When the estimated time to complete a 10km walk along the Great Wall of China was 4 hours, it probably should have twigged that it wasn't going to be a stroll in the park. Simatai, the section we chose to do included several stretches of near vertical sets of stairs between 30 watch towers. It was hard going, hands and knees at times, and not helped by the pollution, despite a storm the previous night significantly clearing the air (we actually saw the sky for the first time in four days). My legs were jelly by the time we hung a flying-fox down to a restaurant at the bottom. The Wall was definitely a highlight so far, incredible thing to have seen.
Kat, on the flying fox. Our "guide" gave us these directions: "when you to the bottom you will be somewhere, then walk for two minutes and you will see a bus. If it's not there, just wait. The driver is short and fat."Kat and I were united with our three fellow VodkaTrain companions the night we arrived back in Beijing. Alex (a 3rd generation vegetarian from Brighton, with a great photographic eye and a habit of wandering off in search of the perfect shot) and Kristina (from Dresden, with characteristic Germanic bluntness, though not in a bad way) met working at a cafe in New Zealand and are on their respective ways home for Christmas. And Rusty.
Rusty was born and bred in San Diego, is 5'8'', used to wrestle until his knee gave out, works as an orthopedic technician and has full sleeve tats of a random collection of Hannah Barbara, Disney and Pixar characters. Rusty has been to every place I've ever been and may want to visit, twice. If you can imagine Chopper Reid playing Uncle Buck, you're in the ball park. All of the raw data of Rusty's life appears to be stored in list form, organised by numbers and quantities, which allows seemingly unrelated sets of information to be linked in an endless, uninterrupted narrative stream. For instance, anything that happened in 2005 is a continuous data stream, but that stream can be interrupted if a number is reached ... say -5 degrees ... then the narrative switches to the path of data categorised by having occured in places at that temperature. Non-numerical sets are also evident, like food and drink, but alcohol also belongs to numerical sets (for instance, Rusty can consume 27 shots in under four hours, which he does every year on his birthday at the Silver Fox bar). Ultimately, all data streams link back to Pacific Beach, San Diego. It promises to be a fun 21 days.
One of our first group expeditions was a trip to the (in)famous food street, where I ate ostrich on a skewer, an array of dumplings and two deep-fried scorpions. Despite Kat's expression below, they were a treat compared to the snail, which still makes me unhappy to think about.
In what was a suitible metaphor for our general reception in China, we were forbidden to enter the Forbidden City, because last tickets were sold an hour before closing time, and our information was incorrect about when that was. Here's a happy snap from outside.
I love this man. Practicing his calligraphy with water outside the Temple of Heaven. There were a whole line of them ... calligraphy as a spectator sport, who knew?