The Great Wall

Trip Start Jul 09, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Day 27- The best day of our lives!
  We awoke at 6:00am, packed our bags and met our group in the lobby for an early departure.  Our ipod speaker came in handy on the three hour bus ride to the Great Wall.  We were shocked that our fellow travelers (most of whom were British) did not recognize the Beatles, Duran Duran, and the Clash.  They all recognized Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, and the Killers though. 
  The entrance to the Great Wall looked like any other tourist site in Asia, a ticket booth followed by a row of souvenir shops.  As we walked up the steep hill leading to an endless staircase, we knew this would be quite different.  By the time we reached the wall, we were sweaty and doubting the rest of the journey.  The view from atop the first tower took away whatever breath we still had in us.  We were on top of the world.  The endless mountain range spanned in every direction.  The wall, made of rock and concrete, followed the mountains to our left and right.  We were told, at that point, that the hike to the hostel was 6km.  The feat seemed impossible. 
  The inclines and declines became steeper as the trek went on.  The wall was renovated at some points, and at others (especially the steep bits) the wall would crumble beneath our feet.  Every summit brought more spectacular views.  Phil and I would look at each other, speechless but knowing exactly what the other was thinking.  There were no words worthy of describing what we were experiencing.  Perhaps the craziest part of the trip was the hallucinations.  You must look down as you walk because the wall below was unpredictable.  As you watched where you stepped, you would see the ground below you slip away as if you were looking out the window of a train.  We tried to figure out the cause, perhaps the constant change in elevation.  It could have been the extreme heat and exhaustion.  We didn't know, but it was cool.  A natural acid trip.
  A few forgotten pieces of the wall had made it into our backpacks (by accident of course).   We cheered as we reached the shaky draw bridge which crossed the dammed river through the mountain.  After climbing a few hundred more steps we reached the best part of the trip, the zip line!!  Phil and I were harnessed together and sent soaring down the mountain and over a lake.  A small wooden boat with a make-shift motor took us the rest of the way to the Lite Bar (the outdoor bar attached to our hostel). 
  Part of the group were waiting at the bar (they had got on an earlier boat), and raised their beers to us and cheered as we walked onto the deck.  The Great Wall was one of the most physically demanding and awe-inspiring things I have ever done in my life.  I will never forget this experience. 
  Our hostel was located at the basin of the river between two mountains connecting the Great Wall.  The hostel was set up with a series of courtyards, around which the rooms were positioned.  Our room was super cute.  A double bed, and a single, with a massive bathroom and shower.  Phil and I were in need of washing some clothes so we inquired about laundry.  We talked the girl down to 25 yuan, and handed her our bag of clothes.  A few moments later she knocked on our door to show us where to hang the clothes.  "No", Phil said, "we don't have time to hang-dry them, we need a dryer".  The girl crossed her arms and said, "no dryer".  Phil ran to the laundry room to get our stuff back, but they had already thrown everything in the machine.  After our lovely hot shower, we picked up our wet clothes to figure out how we would dry them before we left the following day.  A British couple let us borrow a line they had picked up in India, and we hung our clothes around the room
  Phil was not happy at dinner.  Our group was split between two tables, and for the second time this trip, we would get screwed.  Toffler, our leader, orders for the group and we are meant to share with both tables.  For everyone who knows Phil, this is a major problem.  The thought of him not being able to look at the menu (even if he doesn't understand what it says) is unheard of.  Looking at the menu is what he lives for.  It is the reason he gets up every morning.  The way a child looks at Cinderella's castle on her first visit to Disneyworld, is the same look Phil gives a waiter when he hands him a menu.  The other problem with this system, is that the other table would devour the dish before we were able to taste any of it.  A plate of cashew nuts in sauce would be passed to our table, but where was the chicken? 
Day 28- So much for the sunrise...
  Our intentions (inspired by a Japanese Parisian) were to wake up at 4:00am and climb the rest of the wall to see the sun rise.  It had poured rain all night, so at 4:00, the overcast skies inspired us to sleep-in.  We decided against doing the morning hike at all.  The wall was slippery and the skies were too cloudy for good scenery.  In the end, we were happy with our decision because the other hikers said we didn't miss anything.  We slept in and enjoyed a 30 yuan breakfast with eggs, toast, cucumber and tomato.  We then caught the bus back to Beijing.
  We had a few hours before our first overnight train, and the group decided to stock up on food not knowing what to expect of the upcoming ride.  Ten of us piled into a McDonalds, and the manager made us all sit down to take our order.  My lber came with cucumbers.  Our next stop was the supermarket.  We bought napkins, moist naps, noodles, milk tea, and some snacks.
  The sleeper car was much better than I expected.  Each cube held two sets of triple bunk beds.  Couples were positioned across from each other, and Phil and I were luckily occupying the bottom bunks (the only ones you can sit up on).  A few of us went looking for the dining car to grab a beer, but nearly gave up after walking through ten crowded cars.  We kept ourselves busy with card games (played on a deck of Great Wall souvenir cards).  Asshole didn't go over too well, but bullshit was a blast.   Phil and I decided to play hangman on our own, until we began a make-shift pictionary game which occupied our time until lights out at 10:00pm.  I was nervous about sleeping in my own bed, so Phil let me snuggle up with him until I started to fall asleep. 
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