Friday, November 19, 2010

Hiking the Great Wall: Beijing & Shanghai

Today I flew four hours from Hong Kong to Beijing. Fortunately the Hong Kong airport had English Magazines so I bought GT & GQ and finished them just in time for arrive in Beijing. Unfortunately, it was an international flight and I stood in line for customs for over an hour waiting to embark China. I reached the hotel around 7pm where we had a wonderful dinner arranged at the hotel's separate banquet facilities. Course after course of meat was delivered to the table, again, most countries have large round tables with lazy susans so that everyone at the table can share. The hotel for the first two nights had karaoke rooms and a bowling alley. The town however was empty with the mountains in the distance as we were north of Beijing and close to the Great Wall. The room was comfortable and I slept well until 6:30am when I was awoken but the front desk and got ready for my first day of hiking.

Fireworks sounded all morning as it is Chinese Tradition to blast fireworks the morning of your wedding, we saw two brides by the hotel before leaving on the shuttle for the Great Wall. The first day we hiked 9 hours across the unreconstructed portion of the wall. This part is literally one foot wide and a dirt path which is held together by stones but there are no walls beside you just underneath you. The Great Wall traverses the top of the Steppe Mountain chain so it is quite a hike as we went single file up and down the outline of the mountain chain. The view was breathtaking and the weather was perfect. Finally cold, between 30-50 degrees which is a drastic change from the 80-90 and humid weather I have experienced in every other country. The leaves had fallen and the mountains were bare except for the occasional evergreen. Zadia found a large rock in shape of a heart so we called it the love rock and carried it for a while taking pictures at different angles until leaving it behind for future travelers to find.
For lunch I was shocked when hikers brought two large red coolers full of McDonalds to the top of the mountain. I have never had McDonalds delivered but after hours of hiking, a Big Mac tasted delicious as I sat with my legs dangling and enjoyed coffee as well. I do not know how far the hikers walked as there are no exits on this portion of the Great Wall minus the 9 hour section we walked which has an entrance and one exit. I continued walked, but around the Great Wall for an Hour as I passed a working military base and the guards stared at our group as we walked through fields around the base until rejoining the great wall later. I passed goats that had no one herding them just randomly chilling in the fields and an abandoned shack to my left. I enjoyed watching the sunset over the Great Wall before driving back to the hotel for dinner and some rest.
The 2nd day of hiking consisted of 4 hours on the preserved portion which was still crumbling and even steeper than yesterday. This section included the Staircase to Heaven which is more like a giant steep ramp as the stairs had crumbled. Today I had a boxed lunch which was disappointing but we donated the uneaten food to the locals. Vendors hike the Great Wall with us for the entire day trying to sell trinkets, however, they are over priced so I purchased my souvenirs at the bottom of the wall where they were 1/3 of the price. Everyone bought Panda hats which were hilarious as the 70 people in our group wore them walking across the Great Wall: I suppose a better idea than matching t-shirts for herding the troops.
The evening we drove 2 hours to downtown Beijing where we stayed at a really nice Holiday Inn, however, the location was terrible as it was not right downtown so I stayed at the lobby bar for the evening with friends and enjoyed each other's company and skyped. The dinner this evening was phenomenal with 10 course of duck, from duck meatballs to the chef cutting the duck in our banquet room into 108 pieces (the precise number for professional cutting). I love duck and to finally have duck in every form was the best dinner I could ask for.
The final day of my trip I toured Beijing and saw the Olympic Venues as well at the Forbidden City & Tian'amen Square which has the largest televisions in the world, two of them in the square playing commercials. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a moat and massive which courtyard after courtyard and considered the center of Beijing. I than went to the airport and boarded my 2 hour flight to Shanghai. I returned to the ship around 8pm, at dinner, and got ready to go out.
I went out that evening with my friends to celebrate my 21st Birthday. Beijing by day, Shanghai by night, not bad. The nightlife was hoping for a Monday evening. The first club played Happy Birthday for 5 minutes at midnight and we went club hopping until returning home around 7am: Yes I saw the sunrise in China.
Hannah, Nate, Zadia, Lindsay, & I on the Great Wall

Hannah & I enjoying the Great Wall

Zadia & I after our Duck Dinner

Lucia, our tour guide, & I

The Forbidden City

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