China # 27 – Erenhot, Our final Day in China – September 2014

November 23, 2018

During the night the temperature had dropped to 37°F but Green slept well in the down sleeping bag we had provided for her, spread on top of two thick Cascade Design Therm-A-Rest sleeping pads. Morning dawned; another beautiful day, perhaps our last in China. Knowing the bureaucratic paperwork that waited for us at the border, it was good we got an early start.

Our last super highway in China was rather monotonous.

Our last super highway in China was rather monotonous.

An hour or more was spent looking for the office of the customs clearing agent who was supposed to handle our exit paperwork. Wrong address, wrong phone number. The home office of NAVO finally got us connected, but by then, of course, the border was closed. We had time to do some last minute shopping and search for a place to spend the night. Spotting an unfinished office building just out of the center, we set up Green’s tent on the sidewalk using rocks instant of tent pegs and enjoyed our final evening with her. Any port in a storm.

Getting ready for the Border Crossing

In the morning, we had time to take a hot shower. It’s always good to be clean and neat when crossing borders. It was a late 10:00 when the lethargic customs clearing agent finally showed up, and another three or four hours of waiting and lunch break and, and, and—. The reality was that we were supposed to have a 30-day visa for China but because of the National Day Golden Week celebrations starting October 1, the border would be closed for seven days, so we had shorten our visit by two days. Then it took all of two days to wade through the bureaucratic entry process in Kashgar and two more days to get out here in Erenhot. And, so we were told, this was normal.

Saying goodbye to Green

A final happy moment with Green, our constant companion throughout the crossing of China and the last leg of our Silk Road Adventure. We are still in contact with her.

A final happy moment with Green, our constant companion throughout the crossing of China and the last leg of our Silk Road Adventure. We are still in contact with her.

It was afternoon when we said our last sad goodbye to Green. (Her actual Chinese name is Zhang Zhi Qiong. Being born on Earth Day, she chose “Green” as her English name.) Green had been an amazing guide and often put up with our criticism of the drivers, the bathrooms, the flashing strobe lights on the highway, the Chinese government and the numerous police checks. Through it all, we had become great friends and her knowledge and patience gave us lasting memories, outlined in the last 26 Blogs. She fell in love with camping in her green tent and she claimed that she’ll never eat another American style dinner in China because no restaurant could come close to our cooking.

Wanna drive your own vehicle in China?

Can we recommend driving your own vehicle across China? Most definitely NOT, even if you had a three-month visa. But if you do, we can highly recommend NAVO. Green was the perfect guide for us, even with her at times lengthy government-taught details of some subjects that didn’t exactly match the information taught in the West about China.

Entering Mongolia

As we crossed the border into Mongolia, we breathed a sigh of relief. The sky opened up over endless grasslands with herds of sheep peacefully grazing. We would not see another fence for months.

Mongolia: Where could we camp? A N Y W H E R E

Anywhere!!

Evening was coming on fast and the smell of snow was in the air. Where could we camp? Answer: Anywhere!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

November 22, 2018
Happy Thanksgiving

To all our US Friends and Family around the World

 

Gratitude

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home,
A stranger into a friend.
Gratitude makes sense of our past,
Brings peace for today and
Creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie

China # 26 – The Great Wall of China at Badaling – September 2014

November 16, 2018

As previously mentioned, we had been advised that shipping our truck from China back to United States was not a good idea. The truck could be held in a Customs’ storage lot for possibly a month or more, sitting in the salt air and open to vandalism and theft. Our plan now was to drive north into Mongolia, with a stop in the capital of Ulanbaatar and drive to the remote town of Olgii to experience the three-day Golden Eagle Festival. Maybe ride a camel into the Gobi Desert before crossing into Russia.

The Great Wall of China at Badaling

China Blog 26 009

We couldn’t believe the hordes of mostly Chinese tourists wandering around on top of the Great Wall at Badaling.

