Our final activity in China was to take a two day hiking trip out onto the Great Wall. It’s hard to really describe the incredible feat of construction that is the Great Wall of china. We visited a rather secluded area at jinxou where the wall has not been restored so the surrounding forest is crawling over parts, erupting through the stone and crumbling sections into the countryside. The wall itself follows the highest ridge as it zigs and zags over the hill tops creating the most incredible views and routes.
Every watchtower we reached and every corner of the wall we turned seem to open up a completely new and equally stunning view of the wall. We camped overnight in the shadow of wall and the next day had the ‘adventurous’ part of the hike. Sections of the wall narrow so much you can grab both sides with your hands and so steep you struggle to get up each tall narrow step. On the other side of the wall the forest drops straight down into the valley hundreds of meters below. Parts of the wall has also almost completely crumbled away. Instead of steps a near vertical wall of uneven rock face confronts you. So we did some hair raising rock climbing, scrambling through the forest and gazing down at vertigo inducing views.
Beijing looks and feels very different to shanghai. The skit line is less dominated by huge skyscrapers, there are more traditional buildings, more traffic, and the mandarin is layered with rrr’s, almost as if the Chinese came via Cornwall. I’d picked the Emperor hotel as the Roof terrace over looked the forbidden city and up to Jingshing hill. Our room was named, as all the rooms, after a Chinese emperor. Ours Chong Zhen, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty who famously hanged himself from a tree in Jinshin park.
Our next day we walked up to the temple atop this park to look down overt the rooftops of the forbidden city, via trying on some rather fetching outfits, before spending the rest of the day walking in the footsteps of courtesans, eunuchs and emperors of five hundred years ago.
Beijing has many faces. From the beautifully tiled buildings and sculpted gardens of the forbidden city, to the traditional grey stone Hutongs creating hidden mazes and courtyards, quiet lakes, to the high rise glass towers downtown where we had amazing Peking duck at DaDong, to the red lantern lined Ghost street with steaming bowls of Mongolian hot pot. We also went out to an art district on the outskirts of the city centre called District 798 with Viv and Trevor. A huge area or former industrial buildings and factories that now house sculptures, galleries, cafes and shops.
We arrived in Shanghai just at sunset after a five hour delayed flight from Amsterdam. We fled straight from our hotel, Casa Serena, down to the Glamour Bar on The Bund to join Viv’s birthday celebrations and watch the myriad of light displays across the glass skyscrapers across the water in Pudong.
Downtown shanghai, seen from the glass floor of the oriental pearl looks like a scene from a sci fi film. Glass, greenery and steel in a landscape that seems to change by the month. Further away we had brunch at Kommune, a brunch spot in Tai Kang road’s maze of gift shops, galleries and cafe across town. The menu adorned with a retro illustration of the communist ideal. Not sure that Mao would have approved of the tongue in cheek reference! We spent mornings in Fuxing park watching the city’s elderly ballroom dance practice tai chi or sing in outdoor choral sessions. Watched fluffy white dogs with orange dyed ears and wearing converse trainers strolling along the pavements.
Before leaving for Beijing we took a day trip out to Xitang, a water town, with Viv’s family and friends. We walked along the waterside under the red lanterns exploring shops and alleyways before lunching and catching an old school long boat back to our start.
After two flights and the world’s most expensive airport pizza we found ourselves within the Arctic Circle, right on the top edge of Norway in the town of Tromsø, under a blanket of snow. We managed to see the Northern Lights a few times over the next four days however it was more a question of the camera confirming the presence of a green streak of light (which generally looked much like a long cloud to the naked eye) and less of the eruptions of light we had been hoping for. None the less, Tromso was a great place to spend a few days. We went out into the middle of nowhere to have dinner in Sam huts, went dog sledding, snow shoeing, saw seal performances, learnt about the explorers of the North, rode cable cars, snuck into the back of a Norwegian wedding, mastered the art of night photography, and had one of the most wonderful meals at De 4 Roser.
