In a legit way…we didn’t just set up camp because of, you know, Tigers and shit.
Here are couple of little tips to remember, if you ever find yourself at the base of the wall preparing to spend the night under the stars
1) Do not get your minivan driver drunk, however much of a laugh he may be, or you will find yourself taking a 30min up hill walk to the wall before you beginning the leg numbing, lung ripping climb up.
2) Do not get yourself drunk (my God, the Chinese can drink!) before you climb up, you will fall over and get hurt, and you will need to pee lots throughout the night. There are no toilets on the wall, you will have to pee on the wall, in the dark, and may be so drunk that you fall over in your own urine.
Ok, so I didn’t actually fall off the wall, but I did trip on the incredibly steep steps up to the watchtower platform which was our base for the night, yet again hurting the same ankle that was still recovering from the falling down the toilet incident, and the bike accident in Xi’an. Its also the same foot which turned black after I fell over in Morocco. I am hoping to arrive home from traveling with all my limbs intact, and the ability to urinate without falling in it, but the rate I am going I cannot promise anything.
We were in a small group with the most fantastic guide and the loveliest American woman and her two young teenage kids. It was such a great group, and we all got on really well. We had dinner with the guide, our driver and a family at Jinshanling village, a small settlement at the base of the wall and we had such an amazing evening. The hospitality of our hosts was astounding,
We all ate together at a huge table set up in their small shop front. The food was out of this world. It was gorgeous, but there was so much! Between the twelve of us, there was enough food on that table to feed an army. The local people were just amazing, the kids had a fantastic time, and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. We really did have such a fun evening, laughing, joking; the Chinese can really party! The beer and the rice wine were flowing, and all the adults were very merry by the time darkness descended and it was time to climb the wall by torchlight. Possibly not the best idea, but its not often you get invited so generously into somebody’s home, and they really were great people.
The family organizes the sleeping tour, and so are very experienced with sleeping out on the wall themselves, sometimes in temperatures as low as -20. Can you imagine? It’s just mind blowing. In the words of the father, this part of China is a ‘pain in the poop hole’ to live in, as it’s either always too hot or too cold.
Before our impromptu drinking session, we climbed up to the wall for a walk to watch the sun set. Oh my god, I thought I was going to die, the walk is just horrendous! Photos and film never really show you how high or step the ascent is.
Beautiful, stunning, amazing, but so steep in places, it feels as if your lungs are going to pop out of your mouth and your legs are turning to jelly. I made the mistake of running with kids up the steep road to get to the base of the wall before hand, so I was knackered before I even started. I may act like a kid, but I no longer have their stamina.
I have learned another thing about myself that I did not know before yesterday; my whinging and swearing in harsh conditions is involuntary.
I really did not know it was all coming out of my mouth – I even started to annoy myself. I spewed a torrent of abuse as I reached the plateau where everyone was waiting for me, as they all had cameras ready for a group shot. I was so out of breath I thought I was going to puke, and everyone was calling for me to stand there and smile! The b******ds! The sunset was amazing though, and well worth the walk. The day had been so clear, barely a cloud in the sky, we could not have been luckier.
Sleeping on the wall was such an incredible experience. We slept outside of a watchtower, and while the air was very cold (1 degree during the night), we were given two sleeping bags each, and really comfy padded mats to sleep on, so it was actually quite a pleasant experience. The night was crystal clear, so the stars were amazing! We slept right under the big dipper, which always reminds me of home in the winter as it’s directly above our front gates! The stars looked huge though, and we saw so many shooting stars in the sky. It certainly made the horrible walk up there worthwhile to be falling asleep while watching shooting stars whiz by.
I thought it would feel kind of eerie up there, but it didn’t at all. The silence up there is unreal. I thought it was quite at home, I live in the middle of the countryside, but you can still hear the wildlife etc, but up on the wall, it’s silence only penetrated by the occasional howl of god knows what.
It was okay though, because the guide put a plastic chair in the opening of the watchtower to keep the Tigers out. Yeah, I know.
The company we travelled to the Wall with was The China Guide and they are wonderful. They don’t do those ghastly big tours, they do very small groups and it is all run by local village families, I cannot recommend them enough. They do not have deals with factories or souvenir shops, so you are not pushed into buying anything, they are great.
Just practice pissing outside in the pitch black while drunk before you go though, you will thank me.
(This was taken from the blog I wrote for my round the world travels which you can read here)