That was officially the Hardest. Thing. Ever.
Yesterday The Wah and I climbed a 10km stretch of the Great Wall of China.
A bit of background. After our last postings, Greg and I joined up with the rest of our Vodkatrain tour gang. It's a small lot, which is excellent. There's Phil and Andrew, both from Sydney (but travelling separately), and Karen from Reading, England. We all got on well, had a fantastic Peking Duck dinner (at a restaurant suggested by our Vodkatrain guide, or "honcho", Peter), and decided on doing the Great Wall on Thursday. Phil had already done a bit of the Wall at Simitai, about 4 hours north of Beijing. It's a lot less touristy than the popular Badaling site, which everyone seemed to avoid. I was happy enough to go with the others, who all though the Simitai area was the best option. Had I known what I was getting into though, I think I would have kicked and screamed...
Our day started at 5am when I woke up with a thumping sore throat, brought on I think by the contrast of our dry air-conditioning with the heat and humidity outside. We then promptly slept in, due to an alarm snafu (Greg's department!). We were supposd to be in the lobby by 6:40am, by some stroke of luck we awoke at 6:30am, then scrambled ourselves onto the chartered mini-bus (transport we'd paid 120RMB each for - about $25).
The bus made several stops to pick up other people - mostly Canadians, Poms, and a few Frenchies. It took us until midday to reach Jinshanling (I could have that spelling wrong), the starting point for what turned out to be a TEN KILOMETRE HIKE ALONG SOME OF THE STEEPEST FREAKING HILLS IN EXISTENCE. The Great Wall goes up and down like a roller coaster - and there were TWENTY towers between our starting point and Simitai, our end point.
So yeah, it was pretty tough going. I'm just glad we'd gotten the cable car up to the damn wall in the first place!
I think I'm woman enough to admit that I was in TEARS at one point - my body hurt all over, my head was blocked up with a cold, it was hot...I was very distressed. What made it worse was the number of Chinese and Mongolian locals who make their living walking alongside visitors on the wall, selling books and postcards and bottles of water, Coke and beer. I suppose when you're doing that much walking it would be good to knock your brain about silly with booze! But the locals kept staying close to us, it made me feel closed in, despite the massive mountainous countryside around us and blue skies above us.
But Greg, to his credit, gently pushed me to go on, saying it was an achievement to do, and not something you get the opportunity to do every day. Although I think by the end even he was f***ing sick of the Wall and never wanted to see it again! I am glad I did it in hindsight, but truth be told, if I could have stopped half-way, or even before, I would have. The problem is on that section of the Wall, is that there are NO escape routes. You HAVE to go the whole way. So if you've got health problems, DON'T do the hike. Go to Badaling and enjoy the view.
As for the Wall itself? Well, it is stunning. Miles and miles and miles long, stretching in every direction, like a beautiful ribbon across the mountain tops. We took the easy route down - a flying fox over the top of a resevoir at the Simitai end, and what a great feeling of freedom and flight that was (just to get off my feet!) I'm sure once the pain in my limbs subsides, I will be able to look at the photos and video we took and feel I achieved something.
But for now I f***ing hate that wall and never want to see it again! ;)
Today we let ourselves relax - and hit the markets. Wheee! We spent a BIT more than we'd planned, but we bargained everyone down. My bargaining skills are pretty good (although of course - they still would have ripped us off no matter how low we got the price!)
Off to see Chinese acrobats this evening, then an early start on the train tomorrow! Will speak to you from Mongolia!