Sunday, 12 July 2009

Great Wall of China - June 07-15, 2002. Day 3 - First sightings of The Great Wall & a Nasty Injury

Above: Sunday June 09, 2002, loading the van with our equipment for the week outside the Beijing JinAn HuangDu Hotel.

Getting up after our late night at the Irish Bar in Beijing, we missed breakfast due to trying to work out just exactly what we needed to take with us for 5 days on the Great Wall, and what to leave behind at the hotel until we got back there again. Having loaded all the equipment into a mini-bus, we boarded our coach and set off for a 2 hour drive to a market where we would stock up on food supplies for the week ahead.

It was very warm and muggy outside, and we needed all the air conditioning we could get on the coach. Eventually we arrived and pulled into what can only be described as the most 3rd world market I have ever seen. It was absolutely pouring down with rain, and as we stepped off the bus, I wondered what on earth we had come to. I went to find the toilet and was directed into this small stone building. I entered to find a very dark room with a gutter around the outside on 3 sides. The smell in there was absolutely disgusting. It smelt like I had just stepped into a sewer treatment plant. I felt physically sick, held my breath, did my business and ran back outside into the welcoming rain.

Above: Shopping for food at the market - Chinese style.

People were selling their food from what can only be described as shacks. The ground was full of wet mud. There was a meat market where food was just lying out in the open air, in the rain on display ready for people to buy. Not only did Beccy not go to the toilet at the market, she was praying that no one bought any of that meat for us to eat!

Above: Beccy and Dave Allan from Scotland barter with the locals for some water to take with us on the trip.

Above, left to right (back row): Colin Piper, Peter Cowan, Dave Clouting, Graham Lovelock, Dave Allan, Me. (Front row): Nadine King & Pam Gatenby-Taylor, affectionately known on the trip as "Moet & Chandon" shopping at the market.

After the experience of the market, we all boarded the bus, all stocked up with food and drink and quite honestly pleased to step back into the 20th Century. We then headed for our destination, The Great Wall of China.

The rain continued to fall, but it was still very hot. After about an hour's travelling we pulled into a drive where we picked up our guide for the week, Whey Ling. He and his family would be looking after us for the week including cooking our food. We continued for a while until we pulled into a large car park, and in the misty distance, there it was, our first view of The Great Wall.

Above: The car park which was used for all visitors who wanted to trek on this part of The Great Wall. It can be seen on top of the mountains in the distance.

It was now lunch time, and somehow, just somehow, the entire group of us (40) squeezed into the tiniest restaurant imaginable, where we were fed on traditional Chinese food. Being 'Tablers', it was simply not enough and everyone was fighting for the last morsels of food we could possibly muster. We all poured out of the restaurant where numerous different people tried to sell us T-shirts and caps. We put on our back packs, grabbed our walking poles and set off into the park to start on our trek. It was a very exciting moment.

Above: Beccy starts off on the muddy path which would lead eventually to our camp where we would be sleeping the night prior to the first ascent of The Great Wall the next day.

Although the rain was still coming down heavily, to see The Great Wall perched up there on the mountain tops was simply amazing. It really did make you wonder how on earth they built it. It literally followed the slope of the mountain peaks, however steep it may have been.

I was walking along, just taking it all in, when literally about 10 minutes into the walk, we came across a small area where we had two choices to take. Our guide informed us that we could either go straight on, through the shallow water, which was the easier way, or we could walk around the side of the mountain, which was longer, but was a bit more tricky due to the steepness of it and the fact it was raining. Beccy went straight on through the water, and I followed some others who were taking the trickier route.

Above: About 2 minutes from disaster, following the group around the side of a slippery area of mountain.

As I reached the mid point of the "U" shape we were walking around, I stopped and looked at Beccy and shouted to someone, and as I did, my left ankle went from under me on the wet surface and I heard the most sickening "CCRRAAAACKKK!" which echoed around the "U" shape of the mountain. I hit the ground in agony, and my whole life went before me. I lay on the rock shaking trying to picture what on earth had just happened. Then I realised, my ankle, it just had to be broken. I was really shaking. "Are you OK?" Beccy shouted up the mountain. "Fine" I lied. "You carry on". I didn't know what I was going to do. We had come all this way only to break my ankle about 10 minutes into a 5 day trek!

I just laid there, on the side of the wet mountain, somewhere in the middle of China, smiling, pretending to be OK and said I was just admiring the view. I told everyone to carry on. When they had all gone, I tried to stand up, and put my left foot on the ground, but it was agony. I was really worried and didn't know what to do. I shouted to Beccy and told her what had happened, and she gave me her walking pole so I had one in each hand. I walked using my poles, putting my left foot on the ground and then drawing the right foot up to it. This meant I didn't have to bend the left ankle.

I kept walking, the most difficult bit being climbing up a 45 degree slope beside the pipes leading down into a water filled dam. Somehow, using my new walking style and two sticks, I made it to our camp after 2 gruelling and painful hours, where the smallest tents you ever did see had already been erected. As we entered the camp, everyone was feeling a bit despondent as we were all soaked through and covered in mud. Beccy had only been to the toilet once all day as she couldn't bear to go in the market toilets where she had gagged as soon as she walked in, and at the restaurant where we had eaten earlier, the toilet didn't flush so it was full and quite disgusting.

We were pitched up in the middle of a muddy field where a small village community lived. We had a quick wash using a bowl of cold water, then we grabbed a beer from the beer stock. We were also given Chinese Tea and 'Gariboldi' biscuits, something that became part of our daily diet for the next 5 days.

As night fell, the rain continued and we all went into one of two larger tents which is where dinner was served. My ankle was killing me. I took painkillers and just kept drinking beer to ease the pain. It seemed to do the trick.

Above: Evening meal, Great Wall of China style. Food bought from the market earlier in the day, mixed with rainwater and washed down with Chinese Beer and painkillers!

Along with us on our trip was a doctor from the Chinese army known as 'The Peoples Liberation Army' (PLA). People were discussing my ankle and wondered how I was going to continue on the trip. Eventually, I was asked to walk through the darkness and rain with Beccy to a small house in the village where we were greeted by the family who owned it. For the first few minutes they seemed to be shouting and arguing with each other in Chinese. I think however, this was just generally how the Chinese talk. I was asked to sit down, take my boot and sock off and put my leg on the table while being surrounded by a few Chinese men, the PLA Doctor and our translator. I wondered what the hell was going to happen.

A small silver bowl was brought out with what smelt like German Schnaps in it. The Chinese man kept laughing and smiling, and asked me to drink some, which I did. It was most definately Chinese Fire Water and nearly took the back of my throat out! Then the most bizzare thing I have ever experienced happened. He lit the bowl of alcohol, and a blue flame flickered above the bowl. He cupped his hands, put them in the bowl, and his entire hands were on fire as he brought them down onto my ankle. My left leg went up flames, and there was a horrible smell of burning hair as I nearly left my seat and went through the roof in agony!

He proceeded to massage my ankle with this Chinese Firewater, laughing and chatting as I sat there with tears in my eyes. I have absolutely no idea if it did any good or not, but it's definately one to tell the grandchildren!

We hobbled back to the tent, and crawled into our sleeping bags. As I lay there, I thought about the events of the day, and wondered if I was going to be able to walk on The Great Wall tomorrow. My ankle hurt so much, even the weight of the sleeping bag was too much. Pretty soon, we were both asleep..

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