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China – Part VII

A brief exploration

20.10.11

Today we had the opportunity to do a little site seeing around the main attractions in Beijing.

We went to see the Temple of Heaven which is a beautiful and enormous complex of religious buildings which are definitely worth going to see. There is so much going on such as large groups ballroom dancing; people playing some form of badminton where they kick a colourful feathery shuttlecock to each other; Tai Chi, groups of locals playing cards and dominoes as well as other games I didn’t recognise.

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A visit to Beijing wouldn’t be complete without visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (possibly my favourite area). Tiananmen Square was immense and crowded and not without its quirks; one of which was a Chinese mother holding her child over a bin to do her business (better than the floor though right?). My expression when I turned around to see that was probably priceless and no, on this occasion I did not take a picture.

I wish I would have had a few days to go exploring alone to see the ‘real’ China too though, rather than being in the shadow of thousands of tourists. We did however have the opportunity to visit the Silk Market alone. Flagging down our own taxi was quite interesting! The traffic as you can probably imagine is absolutely manic here and you could easily get run down without anybody  noticing it happened. It was such a buzz though.

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Our next challenge was navigating the enormous train station to take a sleeper train to Xi’an. The station was crowded with thousands upon thousands of passengers making their way to various destinations. A lot of people were dragging big bags of heavy crops. As we walked briskly to our carriage I looked up to the sky and noticed how heavily polluted this city was. The sky was pink and smoggy, I can understand why people cover their noses and mouths.

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Snug as a bug!

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Trying to fit in.

The cabin rooms were extremely snug and consisted of two bunk beds on either side plus a small table by the window. I think I only stayed awake for a few hours in total as I wasn’t feeling too well – the whole journey was about twelve hours long (8pm-8am) so having the opportunity to stretch out and have a nap was very welcome. I remember waking up in the middle of the night desperately needing the loo but because the train had stopped for a break I couldn’t go. The toilets don’t operate whilst the train is not in motion so that was a long hour to wait! It was interesting to see the habits of the Chinese – such as spitting on the ground (yes even on the carpets of the train, lovely). You just have to accept it or you’re really not going to enjoy the trip.

First impressions of Xi’an? Loved it! All the buildings had arched roof edges and the city had a nice feeling about it. After breakfast in a posh hotel, we went to see the Terracotta Army. It was unbelievable! I’ve seen them on TV but nothing prepares you for the scale of the area in real life. In the first pit there were approximately 6000-8000 warriors as well as horses which were rebuilt. There were still a lot of terracotta bodies which were broken and could still be seen lying around half unearthed in the pit. It’s just incredible to imagine how long it took to make each statue all with unique faces.

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After having some lunch we went to visit a mosque and a traditional market place. It was brilliant! I could have spent hours going around every market stall each selling their own original goods and interesting foods.

On our final leg of the journey we had the chance to go to Chengdu and visit the Panda breeding Centre. I even had my picture taken with a baby! This was the first time I had ever seen a Panda and I was amazed by how much smaller they were in real life! They’re really amazing to watch and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to see them. I really hope that they plan to eventually find a way to release these amazing creatures back into the wild where they belong.

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Homeward bound…

I definitely plan to cross paths with China again in the future. It was an incredible journey that I will remember for the rest of my life with some of the greatest people I have ever met and I recommend anyone planning a trek to book with CharityChallenge as they were brilliant!

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered in my blog, drop me a message and I will fill you in on the details.

Visit China!

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China – Part VI

Day 5 – Mutianyu

 19.10.11

So Wednesday was the last day of our trekking. We had an early wake up at 6:30am to reach the last part of the wall. It took us about 50 minutes to reach the wall and when we arrived it was still relatively quiet and uncrowded. To reach the wall itself we first had to walk up a hill which was lined with market sellers. We then had to walk up 700 steps to reach the start of our walk. My energy had returned and I was so ready to go! The walk was about 10km in total and our final destination was the Stairway to Heaven which was another 700 steep stairs to the top. Walking up was tough but I had the determination to finish.

Some of the 700 steps to the actual starting point of our trek!

Some of the 700 steps to the actual starting point of our trek!

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Everyone in good spirits!

Everyone was  in good spirits!


That's where we're headed...

That’s where we’re headed…

Yep, it was pretty steep!

Yep, it was pretty steep!

The beautiful autumn colours <3

The beautiful autumn colours <3

The last 10-15 steps were the most difficult and the steepest. Hearing the other six who had reached the top chanting my name and clapping just brought so much happiness. I can’t really describe the sense of achievement that I felt to complete the trek – no shortcuts. I was and am honestly so proud of myself. Two years ago, if I had told anyone that I was going to trek the Great Wall they would probably have laughed at me. Now I’ve done something to also make my family proud of me (If you’re reading this, I know you will say you already were :p).

