There are the obvious reasons why one travel blogs. To share travel adventures, through photos and words, trying to encapsulate an experience to the reading and viewing audience. To imbue in others the same excitement, curiosity and inspiration that the blogger felt whilst traveling. To pinpoint exact emotional exaltation.
This is also the general sentiment of why I travel blog as well. The intricacies of it are way more personal. Solo travel for me only started at 24, with a trip to Brno, Czech Republic with a theatre show that ended up, with a very unexpected job in Prague and then a 4-month expedition, tracing my family’s heritage through Eastern Europe. I had never a train before and was thrilled with sticking my head out of the window, letting the wind make my eyes squint, a tornado of my brown hair, like a dog in a car ride. That same trip, I was introduced to couchsurfing. Travel took on an entirely new meaning, where it wasn’t simply placards and buildings and other travelers, it was local people, personal accounts, trans-ocean humour, Ipod music exchanges, one or two dance sessions, a game of golf in Dijon, foraging for dinner in Groningen. All I had read about travel came from books and those books laid out the foundational blueprints of how to travel. Yet there had to be something else, something more expansive and less focused on the MUST SEES and the MUST EATS.
So blogs. First big websites like Trip Advisor (which I still use as a base for exploration), then more obscure travel sites like Atlas Obscura (which, if you haven’t checked out, is the best source for Off the Beaten Path travel oddities), to the worldwide blogosphere of adventurers, trippers, dream followers and spontaneity experts. I was hooked to their words, as many of them weren’t simply telling me what they saw, but how they felt, how places impacted them or didn’t. Blogging is personal creative writing, an individual’s take on the world through their eyes, through their pens, through their keyboards. It can be laced with superlatives, poetics, judgment, digressions, failure, no words at all, all visual. I blog, even if only a few read it, to show them my version of cities and towns, of nature and of bike trips. They are my visceral accounts of the world. They are my endorsement of decorative language, trying to squeeze out the true emotion I felt in a singular moment, possibly written days after. I cannot prescribe nor would I ever want to, a reaction to what I write or how it effects where people decide to go. I hope that the few who do read it, have an opinion or an idea that sprouts from it. I hope, as that’s all one can do with putting writing into the public’s glance, that it pushes people to either travel or challenge themselves, ask questions, look unto other blogs to continue planning or imagining a more complete global sphere.
I frequently embellish memories. I cannot remember exacts, so I shameless fill in the blanks. I blog because I love to write. I love to reimagine what I have seen, to reinvigorate the recollections with verbose imaculations and neologisms (such as imaculations). Though, recent travel, via bicycle gives me the space to write as I travel. I stop where I want and if I feel the urge, I jot down the day, in summation or elongation. I write in a blue tent, where one of the poles is partially snapped due to a crow landing on it, by the waning sun, drifting behind the red mountains just outside of Santa Monica. That is an actual memory. The things that I lock into my brain vault are sometimes obscure fragments. Sometimes, due to my prior habits during travels (drinking copious amounts at night), memories are literally slits of narrow light with broken and blurred images. I write as form of self-preservation, because one of my greatest fears is loosing it all to time. Not necessarily as a legacy of what I have accomplished, but more as something for myself to look back on and simply account for what I have done. Not as somewhat of a CV for pomposity, but more as a timeline that I existed.
While my travels include people and places, I also consciously set quests for myself. I blog to uncover gems, maybe not ones that were necessarily covered by layers of sediment, just ones’ that maybe overlooked, underappreciated, the map to get to them has been used as scratch paper or made into papier-mâché for a birthday piñata (what I am saying is that no one cares where this place is). Blogs and websites are full of hints and my duty with these hints is to test them out and confirm their validity. This description seems quite vague without an example. The city of Xian, China, was the ancient capital for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to cycle the ancient walls and see the UNESCO approved Terracotta Warriors. What very few people know about, is that at the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a ways out of city, another burial plot was opened to revealed, miniature terracotta figurines, along with terracotta livestock and chariots. In total, over 50,000 pieces are on display. Along with this amazing experience, is a very beautifully set up underground museum, with large vaulted glass walls revealing the digs, but beside and below you, you are free to trapes around the tomb area, see several of the tomb gates, and watch an AMAZING hologram film about the history of the site (no 3d glasses required). This place is completely under the radar and when I got there, I basically had free range of the place (think Night at the Museum, minus the reanimation of historical items). There were a handful of different directions as to how to get to this place, since it was in an odd location of the highway, leading north of the city. Armed with a few of these Internet found directions, plus the Chinese characters to this place, I ventured out to confirm this place’s existence. Luck had it that the #4, the first bus I got on and was on my list, was confirmed by the bus driver to be the correct bus. For me, that could happen is I end up going somewhere else and possibly exploring something unexpected. So it’s a win win for me.
