By choosing to fundraise and take part in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, our trekkers are making a life-changing difference to young Australians in need.
The money raised will be enough to sponsor one tertiary level and one junior school student for a full year, providing all the educational essentials they need and making a huge difference in their lives. Already this team has raised over $67,000… visit their team page and cheer them on by making a donation -> The Smith Family’s Team Page
Every day we are inspired by the fundraising achievements and the physical feats that are accomplished by our adventurers from all over Australia. While each and every individual is a true champion of the cause they are raising funds for, we have had a number of fundraisers publicly acknowledged for their efforts. Even one of our regular guides from Vietnam has been recognised for his outstanding performance as a Tour Guide. We are proud to share their inspirational achievements with you…
Jennifer Reid – Paris Marathon 2012 (National Breast Cancer Foundation)
In 2012, Jennifer Reid crossed the finished line of the Marathon de Paris. She had completed one of the most physically gruelling events that you can put your body through. Jennifer had also survived breast cancer and had fundraised her way to Paris to support the work of the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Earlier this month, Jennifer’s efforts for fundraising for breast cancer research were acknowledged when she was invited to attend Government House to dine with the Governor General, Sarah Murdoch and other wonderful people who had also raised significant funds for this cause. Last year Nadia from Inspired Adventures had the honour of running alongside Jennifer. Here’s a snippet from Nadia’s moving blog, ‘Memoirs of a Marathon: Paris’:
“As I stood on the start line with this remarkable woman… it really struck me what it meant for her to be here… Jennifer had not only raised over $15,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, she had also bought her whole family to Paris to share in this new beginning for them all. Like the rest of our team, Jennifer was also haunted and troubled by a fellow team member was missing from the starting line. Sam Naudin signed up to the challenge late last year having been diagnosed with breast cancer… she was looking forward to meeting us all in Paris… Tragically, Sam never made it to the start line in Paris; her life was taken by the disease she fought so hard to conquer, leaving behind her family and two young children…. Jen has taken inspiration to new heights and has also pledged to raise the funds that Sam never got the opportunity to do…”
Allan took part in the Laos Water Cycle 2012 and raised funds for ChildFund Australia. He was recently awarded Young Citizen of the Year by Lithgow City Council for his fundraising achievements. Well done, Allan!
A big congratulations to Deb and Jen from Team Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. They were acknowledged for their fundraising efforts in the Armidale Australia Day Awards. They both successfully summited Mt Kilimanjaro in November last year having fundraised an incredible $35,000.
Johnno is a fundraising superstar. He is currently fundraising for his third Inspired Adventure and will be heading off on the Race Across Asia in April this year. Last year Johnno received the Big Sky Volunteer of the Month award for his fundraising commitment to cancer research. Read the full article on the Team Flinders website…
Image: from Flinders Medical Centre Foundation website
How lucky are we? More blue sky, a sleep in and cycling! Today Jessie and Hero took us to a traditional hútòng area where we swapped our trekking legs for cycling legs. Hútòngs are narrow alleyways that are lined with traditional courtyard housing and it is said that hútòngs are where the heart of Old Beijing still beats. Since 1949, many of these traditional neighbourhoods have been knocked down to make way for wide boulevards, new high-rise buildings and sprawling highways. Taking to an array of bicycles of different sizes and colours, we had the opportunity to glimpse an insight into Beijing life as it has been for generations.
The hútòngs we visited were in and around Shichahai Lake and with bells ringing amongst our squeals of laughter, we weaved and wobbled their way through the narrow streets. We dodged cars, bikes, people and dogs. It was a hútòng peloton like no other!
We took a break in a park on the lake. It was a hub of activity where the locals had come together to play Ping-Pong, work out, swim, and just for some idle chitchat. Rhona, Julie H, Amy and Mak jumped in for a bit of a workout while the rest of us observed and took photographs.
While we were working up a sweat, Julie B and Angela took to the streets on a rickshaw – the perfect way to soak up Beijing. They then had the opportunity to relax and unwind with a traditional Chinese massage (though photos of Angela seem to indicate that it was more painful than relaxing!).
