October 24 – On the bullet train to Xi’an – in which I will reflect upon yesterday’s trip to The Great Wall

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.

October 22 – Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City

I’m very tired and my feet are sore. I’m going to spend the evening my my hotel room with a pot noodle and maybe some colouring.

Today was a big walking day. First was a walking tour of Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City provided by our tour guide. It was very, very peoply. I expected lots of people all the time, and understand intellectually that China has a large population, but these things have nothing to do with actually being jostled about in an actual crowd of people. At one point, as people had to go through a narrow gate, there was a river of people and I just had to walk along with the flow. Lucky our guide was just on the other side of the gate with his flag.

However, I have found that at 5’6”, I can stand on my toes at the back of a group who are looking at a particular exhibit and peer over them. Handy.

After a lunch of dumplings, some of my tour mates and I went to Jingshan Park, which is immediately adjacent to the Forbidden City. There’s a hill one might climb (rocky, uneven stairs are provided for your convenience) to get a view of the Forbidden City from high up. I climbed the stairs. I took the picture. Now my legs hurt.

We also visited The White Pagoda, which is in another park. The White Pagoda parks was more beautiful than Jingshan Park. Evidence: when I entered I said “Wow! This is amazing!” Also, there are many weeping willow trees surrounding a lake, so it’s hard to compete. Oh, also, the admission price to get into The White Pagoda park was 5 times the cost of Jingshan (10 yuan vs. 2 yuan) so you know it’s something special.

There were more stairs to get up to the white pagoda. Legs might be sore tomorrow. Does not bode well because tomorrow we’ll be walking THE GREAT WALL.

October 21 – McDonalds on Wangfujing Pedestrian Street

1:15pm

It’s jet lag day and this little McDonald’s hamburger is really satisfying. I’ve been craving one since I saw a McDonalds during my walk this morning. Of course they were only serving breakfast this morning so now I’m back at lunch time.

I was out too early this morning, walking along Wangfujing Street (it’s a pedestrian shopping boulevard – 15 min walk from my hotel) and nothing was open yet. It didn’t matter: I had to bail anyway to go back to the hotel for a lie-down. Jet lag! So tired! Can’t sleep!

Chinese McDonalds! Where the kiosk lets you make your order and sends it to the kitchen before showing you half a dozen forma of payment that you don’t have! Not even an option for cash. Lucky this is a tourist area and the nice girl came up making cash signs and prompted the machine to let me pay that way (like at home, I took my little slip to the cashier). For revenge, I paid with a 100 yuan note. Haha I’m such a tourist. (My order was 26).

There’s like, totally a mall connected to this McDonald’s. I’m going to look at it.

October 21- Jet Lag

I’ve arrived safely in Beijing.

My forever-hour plane ride wasn’t as painful as I expected. I just one short layover in Vancouver. Enough time for an egg salad Subway, a quick change into my airplane-ride lounge wear (aka pyjamas. It wasn’t an overnight flight but, well, f it) and then to realize they had started boarding ten minutes early and I still hadn’t done my 5-6 last minute emergency pees. Everything went fine anyway. I was texting with Mum this whole time too, in leiu of a calm phone call from the gate. I ofter have a three or four hour layover and this one was about 1.5 hours so there was no resting. One the bright side, there was also no excessive waiting around either.

When I got to my hotel last night it was about 7:30 and it was definitely time for bed for me. I had an admittedly half- hearted plan to go exploring and find some food and water and such but I was too tired. Also, it was pretty dark. Also, I was (and still am) still on BC time so I was falling asleep. One thing: the beds are really hard here. I slept anyway.

Now it’s 4:06 am and I’m awake and ready to go. I slept pretty good from 9pm to 2:30. I tried going back to sleep, but couldn’t stop wondering if maybe I should organize my suitcase a little better? So I’ve organized I that into a more bearable state. Now all i want to do it sleep a little more.

Images of China so far: big busy highways! I didn’t study the lane changing and merging ettiequte to close because it was stressing me out, but I’ll be happy not to drive here. I had a car and driver team waiting for me a the airport so I didn’t have to stress about anything. They kept good care of me in the transition between airport and hotel and even spelled my name right on the sign they held up at arrivals. So extra points.