Weaving our way out of Beijing, we drove north. We couldn’t resist stopping one more time to visit the Great Wall of China. Badaling was reportedly one of the best places to see the wall, and since it was reasonably close to Beijing, it’s where most tourists would go.

Yummy things to eat at Badaling's Great Wall of China. Grilled Squid.

Yummy things to eat at Badaling’s Great Wall of China. Grilled Squid.

From the entry and the parking lot, a modern gondola took us to the top of the mountain, giving us an interesting bird’s eye view of the famous wall. Unlike our other visits to different parts of the wall, where we had the place literally to ourselves, today we were not alone. Not even close. Thousands of tourists, mostly Chinese, shared our experience, which was actually what we had previously expected. It definitely gave us a different feeling being surrounded by crowds of fellow tourists. At the base of the gondola there were the usual food and souvenir stands and there was also a fabulous museum. Below you will see a few items that caught our eye.

Green, no Peking Hung Duck heads please!

It was once again Green’s turn to cook one of her special Chinese dishes. She was a talented chef.

It was once again Green’s turn to cook one of her special Chinese dishes. She was a talented chef.

It was late afternoon by the time we finally headed northwest again, looking for a place to camp for the night. The super freeway we were following had almost no exits and it was getting dark by the time we finally snuck off on a side road and found an empty field, just in time to set up Green’s little MSR tent. It was her turn to prepare another delicious meal. No duck heads tonight!

 

 

Monika’s Birthday 2018 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

November 9, 2018

Oh my God! Another Monika birthday. You know how she loves birthdays. It is her special day of the year, which often runs into several days or weeks! You may recall some week-long backpacking trips into the Sierras, or was it battling a Pacific storm on the cliffs of Point Arena, or climbing the backside of Yosemite’s Half Dome, or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 18,000 feet? Should I mention cruising around Cuba in a 1957 Plymouth? This year, Mexico was the draw. What better way to celebrate a birthday than swimming with dolphins, eating tacos, enjoying a few margaritas, standing under a waterfall in the jungle—or how about watching the progress of class-5 hurricane Willa from a rooftop in Puerto Vallarta.

What a Ride!

Being taken for a ride by two dolphins was really fun.

Being taken for a ride by two dolphins was really fun.

We had (yeah, I get to go too) been invited by old friends, Fred Walti III and Karen Rutherford, to stay at their slightly remodeled adobe home a short walk from the beach in Puerto Vallarta. OK slightly more than remodeled, like a gourmet kitchen, a pizza oven, two barbecue area and walls covered with a beautiful Mexican art collection and great views from the fourth floor sunning deck overlooking the bay. Oh, I forgot the outdoor swimming pool on the 3rd floor just down the hall from the master bedroom. I lost count of how many other bedrooms there were but do check out their website, http://www.coronaadobe.com.

Heidi, the playful Sea Lion

Gary and sea lion Heidi were goofing around.

Gary and sea lion Heidi were goofing around.

To our delight, Eduardo Payan, our longtime Mexican friend from Chihuahua, decided to help celebrate Monika’s birthday. We hadn’t seen each other for years. It was high time to catch up. Dinner was celebrated at the old town Mi Pueblito Restaurant right on the beach. It was Oaxacan night. A dance group performed various dances from that state.

Wanna dance Birthday Girl?

Wanna dance, birthday girl?

Wanna dance, birthday girl?

Livening things up a little, after a fun swim with the dolphins, Chris Collard, (ex-editor of Overland Journal), and his wife Suzy joined us on a local bus to the famous Botanical Gardens and then hopped on a boat to Yelapa, a fishing village and old hippy hangout. You can only get there by boat. We strolled through the village, swam in the 80° clear water, hiked to a jungle waterfall, shopped at the local stores and hung out at one of the beach palapa restaurants where we met Mario, the iguana. (He was vegetarian.) Sometimes we did exactly what you are supposed to do on a beach at a remote fishing village—-nothing.

Mario, the iguana, likes hanging out with Monika.

Mario, the iguana, likes hanging out with Monika.

