Finally on Friday, Michaela and I get to do a trek of the 2000 year old Great Wall of China, and its her 34th birthday! hooray!
The sun is shining, the sky is a clear blue without a cloud in it – and because its the peak of summer that also means it must be about 40 degrees. As the bus nears the entrance - our tour guide starts to speak:
“ We are almost arrived – when you get to the base you will need to walk up a hill to get to the first tower. This hill is very steep.”
When you get to the first tower you will walk the first 9 towers which have been restored. These towers are even steeper than the hill..."
“Then you will climb towers 9 to 15... these towers are even steeper.”
If you are having difficulty you can get down here from tower 15 because after that you will have to walk the final 7 towers from 15 to and these are the STEEPEST part of the wall.”
Everyone laughs nervously. I'm beginning to worry that I may not be up to it – but Micahela chivvies me along.
We arrive and start the climb up to the first tower which is fine and then bump into Sally and a couple of other girls from the hostel at the top. We burst into an impromptu version of Happy Birthday for Michaela which makes everyone stare:
“take your time -take photos - the guide on the walk will follow the last person...”
We take her advice. Once up at the top the heat is extreme and difficult but the views are stunning. The wall stretches out in front of us and there isn't a soul on it except for our group, we can see for miles around us, the rolling hills and the wall interspersed with its watchtowers curls out endlessly infront of us.
I didn't know what to expect but its suprisingly peaceful and awe inspiring up here. So this is what all the fuss is about....it is and it isn't "just a wall."
After the first 15 towers I begin to get a little complacent. We stop and take loads of photos to the point where the tour guide who is rounding us up actually points at his watch and hurries us along – guess we can't take as long as we want then!
We have made lunch in the hostel to take with us as there are no burger vans up here – although there is the odd farmer selling t shirts, water and coke. We catch up with the rest of the group and eat our peanut butter sandwiches (which never tasted so good) then get going again. And then I see why its called one of the most strenuous treks on the wall.
The wall from Tower 9 is all unrestored - so crumbling away at the sides and there are sheer drops of around 500 metres. It's so hilly that it undulates up and down to each watchtower at about an angle of 70 degrees which means we have to climb up and down on all fours to be safe.
'In every life there are ups and there are downs...” notes a German drily.
The final few towers to Tower 22 really are the steepest and get the heart rate pumping.
“Come on Dominique – get those legs going!” shouts Michaela
“WORK THAT BUTT WORK IT!!” I shout back to help with the motivation.
The rest of the group stare at us slightly bemused. But we make it! And the fact its been tiring and difficult at times has made it so much more worthwhile. And hey ….the photos really are great.
That evening we go out for a meal for Michaela's birthday and get back late - around 11 o clock.
I'm about to go to bed, but one of the girls who runs the hostel whispers to me to stay up. There are four of them and they have been waiting for us to get back because they have bought Michaela a tiramisu cake as a suprise with candles and everything.
“we were so worried that you were't coming back!” they say...
“ some of us finished our shift a long time ago but wanted to stay for this! ”
We are all so thrilled; for Michaela - who is touched and close to tears; and lets face it, at the thought of eating proper cake. But also because it's so lovely to see how excited the girls from the hostel are that their suprise has worked. They jump up and down with glee and clasp their hands. It's a sweet way (in every way) to end to a very a special day.
The next day i've made a decision to go and do martial arts at a school in Fujian province for a month. I am going via Shanghai to break up the journey a bit.
One of the girls in the hostel helps me with my backpack. Her name in Chinese means “sea” but she didn't like it so she decided to choose an English name that meant the same - and fell in love with the word “Marine” so that is what we call her.
“Oh Dominique...” she says, helping lug The Bastard onto my back..
“You are soo strong!...so strong and so beautiful....”
Aw. Its only taken about 37 years but I think I'm fnally beginning to agree.