat by her and we hugged and played and kissed each other. I rubbed my fingers through her cute, stiff straw-like course hair. And she rolled over and tumbled like a ball many times, and bit and scratched me.

But personally playing with a year-old panda in China at one of the 2 breeding and research centers was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a dream come true for me, because I think the giant panda is the number one cutest and most precious animal in the world. And I was so fortunate to get to play with one when I toured with the San Diego Zoo to Wolong, China (now Bifengxia Panda Base since May 23, 2008 when Wolong was destroyed by an earthquake) to see pandas. We even played patty-cakes.

Besides playing with a panda, we were allowed to see Hua Mei, Bai Yun’s first American-born panda at the San Diego Zoo, who was then at Wolong and had just given birth to twins. The twins were 3 weeks old and observing one in the incubator was like looking at a stick of butter, except it was pink. Wrapped in a blanket under a heat lamp in an incubator, the panda nursery looked like a human baby nursery in any hospital. And the nursery was attended just like a human baby intensive care unit in our hospitals. We observed the baby sleeping in an incubator through a huge glass window just like we would in a hospital baby nursery. The room was spic and span, clean and white.

But seeing American born Hua Mei in a corner of her big room-den, sitting up so big black and white, grand and tall looking, and nursing her other twin was just the cutest most rewarding experience of the entire adventure. We had to be silent and non-intrusive so as not to disturb her nursing session, so we peeked through a 6-inch crack in the door. She nursed one at a time and while doing so, the other twin was in the incubator.

Seeing 40 more adult pandas at the breeding and research center couldn’t match that. However, it was a joy to see each adult panda in their own large private open yard and house. One vivid memory from the tour of pandas at Wolong (now Bifengxia) in their own environment was a panda in her house. Through the big glass windows in the house, I could see the panda sitting with her big round black and white head and 2 ears sticking up. It was just too cute.

But I didn’t get to play with just one panda. I got to play with 7 young pandas that were in their play yard on their climbing equipment. They were so busy climbing and tumbling and just doing their thing but they made time for us all. Each panda was ready to pose with us for our photo and even posed one-on-one for our Christmas card. Whatever we wanted, they were ready to perform.

We had to move on, though, because it was time for the 7 young pandas to eat. They were given a milk-looking cereal food specially formulated for them. Each one was given a pan full of it and down they came from the play equipment. One drank the potion and another picked up the pan and dumped the contents on the ground. Two had a little dispute over the food and another sat and ate. I had to remind myself that the precious panda bears’ behavior was like animals as they were animals. They ended their meal with white faces and cereal formula all over them.

But before this animal adventure was over, there was one more surprise. We were taken to see a Golden Monkey, which is rarer than a panda. I had never seen one. The orange and white monkey was about 3 feet tall and lives only in China. When I saw him, I learned that they did not exist in the Western Hemisphere yet, but efforts were being made to get them there. What a handsome, beautiful monkey he was. Little did we know that more precious pandas were to follow.

And the final surprise was a visit to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center in China. Besides seeing another 50 pandas in their wide open habitat, we learned about the special foods that are made for the pandas. Custom-made pellets were full of vitamins and nutrition pandas need to be healthy. And infant pandas needed special baby formulas to survive. Cow’s milk was not giving a baby panda nutrition so the special foods were formulated.

But getting to play, hug and kiss a baby panda for 15 minutes in China shall forever remain the pinnacle of my life.

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