The weather was hot and humid, to be expected this time of the year, and then Hurricane Willa showed up totally uninvited to the party. Rated as a Class 5 disaster for the beach towns along the Pacific coast including Puerto Vallarta, we jumped on the last taxi boat out of Yelapa back to La Boca where we caught a bus to town. The entire port of Puerto Vallarta was already closed. Never a boring moment. Everyone hunkered down. The town was quiet, the restaurants were closed, the stores along the Malecón (boardwalk) were boarded up. In the end, nothing happened in PV. A bit of wind, a bit of rain and some higher than normal waves. The city returned to its normal vibes. Life was good and Monika’s birthday, once again, was full of new experiences. She can’t wait for the next one, well maybe mine will get in the way first…….

China # 25 – Peking Hung Duck – September 2014

November 2, 2018

So, it was a long way to drive for dinner, like about twenty thousand miles from Portugal, or even longer from California or Belgium where our expedition truck rolled off the ship into Europe. After all that driving we could not leave Beijing without enjoying the famous Peking Duck, a dish as iconic to Beijing as sour dough bread from San Francisco.

Peking Hung Duck

According to the Beijing official web site, the dish is called Peking Duck, Beijing Duck or simply Chinese roast duck among other names. It was first served during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368), a time when the Mongol Emperors ruled China. Sounds like a dish Genghis Khan would order. Its real history goes back as far as the Southern and Northern dynasties. In 1330 a cookbook written by a royal dietary physician by the name of Hu Sihui included such elaborate preparations as roasting the duck inside the stomach of a sheep.

Green insisted on eating Peking Duck Head

Green insisted that she get the head. Like chicken heads you might recall, she believed eating the head gives you more brain power.

Green insisted that she get the head. Like chicken heads you might recall, she believed eating the head gives you more brain power.

Quanjude Restaurant, Beijing

Forget the sheep. The Peking duck is still a dish few chefs would dare to duplicate. First, white-feathered ducks are raised in a free-range environment for 45 days, after which they are force-fed for 15 to 20 days. Once slaughtered, plucked, gutted, washed, and boiled, air is pumped under the skin so that it separates from the fat. Next, the duck is hung to dry and coated with maltose syrup to make the skin extra crispy.

The duck is then roasted in one of two ways: by heat in a brick oven or by hanging the bird from a hook and roasting it over a fire, no doubt using a special wood. We made reservations at the highly recommended Quanjude restaurant that uses the wood fire method invented by its founder, Yang Quanren. “Solly”, “no varet palking”. According to Green, it was the original restaurant serving the delicacy. There are at least 10 other establishments in the city that feature the famous dish. We were surprised that we did not get a roasted duck on a platter. Instead, the duck is expertly carved and elegantly served, all sliced and ready to eat, along with traditional sauces and condiments. Being dark meat anyway, it was bound to be moist. It melted in our mouths and was not overly smoked. Green insisted that she’ll get the head. Like chicken heads you might recall, she believed eating the head gives you more brain power. So popular is this custom that there were plenty of extra heads to be ordered. She had two and already seemed wiser.

This was exactly how we wanted to end our short visit to Beijing.

This was exactly how we wanted to end our short visit to Beijing.

Very full and satisfied that we had seen what we wanted to see in Beijing, it had been a long day. The tram ride back to our parking lot and Green’s hostel was short. We would make an early start heading north to Mongolia. Shipping our truck from China was not recommended. Sitting in the customs storage lot for weeks in the salt air invited damage and theft. In any case, we had a new “bucket list”: Ride a camel in the Gobi Desert and attend the Golden Eagle hunting festival in the remote town of Olgii, with a brief stop in the capital of Ulaanbaatar to get necessary Russian visas and re-visit this rapidly changing city. We had not been there since 1996.