I was lucky enough, in January, to visit Nepal with WaterAid, our fundraising partners for Aveda Earth Month each year. We visited two communities in a remote region of Western Nepal called Surkhet Palate is a semi urban community of 304 households and 1637 people. The government water supply is over 20 years old and the two taps in the village very rarely work. The water from these taps is not a safe source of water and leads to many diarrhoeal diseases in the village, the water is dirty and often contains dead worms and insects.
Most days the women have to walk down to a second water source a 40-60 minute round trip below the village. This water is also not clean. We met Rekha who is 22 with two children, aged 7 and 4, who lives in a family home of 11 people. Unable to use the village tap point, she usually has to go 6-7 times a day to collect water from below the village, a journey of almost an hour. The weight of the jugs of water she brings back were almost too heavy for me to lift, let alone carry back up the hill. Aside from taking up large parts of the day the trip can also be dangerous. Jackals have bitten 25 women in the past year visiting this water point causing one woman to die. If Rekha can’t collect water early enough for cooking, the children either have to go to school without eating or miss part of the school day. They also suffer from diarrhoeal diseases. Last summer Rekha spent 3000 rupees per child on treatment (more than most families in the village earn in a month). Her husband has had to travel to Mumbai in India to work in a hotel to send back money to help the family.
Palate has set up a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) committee that will work with WaterAid’s local partner NEWAH to implement a clean water project in 2012. They have already been declared ODF (open defecation free) an important part of ensuring both clean water and sanitation. The committee will work with NEWAH to ensure a safe clean water supply for the village as well as training local masons, caretakers and hygiene facilitators to ensure the long term sustainability of the project. Rekha is looking forward to the new, safe water source for the community as she says she will be able to spend more time with her children, ensure they get to school on time and have more time for housework and looking after her domestic animals.
The following day we drove to a village called Lamidamar that started work with NEWAH and WaterAid 18 months ago. We were greeted with flower garlands by the WASH committee headed up by Gauri. She spent a long time appealing to government organisations and regional committees to try to get a clean water source established for her village, before she heard about NEWAH. 18 months ago there was no safe water source, women collected dirty water from the river and there were no toilets so people would defecate anywhere in the open. With money from WaterAid, NEWAH helped to facilitate the building of a safe water source, pipelines, reservoirs, irrigation, 100 toilets and 25 tap stands in the village. They also trained masons, caretakers and health facilitators in the village to maintain the work. Lamidamar is a beautiful rural village and they are hugely proud of their achievements. There is no more open defecation and households have access to clean safe water. This has made a huge difference to the school. There are two taps, a low one for the smallest kids to reach. There are also separate toilets for boys and girls. Having girls toilets is key to ensuring they have the privacy to remain in school into puberty. Ceramic tiles at the tap stand remind the children to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating. We also met a disabled girl, Babisera who is 12 years old. Unable to use the traditional pit latrines she had nowhere to go but in her bed or her wheelchair. NEWAH helped to construct a special toilet for her use with a seat so she is able to have the dignity of using a toilet like the rest of her family. It was hugely interesting to be able to visit the communities that our Earth Month money is helping in Nepal and talking to the individuals whose lives are benefitting. It was also an experience to learn how much planning goes into every project and how important the village communities are in implementing the projects and ensuring they are sustainable in the long term.
Our final stop before heading north was Aqaba. We woke up before sunrise in the cold desert air of Wadi Rum and that afternoon we were sunning ourselves on the back of a boat on the red sea heading out to a dive site. Tropical fish, coral reef, a birthday night out and a red bull car rally later we were returning to Amman and a final farewell to Jordan.
Our guide took us out for our last night for cocktails and shisha, Jordan style, which also involved an impromptu band playing traditional music, and a spot of Pink Floyd, at our table!