October 17 – Two more sleeps

I left myself many chores to do tonight after work. It is my only free evening this week, so I wanted to dedicate it to my final pack and to finish up tidying my house. I predicted I would get frantic with nervousness doing this, finding the last things to do before my trip. I leave early on Saturday so there won’t be much time for last minute dishes, etc, while I wait to go; but, thusly, I am anxious to be ready to go. I get fussy before a trip, making sure my house will be left clean: recycling out, kitchen counters wiped, bed made. These are things that I don’t care about on a day-to-day basis. But when I’m leaving for a big trip, I like to look around before I leave and know I’ve left things in order. Extra especially, I love coming home to a clean apartment.

Secret: I could have left that sentence as “I love coming home.”

This week my excitement for my trip has turned into anxiousness and a sort of pre-homesickness. It started last Friday when Susan and I were deciding where to meet for dinner. I had suggested something new, but then realized I was craving a familiar location, in anticipation of all the new places I’ll soon be visiting. And all of the situations I would have no such control over.

I wrote in my last post about how much I enjoyed spending Thanksgiving with my family, and that was part of this need for the familiar, or in this case, the hyper-familiar, the very foundation of familiarity. It was hard to leave.

I’m not sure why I’m so pre-homesick this time. I keep reminding myself that three weeks, while a longer trip than I’ve been on for a while, isn’t that long. I wrote as I was leaving for Mexico last year how homesick I felt – so it’s part of the trip, and I know it goes away. I have some ideas of why it hit me early this time:

  1. I’ve been on three airplane trips this year! So fun! But I haven’t had enough time to forget how much waiting and impatience there is to airplane travel. I usually plan trips with more of a gap in between to fully recover. (And to save up money again…. but I’m not thinking about that part right now.)
  2. Travelling somewhere completely foreign all by myself! Scary!
  3. It’s October and I should be getting ready for cold-weather hibernation – I’m leaving a bit later in the month than I usually do. I’m looking around my tidy and cozy house and thinking I would be a better choice to just stay here for three weeks.
  4. The anticipation of not having control over things while being on a tour: most days are planned with sightseeing, accommodation is pre-planned and assigned, restaurants are usually chosen by the guide. These are all things that I am happy to have organized for me, and is why I like to pay to go on a tour! But I live alone and is pretty much do as I like in normal life, so following along takes a little adjustment, even if it does make complete sense and I’m so glad to be traveling this way.
  5. I think too much about things.

I planned to fret and pack and clean tonight, Thursday, because still have one more sleep after this before I go. My plan for Friday night is to relax and be calm.

Truth: I am only ever nervous for a trip until I get on my first form of transportation. Then a little bit just before I meet with the rest of the tour group. Then I’m fine.

***

My List of Thursday Evening Chores

  • Clean bathroom sink and toilet
  • Do dishes
  • Pack few remaining items
  • Water bottle in suitcase or carry-on?
  • Long or short phone charger cord?
  • Have a bath
  • Bump elbow against corner of towel bar
  • Weird arm-wriggly cry-dance of pain
  • Is lower arm paralysis a thing?
  • Cut nails
  • Study peeling blisters on the bottoms of my big toes
  • Bandage new blister on back of right heel
  • Have maccachee for dinner
  • Finish yogurt
  • Write for Puddlelillies.com
  • “Chores”

October 15 – Thanksgiving

I was very happy to spend Thanksgiving with my family this year. Two things:

  1. I wanted to see everyone before I head off to China on Saturday. I’ve tried to see all of my important people before I go. I was in Duncan from Saturday to Monday and got a good visit with Mum and Dad, and Bonnie and Jordan were there for dinner on Sunday. I also visited with Susan on Friday night, and I had a chat with Noralee at lunchtime today. (Important people that may want to wish me well on my trip, and pretend to be super interested as I detail my packing scheme, but also help to calm my worries about going.)
  2. For the past 2 years, I was travelling out of the country over Thanksgiving weekend. Last year I was on my way to Mexico. In 2017, Susan and I went to England. I like travelling in October.

