Saturday, September 12, 2015

Gold medalist

Carrie and I went to hike the Great Wall at Mutianyu. She'd been there before and had in mind a long hike. We also wanted to slide down on mountain sleds, which ended up converting our long hike into a super-long hike, but the views were so amazing that it felt entirely worthwhile. It rained here yesterday and this morning, which cleared the air and revealed the beautiful mountain scenery surrounding this part of the wall. We started a little bit slowly, as our guide encouraged us to take more photos than we might otherwise. Then we shifted into overdrive and hiked so fast that poor jetlagged Carrie sent me off ahead. I made it almost to the place where the wall disappears into the undergrowth.

At one point I got passed by a Taiwanese tour guide, whose clients shouted something in Chinese as she shot by. I repeated it, and she said that it means "Go!," so I continued repeating my new word as we charged ahead. Finally she slowed down too, and I went up the steepest part alone, meeting a local woman selling souvenirs at the top. The souvenir lady wanted to take a picture with my camera, and she offered me a gold medal to wear for the photo. How could I resist? After she took several photos, in which I generally look extremely tired, she offered to sell me the medal. Since it was not gold, I did not jump at her original offer. Following Carrie's guidance, I negotiated an 80% discount and wore the medal for the rest of my time on the wall. As far as I can remember, it's my first medal ever, and I had a good time goofing with the tourists who teased me about it.

I kept the medal around my neck for a heroic ride down the hillside on the mountain sled. Although I waited a long time after the rider ahead of me, long after the starter set me free, I still caught up with slow riders partway down. Nevertheless, I got to go pretty fast several times. and would have been glad to go up and do it again. We didin't have time for that, though, because we wanted to get to the Lama temple before it closed and Carrie and I both needed banking services

After our banking adventure, which Carrie promises to write about, we went to the Lama Temple. This is a really beautiful place too, for entirely different reasons. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from inside. Each building delighted me in it's own way, and our route took us from the simply beautiful to the simply dazzling. We ended in a multi-story building with an enormous standing Buddha made from a single gigantic tree. Christina explained that the tree came from far away and that it had taken years to get it to the temple. I can't even imagine moving it today. It would require one of those jumbo BelAz mining trucks, a huge crane and wide roads.

Regretfully, we said goodbye to our guide at the end of the afternoon. She had been an entertaining companion for three days, a good sport and well organized. She sent us off with a bag of fragrant roasted chestnuts by which to remember her. Carrie and I plunged ahead with a long walk to a fancy shopping street so I could buy a gift for Alla. This took a long time because we decided to walk one or two subway stops to reach this shopping area and it turns out that Beijing subway stops aren't always very near to each other. I had to buy a peach along the way to keep me going until we finally got to sit down for dinner in a delightful little restaurant near our hotel. Nobody at the restaurant appeared to know a word of English, and somehow they didn't even understand Carrie's pointing to the tea section of the menu. They had several kinds of tea, and unable to choose one, she tried to indicate that anything from that section of the menu would be fine. The waitress brought her a bottle of water.

At last, I stayed up too late trying to finish this blog post before we would fly out to Montolia. I managed to re-establish a VPN connection to gain access to my Google sites and upload pictures, but didn't succeed in finishing my text before the kind people at the HuLu Hotel closed the lobby at midnight. We really liked the hotel. The rooms are outstanding, given the price; and the staff's kindness, knowledge and effectiveness exceeded all expectations. From the moment May acted as my advocate when the Chinese Embassy called from Minsk to the moment we said goodbye, all of the staff members took lavishly good care of us.

With any luck, I'll be able to upload this post once we reach Mongolia. I'm as excited about what's coming up as I am about what we saw and did yesterday.

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