After an enjoyable morning of cycling to loosen up the stiff muscles, it was off to Beijing’s famous silk market for lunch and shopping. With 6 floors of shops selling a wide variety of counterfeit apparel and everything one could never need, we split up and found our own way back to the hotel… well, everyone except for Tanya and Rhona who weren’t down at reception when we gathered for the farewell dinner in the early evening. They managed to get seriously lost and had their own Amazing Race Beijing as they asked policemen and locals how to get back. Just as we were starting to worry, in they came laden with shopping bags and tales of their adventure.
With our group all together again, we headed out for a celebratory dinner – Beijing style. We went to a restaurant known for its Peking duck, the perfect meal to end a perfect trip. Even more exciting was the fact that Jessie, Hero and Mr Good all joined us to celebrate our achievements. It was also an opportunity to thank them for their help along the way.
We sat around two tables and reflected on the Great Wall adventure. Each team member was recognised for special achievements such as:
First to Spot the Great Wall Award (Wayne)
The Celebrity Award (Mak)
The Reverse Bargainer Award (Julie B)
Determination Award (Angela) etc
The bus ride back tot he hotel was joyfully rowdy as Hero sang Chinese songs and we attempted to sing songs such as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the Australian National anthem, the Vegemite song, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding out for a Hero’, a song for our assistant guide, Hero. We ended the evening with some further celebrations at the Moonlight Bar in our hotel.
What a journey it has been!
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
FRI 14 SEP: LAST ENCOUNTER ON GREAT WALL & BEIJING
After a cool night in Mr Chow’s village (image below) surrounded by the Great Wall, we awoke refreshed and eager for our last encounter; little did we realise it would be so up-close and personal!
We said farewell to Julie B and Angela who stayed behind to further immerse themselves in village life while the rest of us followed Mr Chow through dense forest (image below) back up to the Wall. It was a long but pleasant hike and only a warm-up for what we had in store for us.
We emerged from the undergrowth and found ourselves face-to-face with a seriously steep section of the wall – 38 steps that were in a serious state of disrepair. They were deep and there was not enough room to land a full shoe on them. We had to use our hands to hold on tightly as we slowly inched upwards and skywards. It was certainly not for the fainthearted as we discovered later on when a group we’d encountered a number of times along the Wall gave up and took a short cut back to the village. We all felt a huge sense of achievement as we stood atop of the peak and looked back down on the where we’d climbed up. We let out a short-lived sigh of relief as we saw that we had to go down the other side and up another similar ascent.
We bravely continued our test of endurance as we got to know the Wall intimately. It was certainly more of a rock climb than trek but it was a fantastic way to end a great trip. The ‘Serpentine’ section of the Wall was framed by the brilliant blue sky and we couldn’t have asked for more. Our trek ended when we came to the ‘Steps to Heaven’; a set of sky-high steps that were not scalable by humans.
Stepping off the wall, we entered the forest again and meandered our way down the mountain reflecting on what a great experience this week has been. We were sad to be returning to Beijing but still excited by the experiences we are yet to share before we go our separate ways on Sunday.
When we arrived back at Mr Chow’s homestay, we had a quick freshen-up and wheeled our luggage through the village to Mr Good’s bus. We said a sad farewell to Mr Chow, a true legend and a man who can cook, plumb, build, explore, gut a fish – all with a cigarette in his mouth.
Departing the village, Mr Good followed a well-paved mountain road for about an hour before we hit a central highway headed for the outskirts of Beijing. Our first stop was lunch at a restaurant famous for it’s millet buns filled with red bean. We also got to taste a Chinese hamburger. The food was delicious and filling, a good energy-base to start our discovery tour of the Summer Palace. Many said this was the best meal of the trip.
The Summer Palace was once a royal playground for members of the imperial court wishing to escape the punishing heat of summer in Beijing. In 1888, The Empress Dowager Cixi was set aside money earmarked for a modern navy. Instead she used it to re-fit the Summer Palace and the only nautical concession was a boat made out of marble.
We took a walk along the Long Corridor taking in the impressive paintings lining the inner roof of the corridor. We then took to a ferry across to South Lake Island where we disembarked and walked across the magnificent 17-arched bridge (image above) to the eastern shore of the lake.
After we had re-grouped, we met up with Mr Good again and headed to the Jade Garden Hotel in Beijing. We sorted out our rooms then quickly hit the night markets where Mak purchased and ate a fried and skewered tarantula. The rest of us quickly made our way past the diverse sights and smells until we reached the international mall where we split up to do a spot of power shopping.