October 9, 2019 – China in Ten Days

I’m going to China in 10 days. Here are some things.

A) I have to remember how to do blog posts because I haven’t written any for a year. I’ve noticed that if I want the date to show at the top of my post, I have to enter it in the section marked “title” in my template here. I have always resisted using “titles” for my blog posts due to being lazy: e.g. it’s hard to summarize a post into a few words. Also: labels, schmabels. I seem to have done it today with little to no fuss on my part. We’ll see what happens in editing.

B) I am remembering how to blog, and setting it up for people to read even though I may not be able to post anything from China due to their unique internet strategy. I may end up writing some things and then posting later.

*** Note that blog posts, however, are separate from being able to contact Mum to assure her I am safe. I have several methods to to ensure this happens.***

C) I learned today that I can ask to refill my prescriptions early so I have enough for my whole trip. It’s not that I wouldn’t be allowed at all, but the question was whether my insurance would pay. All it took was for my pharmacist to enter a code in their computer, and me signing a wee disclosure and now I am fully stocked and will be able to breathe for the duration of my trip. Speaking of breathing, I forgot to ask about getting a mask in case the pollution in Beijing is a hindrance. I’ll go in and ask about it tomorrow or the next day– I’ve been in around 6 times now asking about travel things. One thing at a time, as I think of them or remember. I know I should have made a list, and made one spectacular visit, but the pharmacy is right across the street from my workplace, and I need things to do on my breaks.

I'm not taking the basket. Also I think you can see my underpants.

Familiar, well-travelled suitcase.

D) I’ve been packed since Saturday. Partly this is because I’ll be in Duncan over Thanksgiving weekend and I wasn’t sure I’d have time to pack next week… but more I love packing and I’m impressed I could even wait that long.

P.S. If you keep reading down my blog you’ll find my Mexico trip from a year ago. I know this isn’t made clear or obvious, but I wasn’t into using descriptive titles as much last year as I am now.

I’m wandering around Antigua today on my last day in Guatemala. I will fly back to Canada tomorrow.

You might think that since I’m walking around an old, beautiful, colonial city like Antigua I might take some photos, but I am bored of photos. I am even bored of looking at the photos I’ve already taken. Instead I am wandering around with my eyes alone, not looking for perfect shots or interesting scenes. Many of these would be similar to the photos I have taken elsewhere on the trip: brightly coloured woven textiles; trees; old buildings. I often take a lot of photos while I’m travelling only to never look at them again, or there will be so many of the same thing (ruins) that I can’t tell them apart. I try to put a small selection here and on Facebook but after that, i just hoard them on my computer.

One difference today is that I am wandering around on my own. My tour is technically over as of today. I could have joined the rest of mu group for cooking or chocolate making classes, bit I chose to wander around a bit instead. This means I got lost! But I learned from my trip to England last year with Susan that google maps is very helpful. I am not lost anymore.

Guacamole and toasties for an early lunch, accompanied by a perfectly adequate soy latte

I fly out of Guatemala City tomorrow at 6:05pm, to Mexico City and then overnight to Vancouver. One of my tour friends is on the same flight to Mexico City, so I anticipate a pleasant time.

Panajachel

This would be a really good time to update my blog. I don’t really want to.

Yesterday was a 11 hour bus trip from Mexico to Guatemala. That’s all there really is to say about that. Above is the bus for the Guatemala portion of the ride.

**post interrupted when I went to have the best soy latte I’ve ever had**

It’s a rest day today. There were a couple of optional tours to choose from, and a few of us opted to not go. We had a lovely sit down breakfast at an establishment that had soy lattes, so I am a happy traveller. Some activities:

1) visit to a church

2) some shopping

3) now playing with phone at hotel

4) possibly going for drinks/lunch. Still a bit full from breakfast.

Note: we’re in the mountains now so it’s a bit cooler. It’s warm now, but not humid like it’s been so far on the trip, and definitely cardigan cool at night. But, I was wrong to think I didn’t need sunscreen.