It all started in a pub – like these things often do. Sitting with a group of work colleagues, we talked about doing something adventurous together, like a trekking challenge, like going on the Great Wall of China.
After scouting around on the internet we came up with, what seemed to be, the best option. An all-in trip to the Wall, walking for 6 days and a visit to Beijing at the end.
So that’s how I found myself sitting at the airport, stomach churning, no idea what was ahead and no idea how I would fare.
Let me just say here – I am not a fitness freak, I hate the gym, I never go running, I don’t exercise very much and I have never done this in my life. I had trained a little bit, taken my long suffering Labradors on walks up hills, in the hot summer sun, and tested myself on a 6 mile walk with my rucksack on my back. I had looked up how to pack a rucksack on Youtube, and talked to several people about what to take. Learnt form the girl in the Outdoor shop that every ounce mattered, so packed 3 times and thrown things out and in the end I had gone on my instinct which sometimes works for me – called “Wing It”!!
I knew the people I worked with but no one else, so we were thrown together in a group of 19 most of whom I didn’t know. So our group headed for the bar. I was so relieved when one of the group confided in me that she was very scared – phew – and she was the fittest one of us!!
In Beijing, the bus dropped us on a side road and we were taken to our hotel, a couple of us huffing and puffing in the heat with our bags. We checked in to our room, put our luggage down and sat on the bed – BANG!!!
Wow, that was my introduction to Chinese beds. Yes, they really do sleep on a board, strange though, the board is sewn into the mattress cover on top of what appeared to be a normal western style mattress. I never did learn why they put the soft bit underneath!!
We met up with the group downstairs and walked out into the street to look for somewhere for a meal. A little way down, we opted for somewhere that looked the best option.. It was a bit rough, with a huge table in the middle which we all fitted around. Then began the trial of being understood. After lots of laughs, smiles, arm waving and pointing we discovered the size of portions, what things were and made our orders.
I will never forget that meal: it was cooked by one lady in what resembled a glass shoebox for a kitchen, and for the next hour, out poured dish after dish of the most amazing Chinese food I have ever eaten – I am never eating Chinese at home again, because this is what it should taste like.! Then the bill came!
I was tasked with dividing it up, it came to equivalent of £4.50 each, and that included a couple of beers each. The group thought I couldn’t count!! . We ended up going to that restaurant 4 times on our return after the walk and by the time we departed we were like old friends, photos, waving at the door, hugs and kisses. Wonderful.
The next morning found us on a bus to make our way to the start of our challenge. Nerves jangling with the usual rubbish we panic about. Could I fill my water hydration pack in my rucksack? And my biggest fear, would I be able to get up the hill to get onto the wall, seeing as in some places it is three thousand feet up!
“The Wall” someone shouted – and there it was, a silent giant, calmly trailing along the top of the hill beside us. And there it stayed, solid in our life for the next six days, and, if I’m really honest, there is a still a little corner of my heart still with that Wall.
The coach dropped us off and so it started. Led by our local guide, Oliver, the most energetic person I think I have ever met, all smiles, all fun, dressed in shorts, a T shirt, and trainers and carrying a little carrier bag, he gaily led us up a path onto to some steps that wound their way up to the Wall. Behind us was our expedition leader, where he stayed for the duration of the trek – quiet, dependable, solid and always waiting for the last person, no matter who it was, ensuring we were all well and safe.
Those first steps were probably the hardest bit when I look back, because it was a new experience and it was the moment I realised how hard it was going to be, this was no ordinary walk on a wall, this was “The Wall”
Guest Blogger - Annie Davidson (first of many)