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The Greatest Wall Of Them All

By Hazell

As we came towards the end of our three hour drive into the mountainous landscape, far from the metropolis of Beijing, the threatening clouds finally delivered on their promise. The grey sky grumbled and rain pounded against the mini bus. We arrived at the Jinshanling carpark entrance alone. Just our group of 12, a guide with an umbrella, and a pack of orange Mongolians waiting to pounce. Carl purchased a light green, turquoisey rain jacket; thinner than a bin bag. I stuck with my trusty north face jacket.

After a trip to the toilets, and my first devastating experience of a Chinese squat toilet, we were off. Our group headed into the dark clouds that distorted our view of the wall and the mountains that hold it. Some of the group rushed off as if it was a race to finish. But rain or not we were there for the experience and we wanted to take our time. Plus we couldn’t really keep up. ‘Slowly smiley’ we said to the unfit Scottish couple and American sisters who had hung back with us. We were joined by the pack of Orange faced, gold toothed Mongolian women; all farmers wives sent to sell tacky souvenirs to Westerners. They walked two hours to and from the Great Wall everyday, then trekked the most tricky bit of the wall twice a day for prizes of around £5. Jinshanling is the least renovated section of the wall; the climbs are steep and tricky, and the decents are slippery and sudden. On this trek to Simatai we would climb to thirty towers and descend from each one over 10 kilometers. Each climb was different, and each tower provided a different spectacular view of the surrounding Old Mongolia on one side and rural China on the other.

At about the eighth tower the rain gave up and the clouds dipped, surrounding us in seas of grey and white. The lush greenery glistened through the mist and gave the desolate ruins of the wall a lost and romantic aura. The mist twisted and floated slowly around the towers; at points we could not see the green mountains surrounding us. It was just us walking along this huge, rugged wall in the clouds.

The Mongols helped us across the tricky bits and told us where was safe to stand. Our paid for guide lagged behind and grunted, but didn’t move a muscle when someone slipped. Carl resented the fact that a 40 year old woman was rushing ahead of him then pulling him up, but I was happy to have a helper. When we got half way, to the fifteenth tower, the Mongolians had to leave. We were entering the Simatai part of the wall where they didn’t have the connections to be allowed over for free. My little woman said I was pretty, and I’m easily bought, so I’d promised to buy a souvenir from her. I thought I was a good sales person until I’d met these women. We ended up giving them about £6 each, which was more than intended. This was predominantly Carl’s fault. At the point when we crossed into Simatai we had to show our tickets for the wall. Before the trek we’d all been provided with three tickets and told to keep them safe and accessible. So Carl placed one in one pocket, one in his bag and the one he needed for this moment inside his wallet in the depths of my bag. It took him about 10 minutes to find the ticket, so the Mongols had time to bargain and relay their sob stories about Chinese oppression to us, which I was obviously sold on. But not because of the years of Chinese oppression and stealing all the rain water, because they said I was pretty again.

Simatai looked like a completely different wall, if there were more than two Great Walls in the world. It was well redeveloped in places, but then not safe enough in others (we had to go around some of the towers). Without the Mongols there we got to trek more freely, which meant that Carl got to fart more freely. I don’t think he expected the echos that he achieved. Mongolian farms below must have thought another heavy storm was on its way.

It rained on and off, and every time it rained I had to retire Carl’s camera to his bag, under the safety of his turquoise plastic sheet jacket, which he was becoming rather accustomed to. And every time it stopped we had to retrieve said camera. This was the kind of occasion Carl had bought the camera for, although my pictures were just as good. Simatai was at times extremely steep and slippery and I longed for my little oranged face woman to help me again. Maybe they took a liking to me as I am also an orange lady.

The end to our trek was rather like a sequence from an Indiana Jones film. But ours was better as Carl had a turquoise cape, all Indie had was a hat. We crossed a swing bridge which straddled a gorge running through the Great Wall, and after this there was a steep ascent to the last tower where we noticed a rather rickety zip line. We decided to risk it, and with this risk our lives by flying back over the gorge to where a pleasure boat awaited to take us to the rather unglamorous Great Wall Hotel car park. Carl bought the tickets and sure enough five minutes later when we needed them, he had lost them. We decided from then onwards that I would be in charge of the ticket holding. He finally found them and we descended upon the zip line together. We were equipped with old rusty harnesses and then urged onto an unsucured hook to fly down over the gorge. As we flew Carl’s cape rustled in the wind and we managed to sing the whole of the Indiana Jones theme, finishing just as we were greeted by a tiny 70 year old Chinese woman at the bottom. I hoped that she wasn’t meant to catch us, and she didn’t. Which meant that Carl hurt his goonies in the harness. The views from the zip line were amazing and most of the cloud had now cleared for the sun to break through, providing us with a full picture of the wall we had conquered.

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  1. Chars
    June 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    “The end to our trek was rather like a sequence from an Indiana Jones film. But ours was better as Carl had a turquoise cape, all Indie had was a hat”. Amazing. I love you both. Don’t stop writing please! xxxx

  2. Uncle G.
    June 13, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Cheers to Chars! We want more. Where is the veggie bus?

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