The past 24 hours in Beijing have been chaotic, exhausting, humorous, surprising, adventurous, and just downright EXHILARATING… My bestie and I found that trying to cross the road was like being in a live game of Frogger 😁. I am still not sure how, but SOMEHOW, we managed to make it to the other side… We also had our first introduction to Chinese-style squat toilets 😁😁. Imagine trying to balance a backpack and an overnight bag on your body (the stalls have no hooks/shelves), while trying to squat over a hole in the ground, while trying not to touch anything, while trying not to smell anything, while trying not to notice anything, all while trying to pull your stash of toilet paper from your bags (as the stalls have none). I managed fairly well despite the residual effects from a 1999 car accident which makes it near impossible to do a “3rd World Squat.” My bestie, however, was always in search of a Western toilet and rejoiced heavily the few times she was actually able to find one… We also got our first introduction to internet censorship 😁😁😁. I knew that there were issues with Google (and related products) and Facebook but had no idea that I would also incur issues when attempting to view the NY Times and Bloomberg websites. Most surprising was to find that I would have NO access to WordPress (my blog host) during my China travels. Really??? WordPress??? Interestingly enough, my bestie initially had access to google chat thru VPN on her work computer – that is until she decided to complain to her boyfriend via google chat about the Chinese-style squat toilets. Almost INSTANTANEOUSLY, it quit working. Eerie, huh??? Welcome to China!
The most SPECTACULAR moment since landing in Beijing last night, was hiking a somewhat remote portion of the Great Wall of China at Huanghuacheng (Huang Hua Cheng – aka “Yellow Flower Fortress”) today with my bestie and a local adventure guide named James. Huanghuacheng is located in the Huairou District, about 60 kilometers from Beijing, China and was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is ~6.8 miles (11km) long and joins with Juyongguan Pass and Badaling in the southwest and Jiankou and Mutianyu in the northeast. Huanghuacheng is quite rugged as it has deteriorated over time and has yet to be restored like Mutianyu, Badaling, and other, more popular sections of the Great Wall.
Although I am an avid hiker, hiking this section of the Great Wall was CHALLENGING – to say the least – AND a bit SCARY at points, but ultimately, I LOVED it. Some portions were almost vertical and resembled climbing a very, VERY tall wall at a rock gym; other portions were just REALLY STEEP and SLICK (and going downhill was no better than going uphill). After the first 30-45 minutes of hiking, James and I were the only two people venturing forward on the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall as most turn back once they begin to experience the difficult terrain. Although I am afraid of heights, somehow James managed to gain my trust enough that I continued to follow him to points that WELL EXCEEDED my comfort zone. The bait… the promise of great scenery. (And for me, it’s all about the view!!) Just as James had promised, the BRILLIANT views became even more MAGNIFICENT the higher we ascended.
The scenery was so MESMERIZING that I forgot about my fear of heights until it was time to climb down. James managed to scurry down just like a mountain goat. (Granted, he has probably hiked this section of the Great Wall hundreds of times…) For the life of me, I could not figure out the best way to descend the almost vertical section I had managed to climb up an hour before. What goes up MUST come down… RIGHT???? My heart began pumping out of my chest as I thought of how easy it would be to slip and fall right off the Great Wall… For a split moment, I told myself that if this was my last day on this earth, at least I had a very full life and was leaving a BEAUTIFUL locale doing something that I LOVE – exploring. James must have sensed my fear because the next thing I knew, he had returned to where I was and began instructing me on my hand and foot placement. I will be forever thankful 😘!!
Unfortunately, pictures don’t do the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall justice… I will, however, always have etched in my memory the EXHILARATING feeling standing atop a tower, by myself, surrounded by mountains, smog, lakes, more smog, miles upon miles of the Great Wall sprawled throughout… THE SMOG… taking in what many would consider one of the great wonders of the world. I felt so alive!
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch
Thank you for the experience, Huanghuacheng!!
Also, a special thanks goes to James Zhang, adventure guide extraordinaire, for everything, including taking photos of me! Note: all landscape photos were taken by yours truly, and with just a point-and-shoot 🙂
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