Tiree Treckers Return From China
Congratulations to Fiona and Kirsteen on completing their trek along part of the Great Wall Of China as part of their recent endeavours to raise funds for The eve appeal. Not only did they manage the walk, but as promised, they kept a diary of how things went, extracts of which we have included in this edition.
Saturday 16th October – Heathrow
It has finally arrived and we are winging our way to China and the Great Wall. A bit nervous and unsure of what awaits us, but sure we will cope with all the excitements that lie ahead. It’s only 10 days since Kirsteen sprained her ankle, so she is particularly nervous about how it will hold up.
Sunday 17th October – Beijing
1.40pm and we’ve landed!! Met at the airport by “Martin” and “Jason” our Chinese guides for the week. They are both very friendly and I am sure they will look after us well. There are 20 other people on the challenge and they seem like a nice crowd. Tonight we are staying in Shinshanling. We arrived here after a long bus drive through really slow traffic.
Dinner was pleasant and was a great opportunity to learn a bit about everyone. Bedtime was traumatic though, as the room had plenty of bugs.
Monday 18th October – Shinshanling
Up at 6.45am, showered and went for our first Chinese breakfast. Cabbage, egg fried rice, jam and bread. That was different! Then we headed for the “WALL” and as we saw it for the first time there were lots of gasps from the group. It was then we realised just how steep this climb would be.
We were right it was quite a climb, some bits steeper than others though. A lot of steps, some reconstructed others very broken. We passed through six watchtowers on our way to the top. What an amazing sight!!
On our descent the rain and sleet came on very heavy and we got wet. It wasn’t the weather we expected, but we certainly felt at home. We were taken to a farmhouse where the family gave us our lunch. Charity Challenge try to use rural facilities where possible, so the locals get the benefits of the tourism the wall brings. As a result some facilities were very basic. For example the visit to the toilets was an experience and a half. Two holes in the ground, so if you feel inclined you can hold hands (we didn’t)!
Tuesday 19th October – Black Dragon’s Pool
It was so cold in the lodge last night that Kirsteen and I went inside our mummy bags into one single bed to keep warm. Amazingly we slept fairly well and were up at 6:30am Had a very cold shower but a fairly pleasant breakfast, a fried egg sandwich with FRUIT bread.
We walked in the Black Dragon Pool area today, through a wooded gorge. It was very rocky with lots of small streams with stepping stones across them. Some areas were very slippy. We passed a place called Dragon’s Rock. Legend has it that in a bad storm the rock blocked the path of the dragon and he was so angry he split it in two with his paw. It was so precise it looked like someone had cut it with a knife.
The views here were spectacular as we followed a meandering path up a narrow gully by the side of a stream. The day ended when we arrived at the heavenly gateway, a huge natural arch in the cliffs above. After a long day walking, we are impressed by this evening’s accommodation. Looks like a bug free zone. Spent the evening ten pin bowling with some of the group. Everyone enjoyed themselves and had a good laugh.
Wednesday 20th October – Gubeiko Gateway
Didn’t sleep well last night even though it was very comfortable as I was bit concerned about today’s walk. Lorraine, one of our guides, told us there would be a lot of narrow paths with sheer drops on both sides. I was tempted to stay on the bus with my book, but Kirsteen persuaded me I should go, thankfully. We had an absolutely fantastic day!
This was the Wall we had expected. It was untouched (unlike some of the renovated tourist areas) with the wall crumbling and flora growing through it and the towers in the distance as far as the eye could see. Spectacular! Some of the paths were a bit narrow but nothing that we felt concerned about. We were in the Gubeikou Gateway, northeast of Beijing. This was the passageway between northeast of China and the Mongolian Highlands.
We trekked for the whole day, stopping halfway to eat our packed lunch. Afterwards we descended through farmland where they seemed to be growing mostly corn and some cabbages. A local farmer stopped us to sell his wares. Seemingly this is how they supplement their farming income, which is just enough to feed their family. Arrived at our next accommodation in the Jinshanling area, where we will be walking tomorrow. The accommodation is a shock to the system after last nights luxury, however compared to the local living standards it is almost certainly palatial.
