Tag Archives: Bowel Cancer UK

Glorious Brazil

12 Oct

20151005_154651Woo hoo I did it!  I successfully completed my trek in the Chapada Diamantina national park in Brazil with my dear friends Judith Vosper and Helen Taylor.   It’s been quite an adventure so we are all feeling pretty chuffed!

I left my blog rather abruptly, in part due to total communications blackout and in part because it was such a rich experience – a physical and mental challenge – that I needed to process the whole experience to be able to find the words to write about it.   But where to begin? Whilst I was sponsored to push myself through a hike, actually that has been just one part of the challenging adventure I’ve been privileged to experience.  I will try and explain.

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One of our stunning views over the Patti Valley

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One of my favourite views from St Ignacio’s hill over the beautiful flat top mountains.

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Walking between the flat top mountains

The Chapada Diamantina is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.   We were blessed to stay for much of our time in a very remote area of the national park, around 3 hours walk from the nearest town without access to mobile signal or even satellite phone connection.   The area is famous for its history of diamond mining, flat top mountains and for a rich abundance of plants, flowers, butterflies, birds and even jaguars and armadillos we were told.    It also has a varied array of bugs but more on that later!  Our trek took us on paths through the valleys, including the glorious Patti Valley which is stunning and up and down those flat top mountains.  We regularly walked by streams and rivers and enjoyed the spectacular waterfalls and swimming in  the many natural pools to cool off after a long trek. 20151001_153155 20151001_153248 20150929_125614

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So pleased to find some shade at last!

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5.30am in the Chapada Diamantina – many mornings started like this.

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River crossing!

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The only way down! A narrow ledge and a sheer drop was at the bottom.

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A ‘Technical’ sheer descent!

There were a number of big challenges on those long walks.  Worse than distance covered or sharpness of incline was the heat. It was frequently in the 30s as we walked and all too often almost devoid of any shade.  Our rest stops often included us all huddled together in any small patch of shade we could find or taking it in turns to take a break from the sun.  Who’d have thought that sun lover me,  would be so grateful for the overcast mornings when we tried to break the back of steep ascents.

As well as getting a fierce reminder of the power of the sun so close to the equator, I also learnt a new trekking term – technical!  It appears that when applied to a days hike in the Chapada Diamantina it implies steep scrabbly ascents or scary almost vertical descents.   We were regularly climbing over rocks, stones, tree and plant roots on very steep slopes which required attention all the time or you risked a nasty fall.   I’m grateful that my childlike grazed knees and legs are the only remaining proof of their challenge.

Bizarrely I loved those bits the most – the sheer physicality and determination required to drag myself up and down those hillsides was a kind of therapy from my day to day existence of long commuting journeys on First Great Western!  Completing them – even though every muscle in my legs ached – gave me a sense of achievement.

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Our path up!

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I just loved the tree ferns

Perhaps the trekking day I enjoyed most was when we walked through the rain forest surrounded by fascinating plants and the wonderful calls of birds to accompany us.  We saw hummingbirds, paraquets and all sorts of other birds with bright beautiful plumage. I would have liked to have quietly sat and watched and listened but the climb up and down was pretty tough and the schedule didn’t permit it.  It was just glorious though to walk through the dappled light of the trees and majestic trees ferns with the loud interesting sounds from the forest all around us.  That particular ascent included having to walk through a very dark cave which was definitely out of my comfort zone.   With only head torches to guide us through the cave it was challenging and I was pleased when I finally scrabbled out through the narrow gap in the rock to continue up the hill to reach the top.  Thankfully it was so worth it, as the view was amazing!

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The view after our long climb – awesome!

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Me finally emerging from the cave – feeling pretty happy!

Another day we walked for several hours  up hill across the scorching top of a flat top mountain to the site of what should have been a spectacular waterfall.  It was the only image I had googled before I visited and was truly excited to be seeing it.  Unfortunately it was dry – it turns out I need to return in the wet season to see it flowing but the view was staggering anyway.

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Tiago, our lead guide, checking out the staggering view but no waterfall!

Bizarrely I also “enjoyed” the challenge of a particularly steep almost vertical descent one day over rocks and boulders and skirting narrow ledges with huge drops.  I guess after a long and fairly dull ascent and walk across a hill, it was a welcome challenge and certainly got my endorphins flowing again.   There had, in fact, been an option for some of the group to take an easier path down but sadly it was blocked by a fire (fairly frequent in the national park apparently) which swept over the hillside.   It was pretty devastating to see the hillside so badly burnt and the path we had climbed down lost in the burnt ground when we passed by again a few days later.

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The scorched hillside post fire. We had walked pretty much straight down it just a couple of days before as the fire began to take hold.

Many in the group found the treks pretty challenging, in part because of health issues.   On day one my friend Helen had a serious problem with her eyes which was very worrying.  She doesn’t have any known allergies but for some reason as we trekked through the valley her eyes became incredibly red and sore.   She could barely see as she walked which was terribly distressing for her but by evening it had cleared a little.  For the next few days it returned thankfully not so badly – but washing her eyes out with saline became part of our post trek routine.

