Part 1 -The Great Wall – October 23, 2019
Great Wall day started with my lying awake between 3 and 6am or so as I had not yet adjusted to the 15 hour time change yet. I think I fell asleep for a bit because I woke with a start when the alarm went off at 6:30.
There was a bus journey to the wall that took 2.5 hours. During the ride our guide gave is our first Chinese lesson: we learned how to count from 1 to 5. He then gave us a lesson on the geography of China and a history of the of the Great Wall (I’m going to refer to it as “the wall” from now on.)
He also strongly suggested to us that instead of hiking up the mountain that we pay to take the cable car to the start of the wall. Some people were curious about the hike, but I had spent the day before complaining about going up too many stairs, so I was getting my money counted-out to pay for the cable car.
After getting off the bus at the site of the wall, we appreciated the size of the hill going up to the wall, and why they cable car was a good idea. To my eyes it looked like the height and steepness of the blue chair at Mt Washington- though it’s probably not as tall. I have no sense of these things and it’s been a few years since I’ve been skiing. Either way, it had a gondola type cable car that looked like it went straight up. Everyone got tickets.
**Side note: I’m really digging a packet of Prawn Crackers as I write this. I’ve had them before, but these are special because I have purchased them in Beijing. I’m not having any troubles eating in China so far. The only problem is when buying snacks in convenience stores I can’t read any ingredients. I’m being pretty cautious but I do ok: some dried fruit, fruit cocktail, fresh bananas, instant noodles. I tried some “purple sweet potato bean paste lunch buns” that turned out to be safe but they were really sweet. I’ve left a mostly uneaten package back in Beijing because I didn’t think I’d be able to finish them.**
The cable car slowed down but didn’t stop so we had to load into a moving car, and then whoosh started going really fast up the hill. Some of my tour mates in the car with me were scared but I wasn’t.
The Great Wall is long and winds up the mountain like a dragon. There are gates along the way that act as markers, 1 through 20. The cable car deposited us at gate 14 (to be fact checked – I can’t remember), which, according to our guide is the best section as it has been nicely restored.
It was a beautiful day for a walk on the wall. It was sunny and the sky was (mostly) clear. Entering through the gate, I was overwhelmed with the sight of the wall winding up a mountain of trees and vegetation just starting to turn colour for the fall. Also: many many people having their photo taken against this view.
The wall is a crazy walk. There are nice smooth bits but these come between steep steps, low steps, gates, and groups of people holding photo shoots. I had some trouble going down some of the high steps because the were steep and high and had nothing to hold onto! I would ‘bum down’ at the very top and then I’d be fine after that.
Our guide told us to walk at our own pace, and we didn’t have to walk the whole wall if we didn’t want to: we could do whatever our bodies could handle. He also explained how the last (maintained) section of the wall was the steepest.
It took about 1/2 hour to walk to the last gate before the steep part. I was walking with a woman from my tour group, and we decided to have a break and a snack before attempting the steep part. We were both secretly thinking to ourselves that we might not go up, but after a fee minutes we started up.
The steep part of the wall is a big staircase made up of stairs of varying widths, heights and depths. It is covered in people of varying levels of fitness going up and coming back down.
My tour mate and I went up pretty slowly, stopping to rest quite often. Sometimes I’d sit down to look back – it gets very very high and I didn’t want to go into shock when I got to the top.
I did have a mild panic attach around 1/2 way up as I thought about how high I was and how tired my legs were getting, and worrying I wouldn’t make it back down. I stopped thinking about that and kept going.
OMG the last part of the stairs to get up to the last tower was nearly straight up and you get up by climbing up high, and super narrow steps. Some people can climb these like normal steps. Other people climb them with hands and feet like a salamander up a wall. I used the latter method.
At the top of the “last” tower there are a lot of people celebrating, catching their breath and taking photos of the view. It is not really the last tower, bit is the end of the section that has been restored and it maintained.
I was out of breath and shaky from being tired, but also from being terrified of the height. I was OK though.
** Pause in writing to watch scenery from the train, have a snack, listen to a podcast, have a wee snooze, and to take a walk along the train to find a western-style toilet **
We spent a little while at this tower to rest, and to greet other members of our group who had already made it, and who arrived while we waited. The mountain view was beautiful and it was nice to take the time to admire it while catching my breath.
Another thing I did here was to look down at the stairs I had just climbed, and felt a bit nauseous about having a go down them again. Very steep and very high. I didn’t cry. Another of my tour mates assured me it was perfectly fine to ‘bum down’ if needed and go very slow.
For the very steep first part down, which I had just come up using my hands as well as my legs, I took many many very deep breaths (Dad suggested “take a deep breath and go” as his advice before I left for my trip and I applied it here) and bummed down very slowly for the first bit, and then a little quicker for the last few steps.
My legs were very shaky on the rest of the way down from over-use. I’m sure everyone could see how much they were vibrating. I had to sit down a lot to rest, and I clung to the edge a lot of the way down. At some point, however, as it got lower and the stairs were a bit more even I figured out that just focusing down at the stairs immediately in front of me helped- not looking up at the view that might be distracting and maybe make me miss a stair. I made it down safely.
The walk back along the wall was easy after doing the steep part, but a bit annoying with shaky-tired legs. Just walking fast seemed to be the solution.
After we finished walking down the wall and met up with some other members of our group we found a magical cave that was all lot up like a fairyland inside. It was a tranquil place to recover. It was also nice and cool – it was a warm day.
Then lunch at the wall, the bus back to the hotel, and the rest of the evening was spent exploring Beijing with my group – our last night in the city.
Part 2 – On the Bullet Train to Xi’an – Present day.
I’m on the bullet train between Beijing and Xi’an. It’s a 5.5 hour ride, giving me ample time to write. I was worried for a whole because I needed to pee, and I had only seen a squat toilet at the front of our carriage. But it’s ok! I walked back a few carriages and found a western toilet. There was even toilet paper! (I had taken a supply of my own just in case.) I was good to get up and stretch my legs.
In Xi’an the plan is to get organized at our hotel and the have a walking tour of the Muslim Quarter. Then dinner, I hope. I’ve heard dumplings are the thing here.