The story of Panda Li consists of three parts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 (this page) | Part 5
Word spread like wildfire that Li the Panda was planning a trip back to the island where a major hurricane had stranded him several years ago.
Some were curious about what he wanted to do there. Others worried it would be too dangerous to embark on such a long journey.
Li told them all, “I want to see my old friends again. I need to see how they are doing!” Everyone understood and offered to help with the preparations.
They loaded up the boat with several bags of bamboo shoots, some fresh and some dried so they would last longer. They packed enough for three strong panda bears to eat throughout the whole trip because Li’s brothers were going with him.
They also packed blankets, water canisters, board games and more. Everyone contributed something they knew would be helpful.
The days leading up to the trip passed as if in the blink of an eye. Li and his brothers made sure everything they packed was weatherproofed. Once they had enough provisions and some gifts for their friends, they were ready to take off.
Everyone was curious about the faraway island and its inhabitants and would have loved to join the travelers. Li promised to send them a message when he arrived and to return with a big surprise. Then he and his brothers boarded the boat and set sail.
The sea was very calm and they made slow progress. Although Li could not remember the way well, he had a feeling that they were going in the right direction.
Sometimes the water was so calm that they had to row hard in order to gain any speed. They would have liked a little more wind because the sails didn’t help in a lull and it was quite exhausting to row so much.
When night fell, the three brothers agreed that they would take turns keeping watch while the others slept. This way they could keep their strength up for the rest of the journey.
It was Li’s turn to keep watch on the first night. The wooded shores were very eerie in the dark and the usually crystal clear water was jet black.
The noises at night were very different too. Sounds that one hardly noticed during the day were loud and strange.
Li heard unfamiliar calls coming from the direction of the forest and a sudden splash under the boat. Then he heard something flutter past his ear.
The young panda felt a little queasy, but he didn’t want to admit it to his brothers. So he shook himself vigorously, looked at the moon which showed him the way, and started humming something to himself.
But as much as Li tried to distract himself, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was tampering with his boat.
He heard a knock, then felt a jerk. But no matter hard he tried, Li couldn’t see anything.
He listened very carefully and heard a soft clicking sound coming from the edge of the boat. Then he heard a knocking on the boat from the same spot. Li fought the urge to wake up his brothers and decided to look for himself.
Very carefully, he crawled to the end of the boat. When he bent down to the water, he found a long, wet, strong nose.
Li was startled and leap back from the edge.
“What was that?” he thought.
The noises continued so he prepared himself to look again. Now they were coming from all sides of the boat.
Somehow, the noises seemed familiar. Suddenly, he remembered the dolphins that accompanied his raft on its return trip. They made the same sounds!
He quickly ran over to the edge again and sure enough, several dark silhouettes were swirling around the boat.
“Hey,” Li greeted the dolphins. “You all gave me a quite a scare!”
The dolphins swam around the boat, rocking it in the water as a greeting. This woke up Li’s brothers.
“What’s all this noise, Li?” his eldest brother asked, still quite sleepy.
“All this rocking is making me seasick,” said the other.
“Look, it’s the dolphins from the island!” Li said. “If we follow them, we’re sure to find our way faster. Maybe they’ll even give us a boost. Hold on tight, guys. I think we’re about to go at a different pace!”
The dolphins circled the boat and started pushing it at breakneck speed through the black waters.
As the sun rose, the dolphins let go of the boat. As a farewell, they made a few more jumps and swam away.
The pandas had prepared for a long journey but with the unexpected help from the dolphins, they had reached their destination much faster than planned.
The brothers took a look at their surroundings. The landscape was completely different from the one they knew from home. Their destination was right in front of them and they were heading straight for it.
“We’re here!” exclaimed Li.
They reached the shore of the island and found a place to dock the boat. Li noticed that something was different from his first visit.
The wide, sandy beach where the islanders had built the raft for Li’s return was no longer there. The water around the island was much higher than usual. It almost looked as though the large body of water would swallow the island whole.
As the brothers got out of the boat, they stood in knee-high water. The bottoms of the tree trunks and plants around them were all underwater. Li wondered where all the islanders were.
They climbed a hill to get a better look and heard a rustling in the bushes. A small head with a long neck appeared.
This time Li was not frightened at all. He ran up to the old turtle and hugged her tightly.
“I never thought I’d live to see this day!” said Patricia, the oldest inhabitant of the island. “It’s so nice to see you again my dear, brave Li. What a great surprise! And I see you even brought reinforcements. I am so happy to see you! Welcome back!”
To be continued…