Monday, July 28, 2014

The Wild Side of The Great Wall

I spent most of yesterday huffing and puffing my way up a mountainside and through the wilderness, swatting away bugs (giant and teensy) that were incessantly buzzing in my ears and/or attempting to attack me, and trying not to think of all the slithery critters that were probably resting near the very overgrown path on which we were stomping. 

None of this was part of my plan. 

Our goal for the day was to see an unrestored, or "wild" section of The Great Wall. How beautiful and fascinating I thought it would be to see a part of The Wall that showed off the splendor of being 2300 years old; that wasn't filled with hoards of tourists and didn't look like it could've been built last week.

How hard could it be, right? We'd just hire a driver, pack some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and have a leisurely stroll and picnic lunch on the crumbling stones. It would be lovely


I didn't have a good feeling from the moment our driver dropped us off in a little village, gestured in a general direction, and said, "About twenty minutes that way." The Wall was absolutely no where in sight. 

But off we went with our pals, Rachael and Jerrod, wandering up the side of the mountain. 
We had no idea what the day would bring! Which is the only explanation for why everyone is smiling.

About twenty minutes in, our path was blocked by some tall bushes that were completely covered in thorns. Obviously we were going the wrong way. We did the only logical thing and turned around to head back to the car. Except we bumped into two young Brits, who insisted the right way was through the thorn bushes. They had been told by a Chinese guide to keep walking east, and that the trail to The Wall was "treacherous." 

Hmmm. Surely the translation was wrong. By "treacherous," the guide surely meant "relaxing" or perhaps "really easy." 


So through the thorn bushes we went. 
I could not save my torso from the angry wrath of the thorns, but I could save my arms. Rachael and Jerrod got pretty scratched up. Thankfully, the fur on Curtis's legs seemed to save him.
Which is why I'm now considering growing mine out.

As we climbed further up the path, the bugs would not leave us alone. Rachael walked right into a huge spider web, which probably enraged its inhabitant. Flying things wouldn't stop buzzing in our ears and swarming around our water bottles. When we put the bottles away, they started flying directly into our eyes. What I'm trying to say is that I'm pretty sure the crazy bugs were trying to drink the moisture off our eyeballs. I had to pick like, SIX thirsty bugs out of Curtis's eyes. That, my friends, is love. 

While all that was happening, I was also dripping in sweat and having a heckuva time catching my breath going uphill no matter how many little breaks I took. Apparently couch-sitting is not a good cardio workout. 
Jerrod and Rachael were always a bit ahead of us. You see, they are the kind of people who say things like, "When we climbed Mount Rainier..." whereas I say things more along the lines of, "Can I have some of your cheese?"

Oh and did I mention-- The Wall was still absolutely no where in sight. 

After hiking for well over an hour, I could feel the utter and complete hopelessness start to set in. I was ready to give up. Who cares about a stupid, old wall anyway??? And that's when I knew we had to be close-- because if there's one thing I know about life, it's that just when things seem totally hopeless is exactly when it all turns around for the better. (Usually. I mean, sometimes. Okay... once in a while.) 
Sure enough, about ten minutes later, Jerrod and Rachael yelled out, "It's The Wall!"

Holy cannoli. We were beside ourselves with joy. 
Synchronized jumping for a photo is a good way to document happiness.

Soon we were exploring and marveling at the rugged beauty of The Wild Wall, munching on our peanut butter and jellys, and sipping the wine that Rachael and Jerrod thoughtfully brought along. It was perfect.
Here you have six hard-earned photos of beauty.

And not even the very long snake skin dangling from a nearby tree could ruin it. 
Horrifying. Juuuuuust horrifying.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

White River Hike

I have been spending a lot of time hanging out on our couch lately.

It's not because of the air quality outside-- that's actually been surprisingly good. It has more to do with the fact that Curtis just signed us up for Hulu Plus (because seeing his wife be a productive human is clearly not of great importance to him). Also, we found out that some of our favorite restaurants will deliver FOR FREE. If you have never tried watching all The Mindy Project episodes in your pajamas while eating chicken ravioli and tiramisu from your favorite Italian place, I highly recommend it. That's good living right there.

Anyway, when some of our friends suggested we all go on a hike together, I knew it was time to give my couch some space and spend a day in the great outdoors. Time out for honesty: I am not a huge fan of being in nature. I mean, I like looking at it... in pictures and stuff. But mosquitoes are such party poopers. And when I see a random hole in the dirt, I'm always 87% sure that whatever's in it will probably try to kill me, or at the very least will not want to be my friend. Still, Curtis and I set our alarms for 6am this past Sunday so we could spend time with some very cool people in what turned out to be a gorgeous setting about two hours northeast of Beijing's city center.

As we began our nature trek, we noticed tons of locals hanging out in rafts on the White River. One of the downsides of living in such a populated country is that even when you try to get away from it all... you can't.
Fellow nature lovers. 

Not to worry though, because soon enough, the crowds thinned out, and we had all the highly questionable bridges and random goat herders to ourselves.
Not to reinforce negative perceptions, but if there's one thing I don't want to have "Made in China," it's a bridge. This one in particular rocked hard with each step we took and had large gaps between the wooden slats. If you love danger, this bridge is for you! 

Oh yeah-- there was also lots of beautifulness just sittin' around, waiting to be admired.
Note the pollution-free blue skies! This of course meant there was no pollution to protect us from the scorching hot sun. Curtis's sunscreen kept melting off his face and running into his eyes. By the end of the day we were all covered in a sticky film of dirt and about twelve layers of dried sweat.
But did I sleep well that night? Yes, yes I did. 

One of the "highlights" of the hike was having to walk through the river at four different spots. Our guides seemed to think this would be a treat. Note: My idea of an actual treat involves fun-sized candy bars or realizing there's enough wine left in the bottle to fill another glass.
Two things I learned from walking through the river four times are 1) wearing flip-flops is a very poor choice in situations of full-foot water submersion and 2) there are actually bugs that just walk around on shallow water all day and wait for you to spot them and scream.
Get a real job, bugs.

The true highlight of the trip was getting to hang out with this fun bunch, who we met on a day trip soon after moving to Beijing. If you've gotta be out in The Nature, this is a great group to be with.
The bottom left pic shows us in front of a "cave" we walked through at the end of the hike. If you think the rocks look fake and glued on, that's because they are. It was some sort of weird styrofoam and wood facade that resembled a grade school art project.
Why was it there? Because China.