The evening ended in the Moonlight Bar on the ground floor of the hotel.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
THU 13 SEP: MUTIANYU
Last night was action packed. We arrived at the hotel weary and ready for rest until we were informed there was a ping-pong table on the 3rd floor. A trip to China isn’t authentic until you have put a ping-pong bat through its paces. The race was on to have a shower and grab a racket. When I arrived, it was a flurry of activity with Brenton and Tanya vs Paul and Julie H. Brenton forfeited to take on Hero at Badminton so I took his place on Tanya’s team. It was so vigorous that we broke the ball. Wayne and Nijole also got competitive and challenged one another to the ‘pong’. We finally retired to the dull noise of 150 Chinese business people ending a work conference with karaoke and general chit-chat in our hallway.
Today was another magnificent day on the wall. We started off with a nice cable car ride up the mountain. After disembarking, we walked straight into a military graduation ceremony aptly taking place right in front of the wall and in view of the words ‘Long Live Chairman Mao’ etched into the mountainside (visible in image above).
We were quickly ushered further up the wall away from the ceremony where we paused to take in the view looming in front of us – the infamous Stairway to Heaven! (image above) 800 steps up and up and up; a sight that made even the fittest of us gulp.
This is one of the best-restored section of the Great Wall. It was here that Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton first took in this UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also this section of the Wall that was featured in the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay.
We set out on our journey towards the Stairway to Heaven and before we even hit them, Hero had tucked into his Subway sandwich – it was only 9:30am! We walked steadily and enjoyed the view of the wall all around us framed by vast blue sky decorated with fluffy, white clouds.
When we reached the stairs, we took them one at a time, occasionally stopping to catch our breath. We had to be careful and lean forward so we didn’t topple backwards back down. We eventually made it to the top and sheltered in the shade to re-group and apply sunscreen before we carried on our way. Brenton said that the walk to the top was ‘mentally draining’ and in his head he kept telling himself ‘don’t feel the pain’ which is not dissimilar to Amy’s motivating quote: “Pain is just weakness leaving the body”.
From the top, we took a narrow path to the left and found ourselves on an unrestored part of the wall jostling with plants, shrubs and trees. It was overgrown and challenging but such an adventure. This was Paul’s favourite part of the day. It was easy to lose sight of the person in front of us so a couple of times we found ourselves calling out to navigate our way ahead. Julie B kept calling out “take a break; drink some water” whenever she wanted to catch her breath while Tanya’s tactic was to stop and take more photos. At one point Jessie was scared that she would be out of the job with Julie doing such a good job of hydrating the team.
Soon we emerged from the shrubs and climbed a distinct part of the wall until we found ourselves perched high on a tower (image above). This was where we had lunch, surrounded by the wall in every direction. Soon after we had finished lunch, some bad weather started to roll in. Rain clouds were fast encroaching upon the blue sky and the temperature dropped. We made our way down to the village where we would be staying, following a trail through thick forest. When the rain started, we all stopped to put the covers on our daypacks.
It became all about the teamwork while the song ‘Slip sliding away’ became our anthem. Dirt turned to mud and shiny rocks turned lethal. Every step was hazardous, particularly for Angela and her damaged knee. She took it slow and steady while Paul, Brenton and Jessie were there every step of the way guiding her on the more stable path. It was a game of strategy and camaraderie as we worked out the safest path down from the mountain.
Coming down the mountain with the smell of the rain was Tanya’s favourite part of the day. Mak was pumping out the tunes on his iPhone – some Florence and the Machine a bit of Taylor Swift and B.O.B. The rain subsided and the sun came out, though the path remained treacherous. Finally we made our way into a small village where Mr Good was waiting to transfer us to our homestay.
We are now settled in and have explored the village. At one point, a horse was blocking our path and the only way through was walking directly behind him. Recalling one of the lessons’ our mother’s had taught us, ‘never walk behind a horse’, we all balked at continuing our journey. That was until a 4-year-old boy came to our rescue. He walked behind the horse to prove that it was safe. Hero, Tanya and I followed while Bec, Amy and Rhona were left stranded and looking a little petrified. The boy huffed and went and grabbed Rhona by the hand, guiding her safely behind the horses’ hind legs and delivering her to us safely. Amy and Bec remained behind so the boy went and grabbed a hand each and pulled them to where we were standing and watching the cuteness unfold.