I blog to interact with people. Blogs are a dialogue, a community of shared experiences and responses, where the responses may come in the form of words or in exploration of what the blogs’ describe. I hope that as this site builds that this dialogue fills the forums and itinerary of the new site (which will be up THIS MONTH) with evolving dialogues and information that result in people testing the waters, unburdening themselves with limits by asking questions and seeing the blog reflect your inquiries, with maybe not always answers, but further explorations, adding points to the map that I will travel to confirm experiences and places or discover errors, saving you the hassle of a fruitless expedition to nowhere. My blogs and my travels will mirror your dreams, aspirations, desires, or highlight your wonderful memories, follow your deep incites, possibly making travel a more tangible possibility instead of something you do on free weekends or something you’ll do when your decrepitly old.
I blog, because it makes me feel wonderful. It’s me facing my fears as well. I travel around the world, yet I am scared of publishing my writing. I believe it is good, that it is informative and well written, but am afraid of it being said to be otherwise. This is my version of being bold and it holds more importance that what many would be considered a blip, not part of any creative career. But blips are my greatest assets. Microcosms are my favorite worlds. I am worried about not getting anywhere; I am worried about denouncing things in favor of acceptance.
“It not a Great Wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”
-Karl Pilkton, An Idiot Abroad.
After reading information about The Great Wall in his Lonely Planet China Guide and realizing many of the tourist sections of the wall were rebuilt in the 1980s, to include such ancient devices of revelry such as massive, German engineered slides, hawkers selling you skull caps with a single braid of black hair coming out of the back of them and pits filled with suicidal brown bears, Karl was left unimpressed by what some would consider one of the greatest feats of human skill and endurance of all time. Like Mr. Pilkington, I was very wary to see “The Wall”, as I was not interesting in see Great Wall 2.0. Not even 2.0. Mavericks upgrade. Shitty, cheap and simply a money grab.
The GREAT thing about the GREAT Wall is it is humongous. One, I shouldn’t be so judgement, so….yes…one…fine…gentleman attempted to walk the entire length of the wall. For starters, there isn’t just ONE wall. Regardless, He failed. Like not, you were SOOO close. No. He failed miserably. It goes over ice mountain ranges. Like, your ability to walk isn’t how it is in Skyrim in real life, sir. Its Lord of the Ring’s helicopter shot BIG. Back to the Greatness of this, the Chinese government simply doesn’t have enough resources nor care to “tourify” every inch of it and tourists aren’t going to be bothered to trek into the middle of no where to stare at a wall. Or so they think. I wanted to see The Great Wall. Or more so, the Real Great Wall, not the Fake Wall. Luckily there are enough people on the internets that feel the same way.
For all your up-to-date Wall needs, check out: http://www.greatwallforum.com/
Huanghuachang, the Great Wall that goes into a river, due to damming was the planned destination. Buses were researched and on a rainy weekend morning I headed out on a somewhat empty bus from Dongzhimen Central Station. Our excitement was a sweet as sugar, but the rain would not melt it. So maybe it was as sweet as honey as I think precipitation has no effect of that sticky substance. Through the outskirt hills of Beijing, in Huirou city. A few stops. Nothing unusual. Faces come on and off. Sits empty and fill. A pair of eyes meet mine.
“You going to Great Wall”
“Oh. It’s closed.”
Pause. From my research I knew that this was an unregulated part of the Wall. This means no ticket booth or official check in procedures. This SHOULD mean no opening or closing time. I was confused and in my confusion, we got off the bus and loaded into his vehicle. It was like so trance. Like trusting the white panel van full of candy.
“Where are we going?”