After the ancient city of Petra we exchanged the man made wonders for natural architecture. Wadi Rum is a valley desert of sandstone and granite in the south of Jordan. Towering twisted shapes of rocks and distant misty blue shadows. We sat (or rather bounced around) in the back of three jeeps, travelling over the sand dunes and slopes, watching the changing colour of the evening sky and streaks of wispy cloud dragging towards the horizon.
Sitting on the sands we watched the sunset in the distance as the temperature dropped and it felt like we were only people in the middle of nowhere. Luckily of course we weren’t and 10 minutes drive away brought us into a tiny Bedouin camp tucked into the shadow of a rocky overhang. As always in the desert there is firelight, music and food.
Petra was built potentially as long ago as 312BC, by the Nabatean empire who were instrumental in controlling and taxing trade along the silk road. It occupies a long valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. You reach the current remains with a 45 minute walk through the start of the valley down between ever deepening rock walls until you are following a narrow passage flanked by vertigo inducing stone stretching up almost to obliterate the sky overhead.
Our first visit to Petra was by night, the pathway and the iconic Treasury was lit by scores of small candles within paper lanterns to the sounds of music. Very atmospheric. Also slightly spooky. We returned at 6am the following day, just as it was getting light. We were the fi
We spent almost the entire day at Petra, exploring the many temples and caves built by the Nabatean Kingdom, looking at the Egyptian, Grecian and Roman influences in the architecture, climbing up to the high places for breathtaking views across the valleys and occasionally stopping to relax beneath a tent and enjoy a cup of tea.rst visitors that day to walk between huge boulders and searing rock faces until finally the crack ahead revealed the first glimpses of the incredible Treasury columns of rose stone in the dawn light.
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Sarah and I began our Jordan japes in the capital Amman, arriving into a quitschly comfortable hotel and an extraordinarily large double room in a rom complete with sofas and equally disappointed hard box like beds. The next day, under the educatingly charming tutor-age of our guide we set off with the group to Jerash.
Jerash is a magnificent roman ruin that stil bears the semblance of a grand civilisation past. Apart from admiring the columns, roads, statues and amipitheatre I also learnt how to spot the dickumanus from the Kardo Maximus (and no that is not a euphemism), and where to speak in the amphitheatre to make your voice carry to the highest steps.A few hours later we had gone from roman chariot parks to salty seas and we were all swim suited up and floating amused in the densely salted water covered in rich black mud and taking entertaining photos and trying to swim defying the water’s over buoyancy! Something possessed me to taste just how salty the water was…I do not recommend it.
From the Dead sea we travelled to Mount Nebo with views of Jericho and the West Bank, passing over the magnificent views of the desert from the Kingsway, the route formerly known as silk.
We stopped for afternoon tea at a small roadside hut that must arguably have the most majestic views in the country. Beneath us the road snaked down through desertscape beneath a bright blue sky and ahead stretched a patchwork of potted hills.
Four girls, one jeep, six youth hostels booked in an initially nonsensical pattern around the south coast of Iceland. Many outdoor hot springs including thorough washing of pits and bits before entering. Incredible waterfalls, a cuddly puffin called Colin, exploding geysers, epic scenery, sweeping cliffs, quizzical sheep, panicking puffins, menacing skua, driving through rivers, scrambling up scree slopes, gazing at views, unpronounceable destinations, grinding glaciers, lava fields, black sands, cloud shrouded islands, stinking seagulls, warm volcanic rocks and lying in the sun in the blue lagoon smothered in white mud and drinking a glass of wine.
We began our trip in the Kex Hostel, formerly an old biscuit factory in Reykavik, and currently very cooly decked out with an excellent breakfast. After the sites and hot pools of town we picked up our Jeep at headed into the wilds.
Otavalo was a riot of colour, market stalls, traditionally dressed people, farm animals and shopping. Probably the only place I’ve ever seen everything from Guinea pigs to puppy dogs, pigs and cows for sale.