CHINA: Part 1

On Sunday, April 19th I packed up my things and left South Africa after being there for two months! I flew from Cape Town, to Dubai, to Beijing!!!! I was almost as excited to fly on Emirates as I was for this part of the trip!

I had arranged an airport pick up but did not see them when I arrived! I had gotten a local SIM card but all the phone numbers I had were international and wouldn’t work! I walked back past arrivals and thankfully saw the sign with my name on it!

We drove two hours through Beijing traffic (probably a 20 or 30 minute drive without) and arrived at the hotel around 6:30pm. I checked in quickly and was directed to the 9th floor where my group was meeting in a boardroom. I went up with all my things to meet them! We were a group of 15 people, and our local guide Frank. We went through the itinerary for the first few days, and then went out as a group to dinner at a local restaurant. Frank ordered a ton of dishes and the table was able to try a bit of everything. I was very hungry so everything tasted really good!

The plan for this trip to is hike different parts of the Great Wall each day. My main interest in coming to China was to see the Great Wall so I was very glad to have found a tour that goes really in depth to lesser known// more wild parts of the Wall.

TUESDAY

On our first full day, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing. As a group, we took the subway there, which was actually really fun. I was also happy to find the signs were in English aswell (but was still glad to have Frank!) The line to get through security into Tiananmen Square was really long, (and the Chinese have different ideas about personal space) but we made it in and were able to look around and explore. It was really incredible. The emperors of China used to live in the Forbidden City so it’s a huge complex of palaces. We saw the imperial gardens, and then went to a noodle restaurant for lunch.

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That afternoon, we were able to attend a traditional tea ceremony and try different teas local to China. We made our way back to the hotel and met up after dinner to go to a Chinese Acrobat show! It was very cool, and a great introductory day to Beijing.

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I slept as though it was Christmas Eve because I was SO excited to wake up and go to the Great Wall!

We started off as 15 people in this group. BUT THEN Saleme from Canada, had been throwing up all last night and was not getting better so spent the day in hospital. He decided he wanted to go home. He has to return to hospital to get a note for his insurance and won’t be continuing with us.

Scott from Australia wasn’t feeling well after our sightseeing day. After we returned from the acrobat show we found out he also went to hospital and had developed a blood clot in his lung (likely Deep Vein Thrombosis from the flight) so he wont be joining us either. We’re dropping like flies!

WEDNESDAY

This morning, we woke up, checked out of the hotel, and drove two hours out of the city centre to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. We could see the Wall as we approached and I was giddy! We stopped for a quick lunch then were ready to go! We took a shuttle bus to the foot of the wall, and then most of us climbed the steps. There were probably 1000 and it was VERY steep, BUT we made it and it was incredible! We could see the Wall going on so far in the distance! After catching our breath, we started to walk along and explore. Some of our group took the cable car up. The ones who walked got on at Tower 10, and we walked to Tower 19 to meet everyone. We passed a photo shoot for a wedding, which seems like such a fantastic place for wedding photos!

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We met the group and were faced with a HUGE wall of steps going directly up, for what seemed like forever! Frank explained that it goes up and down like this, some times without steps, just loose rocks for most of the way. This is one of the hardest days of hiking. I figured we had 6 more days of hiking, and this bit didn’t look particularly fun. We had the option to turn back and meet our driver so I decided to do that. I’m not here because I’m an avid hiker; I’m here to see the Wall! It was nice to take my time going back along the part I had just seen. I met the bus and two others in my group and drove around the mountain to meet the rest of the hikers. We arrived in a little village, and shortly after the others arrived as well, and we drove to a cute little local guesthouse to stay the night. The house belongs to a local farmer who has turned some of the rooms into guest rooms. We had a big window with a view of the Wall on top of the mountain. It was incredible.

That night, we learned to make dumplings with the farmer’s wife, and then had them for dinner, along with a ton of other local Chinese dishes. We all went to bed early and exhausted!

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THURSDAY

We woke up, had breakfast, and went on a hike to the Great Wall near where we were staying. The farmer came with us. He’s about 70 years old and climbed the wall like it was nothing (while I was huffing and puffing!) This part of the Wall was not restored like yesterday. They call it the ‘Wild Great Wall’. It was just as beautiful. To think how old the Wall is and how we’re able to come and walk on it is incredible. The stones were a bit loose and steep so we actually had to CLIMB with out hands as well but the views were more than worth it.

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We climbed down, checked out of the guesthouse, and drove about two hours from Mutianyu to Gubeikou, another section of the Wall. We had lunch there, then a bit of a break before another hike on this section. I sat out on a beautiful little canal lined with flowy willow trees and red Chinese lanterns. It’s beautiful here.

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We hiked up to another, less restored part of the Wall. If we didn’t already know we were on the Great Wall it would be hard to tell! It was beautiful though. We walked to two watchtowers, and from the second we could see different sections of the Wall as far as the eye can see! It was incredible! It got really windy, and one guy, David lost his hat. It blew a bit down the mountain and we could still see it but our guide was adamant he didn’t go get it; too dangerous. David was insistent and before it was decided, the local woman who we’re staying with (she did the hike with us) climbed down this treacherous little slope like it was nothing and got the hat! We hiked back down and returned to the guesthouse, and had a Thai Chi lesson before dinner!

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FRIDAY

I skipped sunrise thai chi this morning. We got ready, and hiked the ‘Crouching Tiger’ section of the Great Wall! To get there we crossed a set of train tracks that we thought were abandoned, but just as the last person crossed, a train came whizzing by!

The hike up to the Wall was on a steep windy dirt road that took quite a while! When we got to the top, there were two watchtowers to our right that we could go explore but they were up STEEP broken steps. Probably the steepest and least restored we’d seen. I was so excited! Some people decided to sit that one out, so we left our bags with them and started our climb. It was so exhausting and so fun! Craig and I made it to the top first. We were catching our breath, looking around and I found a set of stairs leading to the roof. I called Craig over and scrambled up the steps (thinking if our guide Frank arrived he might advise against it.) It was the most spectacular view! I was so proud of how far I had come (literally and figuratively) to get to this place. It was incredible.

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We made our way back down and stayed on the Wall to have a picnic lunch. It was the perfect afternoon! There was another watchtower on the other side some of us went to look at. We could see paths along the hill that lead back to our guesthouse. There was a path that lead along the wall itself so we split into two groups, some going down the way we came, and the others walking along the wall. We met in the middle.

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We made it back to our guesthouse in the afternoon. There was another optional walk (that I was not interested in) so I spent the afternoon hanging out in our village.

Pamela

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