Arriving on the first day of university, who’d have guessed that a couple of months down the line (post-week-long drinking marathons and freshers flu) I’d be signing myself up to one of the best and most challenging experiences of my life, climbing the Great Wall of China!
In the process, I would learn the true meaning of deadlines, stress and the dreaded bucket-shake. Yet fast-forward to September, balancing on the remains of The Great Wall of China surrounded by green peaks and breathtaking scenery, there was no denying it was all worth the effort.
Childreach International is a charity working to improve the areas of health, education and children’s rights and protection, by providing the resources to help communities help themselves. With projects in countries such as Tanzania, Nepal and India, they also work in conjunction with universities to offer trips that encourage fundraising, like the Great Wall, Kilimanjaro and Everest. When I saw the Great Wall challenge advertised around campus I decided to take the plunge and sign up with a small deposit. The deed was done. All I needed was to fundraise £2450 before the final deadline in July…simple. Cue thoughts of selling my organs on the black market – I needed another strategy.
After I’d rinsed my nearest and dearest of anything they could spare, car boot sales became a saviour. Then came sporadic bucket-shakes outside supermarkets and pubs, a clothes-swap evening, themed charity club night and even sponsorship from local businesses. However, I did, in fact, reach the total in time and keep my kidneys in the process; all it took was a lot of hard work and some generous friends and family. In no time at all, it was departure day.
The trek itself lasted twelve days with a group of thirty-eight from both the University of Sussex and Nottingham. Lead by our quirky Chinese tour guide Aron, each day took us to un-restored and less-travelled sections of the Great Wall of China and its iconic landmarks. On day one alone we scaled several mountain peaks over a seven-hour period, tackling giant stairways and fighting overgrown wilderness along the way. With temperatures rising to 35 degrees and steps as high as our hips, the “challenge” part of the trip soon became clear. Yet despite the sweat and physical exertion, sharing the experience as a group only meant we bonded faster. Not to mention the postcard views surrounding us were well and truly earned.
Of course, it would have been easy to leave satisfied with the experiences from the trek, but for those of us who decided on the eight-days independent travel, the adventure was only beginning. In this short period, we travelled the triangle from Beijing to the coastal city of Qingdao, Xi’an and then back to Beijing. Here we experienced everything from the Terracotta Warriors, a twenty-three-hour journey on a sleeper train, haggling in the street markets, eating fried scorpions, searching for a waterfall in Laoshan, drinking with a group of Dutchmen in a street restaurant, not to mention getting lost multiple times along the way…
Undeniably my time in China was an incredible experience that I can only encourage others to do. Now studying my third and last year at university, the skills, memories and friends I gained from the process are still some of my best. Not only was it a physical achievement, but the fundraising element has also given me impressive bragging rights on my CV and a sense of pride knowing I helped such a deserving charity. My advice; get out there and try it yourself. A word of caution though, the travel bug is hard to shake…