Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hiking the Great Wall: part 1

Our visit to the Great Wall was a cold one but could have been much worse. In the days leading up to it people were talking that our hotel had no heat and that it was going to be a high of 30 degrees. I am happy to say that the night before we arrived in Hong Kong at our logistical pre-port we were told that the tour company was able to change our accommodations to a 5 star hotel with heat. We were over-joyed. We still talked about how to dress for the cold - its all about layers and good shoes. We encouraged everyone who was not prepared for the cold to spend our first day in Hong Kong at the port terminal mall buying some good clothes. Most took the advice – some did not.

We took a three-hour flight from Hong Kong to Beijing and then a few more hours on bus to our hotel. Our tour guide told us that the hotel was nice but tends to cater to conferences and locals. The service and accommodations were nice, but very few of the staff speak any English. Fine by me. The hotel was pretty big, pretty big and totally empty. I kept calling it creepy and other SAS staff agreed. Don’t get me wrong; it was nice as I’m sure the hotel in THE SHINGING was nice. The lobby was huge and all marble with a small sitting area just inside the doors, a gift shop on one side and the lobby bar on the other. As we got our keys the staff made plans to meet in the bar at 9pm. Well we didn’t confirm which bar so in my walking around I ran into Nurse C and we ventured together. We went to the basement were we found an empty nightclub and then we heard some voices hear by. It was the trip and bus leader team, husband and wife A&T trying their best to communicate with the hotel staff working at the bowling ally. We gave up and decided to go up to the lobby bar.
Look at Bangs with her cute red vest.

We named the bartender Bangs, because she had bangs. (I learned this smart naming style from my college roommate Becky). Bangs was new and struggled her way through the ordering process as did we. We eventually got a bottle of wine and 1 warm beer because they didn’t have anything else. We tried to make the best of the situation and enjoyed our company. After one decent bottle of wine and one bad bottle of wine we called it a night.

Bright and early with A&T our fearless leaders!

We began our hike of the wall with some stretching which while understanding it to be a good idea was still funny to me.

The following bit is from the itinerary we got

The Great Wall’s first section was built as early as the fifth century BC when a number of Chinese states in the north were fighting against each other and occasionally against the northern ‘barbarian’. It was not until the unification of the empire under Qin Shi Huang Di in 221 B.C. that the various sections of the wall were linked, It is said that more than 300,000 men worked for ten years to complete it. The wall has a pounded earth interior with stone facing walls and stone roadway along the top. It was built wide enough to allow a brace of five horsed to gallop between the battlements and was used to convey soldiers, arms, and food with great speed to various parts of the northern frontier.

The first day we had hiked about five and half miles from Simatai Great Wall and Jinshanling Section passing 35 towers. The Simatai- Jinshanling is a four-hour hike along the unreconstructed part of the wall. The views of the Wall snaking over the precipitous mountain ridges into the far distance are memorable. The Simatai Great Wall is celebrated for its steepness and intactness.

Seriously – Steepness! It was a substantial hike. I would dare consider myself an avid hiker having hiked the Grand Canyon and Half Dome (Shout out to Drew, Nicki, JMac, Jeff and Tim) and hiking the Santa Monica Mountains as often as I can, but this Great Wall hike was pretty hard-core. At times we laughed (if only to keep from complaining) saying that we were in fact climbing, not hiking the Great Wall.
To make things worse, it snowed the night before so we were walking along snow-covered steps. With that bit of complaining out of the way, once we got moving and the sun came out it was pretty nice. It wasn’t windy, we rarely saw anyone else, which after months of being in cow heard tour mentality being ‘on our own’ was a wonderful feeling. The views really were pretty amazing and as I have said a number of times on the journey it was nice to have an active day and work up a good sweat.

That night we had a great dinner at a local restaurant where I ate everything on the table and with chopsticks! There were fish tanks against the wall and at one point a large fish about a foot and a half long jumped out of the tank and hit one of the students in the back. As our group erupted into a fit of laughter and screams the waitress just picked it up off the floor with a giggle and tossed it back in the tank and went about her business. After dinner the grown ups then took a walk around the block and we got a fair share of ‘what the hell are you doing here’ looks. Back at the hotel we paid another visit to the lobby bar and I will admit that Bangs learned a few things from the night before and our service was better. They didn’t however learn to chill the beer.