We continued our journey through the village and returned for a vigorous game of snap with Amy nearly breaking her finger. Now we are about to make some dumplings for our evening meal. Tomorrow is our last opportunity to explore the Great Wall before we head to Beijing. We are grateful to have had two days of blue sky and we look forward to more adventures before we say farewell to China.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
PS: A big shout-out to Katie and Heidi, Julie B’s daughters, who are keeping track of their mum’s achievements by way of this blog.
WED 12 SEP: JINSHANLING
“Today we did it for the team”
Last night we fell asleep listening to the rain and distant thunder. This was a great turn of events as when we stepped outside this morning, we were delighted to see blue sky for the first time. The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is one of the most impressive and we had a day full of blue skies to inspire us as we put one step after another up many steep steps.
Today’s theme was ‘doing it for the team’. It was apt as Angela decided to join us after resting her knee yesterday. We have also named our team ‘Team Good’ after Mr Good, our excellent driver. Team Good encompasses all the charities that are represented on this China Challenge: Arthritis SA, Arthritis WA, Arthritis TAS and the Australian Lung Foundation. Team Good also reflects the fact that we are indeed a good team. Everyone is getting along well and teamwork has become the glue that bonds us together on the many challenging sections we have come across.
Before we set out, we warmed-up with a few stretches to limber up the aching muscles. We groaned as we felt muscles we never knew we had. The quads and calf muscles seem to be taking the brunt of our physical activity. Today, they got even more of a work out.
We started our trek with an incline until we reached the top of the Wall. From there we followed the Wall as it snaked its way across the mountains. We went up and down and up again. We came across steps that were so high that we thought they must’ve been built for giants. Looking back on what we have climbed up was an amazing feeling. Julie H said “going up the steep bit wasn’t as hard as I had dreamt it would be. Looking back down at where we had come from was incredible!”
The biggest challenge of the day was a set of stairs that were very daunting to look at (see image above). Each step was uncomfortably high and many of us used our hands to crawl our way up (for fear of losing balance and falling backwards). It was a huge relief to reach the top and a huge achievement.
Brenton’s tactic was to crawl like a dog. Tanya’s was to just keep going and not to stop. Mak set a speed record reaching the top in just 30 seconds. Paul casually jogged up the steps after a warm up run from where he’d left the Wall to go and ‘photograph a lizard’. Bec set an insanity record by reaching the top with ease and then taking on a dare to do it again (image above!). She cruised down the steps that we had all struggled up and then she raced Hero up to the top, pushing him out of the way just before the last step to take out the challenge. Hero has renamed Bec ‘Cat Woman’ because of the black ‘Skins’ that she wears. She certainly has superhero powers after doing that climb again! Meanwhile, Amy has captured Hero doing the splits in mid air – more superhero antics from our super team.
The highlight of the day for everyone was the blue sky. It is hard to fathom the expanse of the Wall and just how far it reaches. Even the best of cameras cannot capture the Wall in all its glory. However, having blue sky as the backdrop enabled us to see further than we had previously seen and take photographs that do the Wall some justice. It just keeps on giving us that ‘wow’ factor. We could even see all the way across to the Simitai section of the wall.
We said goodbye to our beloved wall at a tower perched high on a peak and took the stairs down to the carpark far, far below. It was nice to have steps of a consistent size for a change and the cool breeze was refreshing. When we reached the bottom, we stretched, shopped and found beer before boarding the bus to go and have lunch.
After another filling lunch, we are now on the way to Mutianyu (2-hrs away) where we will start our trek tomorrow. A quietness has descended on the bus as we doze and rest our weary muscles.
Just as I thought that everyone was sleeping, Angela has come and handed me a poem about the Great Wall. Here are some bits that relate to us:
“Always I will take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult… I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking… I will persist until I succeed.” Og Mandino
Indeed we will persist and focus on every step as we edge closer and closer to the end of the trek. We will savour the views and do what Bec does, take a moment to take it all in and take a mental picture. Julie B also ended today with some appropriate words:
“I came; I panted; I sweated; I made it!”
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s instalment.
Inspired Adventures Team Escort
TUES 11 SEP: GREAT WALL TREK DAY II (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
This morning we woke up surrounded by mountains and with the Great Wall looming high above us. It’s hard to believe that yesterday we were standing up there looking down upon this hotel thinking how far away it looked.
