New and near death experiences

Well the most interesting experiences of today all had to do with our trip to the Great Wall. Do to my asthma, we had told the travel agency that I couldn’t climb the wall in the standard tour. They said no problem because there was an option to take a cable car up, so no climbing required. However, yesterday we learned our group was not going to that section of the wall. Rather they were planning a walking/climbing tour. When I explained my asthma to my guide he arranged for us to have a private car to take us to Muritianyu the mountainous region where the cable cars run. This is where our true adventure begins.

Our driver’s name was Pei and he spoke no English. Also I believe Pei’s secret ambition in life is to race for NASCAR. Did you know that certain parts of China have no speed limits? I am afraid I know first hand. Also, there are no laws here preventing cars from passing on the right, left or into oncoming traffic if it suits there purpose. Additionally, the region we were driving to consisted of winding roads that increased in elevation. You could actually see the edge of the cliffs as we sped around the turns. So, for those of you who know my issues with motion sickness you can probably see where I am going with this.

Speed. Curves. Cliff-edges. = Extreme Car sickness! Our lovely guide – George, who arranged to have one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse drive for me, also said the drive would only take 30 to 40 minutes. We arrived at the wall two and a half hours later !

I believe I resembled a lovely shade of green jade when I fell out of the car and stumbled to a nearby concrete bench to regain my sea legs. While I stood there trying not to lose my breakfast, Pei stared at me and then picked up his cell phone speaking swiftly in Mandarin. I can only assume he was asking for instructions on how to deal with the situation. (isn’t it lovely when you become a situation?)

He handed me the phone and I spoke to George and explained the concept of speed, curves, cliffs combined with sudden breaking for the oncoming cars trying to pass in our lane did not agree with my stomach. He suggested I sit down. (Since I already was – this wasn’t helpful.) He hoped I would feel better soon and would then go see the wall.

Given the choice of having to get back in the car with the Mario Andretti wannabe or climbing the wall on my hands and knees – I chose the wall.

After sitting for a little while longer we walked up to the entrance. I realized that the lovely churning feeling in my stomach would likely necessitate a bathroom visit. So, image if you will the state of restrooms at a public park- now take away the toliets. Ick! So I plugged my nose and endured my first squatty potty. An experience I hope not to have to repeat.

We then got our tickets and climbed the main gate entrance stairs to the ski lift. Since I have never been skiing in my life, I was less then elegant in getting on & off the chair lift. In fact, the operators were shouting at me Hurry! Hurry! Which only increased my panic, causing me to stumble and be smacked from behind by the incoming chair lift. Fortunately, I held onto my backpack and Julia and we made it onto the lift.

We rose 800 feet into the air to the top of the mountain. While I do not like heights, and spent most of the time praying it would not get stuck like the one at State Fair requiring a fire truck and; ladder to get them down, I would still have chosen to ride the lift 10 times over getting back in the car.
As we rode up the mountain, I would like to note that we were at one with mother nature. Literally. We were hit by tree after tree which have apparently grown taller then the lift. I would also like to mention, as we rode up we were surprised to see a woman and her poodle riding down on the return lift. (Did you know the Wall is dog friendly?) When we reached the top, I tripped getting off the lift as well. So, Grace Kelly I will never be.
We then climbed some more stairs up onto the wall. My lungs hurt not only from the extreme humidity but because the air quality is so poor here. There is so much smog, Beijing cannot see the sun and the sky is perpetually smokey with poor visibility.

At the top, it was a truly amazing site to actually walk the wall and see what the thousands of slaves and soldiers built. It was clearly a wonder and pretty much the only moment of peace I experienced today.
We also climbed up to the Watch Tower and my moment of awe was destroyed by the stifling smell of urine, as we realized some lovely tourists had used the tower as their personal urinal. It was both sad and disgusting. After walking around and taking some pictures we decided to make our way down.

Down meant two options: ride the ski lift down, or ride the toboggan run. Well this is what Julia wanted, and it was my Mom who taught me to face your fear, so we decided on the toboggan run. We got in a line of people as though waiting for a Disney attraction. As we waited we had the opportunity to read all of the warnings and safety disclaimers which basically said – in purchasing a ticket we were acknowledging the ride was unsafe and we assumed all responsibility for any bodily injuries which may occur. The lawyer in me bristled at this, the controll freak in me panicked, but the mom in me prevailed who remembered I was doing this for Julia. Ah yes, Julia. The child who asked repeatedly to do this -yet once we were in line said she thought I should go first…

So after 20 minutes in line, it was my turn. I climbed aboard the plastic cart with wheels and as the gate man clapped his hands off I went. I confess I used the break rather liberally, but remember we were descending 800 feet back down the mountain on a giant slide.
As we passed certain steep drops or dangerous curves, the attraction had men stationed in these areas – presumably to help if there was a problem. As we passed these men, two were sleeping in the grass, one was drinking something in a brown paper bag and one had a girl sitting on his lap making out. Somehow, I don’t think my safety was foremost on their minds.

As we progressed downward, people behind us were shouting in Chinese and riding up our bumper. Ah what lovely friendly people.

Anyway, we made it down in one piece with no injuries- I am pleased to say. We then walked down to the main entrance and went into Subway to buy soda and subs for dinner later. Yes, thats right- I am in China eating a ham sub! And I like it! After the day I had I think I deserve something familiar.

When we came out of Subway, Pei was standing there with his death chariot awaiting a return descent into hell. My stomach churned at just the thought of getting back in the car. He handed me his cell phone and George was on the line.

George said Pei would take us back via the freeway instead of the mountain side roads, however it would take him about 20 minutes to get there, and then 15 minutes to Beijing. I do not know any time zone that 20min + 15min = 2 hours – which is how long it took us to get back. But I have come to the conclusion George’s answers to questions are more about pleasing the questioner than accuracy.

Well, we finely made it back to the hotel, went to the room and collapsed. So, today I survived many firsts, a trend which hopefully continues as we are only on day 3 of a 16 day trip.

My final parting words of advice, if you are ever offered a ride in China by a man named Pei, don’t get in the car.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kris Seymour
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 08:26:49

    Oh my! I don’t even know where to begin. I am feeling equal empathy and pride. You are stronger than you think and both of you will have great stories to tell about your journey to enlarge your family. I can’t wait to see more pictures.

    Reply

  2. Barbara Krautkramer
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 08:36:14

    I am so proud of you both. What a journey and I can feel the fear from the drive and the chair lift. You have so much to share , can’t wait to hear it all. Pictures are great. Hope all goes smoother for the remainder of the time. You should write a book. Even with my concern for you both you had me in stitches. All our love Mom and Dad.

    Reply

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