Waiting for the thunderstorm to pass
So, its been a busy time.
We decided to fly from Chengdu to Shenzhen and get a bus back to Hong Kong as the train route was experiancing problems due to the earthquake. We checked back into the Dragon hostel in Sincere House as we knew it was a decent place to stay. The next day we headed to the airport to meet Sarah who was coming out to travel with us during the six weeks holidays (shes a teacher).
One of the many watch towers we clambered through
We had to spend several days in Hong Kong as Sarah needed a China visa and as she arrived on a Thursday it wouldnt be done until Monday evening. We spent the days visiting a few things we hadnt seen on our last visit. We went to Victoria park as Sarah had been in Hong Kong when she was younger and planted a conker in the park and was interested to know if it had grown. We walked round looking at trees but alas we could find no conker tree.
Once we had got Sarahs passport back we got a sleeper train back to Beijing. The train took 24 hours, arriving at 4pm. We jumped into a taxi to take us to our hotel, which we had managed to get for a reasonable price after searching online. Because the Olympic games opening ceremony was in two days everywhere had hiked their prices astronomically high.
Are we having fun yet?
We had only come back to Beijing to go on a tour of the Great wall but we hoped to see a bit of the Olympics too. The next day we were picked up at 8.30am by our tour guide Robert. He was a very friendly, slightly camp Chinese man who happened to have several rather long (about 3 inches) hairs protruding from a mole on his chin. We were the only people on our tour so it was effectively a private tour! We first of all were driven past the Olympic 'Birds nest' stadium where the opening cermony was going to be held. It was very hazy and there were lanes of traffic in the way so we didnt see it that well but it was cool to go past it just the same.
Our first stop was at the Ming tombs. It is set over several acres and houses the tombs of 13 emperors from the Ming dynasty. We walked down the entrance pathway, which has several groups of stone statues lining the sides.
Each group has four statues, two standing to signal they are on guard and two sitting to signal they are at rest. There are several animal statues, camels, horses, elephants, lions and mystical beasts; as well as three groups of human statues. We decended into the Ding Ling tomb, which has five different chambers. There are no actual skeletons in the tomb as they were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but they have placed coffins where they shoud be to show how things were. Afterwards we stopped at a restaurant to have lunch before starting the three hour drive to the wall (I fell asleep so dont remember much).
Because of the Olympics we were not allowed to sleep on the wall like we had originally intended so were checked into a hotel just outside the entrance to the wall.
Taking a well earned break
We wanted to see sunset so Robert took us down to the entrance and got the tickets to get us through. Inside the entrance we walked passed a small cluster of shops and cafes, with people coming out to look at us and offer us the various wares they had on display. We also a small band of people following us, who, we were informed by Robert would follow us in the hopes of selling us something. The walk upto the base of the wall was pretty steep, and we had to rest once we got there. My fittness levels are pretty low!! It took us a good twenty minutes to get to our intended spot, with one of the vendors helping us over some of the tricky parts. We didnt really wnt her help but she was pretty insistant. As soon as we got to our destination we were told that we had to leave again. There were locals that must of been some sort of officals stationed at the various watch towers and they told our guide that we had to leave.
Rachel looks unsure about climbing the near vertical crumbling wall
The sky was pretty hazy so we wouldnt of seen much of the sun setting anyways. When we got back to the base of the wall the vendors again renewed their attempts to sell us their goods. We did eventually buy a book on the wall as it detailed the part we were going to be walking the next day but one of the other vendors who was annoyed that we hadnt bought anything off her became very persistant, even telling Rachel that if we didnt buy anything her baby would go hungry! We eventually managed to shake her off and walked back to our hotel for a much needed rest. Tomorrow was going to be tough!
After half hour we decided to go for dinner, spotting a snake (which we were later told was poisonous!) just outside our room on the way. Dinner was a fun affair. Robert ordered a variety of dishes for us to share and we all had beer to celebrate being at the wall.
12kms & 5.5 hours later....FINISHED!!!
Our driver, who spoke no English, joined us hal way through the meal and we had great fun chatting, via Robert, to him. We didnt get to bed until gone midnight but had decided to get up at 4.30am to make it to the wall in time fo sunrise.
Next day we arose bright and early, only to find it was starting to rain lightly. We went for breakfast, hoping it would soon stop. During breakfast the rain developed into a full on thunderstorm, with huge cracks of thunder telling us we woudnt be leaving for a while. It took an hour for the storm to recede enough for us to get underway by which time we had missed sunrise. We were hoping to avoid the vendors from yesterdy but there was one guy who had been hagging around since first thing who followed us as we left, even though our guide had told him we were not interested.
We started our climb in near zero visability, we could see no more than six foot in front of us so the magnificent views were hidden. We were soon very thasnkfully for the lack of sun as within minutes we were dripping with sweat. There are no flat sections of walkway on the wall. It is built along the ridge of the mountain so follows its ups and downs, which are VERY up and down! The first part had proper steps, being rebuilt in parts to make it look as it was hundreds of years ago. We had to take rests often, but made steady progress, finding that although we were finding it hard our bodies hit a point where the discomfort levelled out and it didnt get any worse.
There are no words adaquate to discribe hiking the wall.
Inching our way down again
There were points where the steps were so high they came up to almost my knee and they rose almost vertically so that we had to climbed them like a ladder. Some sections of the wall were so badly crumbled we had to inch our way down for fear of slipping off the side. We were hot, sweaty, tired, aching in every muscle, so out of breath I thought I was going to have an asthma attack.....and it was FANTASTIC!!! We never walked, we climbed/scrambled/scrabbled/slid and inched 12 km from Jinshanling
to Simatai in 5 ½ hours. It is by far the most challanging thing I have ever done and I will never forget standing there, seeing the wall stretch out before and behind me with mountains all around.