After a simple breakfast of bread, egg, jam, tomato and cucumber, we packed our bags into the bus and hit the road. Now we all thought that the ‘adventure’ part of this trip would be our trek along the Great Wall. However, it seems that our bus journey has been on par. Yesterday we came across three major obstacles that saw us reversing and traversing across rugged terrain on the way to the East Qing Tombs. Today, we upped the ante and yesterday’s off-road adventure was made to look like a piece of cake in comparison. Mr Good navigated our bus through unimaginable terrain. Our large bus bumped and lurched sideways and upwards and downwards. It groaned and creaked as we all looked out of the window incredulous at the view. Sharp mountains reached up to the sky and in the valleys, forests of cranes worked hard to re-shape the landscape in order to carve out a new road. The glow and hum of welders was drowned out by jackhammers. Everywhere we looked was supreme beauty coupled with noisy and unsightly construction. We also had to make five river crossings and each time we crossed our fingers that the water wouldn’t seep into the luggage hold.
At one point, Mr Good had to manoeuvre the bus around a sharp, hairpin bend on a steep gradient. It was impossible for him to get the bus around in one go so the front of the bus came face-to-face with the jagged cliff as he carefully inched the bus backwards enough so that we could make the turn. We all held our breath and let out a deafening sigh of relief when we made it to the top of the road unscathed. Mr Good was grinning from ear-to-ear as compliments flowed down from the back of the bus. The compliments needed no translation; the sentiment was conveyed in our happy and relieved tone. Paul was sitting towards the front snapping away with his amazing camera. He commented that it was a good example of the ‘World’s Worst Roads’. Despite the challenges we are facing on the roads, we are all completely confident in Mr Good’s ability and we have no doubt that he will deliver us all back to Beijing in good shape.
After an hour and a half of rough roads (or as Jessie referred to it ‘being in an automatic massage machine’), we hit a tarred road that turned into a highway. Before long we were zooming along and inching closer to our next encounter with the Great Wall.
We disembarked at a small village with stone houses adorned with red lanterns. We took a group shot and said farewell to Ang who had decided to stay with Mr Good to give her damaged knee a rest.
As we made our way up, the path narrowed and the views were breathtaking. We followed the dirt road all the way up and then headed across an older section of the wall. A local woman explained that this part was the barrier between China and Mongolia and pointed to what was once considered the realm of the Mongals who were persistently trying to invade from the north. One some part of this section, the path narrowed so much that we felt like we were suspended in space with nothing but abyss on either side. It was also kind of like being suspended in history as we imagined the men who built this wall and the reason why they built it. Rhona struggled with her fear of heights but was helped through the more frightful moments by the friendly hands of the local women who had joined our group as motivators.
As the day wore on, the Wall became more and more visible in every direction we turned. Julie H said that there were moments that she felt like she was on top of the world and it was just her and the Wall. She also enjoyed the ever-changing terrain. Bec kept telling us to stop and just take it all in. She was right. There was just so much to take in.
Lunch saw us perched high in a 6-windowed tower with sandwiches, apples, boiled eggs and a funny stick of processed meat (kind of like a cheese stick but not cheese). A cool wind blew up from the valley and caused some of us to pull out our wind jackets. Once we were on the road again, we had to make a diversion from the Wall as part of it was occupied by the military. This part was evident as the Wall was decorated in barbed wire. One of the highlights of the day was Brenton asking if we would be shot if we walked that way. Jessie innocently replied ‘yes, and you would be a very big target for them’. We all laughed as we knew Jessie wasn’t being offensive and that Brenton was thick-skinned (we would have all been very big targets for them!).
As we veered away from the Wall, we descended through fields of corn and through thick scrub that was often prickly. We had to keep an eye out for rocks, roots and chasms. It turned into a conga-line of Chinese whispers. Those at the front would yell out what impending obstacle was ahead (ie ‘rocks’, ‘roots’, ‘slopey and slippery bit’ etc etc). Julie B was accused more than once of changing the whisper. She was in the middle of the line so by the time it got to the trekkers at the end, it had become a bit of a hilarity distracting us from the dangers and obstacles that lay ahead. We continued our odyssey deep into the valley and up the other side until we came upon the wall once more. By this time of the day, the sun was nearly visible and blue sky was trying to make a rare appearance. The visibility of the Wall improved and so did the ‘wow’ factor. We could clearly make out where we had come from and we could see where we were going. It was one of those views that will stay with us for a lifetime in our memories.
