The sounds of various tunes and bells and rings, for many; was not only an hour that they only thought was only in the afternoon but was also the signal to hop out of bed; quickly scurry to breakfast; and head for the Great Wall of China to commence the ‘real’ part of this epic journey.
Zero trip at exit gate
N39.94242 E116.30112” ….. that was out first ‘tulip’ in our route book.
We were finally on our way to the ‘official’ starting line at the Great Wall of China!.
Musicians wearing flowing red pants, white sleeveless tops and red draped headwear, with their drums and cymbals; created an atmosphere fit for celebrating the start of this endurance rally.
I just wanted to dance. Drums do it every time for me! LOL. I felt like whirling around and lifting my feet and legs to the pounding of the large wooden dowels on the skin of a rotund, red standing drum; as the Great Wall of China supervised, in the background.
The well wishes and ceremony continues as the lion-dogs leapt and twirled playfully; their red and yellow fur flicking and flouncing with their exuberant movements; and the dragons slithered and twisted behind large bulbous eyes and a giant mouth ajar exposing menacing teeth.
Then it was time. Time for us to be number 5 in the line up at the Start Line at the Great Wall.
Sadly there were casualties already. One of the three La France vehicles Car Number 2 had issues and started later in the day. Number 11 Steve and his son Charlie unfortunately had a gearbox break on the way to the Great Wall from the hotel. As is with this event, nothing is a given. Anything can happen.
The flag was waved…. and I zeroed the Monet buttons and Max and I looked at each other and we laughed together – and then finally… on our way for ‘real’ this time!!!
The smog lifted as we travelled along such diverse roads west of Beijing. I’m glad I paid attention to our police briefing so I knew the minimum speed to travel in each of the lanes on the motorways! Of course Penny preferred the fastest lane!
Flanking the roads were large bins of apricots and peaches alongside a multitude of Asian greens, pumpkins, watermelons, cherries and apples. The fruit and vegetables expanded the streets and corners and were of an impeccable quality. Orderly stacked piles of green-husked corn intermittently dotted the bricked paved area between the bitumen and the glass-fronted businesses. Sloping mounds of corn seeds piled in shelters along the road ready for transportation to drying and storage facilities. There was such a lot of agriculture in the areas we drove through even though the soil looked hungry not only on the extensive areas of rocky terraced slopes but also on the lower alluvial areas.
Shards of green speared out from the dry earth in precision. Each corn seed must have been planted with such meticulous detail – even on irregular shaped terraces it looked like a carefully calibrated machine had planted them. As is the way here in China, uniformity is the key and the corn seeds were planted in the same uniformity as the high-rise buildings are in groups; as are the homes in communities; the uniforms of the schoolchildren… and the list goes on. Where this does not however adhere to this ‘code’ is the availability and ability to choose a different type of vehicle of which I think China must have a trillion now!
Speaking to those who had been to this part of the world in the past 10 years, many have commented on the radical reduction of bikes and scooters that used to fill the streets and now replaced by motor vehicles. Traffic is an orderly nightmare. Not chaotic like Marakesh or Kolkata yet 7am in the morning the streets are choked with motorists all trying to get to work on time and in the main the pollution is horrible.. Not as bad as some parts of India I have experienced… but it still is pretty bad here. Many of the trucks in Beijing run on gas, and that may reduce the pollution compared with if they had used diesel. I’m not sure about that one though. The trucks were out in force today…. Endless convoys of red cabins towing dirt, gravel, manure, bricks; and the unknown behind black and blue tarpaulins tied down with orderly ropes.
We did encounter a traffic ‘issue’ as a truck had broken down in the middle of a small town whose market was alive and busy with people who were not at all phased by the gridlock encroaching on their stalls.
Penny was a curiosity, and managed to gather people to perform the iPhone salute in front of her; as she often does! After that grab pic was taken … then the ‘selfie’ with Penny was the next photo to go into the Pictures folder on their phone. The ‘selfies’ finished as we started to once again move toward Paris; after 40 minutes of idling in the hot sun.
As we drove from The Great Wall. I saw great chunks of black in mounds on the sides of the road. It was coal. Coal is mined in this area and I could taste the coal dust on my tongue.
Tasting dust was one of the only senses I could use as we went through a tunnel in which sight was practically useless. Entering the narrow, pitch-black archway to be confronted by four bright headlights illuminating huge potholes and the availability of realistically at times only one adequate transit lane; was a little disconcerting.
The landscape changed and the mountains revealed the most wonderful geology; steep exposed rock sliding into caverns; layers of history of the earth exposed.
Hanging Monastery was such a surprise… poles and timber counterbalanced and poked into the cliff face. I climbed the wooden steps which were impregnated with smooth raised steel mounds which provided extra traction preventing a slip which could have resulted in a fall down the cliff face. I would love to go into more explanation f this truly remarkable place – because it was actually a highlight of the day for me… but my brain right now is just in recollection mode and I don’t feel I can give the Monastery the attention it deserves right now. Perhaps in my book I will write a more detailed account of my experience there.
After the monastery the wind strengthened ahead of a storm front and we decided to run the gauntlet and not put Penny’s roof on. We just donned our shell Gore-texes, which was a perfect choice to keep us relatively warm and dry and although driving to the Grottoes it was getting late in the day and Max and I decide that the hour and a half walking tour just wasn’t going to happen… so we headed to be tucked up tonight.
Penny is doing great… just had to re-join a couple of wires which rattled apart on our first bit of bumpy road… and she will be on her way again tomorrow.