“To the Great Wall”
“What? I thought it was closed”
“Mutianyu is open”
Mutianyu was one of the horribly touristic sections of The Wall I had wished to never encounter. We had been duped. The man, who was wearing an official bus staff uniform, removed it. He was a Black Taxi Driver and we were at him whim, along with another white couple that sat in the car with us as well. I counted my wad o’ money. I knew that Huanghuacheng was no longer an option anymore, but I was damned if I was going to pay a zillion dollars to go pay a zillion more dollars to hang out with a zillion tourists on a 5 year old’s macaroni art project, deemed The Great Wall. We came to a “reasonable” deal. Exiting the black cab, we were suddenly drenched from above and from all angles, by rain and dripping hawkers. Pretty sure I don’t need a 4 foot statue of Mao made of the finest plastics. No, thank you, that’s awful kind of you, I just don’t think I am in the mood to buy a pet bird or cat or dog or ?. Though we did need an umbrella. Again, hard bargained, including using the line, I live in Beijing, I know how much this should cost, don’t fuck with me (yeah, I totally have no idea how to say that last line, but imagine that reaction). The adult umbrella was ridiculously priced, so we bought two kid ones. It was like walking on a tight rope, balancing the circumference of the small umbrella perfectly above our heads. Through hawkers row, lined with booths, flashing blinding lights into your retina, like maybe if you were blind you wouldn’t be able to see the piles of shit, drinks, t-shirts, shit and more shit being sold. But, to be honest, they are people just trying to scrape by, so I get it. I feel for them, but on a day where the clouds had opened both physically and metaphorically, I had very little patience to gab. Purchased expensive tickets with a glib smile plastered to my face plastered in wet hair. Climbed numerous stairs up and up and up. AND Viola! On the Wall. Or were we?
The fog, which was as thick as being surrounded by a legion of Santa beards, made it difficult to tell exactly where you were. It felt as if we were on a road in the clouds. The rain was actually a blessing in disguise, as it cleaned the wall of most of the tourists and hawkers. Yet, with map in hand, I had alternative plans. I was heading to the greyed out area at the edge of the map. I was going to see the REAL wall. And no, you can’t go beyond this point sign or cement blockade was going to stop me. Up an over the blockade and finally, we were face to face with antiquity. The fog felt more appropriate here, as if it became part of the myth of the wall, something that existed on a scroll in waves of black ink. We stood atop a crumbling tower, one of the many guard towers that appear along the wall. We followed The Wall for a bit. Old growth vegetation fought its way up through the crumbling structure. At points it was hard to tell where The Wall was and if we were just aimlessly meandering, lost in a sea of evergreens. But then a small rock, a patch of rubble would lead us onwards. We walked for 40 minutes until the underbrush, became the overbrush and we had to turned back, in fears of being engulfed. This part, getting to touch the real stone of this magnificent work, the same stones that the builders had assembled hundreds of years ago at the orders of their Emperor, was the pay off. Done with the Real Wall, the rest of the Wall was simply the elaborate pathway back to the bus stop. But wait! The story doesn’t end there!
I had to go to the washroom. Not being completely savvy in ways of the public washroom at tourist sites in China, I thought there’d be toilet paper. There was definitely not. My favorite game ensued. Check your pockets and see what will work. Several receipts and the umbrella cover. FINALLY, I found an alternative use for those things. Velvety soft.
Famished from the walk and not interesting in indulging in the extremely out of place Great Wall Subway or Baskin’ Robbins, we tried the local inn. The food was meh, but it filled the gap. Unfortunately, the slow service led to us missing our bus. No problem, we’ll just cab somewhere and bus from there. Black carred it to a bus stop. A bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Like NOWHERE. Wait. Wait. Wait…..RAIN. NIGHT. Finally. Bus…..bus comes and takes us into Huirou, where we catch a connecting bus back to Beijing.
The Great Wall is an interesting place to visit and can make a wonderful great day trip from Beijing. Just realize what you are getting into, what you want out of the experience and research alternatives. I ended up making it to Huanghuacheng and it was more of the experience that I wanted. Again, if you want to see an easily accessible, no hassle part of the wall, Mutianyu, may fit the bill. One note: Bring some information about The Wall with you, as it will truly enrich the experience.
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Quick Dos and Do Nots of the Great Wall of China:
DO your research. There are many sections of the Great Wall to see. Make sure you find a section that fits what you want to get out of the wall.
DO NOT listen to people telling you alternative information than watch you researched, especially shifty guys on the bus. They might be simply black taxis trying to get you to pay exorbitant fares to go with them. The bus will get you there.
DO Bring supplies. Food, water, rain coats, toilet paper. It’s for sale there, but at three times the price. PLUS, I don’t think toilet paper is for sale out there. It’s just a good idea to bring it with you everywhere.
DO NOT listen to the DON’T WALK HERE signs. They are simply trying to prevent you from walking on the part of the Wall they haven’t charged people to walk on. It has nothing to do with Wall preservation. Do you see anywhere else “preservation” happening?
DO bring info about the Wall. It’s a magnificent marvel, but context makes each part of it that much more awe ridden.
DO NOT expect that you will be alone on the tourist parts of the Wall. It will be you and 85 billion people trying to get a picture of the pristine Wall, without dude picking his nose not in the shot.