China # 24 – Beijing’s Hutongs – September 2014

October 27, 2018

Much of the historic areas of this 3,000-year old city have been destroyed to build modern condos and apartments that are often financially impossible for the average citizen. Green, our guide, described the older apartment she and her mother live in. Maybe it had running water and maybe electricity most of the time. It was prone to flooding. She explained that older Chinese living in these rundown buildings or houses cannot afford to modernize them. They are just hoping that a big development company will buy them out so they can move into something better, maybe one of those high-rise buildings we saw across the country. To our amazement, Green also explained that even if someone can afford to buy one of the new apartments or condos, they only actually own it for 75 years. After that time, regardless of who’s living in it, the original owners or their descendants, the apartment or condo goes back to the government. Pretty strange, huh?

As the sun went down, the lights came up and the beautiful lanterns added to the reflection on the rain-dampened streets.

As the sun went down, the lights came up and the beautiful lanterns added to the reflection on the rain-dampened streets.

Hutong and Siheyun

In any case, Hutongs were a part of northern Chinese cities and particularly Beijing we wanted to see for ourselves. The original term “Hutong” (which is of Mongolian origin meaning “water well”) appeared under Genghis Khan’s grandson reign, Kublai Khan, first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1341) and refers to a narrow street or alley. In residential areas, the Hutongs wind between unique designs of homes called Siheyuan, meaning “a courtyard surrounded by buildings on all four sides”.

Doors opened up into little courtyards and kitchens. These old homes are where real people work and live.

Doors opened up into little courtyards and kitchens. These old homes are where real people work and live.

During the build-up and modernization starting in mid-20th century and also before the 2008 Summer Olympics, many Hutong neighborhoods gave way to new roads and modern apartment blocks. The Siheyuan have a history of two thousand years and were first established in the Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BC) dividing residential areas according to social classes. They exhibit outstanding and fundamental characteristics of Chinese architecture and serve as a cultural symbol of Beijing and a window into its old ways of life. Fortunately, many of Beijing’s ancient Hutong neighborhoods still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas and are becoming major tourist attractions. The photos here will take you on a short walk through a Beijing not always seen by outsiders.

A Nostalgic Side of Beijing

As we wandered through the old alleys where real people work and live we saw a nostalgic side of China. Only the occasional tourist on a bike taxi reminded us where we were. Sagging doors opened up into little courtyards. The narrow streets were not even wide enough for a normal car. Electrical and phone connections looked like a can of worms, and along with natural gas, they were run overhead like we saw in Russia. Nevertheless, many people prefer this old style of life compared to the new hustle and bustle of modern Beijing.

China Blog 24 90Returning to the more popular tourist streets, the selection of different foods was interesting but not always appetizing. Green found a nice little greasy spoon café where we enjoyed some spicy rice and noodles. Yummy things for snacks and desserts were everywhere, but least we ruin our appetite, we settled for a good cup of Starbucks coffee. The crowds of umbrellas thinned and we window-shopped. As a damp blanket of darkness enveloped the city, hiding some of the ugly parts, the glittering lights of stores and restaurants sparkled off the wet pavement. Soon it will be time for dinner, and Green knew where the original Peking hung duck was waiting for us.

 

 

China # 23 – Beijing’s Forbidden City – September 2014

October 12, 2018

Moving on, we passed through the Tiananmen Gate to reach the Forbidden City. There are five massive doors to the gate and seven bridges spanning moats or streams. It was from this Gate on October 1, 1949 that Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic China. The dominating portrait of Mao is a must photo background opportunity for Chinese selfies.

The Forbidden City

The largest stone carving in the palace, it is 16.75 meters, (60 ft), long, 3.07 meters, (12 ft), wide, and 1,7 meters, (5.5 ft), thick. It has beautiful interlocking lotus patterns, curling waves and nine dragons. It was transported from the quarry 36 km, (22 miles), away by sprinkling water on the road to make an “ice road”. It was then pulled and slid all the way to the palace where it was carved.

The largest stone carving in the palace, it is 16.75 meters, (60 ft), long, 3.07 meters, (12 ft), wide, and 1,7 meters, (5.5 ft), thick. It has beautiful interlocking lotus patterns, curling waves and nine dragons. It was transported from the quarry 36 km, (22 miles), away by sprinkling water on the road to make an “ice road”. It was then pulled and slid all the way to the palace where it was carved.

