We began the morning, treating blisters and eating dumpling soup, before heading to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China; a pleasant three hour bus-ride from Beijing. I think I read once that you could see the Great Wall from space, yet we needed to be within three hundred metres to see it through the smog.
After our arrival, we entertained two possible options to get up onto the wall: wait in a queue for a cable car, or climb up yourself. Easy decision; we trudged up the steep terrain through dense humid forests until we reached the wall. During the ordeal, we got to know quite a few equally sweaty holidaying Chinese, with perspiration soaking their favourite outfits. It is amazing how sharing a difficult experience can create a simple bond. For the rest of the day, whenever we encountered each other, we shared a nod and knowing smile.
At last stood we stood atop one of the world’s most well-known structures. It felt amazing, even though our view dissipated into the density of the surrounding pollution. We couldn’t help thinking about the soldiers who built this incredible structure. Just walking up once, became a trial. It’s no wonder so many perished trying to relocate such gargantuan amounts of rock to the top of these ridge-lines.
After several hours and another ten kilometre of steeply ascending steps, we arrived at the highest tower in the area and began to wonder about the fitness and tenacity of the warriors that defended these walls. They endured freezing cold and extreme heat with no modern amenities, while we brave souls needed a modern-day survival tactic; requiring at least one icy pole at each tower.
No matter the country or the culture, some things never seem to change. Of the thousands of souls from China and from all over the world, who braved the conditions to experience the great wall, the fashion fatales were without doubt the most obvious. A common dance ensued, as high heels plunged into gaps in the stairs or slipped on the uneven pathway. It seemed unkind to smile when tightly clad knees banged together, ankles buckled and arms adorned with jewellery flapped about, not so elegantly, for balance.
Once we arrived at the lowest section of the wall, we realised that you could luge down to the bottom instead of walking. Given that our calves still had a fire in them from our climb, sliding down the mountain with the wind in our faces seemed really appealing. So, with hearts pounding, we mounted our mighty plastic steeds and flung ourselves down the precipice. Somewhere on the way down, an old woman passed me, stepping carefully as she descended the nearby stairs. At that point, I became the head of a group of at least twenty other sleds, all wedged into my rear.
Because of the heat and the extent of our exertions, we shuffled to a nearby café, where lunch and that first cold beer felt heaven sent. Here we got the chance to share our day’s delights with Leanie and Will Louw, and Mia, from South Africa, who were about to travel to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railroad; nice people. There wasn’t much talking on the way back to Beijing. Our bus-load of satisfied, yet tired adventurers were in the land of nod.
Although, one question still remained unanswered. Apart from someone’s arthritic looking homing pigeon, flying limp-winged from our hotel roof, we were still to see any native birds. Tomorrow we’ll venture into the famed Bei Hai Gardens … and quite apart from its expected grandeur, we’re hoping to find the location of a country’s missing birds. Does anybody out there know where they are? [see comments added below]
[In response to my “where are the birds in China question …” Our friend Di’s expert step father provided this info …
We had a similar problem in China, there are a number of issues. Being winter there will be no summer migrants present, there are also few birds in the built up areas ( they probably eat them or keep them in cages) and we did not see many birds at the great Wall. Our best bird observations were at the South Springs , about 15 km from Chongquing. To see many birds one would need to obtain the services of a good Ornithological guide and be prepared to travel all at the right time of year.
Thanks for your help Di.