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Camping on the Great Wall

Wohushan Mountain, Gubeikou

sunny 27 °C

I've had another amazing weekend. My Mandarin school organised an overnight camping trip to a remote and non-restored section of the Great Wall. I figured that the trip would be a pretty unique experience but, in fact, it surpassed my expectations by [approx. 13,170] miles! We set off by bus around midday on Saturday and it took about 2 hours to get to the small village of Gubeikou, where we were abandoned by our bus driver on a concrete platform next to a railway line.

And then the adventure began.

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We spent around two hours climbing a very narrow and fairly treacherous path. Although it wasn't too physically taxing, most of the Wall in this area was basically in ruins, which meant that the rubble could be quite unstable and it was easy to lose footing, especially on the steeper sections. To add to the challenge, we were all carrying our camping supplies and food for the evening, as well as plenty of water, so our backpacks were heavy which made us unbalanced.

The weighty bags posed the most difficulty on the steepest parts of the Wall. When I say steep, I mean steep. At one point I was literally rock climbing; people were passing bags up to each other because it was too dangerous for us to climb with the bags on - the Wall was practically vertical. There were times when I was genuinely scared but overall, the climb up was an incredible experience and a great way to get to know the others who were on the trip with us.

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Along the Wall there are several watchtowers, which are all in varying states of disrepair. Each watchtower that we got to had a different and more spectacular view of our mountainous surroundings and we passed some other small hiking groups that had started to settle inside them for the night. As the sun started setting, we decided to stop at a watchtower that had a particularly difficult approach. It felt like such an achievement to have reached our camp! There are many little sections inside the watchtowers, which are two-storey structures, and Will and I managed to find a sheltered alcove, away from some of the more exposed spaces.

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After sunset, the wind was fairly strong and whistling through the crumbling structure, so a large group of us huddled in one of the dusty alcoves and set out sleeping mats to sit on. We sat around eating barbecued food and noodles, drinking and chatting by torchlight. It was so surreal and gradually the wind died down, meaning that the watchtower stayed surprisingly warm throughout the night. I was amazed at what a good sleep I had!

This morning, we got up for sunrise at about 5.50am. At first, it seemed as though it was too cloudy for us to really see anything, but at about 6.15am the sun emerged as a glowing, orange orb above the ruins of the Wall, which we could see stretching along the mountain tops for miles and miles. After packing away we started the hike back down. I was expecting the way down to be easier but we took a different route, which was essentially an overgrown path consisting mainly of loose rocks and boulders. Despite this, we descended surprisingly quickly (without any major casualties!).

At the bottom of the mountain, we carried on walking towards the nearby village where a small guesthouse had produced an incredible meal for us all, consisting of fish, pork, tofu noodles, vegetables and century eggs - an interesting Chinese delicacy). It was the perfect way to finish our rural escapades before heading back to Beijing's bustling streets.

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Thanks to the other happy hikers for sharing some of their photos

Posted by amysblog 04:43 Archived in China Tagged mountains hiking china beijing camping great_wall Comments (0)

Gubei Water Town

Beijing Day Trips

storm 27 °C

As we are approaching the end of our time in China, our priorities have changed from trying to see as much as possible, to trying to save as much as possible. Our travel plans are coming together and with all the excitement, there are underlying nerves about whether or not we can *actually* afford to hit all of the amazing places on our bucket list. So recently we have been trying to strike the balance between still seeing new things without spending our (hard?)-earned salaries. Now that Will has visited Beijing a fair few times, we have more or less hit all of the sights, so when local travel agency CET advertised a day trip to the “nearby” water-town of Gubei, we were both keen to sign up.

The trip set of at the sociable hour of 10am. Unfortunately, we got caught in weekend traffic heading out of the city, meaning that the journey was slightly longer than we expected - around 3 and a half hours, if I remember correctly. It was a very hot day and unfortunately the pollution was relatively high, which meant some of the mountain views were a little on the fuzzy side. Gubei is a very interesting little place, it has a few large resort-style hotels, but aside from the workers, I think the village is basically uninhabited. It is completely pedestrianised and there are hundreds of tiny winding streets that you can get lost in. There are beautiful canals and the whole place is very quaint and picturesque.

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We were starving by the time we arrived so food was, of course, our first priority. We found a small canal-side courtyard selling reasonably priced noodle dishes and tucked in, before heading further into the town to explore. We tried to stay away from the main streets that were exceptionally busy. Sticking to the back streets we still came across the main attractions, such as the silk museum, opera stage and food streets, as we made our way towards Gubei’s section of the Great Wall.

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It’s a good few months since I last went to the Wall, and this is the third section I’ve visited. It was also possibly the steepest! Even with the pollution, we had great views of the wall winding into the distance and we were up there right towards the end of the day so it was quite quiet in places. I was surprised how rugged this section of the wall was. It is one of the restored sections (as are most of the ones you are *allowed* to visit) but - I don’t know if for effect - some parts were very definitely crumbling. The tumble-down effect is perhaps more striking, in terms of realising what a huge feat the building of it was, back in the day! (Even more striking having recently learned that the cement they used to hold it all together was made out of rice?!?!?! - shout out to Lou for that questionable piece of knowledge)

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It was getting dark as we arrived back at the bottom of the wall, and Gubei was starting to light up, it was beautiful with all the lights reflecting in the water. We stopped for a much needed drink at William Bar. There was a live band playing and it was a really pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. It was finally starting to cool down too. We didn’t have long left until we were due back at the coach, so we went in search of some more food, just as the first crashes of thunder happened. Most of the tourists started to panic and as a mass evacuation back to the coach park was underway, Will and I decided to take advantage of the diminishing queues for the Chinese hamburger stalls to get some grub.

When the rain finally started to pour, we too headed directly for the coach. I’m so pleased that I finally got to see Gubei, even with the high pollution levels. Our last view of the town saw it completely lit up with the Wall - also lit up - shining on the tops of the mountains in the distance. It is probably the last time I will see the Great Wall, and so it was fitting that it was so spectacular.

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Posted by amysblog 01:27 Archived in China Tagged china summer beijing sightseeing great_wall asia day_trip tefl gubei Comments (0)

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