Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sunsets, Stars and the Great Wall of China

I'm so elated about the past few days that I don't even know where to begin. My thoughts are racing faster than my fingers can keep up, and I can barely focus long enough to put this into type. I guess, for the sake of my sanity and for anyone trying to follow my train of thought,  I will start from the beginning and write it in two separate posts.

Post #1:

My heart is now and forever ingrained with Jinshanling and Simatai.  It began on the weekend with an unforgettable, once in a lifetime (although I'm greedily hoping it will be twice in my lifetime) camping trip to the Great Wall of China.  We left Beijing around 2:00 pm for a scenic 2 hour drive through the mountains that lay just beyond Beijing, and arrived around 4 pm as the vendors were closing down for the night and the last of the day travelers were heading home for their supper.  Before heading out to the wall, our guide brought us to his home/shop for our first break and a light snack and beer.

After the snack and beer we set off to find a bathroom.  Living in China, I have learned to expect the unexpected, but this time I was caught off guard.  Much to our surprise (and also to our dismay) this is what we found:  (Picture to come)

Then we left our bags behind, grabbed a beer for the road, and headed off for a 40 minute hike to catch the sunset. Now, the sunset wasn't particularly spectacular in itself, but to finally be sitting on the Great Wall of China made it one of the best of my lifetime.

Picture courtesy of another teacher's much better camera, and borrowed from her facebook (thanks Laura!)

After the sunset, we headed back down to our guide's home for a delectable Chinese style meal.  As with Chinese custom, they served us many dishes including dumplings, garlic shoots, and tofu.  There was foodpijiu (beer), and bijiu (not recommended) galore! We ate until we thought we couldn't eat anymore and there was still food coming.  
Don't you love chewing pictures? 

With full bellies and even fuller backpacks, we once again headed off to the wall to find our camping site.  This time the trek was short, but we were still relieved to set down our heavy packs (maybe we shouldn't have been so eager when loading up with more beer) and set up camp.  Our home for the night is called the dark tower, our beds were mats and sleeping bags, and above our heads was nothing but the moon, the stars, and an occasional bat. On my mind the whole way up to the tower was the inevitable question: where does one use the bathroom while camping on the great wall? I quickly found out that bathroom on the Great Wall means a bucket tucked into a far corner of the tower.  Certainly not ideal, but after living in China we've all seen worse and made do for the night.  By bedtime I was thankful for the hard Beijing mattress in my apartment because, despite the fact that we were camped on a brick wall, once I settled into my sleeping bag I slept like a log.  

The next thing I knew the early morning light was upon us and I was wide awake.  I didn't dare check my watch while I waited for the others to stir and for our breakfast to arrive.  In the meantime I used the bucket and listened as a tourist or two wandered onto our campsite watchtower.  After what seemed like an eternity (the kind of eternity that only happens when laying in bed waiting for it to be time to get up), the tour guide appeared and suddenly everyone was back to life, rolling up sleeping bags and mats, eating breakfast and drinking tea or coffee.
Early morning at the Great Wall

Once we took in the view and were set to go our sly guide offered to take our bags to Simatai (our destination) for and extra 10 Kuai each.  Being the clever travelers that we are, we immediately took up his offer and ditched our heavy packs and opted for a much lighter trek up and down the sometimes treacherous ruins of Ancient China.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and while these pictures don't do the wall justice, I will let them tell the rest of the story:

Off we go! 

Entering the unrestored part - most of the hike was like this.

This was by far the scariest part of the climb.

View from the top- I can't believe I did it! 

Going down was much easier,  but we had to watch our step.

Crossing this bridge was terrifying - the boards didn't feel sturdy.  Luckily there was a beam down the middle so I stuck to that and held the rail for dear life. 

After the bridge crossing there were two more towers then we were home free! We enjoyed a cold beer while waiting for some of the others to catch up before zip-lining it down to the "pleasure boat" which took us to the town where our van was waiting.  
Yup- That's me!
I didn't make it up- they actually call it the pleasure boat. 
The pleasure boat (you never know what to expect with a title like that)

Visiting one of the seven wonders of the world was humbling and awe-inspiring.  I also managed to learn a little bit more about myself on this trip. As it turns out I'm not as afraid of heights as I thought (just steep upward climbs and suspension bridges).  I was still nervous, but looking back, not near as much as I thought I was going to be.  Next stop- Everest! Just kidding. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New posts soon to come!

So, call me a liar if you will, but I never got around to posting those posts I said that I would post about the happenings in Beijing. However! I have two new posts coming up very soon that I am working on.  They will be brilliant (or at least my mom and sister will think so). Stay tuned for my adventure to the Great Wall, and supper with Sarah Brennan children author extraordinaire .