The Forbidden City is the former Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1420-1912). It covers 178 acres. It’s called The Forbidden City because during those dynasties, when it was home to 24 different emperors and their households who ruled all of China for almost 500 years, ordinary people were not allowed in without special permission. The main palace took 20 years and one million workers to finish.

Marco Polo’ Silk Road travels ended in Beijing

On a side note: In 1215, Zhongdu, the capital of the Jurchen Jin dynasty located in todays Beijing, was destroyed by Genghis Khan, the Mongol ruler. In 1271, a year after his grandson, Kublai Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty that ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, Korea and some adjacent areas, he presumed the role of Emperor of China, the first non-Han emperor to conquer all of China. He built his new winter capital in another section of Beijing. Marco Polo and his dad & uncle left Venice (Italy) the same year to travel to China along the Silk Road (much of which we followed). Three and a half years later, Kublai Khan invited them to his palace where they lived for 24 years before returning home. Marco Polo called the capital “Cambulac” but because Kublai Khan encouraged diversity in his vast empire of many different languages and religions, the capital was also called Khanbalik or Dadu. In 1368, Camulac was destroyed by an emperor of the Ming Dynasty though The Forbidden City was not built until 1420.

The Palace Museum

China Blog 23 040The Forbidden City has been transformed into the “Palace Museum”, quite literally a museum of palaces and special halls, and it is open to the public. Some 14 million visit it annually. It is the world’s largest palace complex, consisting of many buildings with a rumored original 9,999 rooms. It is protected by a 20-ft deep and 171-ft wide moat, and a 26-ft high wall. Most of the palace rooms can only be seen from the outside. Without walking with our nose in a guidebook, we were impressed by the excess of beautiful carvings, paintings and gold surrounding thrones having been used by the ruling emperors and their princesses. The numerous cast figures of dragons, lions and monster turtles were intriguing. Their purpose was to guard against fire and evil spirits. The architecture was amazing, with each detail having a symbolic meaning. The best we can do is show you what caught our eye. Captions will give some details.

After spending much of the day wandering from one palace or hall to another, we were ready for a late lunch. Green, our wonderful guide, spotted the perfect greasy spoon. Nearby we found an entry into a neighborhood called a Hutong, a special part of Beijing we wanted to visit. See more on Beijing Part 3 (China # 24).

 

 

China # 22 – Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – September 2014

October 5, 2018

B E I J I N G! Over twenty-one million people, plus or minus a few thousand tourists. We had completed our second goal of driving from the Atlantic to the Pacific, wheels on the ground, and now our first goal to follow the Silk Road and on to its final end in Beijing.

Formerly romanized as Peking, it was strategically located and developed to be the residence of the Emperor and the Imperial Capital. Beijing is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, parks, gardens, tombs, walls and gates. It has seven UNESCO WORLD Heritage Sites and a history stretching back 3 millennia.

TIANANMEN SQUARE

In “Beijing” do as the visitors do.

In “Beijing” do as the visitors do.

If you had a month you could not see all of this city, any more than you see all of Paris or Moscow in 30 days. We had one day, so we had to be selective. Short list: Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, the old Hutong neighborhoods, and of course, to enjoy a famous Peking Hung Duck dinner. Oh yeah, a lunch at one of those questionable hole-in-the-wall cafés for a good bowl of spicy fresh noodles or rice.

We had been lucky to find a guarded parking lot somewhere inside one of the several ring roads, not too far from the city center and close to public transportation, which is surely the only way to get around in the chaotic traffic.

According to Green, it is especially the older peoples' dream to visit Beijing's Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City once in their lifetime.

According to Green, it is especially the older peoples’ dream to visit Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City once in their lifetime.

