So this morning we needed to be packed and ready to go by 8:30am, heading off to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall where we would walk about 4 hours (best case 3, worst case 6) to the SImatai section and there would be our guesthouse for the night.
Still not feeling a hundred percent and knowing that my herbal handful of tablets would be runnning out I headed back to the pharmacy still on the lookout for something as simple as a vicks inhaler thing you stick up your nose or a chest rub to help with congested breathing. When we walked in to the pharmacy I happened to walk to the other side counter, pointed to my ailments and the lady straight away pulled out a packet of Tylenol cold and flu tablets... where was she three days ago :P She also gave me a thing to sniff and some sore throat ampule thingies that you stick a straw in (like yakult) and tasted disgusting...
After that Helen and I thought we'd grab some lunch from the bakery but of course it was shut for some reason (I think it was a Saturday, they must only open during the week), so we headed back to the shop next to the hostel and grabbed some water and nibblies in case we got hungry along the way. While I was tempted to pop next door again and grab a maccas breakfast I decided one a week was enough seeing as I was supposed to be eating healthily on this trip.
Once we were all gathered and backpacks hoisted onto backs we had a five minute walk around the corner and my first real glance of what would prove to be the main thing that annoyed me about our tour - walking speed and people being left behind. Once all the bags were packed onto the bus creating a wall between us and the driver (probably a good thing as the drivers aren't always up to our standard and apparently there was actually a bus -v- bus incident during the drive which only a few people were able to see.
Three hours later and we were at the wall and it was time for a quick wee stop especially for those with weak bladders as I'm not sure how many opportunities there would be along the way. It was also a chance for people to buy hats/gloves if they were worried about the cold (I had supposedly learnt from my last experience that while gloves hats and scarves are good for the first five minutes you quickly warm up and didn''t buy anything)
I say supposedly because I still decided to wear a thermal shirt mainly because i didn't want to get sick again or sicker than I had been... within abot 15 minutes I did a quick sneaky under the shirt removal of my thermal shirt, the scarf was in my bag and sunglasses on my head as the good old Kropp sweat glands had kicked in.
Local farmers often gather at the entrance to the wall and wait for walkers or groups to come through and then follow you across the wall trying to sell things like books and shirts and stuff and also offer to carry bags, basically make a bit more money of the "rich tourists". Annette (the most mature lady on the trip) and I were quickly targetted by these hawkers and they quickly realised that Annette wouldn't be needing them as she kept up with the group. Me on the other hand, I think the lady who latched onto me was rubbing her hands with glee but I was adamant I wouldn't need her help (she knew better)
Once we got on the wall, most of the (young, fit and healthy) group powered ahead off up and down and over the wall. While I shouldn't really have had too many problems considering the amount of steps I work with normally, these steps weren't like our perfectly formed, big enough to fit your feet on, even distance steps. The first one might be 200mm high and the next 500mm and so on... While my legs were complaining a little bit my biggest problem was that I couldn't breathe through my nose and my lungs were screaming at me that this was too much work for them...
Once we got where I thought was a fair distance the tour guide asked me if I wanted to get a short cut back to the bottom where the bus driver would then take me on to the hostel and I could wait there. I definitely considered it but I wanted to keep going, the biggest problem was the speed so I knew if I just took it "slowly slowly" (soon to become my theme statement I think) I would be OK. I also explained that while I looked pooped and was sweating fairly badly considering the outside temperature was belolw zero, I sweat at just the sight of stairs and exercise.
So off we went again. and again I had my little leech following me, sticking to me like glue and constantly reminding me "slowly slowly" as we tried to climb down or up steep stairs or balancing as we walked across ledges instead of going up and down steps. About this point she asked where I was from and later I heard her saying something to Roy about "australia" which I knew meant she was telling him I wouldn' make it. She also started to talk to me about a shortcut to the Simatai wall she could take me on that would cut about 2 hours at least out for me. And then if I did that I would buy her book.
When we got up to about halfway she again suggested the shortcut and explained it to Roy. By this point I was well behind the rest of the group and seriously considering it. when she said there was still 24 towers to go, I decided it was probably better for everyone if I took this option. I also wanted to be alive to enjoy the rest of my tour :P
So we clarified what it would cost me (I would have to buy her bloody book) and walked one last set of stairs and then we took off off the wall and along what can only be described as a goat track still with some steep downs and a few ups but then we hit the flats and it was definitely a much more pleasant walk. While I'm disappointed I didn't finish the whole wall walk, my "off wall" experience is still quite unique and it was amazing to see where they manage to grow corn (anywhere flat) and we walked past some old farmhouses as well.
As the wall came back into view, it was time to take care of business and she tried the old upsell, offering me a shirt as well. I ended up paying more for it than I should have, but in Aus $ it was like an extra $3 so probably not worth stressing over. once back on the wall, I was a bit confused as there still seemed to be a fairly strenuous up section of the wall to get to including some very steep down stairs and a decidely shaky looking rope bridge.
I took it "slowly slowly" waitin for the rest of the group to ctach up. They were only about half an hour behind me so it was probably a good call to go off wall as otherwise I would have still been coming in at dinner time.
Once again everyone overtook me and powered up the wall, and had time to take 15 group photos and I arrived at the top puffing and panting in time to give Roy my photo and get a photo with me in it.
From the top we could see where our guesthouse was and there were two options of getting there - walk or flying fox. A couple of people were immediately brave and headed straight down the flying fox (over freezing cold water of course and while there was a "safety certificate" it definitely wouldn't have passed muster in western countries), a few took the long walk straight up and the rest of us slowly decided to give it a go. In the end it was a good little trip, and while it was ok to let go and hang a bit free, I wasn't letting go of that rope for anyone...
Once we arrived at the guesthouse, it was time to collect our bags off the bus and head to our rooms which for most people were bitterly cold and we had been warned that the hot water would only be available for 1 hour each day. Some people got water, others didn't. Helen and I scored this night and seem to have had the best room, with a working heater, working hot water and I scored a bed with a proper matress while helen had the standard 5 cm thick material on a wooden base...
Dinner/late lunch was about 6pm and as after my last wall venture we inhaled everything offered to us. After some card games (soon to be our standard time waster) it was an early night and we headed off to bed, with some people planning to get up and walk back up to the wall to the see the sunrise.