We did it!

We did it!

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Once everyone had reached the top it was time to go back down again. There was the choice to use the cable car or walk back down. At first I was thinking I would just take the cable car because it would be a different experience, but after speaking to Kim I was convinced into walking back down. I don’t think that I would have felt quite the same about finishing if it wasn’t for her. It was Kim, Mandy, Richard and I who walked basically together for the rest of the way. When we reached the bottom Kim gave me a big hug and that’s when I knew that I had really completed the journey.
For lunch we had Subway! I was happy for the change from having Chinese every day. Afterwards we were taken to a Jade Factory to part ways with our money. I can’t remember much of the information that was given except that we were told that 80% of jade comes from China, which I had no idea about. The statues and ornaments were beautiful and ornate.
In the evening we were driven to our next hotel which was The Holiday Inn Express in the city of Beijing. I can’t express how nice it was to have a proper shower with power! Not to mention the lovely comfy bed.

This was the end of an unforgettable trek, but not the end of the trip!

 

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China – Part V

Day 4 – Jinshanling Pass

18.10.11
We’ve just arrived at our next lodge called the Nali Lodge after a 5 hour (10km) trek on the Jinshanling Pass. I found the day pretty tough going, particularly where the steps were just crumbles of rock and you literally had to climb up and down.  It was a beautiful section though, with some incredible views. My feet are totally killing me!
Enjoy the view guys :)

 

Warming up!

 

I surveyed these steps for a few minutes before starting the climb.

 

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China – Part IV

Day 3 – Simatai

17.10.11

Our hotel! It was a little creepy and made me think of The Shining on more than one occasion. The hotel was empty apart from our little group.

View from our room. Not bad, right?

Today we trekked 12km along the Gubeikou Pass. It was a mixture between the previous days adventures as it combined trekking both the wall and forested areas. My legs feel absolutely wrecked as do my poor feet. I’ve only just started to gain movement in my toes again (I’m writing this a few hours after ending the trek). My body is seriously cursing me right now.

Anyway, today was brilliant! What an absolutely amazing view the entire way and the autumn colours were stunning. Oranges and reds mixed with green as far as the eye can see. At the very beginning whilst we were climbing up to get to the wall, I was really wondering to myself if I could complete the day. Three of the girls sadly turned back quite early due to the height issues. The majority of the wall was crumbly and narrow with no wall on either side – just sheer drops.

Making our way up to the wall.

When we exited the bus on arrival at the wall we were greeted by the ‘Hello People’. These are women who used to be farmers but now became sellers instead. They choose one person each and walk with you along the wall for the entire journey. It actually sounded a little worrying and annoying but they were really nice people who just want to help as much as they can. Obviously everything comes with a price so they do try to sell something at the end of the trek and trust me, you feel totally obliged to buy from them! I got into a bit of trouble with mine actually because a different Hello Lady came up to me after the trek offering me gifts to buy. Since my Hello Lady had disappeared, I assumed that I had to buy from this woman instead so I took a book about the Great Wall. As soon as my Hello Lady clocked me buying from this other woman, she ran up to me shouting ‘No, no, no, I walked with you!’ I felt awful! She then started shoving chopsticks in my face at a ridiculous price and since I had previously acted out that I didn’t have much money on me, I ‘borrowed’ money from Dave to buy them. This cheered her up a bit and I figured that I owed her in some strange way.

With a few of the Hello Ladies.

Here is a little snippet about my Hello Lady:  Her name was Lu and she was a 30-year-old pretty lady with chin length hair. She couldn’t talk very good English but I did understand that she has two young boys and travels 4 hours a day to get to work. When I say travel I mean walks. It really made me appreciate everything I have. We complain about ridiculous work conditions such as not having the right chair to be sitting at our PC for 8 hours a day, when we should be lucky to have a comfortable and stable job at all.

Lunch time! It’s safe to say that Dave’s feet were wrecked!

and a great way to end the days trek was seeing this…
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China – Part II & III

Badaling
15.10.11
What a day! Our wake up call was at 6:30am…lovely! Mind you, I woke up at 6am by myself.  By 8am we set off for our first big day. Our first trek started at the Badaling section of the wall which is a section that is rarely visited by tourists so we were basically the only ones there. I’m not going to give a full account but I will say this – the steps are deceiving. You turn a corner and find another flight, it was never-ending! Oh and for the entire five hours that we walked for, I think only about fifteen minutes in total of those were on a straight path.