At the last tower we shopped. The women who had accompanied us all of the way were selling books, fans and other souveniers. We then descended until we reached our hotel in Jinshanling. It was a relief to finally have our boots off. Julie B said that today’s walk was ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I made it!’. Bec believes it is for this reason we are here. Moments like these are rare and should be cherished. We can push our bodies further than we think and when we do, we should stop and bask in our accomplishments.
I couldn’t agree more and look forward to the challenges and accomplishments that tomorrow brings. We have a wonderful team who are always looking out for each other. Tonight we all lay our weary heads on our pillows after lovely hot showers, a filling meal and to the tune of rain and thunder; a perfect soundtrack to a wonderful day.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
MON 10 SEP: Beijing to Great Wall (Taipingzhai – Huangyaguan)
Today we woke up early to pack our bags ready to leave behind Beijing and embark on a lengthy drive to the Great Wall via the East Qing Tombs. Jessie and Hero helped us steer our bags out of the hotel and down the narrow laneway to the main road where Mr Good (our driver) met us. He pulled the bus over, blocking the main road, causing a great deal of irritation for his fellow drivers (it was Monday morning peak hour in China’s capital city). However, there was no way the bus was getting up our laneway and it was the only way we could get our bags on board. We worked swiftly as a team to get the luggage into the hold in record speed and took off to mingle with the rest of the traffic as we slowly made our way to ring road 2.
Jessie and Hero kept the boredom at bay as we crawled through the narrow streets of the hutong district. Hero broke out into song twice – “Nine million bicycles in Beijing” and “Kung Fu Fighting” – both very appropriate and both met with delight from our group.
Jessie gave us a rundown on the rules and regulations of purchasing a car in Beijing. The government is trying to crackdown on the numbers of cars so anyone wishing to buy one must submit an application to do so. These then go into one big pot (with around a million others) and are drawn out like a lottery once a month. If your application is drawn out and approved, you have only six months to purchase a car or else your permission expires. Jessie also talked about China’s one-child policy as well as the intricate history of the Qing dynasty and the last emperor.
Meanwhile, the street scenes outside our windows were also curious and interesting. We passed a temple where the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama taught Buddhism during the Qing dynasty. We also saw a woman out walking her pet duck. The duck was enjoying every minute as it strutted unrestrained along the footpath with chest out and beak held high. When its webbed-legs tired, the owner bent down low and rewarded her dear feathered friend with some loving strokes down her back. On seeing this, an audible ‘awwwwww…. cute’ rang out amongst all of us who had been watching the scene. It was a heart-melting moment that we would not have seen had it not been for the traffic.
After nearly an hour of barely moving, we finally made a right-hand turn onto the highway. We watched the high-density buildings of Beijing fade into the distance behind us as we made our way to the East Qing Tombs. It was all smooth sailing until we got closer to the tombs. After winding its way through mountains and around a lake, our bus came across a narrow bridge where a number of vehicles had come to a standstill. Confused drivers left their vehicles (I say vehicles instead of cars because it was a mixture of small buses, cars, strange-looking three-wheeled open utility cars, electric motorbikes and tractors). The drivers swapped information as they tried to work out which ones would be able to cross the temporary bridge. Mr Good joined them and the news wasn’t so good. Before we knew it, we were driving in reverse until we could find a place to turn around.
We continued on our way and further down the road we consulted a local man who, from the vigorous pointing and hand gestures, assured us that there was another way around the bridge. After much animated discussion, Mr Good was back in the bus and the friendly villager led us out of our predicament with his own car. Mr Good remained focused on the uneven, challenging terrain ahead as he masterfully drove us through deep ruts, mud puddles and across bumpy patches of dirt and sand. Mr Good did good! When we finally came back onto a tarred road, our bus erupted into a rapturous applause for our skilled driver.
Just as we breathed a sigh of relief, we came across another bridge that we were unable to pass. This time we knew the drill and without too much delay, we drove in reverse again and found another route to the tombs – our third one of the day. Things were going well… until we hit a roadblock in the middle of nowhere – only 3km from the tombs. As our guides and driver nutted out the problem, we took the opportunity to go to the bathroom of Mother Nature. We also played some trivia and got to know each other a bit better. It turns out that we are rather an interesting bunch with only some points of grave concern (for example someone’s favourite artist is Guy Sebastian!).