DIRECTIONS and INFO
The Great Wall – Mutianyu (慕田峪)
Cost: 45 Yuan
The fastest way is to take bus 916快 (express) or 916, which run from Dongzhimen to Huairou Bus Station first, get off at the terminus (or Qingchun Road North End or Huairou North Street), Walk to the bus stop on the diagonal corner of the intersection and take bus H23, H24 or 936 (Huairou to Dongtai) and get off at Mutianyuhuandao. Again, these buses’ numbers change frequently. Best to show the symbols of Mutianyu to the bus driver.
It’s hard to consider living on the road without the feeling that you are shirking your duties. What these duties pertain to, at least in myself, relate to a sort of “suppose to” list of life stages that at certain ages in on the relatively short stint on this earth I have been indoctrinated, through all forms of nurture, that I must hit. Part of the process of living on the road is considering the validity of this society-enforced template of growing up. For me, it didn’t work.
Since this is a travel blog, I hesitate to address bold life statements, so I will keep it as a series of personal revelations. I was introduced to travel by my parents. We did the traditional North American family trip to Mexico every other year. It was nice, but felt surreal, cultural mummification, as if everything you saw was in stasis, ready to perform for the next tourist. That sounds quite ignorant, but I was younger back then and that’s what family trips to those tourist meccas kind of enforce. It wasn’t emersion, but simply a dip in a highly regulated pool.
When I was 24, I was invited to perform in a play in the Czech Republic. I had never been to Europe before and had never travelled on my own. As part of the trip, I planned to do a sort of quick jaunt around the country. I planned meticulously and was very excited to finally travel at my own pace.
I planned for two weeks and ended up living in Prague for an additional 4 months teaching and then three more months travelling around Eastern Europe. I returned back to Canada for a girl. As I stepped off the plane at the Vancouver International Airport, I realized how seriously mistaken I was for doing so. I felt a sudden void inflate inside of me. And that was it. I was infected with the travel bug. Right away I knew this could not be a sometimes thing. I had to figure out how to make this an all time thing.
The traditional aspects of life weighed upon me. Yet in my own rebellious way I had started to challenge, question and answer them.
TA = Traditional Aspect
R = Response
TA = If you get tattoos, you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
R= I am dead, who cares where they put me. Throw me into the ocean, I don’t need to waste land.
TA = Okay. Well, if you get a tattoo, make sure it’s something you REALLY want.
R= It’s just skin. And don’t use the “but when you’re old it will look…” Because when I am old, “I will look”.
TA = Get married, have kids.
R= Monogamy works for some people. It sounds nice in a pastoral poem. You have kids, I’ll be the cool uncle that your kids want to be.
TA = Get a stable job, you don’t want to be poor!
R= International teacher and adventurer is a full time job. It’s stability is concrete in that I am not tied to a steadfast location. Contract ends, I find a job here or move! The world is my job market oyster. I am never poor, as I always have enough to eat, cloth and roof myself. The rest of wealth is stored in the emotional bank and I am pretty happy with the numbers.
TA= But that’s not normal.
R= I strive to be as abnormal as possible. No! It boils down to happiness. That is why I hesitate to generalize. If a suit and tie and Lambourgini make you excessively happy, then do it up. For me, a suit and tie are constricting and a car as a representational of more than cutthroat work ethic, an unshakeable faith in class delineation and sad attempt at becoming the human superlative is as confounding as you may find my excessive facial hair at times, my spontaneous tattoos and my amplified emotional states.
This is not a woe as me narrative, quite the contrary. You should be not just proud of the quirks you are allotted, but the quirks you develop out of experiencing life and discovering what you want of it. Because as I said before it’s a short stint, a snap of the fingers and I did not want to wait until I had to sit on a geriatrics filled bus to be hurled around this planet. I want to see it by bicycle. I want to see it in slow motion. I want to see it now and bask in it all.
Extended family dinners are awkward at times. The question, “what are you doing?” is always asked. I respond in earnest and a lot of the times they smile, in confusion, as if that will remedy their feelings of judgement. I know many of them don’t understand me, but at the same time, they all came around and support me. Good family will always do that, so don’t worry about the disowning factor. You can’t live as a source of vicariousness for people anyways.
So dream. If it’s in line with their dreams, great. If it is off the beaten path, unconventional, constantly moving, great as well. Pursue it all. Fail. Pursue more. Succeed. Nothing is damning. Love your careers and families; maybe I’ll see you somewhere on the vast highways. And it’s not our cup of tea, but we’ll understand why each other like to sip it. Because it makes us happy and that’s the crux of it all the why questions you can ask about existence.