With an early start in light rain, which thankfully cleared much of the choking smog, we arrived at Tiananmen Square. Preparations were under way for the Chinese National Holiday on October 1, the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Celebrations are from October 1-7 and called “The Golden Week”. Thousands of people had already gathered for photo opps and sightseeing. Tiananmen Square’s massive slab of concrete, the size of 143 soccer fields, is capable of holding a million people.

There was no sign of protests nor were there any tanks, an image we may all be familiar with when on June 4th 1989, a young Chinese man, carrying his shopping bag, stood in front of a column of tanks in protest and was run over. During that demonstration by the People’s Pro-Democracy Liberation Army, Chinese troops and security police stormed through Tiananmen Square, firing indiscriminately into the crowds of protesters, killing an estimated 180 to 10,454 people. (Wikipedia)

We wandered around, people watching, one our favorite pastimes, noting that we’re all being watched by dozens of cameras. We were used to this surveillance. It’s part of traveling in China. All in all impressive, but underwhelming. The walls of the Forbidden City loomed in the background accented by the portrait of Mao Zedong. See Beijing, Part 2 coming up.

China # 21 – The Pacific Ocean! – September 2014

September 23, 2018

We had seen the Great Wall of China twice now, and our China “bucket list” was getting short. We headed east toward the fog-draped Pacific Ocean and its polluted Bay of Bo Hai, where Tanggu, the nearest port to Beijing is located. Green, our trusted guide and constant companion, had no idea of how to get to the water’s edge, and our two Garmin GPS, one in English and Green’s in Chinese, were not a big help. All we knew was that we had to find a way around the mega metropolis of Beijing. Weaving through various ring roads and turning east at every opportunity, we eventually started to see salt flats, ships and loading docks. By luck, we ended up in the Binhai Amusement Park area where we found a run-down jetty sticking out into grey water. It seemed like a tourist spot where Chinese who had maybe never seen the ocean came.

Our Goal to drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific,

wheels on the ground, was finally completed!

 

Our goal to drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the legendary Silk Road was finally completed!

Our goal to drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the legendary Silk Road was finally completed!

We had made it!! After driving continuously for 12 months across all of Eurasia (Europe and Asia) through 13 countries, Ocean to Ocean, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Portugal to China, wheels on the ground, following the legendary Silk Road, with stops, however brief, in some of the most exciting and intriguing cities in the world, we had finally accomplished our goal. Along the way, by sheer chance, we met a young girl in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan that changed her life, and ours, forever. There will be more about her soon.

Now back to business. Our Chinese visa would expire in just a few days and we dared not be late. A few quick photos and we headed back into the chaotic traffic of one of the largest city in the world, Beijing. Green actually had an address of a hostel where she could stay and we miraculously found a muddy parking lot that reluctantly made a space for us. It was raining; a godsend in this very polluted Chinese Capital. It cleared much of the smoke and smog that can be choking at times.

We celebrated with a glass of “Great Wall” wine and hit the street for dinner, easy to find in a city this big.

 

 

China # 20 – Mutianyu Great Wall – September 2014

September 15, 2018

We had seen the Western Terminus of the Great Wall of China back on our China Blog # 8, but being one of the main tourist attractions in the country, we wanted to see more of it. Hey, we drove all this way, why not? We had seen the photos of the hordes of tourists shuffling along the wall like a pack of sardines, so we were expecting the crowds. In 2017 more than 10 million tourists visited the wall, making it one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

To our amazement, we had the Great Wall all to ourselves!

To our amazement, we had the Great Wall all to ourselves!

It was late afternoon at the Mutianyu Great Wall entrance and the parking lot was nearly empty. All the big tour busses were gone. We found a perfect flat place to park—like anywhere—and a nice soft grassy area right behind us for Green’s tent.

This section of the Great Wall was built in a unique way. There were three watchtowers. Forts were constructed on the steep mountain sides. The northwest part of the wall was precariously constructed along the 3,280-foot, (1,000 m), high mountain ridge. The “Arrow Rock” and “Flying Eagle” sections were built into precipitous cliffs. Legend says that a magic dragon swooped down and marked the route for the wall.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu stretched as far as the eye could see.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu stretched as far as the eye could see.

