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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Throwback Thursday: Ain't No Party Like A Great Wall Party!

All Along The Watchtower: Paul and yours truly getting ready to par-tey!

I've spoken before about the year that Paul worked for The China Daily in Beijing and how in March, 2002, I went to visit him for three weeks.

That time was chosen because his birthday falls then, and he and his colleagues on the paper had arranged a unique birthday experience which will never be repeated (for one reason, the Chinese authorities have now ruled it illegal).

We camped out overnight on a little known part of The Great Wall!

The album cover pose - note Lori's hair seems to have a life of its own!

It took us an hour and half to get to "base camp" from  Paul's flat in Beijing (45 minutes by bus and 45 minutes in a haggled minibus). Base camp turned out to be a tin shack seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

It was about 8pm and pitch dark. The owner of the shack woke up to cook us some noodles and, aided by the minimal light from the shack, Paul pointed out to me, across a valley, THE WALL, rising straight up the mountain opposite.

And it's BIG. The word "Great" doesn't do it justice.

The noodle lady let us rest for a while in her hut, which consisted of a bed (which we sat on), a table, an array of food, and postcards. She lived there with her daughter, making money catering to travellers who come to this less touristy part of the wall.

This section of the wall hadn't been rebuilt - which also meant it was devoid of souvenir salesmen - and was really only suitable for hardcore, adventurous types (ie. not me!)

The first part of the walk was across the top of a dam, with water lapping at one side and, well, nothing on the other. At the time I thought it might be a gentle slope down to some fields or something...

Hours later, on the way back in broad daylight, I discovered it really was down to nothing. Well, about 1,000ft of nothing then a rocky base. Straight down. And that was ignoring the crosswinds that had whipped up over night (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

The actual climb started with a gentle zig-zag to a metal ladder that got us onto the wall. Then a steeper climb - with nothing on either side - to the first watchtower.

The towers are basically shells with four walls and a lot of windows. At first I was content to stop there - as were a couple of Paul's friends - but the rest of the party assured us that the next watchtower was even better.

So, after a 20-minute, breath-regaining, rest we set off again... on the ascent of fear!

Yes, there was a rubbly path of sorts, and yes, on some parts there were even elements of wall on either side, but you could tell you were going a long way up - and practically vertically!

Morning: It's Bloody Freezing!
I have never been happier to collapse into a ruined monument than when I made it to the next watchtower. This one had more inner walls and a wooden ladder to a parapet (which, once I was drunk enough to overcome my fear of heights thanks to a combination of absinthe, cheap beer and Southern Comfort, I was soon scuttling up and down like a monkey).

We set up the CD player, broke out the drink and a got a fire going. Very quickly the party moved from the ground floor to the parapet, where much dancing and silliness was done by all - under the influence of alcohol and the ignorance offered by pitch darkness.

We crashed about 4am and woke less than three hours later in a deep freeze. I'd always thought I was pretty good with the cold, but this was unbelievable; especially when combined with the aforementioned cross winds.

Then Paul suggested I look at the view. I stuck my head out of the doorway we had come in and swore very loudly. The path looked like an almost straight drop down to the reservoir... which was a looooong way below us!

Thankfully, Paul was on hand to help me back down, because, in all seriousness, I just don't think I could have made it back on my own. The descent was terrifying enough for someone who suffers with vertigo (thank God we went up at night), but then the walk across the dam - which was about three foot wide - in the wind, with a massive rucksack on my back, nearly saw me letting the side down.

However, fear element aside, this was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. Come on, how many people can say they've partied the night away on The Great Wall Of China?

One last look back...

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