All trivia-ed out and still waiting for a solution, Bec started to do the limbo down the aisle by laying a walking pole across the arm rests. Soon after, Mr Good swung the bus into reverse once more and we turned around and lurched back into action. However, after much time spent driving around the scenic country roads north of Beijing, it was now lunchtime.
We pulled into a rural roadside restaurant at 12:30pm. Brenton said that he knew we were in the countryside when he asked for a fork and was told ‘no fork’. He was forced to embrace his chopsticks and mastered the art so well that he was even eating rice with them. Nijole added that he got through the rice ‘one grain at a time’.
The first dishes to appear on the giant ‘lazy Susan’ caused a commotion amongst us as we dared each other to be the first to try them. We also played the game of ‘what meat do you reckon this is?’ with the question always asked with a suitably quizzical and perplexed look on ones’ face. Brenton took out the bravery award when he downed some colourful pig meat wrapped in skin (middle image below). As the dishes were laid out, it became evident which were the delicious ones (most of them). The plate of colourful pig and skin was still slowly revolving around the table when we were wiping our mouths with napkins and laying our chopsticks to rest. Try as we did, we just couldn’t get through that dish.
After lunch we decided to go to the tombs as we were assured we could get there another way that would only take us ten or so minutes. After our previous three attempts, we were a little sceptical but willing to give it another shot. Given the lack of time, we only had time to visit one tomb, that of Emperor Gao Zong.
As we entered the tunnel into the tomb we immediately felt the temperature drop. I had the Indiana Jones theme song playing loudly in my head as we approached the main chamber. The walls were carved in Tibetan script with some of the columns on the outside carved in Sanskrit. The tomb in all its glory was protected by a glass encasement and adorned with a portrait of the late Emperor. Withered flowers at the base of the tomb added to the sight.
Relieved at having seen such an amazing site of historical importance, we again boarded the bus. This time we were destined for the Taipingzhai section of the Great Wall of China. To make up time, Mr Good stepped on the gas and we decided to go straight to the start point, forgoing our planned stop to check-in and refresh at the hotel. The drive turned into a race against the clock as the gates closed at 5pm. It was now on 4pm as we sped up a narrow mountain road with a few close encounters with oncoming cars. When we reached the carpark, we filed out of the bus and hastily prepared for an imminent trek departure. The rush was well worth it as we took our first steps on the wall. Every one of us kept muttering the word ‘wow’ over and over again. That first impression of the Wall is unforgettable and has now been etched in our memories for perpetuity.
The enthusiasm was palpable and our smiles stretched to our ears as we absorbed the view. Our 2-hour afternoon warm-up trek was no easy feat but we were all happy that we were able to squeeze it in. This was thanks to Mr Good’s driving. As Paul said ‘from now on, Mr Good shall been known as Mr Excellent’. There were no arguments from anyone. The Widest Smile Award goes to Mak who rang his mother in Kenya from the top of the Great Wall. I couldn’t actually see Mak’s smile but I could hear it through his voice as he talked to his mother. The True Grit Award goes to Angela who made it all the way back to the hotel on her bung knee.
All in all, it was a fabulous day and an adventure from start to finish. We are now resting up and preparing for our biggest physical challenge yet – Day 2 of the trek from Gubeikou to Jinshaling.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
SUN 9 SEP: BEIJING
Welcome to Beijing… it means ‘northern capital’ and it is home to 20,180,000 million people (the second biggest city in population after Shanghai).
At 9:30am, we all gathered in the hotel reception area in excited anticipation of the day ahead – a discovery tour of the sites, history and culture of bustling Beijing.
Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven (see group photo above) where we saw the aging population of China come together in groups to play hacky sack (good for the knees), sing songs, dance, and practice the art of t’ai chi. Every which way we turned, there was graceful movement and energetic activity taking place. It was hard not to get swept up in the moment and before long we were playing hacky sack and learning t’ai chi from our guide, Jessie.
Any onlookers would have been amused by our ungraceful movements, uncoordinated hacky sack passes and our constant giggles and laughter (see image below!). Jessie is determined to teach us 24 simplified t’ai chi moves before the week is out and Mak thought he would return the cultural learning by teaching Jessie and Hero, our assistant guide, the ‘Macarena’. Watch this space – you could well see the next YouTube hit as we do a group medley incorporating traditional t’ai chi with the ‘Macarena’ and the Harlem Shuffle!