The wind was insane. At one it caught me by surprise and I almost fell but luckily Kim grabbed hold of me. With the wind so bad we had to get as low to the ground as possible. There was a section where there was no wall on either side of us so we ended up going down on our bums which was quite funny.

Our lovely group before the trek began!
We encountered some interesting signs along the way.
Literally having to hold on for fear of the wind blowing me backwards!
The majority of the section that we walked was un-renovated.

The trek was tough but beautiful.
Going down was almost as tough as the upward climb because it was so steep. My poor toes!
I have to say that it was the most challenging experience of my life and it’s only the first day! I ache like crazy which concerns me about tomorrow but hopefully I’ll be fine.
Good night!

Day 2 – Black Dragon National Park

16.10.11 – 06:45am
Just woke up about 15 minutes ago. I’ve been waking up and stretching my legs all night in preparation for the day ahead. Today we’ll be at the Black Dragon National Pool and it’s supposed to be an easier but much longer trek. I just hope that my legs cope!
We’re staying at the Impressions lodge and one thing I’ve noticed since we arrived yesterday is that there’s some kind of thumping sound throughout the lodge. It’s literally going ‘Boom, boom, boom’ all the time like a heartbeat. I think it must be some kind of pump. Anyway, we just had our wake up call so it’s time to get ready.
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Day 2 of trekking over! Today was a 10km trek which lasted 5 ½ – 6 hours. The park was beautiful. We trekked through a large amount of forested areas with a few difficulties on the way.  It definitely did not feel as tough as yesterday but it’s still very rewarding to have completed the whole day because I don’t think I’ve ever actually trekked this kind of distance in one go! I’m not as unfit as I thought I was!

We’ve also learned the Chinese hand signs from 1-10 so that we can communicate with the hotel staff a bit easier.

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China – Part I

On the 13th October 2011 I set off with my friend Dave to embark on an adventure.  We went to China to trek sections of the Great Wall around Beijing for six days in aid of a Charity of our choice.

I thought that it would be great to document the whole adventure in the same style that it was written in my journal because before I had gone and was trying to research things about the wall etc, I found it really difficult to find any bloggers or writers who had done a similar trek and I really wanted an honest opinion about what I would be getting myself into!

I hope that you’ll find this helpful and enjoyable in some way. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget as long as I live (well, I hope that’s the case – my memory sucks!) but at least having the trip down on both paper and my blog will keep the memory alive.

I’ll be posting about my trip weekly so it won’t be too much to digest in one go!

The Trip: Trekking The Great Wall of China for six days.

The Charity: Cancer Research UK

Organiser: Charitychallenge.com

Would I recommend this organisation again? Absolutely! If I could afford to, I would book another trip with them. From start to finish they were brilliant – only one problem occurred and that was that my friend and I didn’t receive a vegetarian meal on the return flights to China. We didn’t inquire further into it as we’d forgotten about it when we returned home (or at least I did).

So here we go…

Below: Dave and I just before heading for departure at Malta airport.

14.10.2011 – 6:35pm

I’ve finally lay down after our long journey. I’m in China! I feel like I have to pinch myself to make sure that it’s not just a dream. After over ten months of planning it has finally happened. No backing out.

On seeing the wall for the first time I gave myself two minutes to doubt myself. I vividly remember thinking ‘what the hell have I gotten myself into?’ with my jaw wide open and my head plastered to the van window.

Below: First glimpse

It’s been a long day of travelling. After waking up at 3am on the 13th I’ve had about two hours sleep. I think that it’s been a total of 23 hours since I slept properly and I’m definitely feeling deprived!
Despite having a free day when we arrived at our first lodge, it was still very busy. The first thing we did was to settle into our rooms. The accommodation is basic but fine. The beds are another story altogether. I’ve never felt a mattress quite as hard as the one that I’m lying on now! In fact I’m wondering if there actually is a mattress. The floor might be softer.
After lunch we decided that it would be a good idea to ‘stretch our legs’ by climbing a section of the wall which our lodge was located right next to.
What. A. Climb.
The steps were incredibly steep and high and I hadn’t bothered to bring my trekking poles. Somebody had marked one of the top steps as 1500 but we did go on for about another 200 steps. I am so proud of myself to have made it so far, especially with only 2-3 hours’ sleep.  The upward climb was deceiving though. I would look upwards and it would seem like we couldn’t possibly go any higher…then I get to the top and there’s another upward climb. I had to tell myself just to take one step at a time.
I can’t believe that I haven’t said anything about the views yet! All I can say is that they are out of this world. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. I have never experienced such magnificence on this kind of scale before. Every corner turned is a photo opportunity.
Going back down was tough because my legs had literally turned to jelly – but I made it.