Thursday 21st October – JinshanglingM
Breakfast at 7.30am and then straight to the wall. We were able to walk from the lodge, which was a pleasant change from the bus. Today’s walk was certainly tough, very steep with a lot of broken steps and rough terrain. We walked between 10 towers with 100s of steps between each one over the course of the day. We were met in the morning by the “Hello People” as the guides affectionately named them. They are local farmers, who follow you all day long and at the end of the day try to convince you to buy something from them. They were genuinely friendly people and it was lovely to talk to locals. We had fun trying to speak a few words of Mandarin with them. They were like mountain goats running up and down after us all and were eager to help us at the steeper bits. Even Mike, the fell runner of the group couldn’t out pace them!
Drove 3 hours to our next lodge, The Fairyland Hotel. The rooms were desperately in need of a cleaning fairy or two. Thank goodness for the mummy bags. They are probably the most important part of our kit. Had noodles for dinner tonight which made a change from rice. Finished the last of our duty free while blethering with the group. Early rise again tomorrow.
Friday 22nd October – Mutianyu
Breakfast at Fairyland this morning with Christmas decorations all around. Very odd! Left at 8.30am and headed for our final walk on the Wall, with the finale being “The Heavenly Stairway”. It was tough but it felt great to climb that final step and hear everyone cheering. We all received a medal at the top and took lots of photos. Amazing!!
We had a very long journey on the bus as it was chaos on the road, so we were late getting back to our hotel. It was worth waiting for and badly needed after all the climbing we have been doing over the last 5 days. Went for an hour long foot massage at 10pm. It was bliss!! Then back to the hotel, a lovely hot shower, coffee and a big comfy bed. It’s been a long day, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world and would encourage anyone to go for it. 12.30am, time for lights out.
Saturday 23rd October – Beijing
6.30am alarm call today. Went first to Tiananmen Square which was vast and grey, with enormous big screens spewing out adverts and edged with beautiful gardens. In Chinese culture it is perfectly normal to push and shove, a bit like Londoners on the underground. So it was hectic. Plus the Chinese tourists were fascinated by the Western tourists. They affectionately call us “big noses” and stopped to stare.
From there we went to the Forbidden City, which is the Chinese Imperial Palace. Historically, ordinary people were not allowed to enter. It consisted of many courtyards eventually leading to the emperor’s quarters, which were quite grand. After lunch we went to a tea tasting ceremony, where we got to try lots of different teas. In the evening we went to the night market where they sell all sorts of local delicacies. Everything from fried scorpions to snakes. Then off to a Peking Duck restaurant for our final meal with all the group. Quite emotional as we had all been on an amazing journey together and encouraged each other when the going got tough.
Sunday 24th October – Xian
Down in lobby for 6.00am to go to the Airport for our flight to Xian. There are 8 of us doing the extension trip. Arrived in Xian where we were met by Cynthia our new guide. She took us direct to Yanling Tomb of the Han Dynasty. It dates back 2000 years and is still an ongoing archaeological project.
In the evening we went to a Tang Dynasty Cultural Show. It was very colourful with a lot of singing and dancing by performers in their traditional costumes.
Monday 25th October – Xian
Must have brought one of our crawlie friends with us in our luggage, he was waiting to greet us in the morning. Left the hotel at 8.30am and headed for the Xian Great Mosque. Looked like it had once been very beautiful, but was now in need of some repair.
After lunch we went to the Terracotta Army Exhibition. In 1974 a farmer discovered 6000 life sized terracotta soldiers and horses which were created over 2200 years ago to guard the tomb of the first emperor in China’s history Qin Shihuang. It was truly amazing, every face had different characteristics and expressions. Pretty hard to convey just how spectacular it was. We even met the farmer! As we headed back to the bus we noticed there were cat and dog skins hanging up on stalls being sold as carpets, scarfs and hats. We had a quiet word with a local stray dog who moved on quick smart.
Onwards to the airport and our flight back to Beijing. Arrived at the hotel around midnight. Absolutely shattered!!
Tuesday 26th October – Beijing
Jason picked us up at 9.00am to take us to the airport. Said our farewells once he got us all checked in. It was quite sad and a bit final. After a long monotonous journey we landed in Heathrow at 7pm.
Wednesday 27th October – London
Back in London. Body and mind in total confusion with the jet lag. Worth every minute though, as it was the trip of a lifetime. A very memorable experience both on and off the wall. Kirsteen and I will talk about it for many years to come.