16 May 2012

Animals Asia Smashes Day One On The Great Wall of China

We were early to bed and early to rises once again as the anticipation of catching our first glimpse of the wall left many of Team Animals Asia tossing and turning with excitement. "I woke up at 5am and was just so excited I could barely stand it," Erin told me.

We loaded the luggage into our fancy big bus and zoomed off into the brilliant sunshine. Zoom, however, may be too strong a word. Lurched. We lurched off into the brilliant sunshine and otherworldly traffic. Slowly but surely the piercing high-rises and 10-lane wide highways rolled into never ending swaths of mid-height apartments before completing their transformation to single-story shops and fields of wine grapes lining a newly paved two-lane country road. This is the new China: a nation of extremes and contradictions wrapped in a dramatic history and filled with some of the friendliest, kindest people in the world.

After three hours of bumbling along we reached our first stop: The Eastern Qing Tombs. Designed to perfect symmetry with the Western Qing Tombs located equidistant directly west of Beijing, the tombs cover roughly 3000 square miles! We descended deep into the earth to find the air was cooler thanks to the massive intricately decorated marble walls. We next rose to the highest point of the burial site, which offered sweeping views of the dramatic scenery around us. I snapped this shot of Mehri and Rasha, which I promised to post so they would stop picking on me.

After a delicious power lunch (food is a big part of our adventure) and photo shoot with our new Chinese fan club (the number of times our photo has been snapped far exceeds anything I have ever experienced) we continued on another hour and a half, catching our very first glimpse of the Great Wall snaking its way along the craggy mountaintops above us. No matter how many times you have seen the wall, this initial glimpse never stops being magical.

It was finally time for this incredible fundraising team, who has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help Animals Asia protect the Asian Black Bear, to take their very first steps on the Great Wall! This team escort must confess that this is always a trip highlight. The looks on people's faces as the step up onto the World's largest-ever building project a priceless, as nothing can prepare you for its immensity.

We spent the next several hours heading up stairs then down stairs then over ridges then through towers and along winding paths getting a taste of what the days ahead will bring. A special mention goes to Julia, who overcame her fear of heights and unsteady footing and smashed today's walk. We are all so proud of her! The wild applause she received at dinner really speaks to her awesomeness.

Off to bed yet again, as tomorrow includes more than 10km of walking on this really great wall!



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