Living in Dubai allows you to mix with a huge variety of people, some are plainly mad, others merely normal or at least you think they are! You also get to try some more adventurous things, as people seem to get involved with slightly different activities here. Every notice board advertises a trip or two to unusual destinations. Some offer the opportunity to fly balloons, or jump out of airplanes, or ride camels through Mongolia, or climb Kilimanjaro, or whichever mountain takes your fancy.
Now, this may seem normal to you but I do not recall any of these opportunities on my local Tesco’s notice board, but maybe I just missed them. I can recall, within seconds, several friends of mine who have climbed mountains, Everest being one of them, who have walked the Great Wall, competed in ridiculously challenging sporting events, trekked in jungles, jumped out of said aeroplane (why??), and trekked across half of Australia on camels. So, armed with the knowledge, “if they can do it, so can I”, I cajoled my more sensible mate to come and do something different with me.
With casual abandon we decided we needed to do something not only for ourselves, but for others too, so signed up with local charity Gulf for Good and toddled along to an information evening. On offer this evening we could go and climb Kili (for those in the know, everyone shortens Kilimanjaro to Kili, dahling), ride, cycle and walk through Mongolia, walk the Great Wall of China or trek in Oman. Using highly skilled statistical thinking we opted for the Great Wall experience as that was the only one we could fit in around the school dates! We paid our deposit and left in high spirits fully intending to drive straight to the gym and start getting fit, I think we got as far as a gin, which is pretty close. Inspired we detailed our strategy of fund raising.
In an effort to help others we had signed a pretty tight contract binding us to raise 18,000 dhs each to donate towards a charity in China. Over the next few months we raised this cash through a few very generous personal sponsors, by running a 10km race, hosting a table top sale and car boot sale and, the piece de resistance, joining up with fellow fundraisers and host a foreign coin collection. Lloyds banked helped tremendously with this on but what a nightmare. Great fun for the days when we were making our giant Gulf for Good logo but the counting of the coins was a mammoth task which literally took months. I reckon I am now pretty expert on foreign coinage now and I can confidently say that the implementation of the Euro is a fantastic idea!
After raising the dosh, and visiting the gym a few times, it was time to wave a fond farewell to families, (not), and board the plane. Feverishly wishing that I had taken the opportunity to learn how to jump out of an aeroplane, I was not looking forward to flying on a Chinese airline that I had never heard of before. Strangely enough it was fine, and I was most impressed with the abilities of the cabin crew to serve hot tea when we were five feet from landing. Impressive indeed. Resisting the impulse to jump up and applaud the landing, I looked forward to my first impressions of China. A bit miserable actually and if I had not known I was in China, I would have thought we had landed in Scotland on a hot day, i.e. it was just above 10 degrees and slightly murky. We were introduced to our Chinese chaperones and after about an hour I realised they were talking English. I just thought my Chinese was bad! Needless to say we got on like a house on fire.
Our hotel was large and comfortable, although we appeared to be the only guests but this was a common occurrence throughout our stay in China, as if we were a big secret. After my first thrashing at poker and me becoming slightly more enamoured with my walking buddies it was time for bed and off to the Wall the next day.
Breakfast lunch and dinner were kindly provided for us during our stay and although I do not particularly enjoy pickled cabbage with my morning apple, it made a change! Dinner was always pretty good so no complaints there.
A pretty miserable morning got us up and out and to the wall. Full of enthusiasm I charged off like a mountain goat, impressing myself more than anyone but in case anyone thought I was
incredibly fit, I was just moving fast to keep warm as the temperatures could hardly be described as tepid. As the mists cleared we could see that we were in a pretty high area overlooking everything around us. The wall itself could be seen for miles behind and ahead but it wasn’t until the second day of walking that we could fully appreciate the majestic construction we were walking on and around.
Built over 2 millennium and spanning over 5,000km, The Great Wall of China really is magnificent. Although not all of it remains, the area surrounding Beijing (previously Peking), is a perfect place to discover this man made wonder. Most of the parts we were walking on were in rural settings but on our third day we visited Badaling. If you are going to visit China and do all the tourist things, this is where you would visit the Wall. Car parking is plentiful at the bottom of the hill, the market stalls surround you on your walk up to the wall and for the really lazy tourists you can get a cable car to take you there! As one passer-by stated as we eavesdropped, “Right, I have seen it and walked on it, can I go now?” This is the way to see the actual wall if you only have half a day spare. It was not the day I enjoyed the best, a bit too crowded for me and as I was suffering a bit from the night before (too many Chinese refreshments), I could have had a quieter day. Nonetheless, the wall itself is magnificent here and is complete for about 17 km with a stretch aptly entitled Stairway to Heaven. It seems innocent in my photos but rest assured, it was tortuous in the ascent and frightening on the thighs on the way back down. A great photo opportunity but not for anyone with weak legs! The best bit about day 3 was the giant slide all the way down to the flea market. What had taken us a good hour to climb, took about 2 minutes to descend and it was much more pleasant.
When you are away from your luxuries you realise how really little you need to get by. During our time away we ate well but not overly so. It helps that you have tiny wee bowls and have to eat with chopsticks. Only half of what you intend getting into your mouth, actually succeeds. A brilliant way to lose weight. You learn to not worry about what you are wearing as I doubt anyone was bothered that my shorts looked as though they were ready to walk to the machine.
On visiting a very poverty stricken school we realised how much our kids have and what little it takes to put a smile on a child who has nothing. I also learnt that the Chinese toilet systems are not one of their best facilities. I will not go into detail but if you can avoid a public toilet, I would strongly advise you to do so. They do the job and as long as you do not mind sharing with every Tom, Dick (no pun intended), and Harriet, you will be fine. Otherwise, find a large tree! The toilets are very much public.
The final three days included some stunning scenery complete with flying fox wire rides, boat trips and dodgy bridges. Great times and company ensured we felt a million miles away from the real life of Dubai and all that goes with it. It was with a heavy heart that on the 6th day we had to descend from the wall for the last time. I had enjoyed every minute of my time walking without any cares, any mobiles ringing, and any children clambering for attention, no one beeping me in a car, no deadlines, no TV and no pollution. The Great Wall of China is certainly a wonder of the world and one I would love to visit again but honestly there are many more opportunities to travel out there and not enough time so the next adventure will be to some other location. I need to get back to Park and Shop notice board and see what is on offer.