We all worked up a bit of an appetite with our impromptu activity so our next stop was of one of Beijing’s most famous hot pot restaurants. The spread created a different hive of activity; this time focused around three bubbling pots on the table. Initially it was difficult to concentrate on eating as there was a rush to place all sorts of yummy foods into the boiling pots. There was lamb and pork and beef and cabbage. There was tofu and a variety of green leafy vegetables as well as mushrooms of all shapes, colours and sizes. Wow. By the end of the meal we nearly had to roll out of the restaurant and onto the bus.
Thankfully we had an opportunity to work off our lunch as strode it out through Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. When asked about the 1989 massacre, our guide explains that we would know more of the history surrounding it than most people who live in China. This is due to strict censorship laws (which are still in place and prevent us from updating Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels live from our trek).
When standing in Tianamen Square, one cannot miss the giant portrait of Chairman Mao keeping a watchful eye on things (see above). The image hangs from the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which was constructed in the 15th century. It was from this gate that Chairman Mao proclaimed the ‘People’s Republic of China’ on 1 October 1949 and it was towards this gate (well, more precisely, towards the portrait) that eggs filled with coloured paint were thrown during the 1989 demonstrations.
We walked through the gate trying to grasp the more recent history of the austere, communist-style square and attempting to match it up to the country’s older history and the colourful grandeur of the Forbidden City. We spent quite a while exploring the expansive compounds within the Forbidden City and learned that the courtyards had 15 layers of bricks underneath them to prevent assassins digging tunnels into the compound (see bricks in the image below). For a similar reason, the courtyards are devoid of trees as they could possibly harbour and protect any intruders.
Listening to Jessie talk about the past, we walked through gates and places with names such as the Meridian Gate, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Earthly Tranquillity Palace, the Thousand Autumns Pavilion, the Hall of Military Prowess and finally we exited through the Divine Military Genius Gate and headed towards Jingshan Park.
During the course of our exploration of the Forbidden City, Bec bought a map to take back and analyse (let’s not mention how many fans Rhona bought!) while Mak was very popular with the locals (images below).
Next top, Jingshan Park. The centrepiece of of this popular public park is a 45.7metre high artificial hill that is the located on the central axis of Beijing. Leading up to the pavilion on the peak was a narrow path with evenly placed steps. We took to the stairs like fish out of water and scaled high enough to see the entire Forbidden City laid out before us just in time to see the sun slinking lower and lower in the sky. It was a sight to behold and a great way to appreciate the expansiveness of the Forbidden City in all its glory.
The trek to the top of the peak revealed a secret love of Julie B – her passion for counting! Julie counted every single step up to the top – 275 in total. I wonder if she can keep that up when we hit the Great Wall!
Having spent so much time immersing ourselves in the fascinating history and culture of Beijing, we had no time to go to the hotel to freshen up before our evening meal. Dinner saw us seated around a round table with a large ‘lazy susan’ to assist in ‘delicious dish distribution’. What a meal it was and we topped it off with a nice drop of Great Wall cab sav and some cool, refreshing beer.
As we slumped in our chairs and contemplated the day that was, Jessie and Hero appeared and herded us back into the bus taking us to the ‘Amazing Chinese Acrobatics at Chaoyang Theater’. It was quite a show and the agility, focus, talent and strength of the performers blew us all away. The show ended in a nail-biting display of precision motorbike riding; 8 dare-devil riders hitting the accelerator hard in a small, round cage. I don’t think I breathed for the entire 5 minutes and my heart has never beaten stronger from just sitting still.
We are now back at the hotel and my heart rate is slowly returning to normal. Tomorrow is an early start as we head out of Beijing and take to the Great Wall for the first time.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
SAT 8 SEP: ARRIVAL IN CHIINA
Late in the afternoon, our 12 trekkers touched down at Beijing Capital Airport. They were greeted by the guides who will be with them throughout the rest of the trip, Jessie and Hero. Tomorrow they will set out on a discovery tour of Beijing which includes a trip to the Temple of Heaven, Tianamen Square, Jingshan Park and the Forbidden City. In the evening they will have a change to see the incredible Beijing Acrobatic spectacular. Stay tuned!