Walking to the entry, we took the gondola to the top and stepped onto the wall, and no one was around. Really!! We had the whole wall to ourselves. There was a little mist in the air, adding to the mysterious and moody presence of this giant man-made piece of architecture. A light jacket would have taken the chill out. We knew the gondola would close before we were finished looking around, but there was a nice flagstone trail back to the parking lot. We wandered along the wall for a couple of hours until it was almost dark. Amazing! (Sorry, that word keeps coming up.)

The “WALL” is 31,070 miles (50,000 km) long. Just for comparison, the Earth’s circumference is 24,901miles, (40,074 km). The wall is 25 feet high in places and 15 to 30 feet wide. It took over 2,000 years to be constructed by several dynasties. Some historical records estimate that it took 300,000–500,000 soldiers to build and guard it, along with another 400,000–500,000 conscripted laborers, convicts, unemployed intellectuals and disgraced noblemen. One report suggests that there were 1.5 million men working during the peak building time of the Qui Dynasty. The Ming dynasty spent 200 years constructing their section of the wall, building paved turreted walls and towers that served as highways to move troops. Although it may be an insignificant thought, all of these men and women had to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom!

We were tempted to just keep on walking to see what's over the next ridge.

We were tempted to just keep on walking to see what’s over the next ridge.

It has been estimated that up to one million died working on the wall, and many were buried within the wall itself. (Sounds like Siberia’s infamous “Road of Bones” we drove in 1996.) 

During its construction, the Great Wall of China was called “the longest cemetery on earth”. Along the way, the Chinese invented the wheelbarrow. That must have been a big help!

Photographing the wall is challenging. It’s not particularly colorful, and it does not move, but the photos here we hope will give you some impression of its scope as it snakes up and down the ridge tops.

Just for fun, we thought we would look at a comparison of the now infamous Trump’s “big beautiful wall”. It would span only 700 miles of the US-Mexico border’s 2,000 miles. According to sources by Wall Street Journal, it would cost $18 billion to build. Others calculated more like $21 billion. Granted, Trump’s original plan of walls as high as 65 feet have morphed to 18 to 30 feet. Based on the fact that it took six years to build the roughly 700 miles of fence and barriers now in place, engineering experts agree the wall would most likely take years to complete.

The Great Wall of China is 31,070 miles (50,000 km) long.

The Great Wall of China is 31,070 miles (50,000 km) long.

All this is complicated by the fact that there are not enough skilled laborers to do the work. Of the 12 sites proposed for the wall, each might require something like 144 employees to feed people, 96 food trucks, 240 private security guards, a hundred legal positions and 5,000 border patrol. Did we count porta potties? As the numbers add up, all 12 projected sites might create 10,500 jobs. Where can they get that many workers? OH!!! How about all the Central Americans who want to come over and work, and while they’re here, they could help rebuild the East Coast that just got devastated by hurricane Florence, and of course, there is a great need of labor in Southern California that slid into the ocean, and the horrible fires of Santa Rosa, Mendocino and Sonoma that are still smoldering. What a great idea! Cheap foreign labor!

Back to the other Great Wall, despite all the money and human cost of building it, and despite efforts to defend it using all the most sophisticated weapons of the time, including axes, sledge hammers, lances, crossbows, halberds and the latest Chinese invention, gun powder, the Mongol invaders led by Genghis Khan, (“universal ruler”), had no problem going around the wall and subsequently conquering most of northern China between A.D. 1211 and 1223 from where they ruled all of China until 1368. Wall? What wall? At least it did provide some protection to the Silk Road we had been following. From the misty towers of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, we could almost smell the salt air of the Yellow Sea, the second goal of The Turtle Expedition’s Trans-Eurasian Odyssey; to drive from the wave-torn rocky cliffs of Cabo da Roca in Portugal, the most western point in continental Europe and in fact, the most western point of the Eurasian landmass, all the way to the Pacific, wheels on the ground through 23 countries.