Another member of the group was stung by a hornet on her leg which then proceeded to swell badly.  We were all terribly worried about it as the pain started to spread up her leg but eventually she found the stinger and pulled it out and that or the dose of her own antibiotics seemed to do the trick.    As the satellite phone didn’t work at all and we didn’t have a doctor with us we were pretty fortunate my friend Helen is a very experienced nurse.   Definitely something for the trekking company to address for such a remote trek in the future as the risks – simply due to the nature of some of the walks – are considerable.

I was lucky compared to others as I simply developed a stinking cold in the first couple of days and spent 10 days sneezing, coughing and not sleeping well and of course ended up infecting others in the group (so so sorry).   A cold is hardly something to moan about but on this occasion it certainly added to the challenge.   The lack of sleep also probably contributed to me picking up another bug post trek during our stay in Salvador and Rio.   I felt great on my last day though!

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Our room at homestay 1

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Homestay 1 and its glorious loaction

I have to admit, I find sharing a room at night with anyone other than my husband (and children at a push), a challenge.   We did stay in a couple of very pleasant hotels in Salvador and Lencois on arrival and in interesting Capao (a place I’d love to explore more)  but as we moved deeper into the national park it all got much much more basic!   In our first home stay, five of us were sharing a room – along with a host of mosquitoes and other more ‘interesting’ bugs thanks to the ventilation created by the lack of join between the ceiling and floor in many places!     One memorable night, Helen, Judith and I cried with laughter and horror as we tried to work out how to rid ourselves of a particularly nasty looking creature crawling around our bedroom walls.   Oh how I missed my husband that night!

We spent three nights in that first home stay and far too much of mine was spent lying awake, sniffling, sneezing and coughing, listening to the others sleep and feeling desperate to join them.  In moments of desperation I’d quietly leave the room and watch the changing shapes of the stars – beautifully clear and unblighted by any light pollution.    I’ve rarely seen the Milky Way more clearly than in the Chapada Diamantina during my solitary middle of the night star gazing trips and I’m glad to have seen that.

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My bed at homestay 2

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Homestay 2 – what a beautiful setting

Our second homestead, also the most beautiful setting amongst the hills, was again without any electricity in the rooms and was also devoid of a fully working toilet!  Thankfully it was only the clean water that sprayed out all over the bathroom when flushed and we went to “sleep” worrying we would hear screams during the night as it finally collapsed totally over some poor fellow trekker.  In fact if wasn’t the toilet fears or concrete beds that woke me in the middle of the night, rather it was the scuttling of a cockroach close to my head, followed by a cockerel starting its morning calls outside our window at 1.30am….aaaarrrrggghhh.   After a week of serious sleep deprivation that cockerel was the final straw as we were due up at 3.50am to start a long steep ascent before the sunrise when it was cooler.

To be honest none of it bothered me much – I saw it all as part of the challenge I’d taken on but I know others found it quite hard.   Treks and accommodation like that are definitely not for everyone and there’s no shame in that.  I just felt blessed to be there and the dirt, bugs and challenging sleeping arrangements just made the ‘highs’ that much richer and sharper somehow.   Who’d have thought I’d feel like that but I’ve found that when you are doing something for a reason – for me to raise funds to help save lives – most adversity can be overcome.

Despite the challenges of our sleeping quarters and itchiness of our mosquito bites we were blessed with some great food at all our accommodation – lots of traditional beans and rice but also wonderful vegetables, fruit and cake.   At homestead 1, we also had the very best coffee any of us had ever drunk.  It was grown, harvested and dried right there on the farm. I wish I could have brought some home.

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My brilliant trekking group with porters and local guides.

I’m one of those people who as I’ve got older has come to enjoy some quiet solitary time – perhaps because my work involves lots of lovely contact with people.  I have come to love walking at home in the Cotswolds with just my dog so I can really soak up the beauty of my surroundings and rebalance.  Therefore, long days with 14 others (including the local crew) without a place to hide away was always going to be a challenge for me and I suspect for many others as, inevitably, everyone went through highs and lows.    Yet I felt so fortunate to be with these wonderful people, it was a fantastic group.  It was made up of lots of very experienced trekkers – all totally up for pioneering this new trek for Discover Adventure, our trekking company.   All without competition or any type of malice – just support and a great deal of laughter.

Eventually, I found my quiet ‘happy head’ time by taking endless photographs. I developed a technique of walking at or near the front of the group so I could drop back to take my pics as I tried to capture the beauty of the place and could then catch back up again so not holding anyone up.   I was interested in the therapy it gave me as it made me really look at my surrounding and take in the changing light, the amazing views, the glorious plants as I tried to find the perfect picture angle.  David Bailey I certainly am not,  but taking the photos and reviewing them gave me lots of quiet pleasure.

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A stunning sunset on our first evening in the park

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I totally loved the reflections in the streams and pools we passed.

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Dawn breaking over the mountains… just beautiful

I think many of the group missed their family and friends at points.  I found leaving mine incredibly tough as I know did my friend Judith.   At the end of the trek the tears fell when my first message from home brought me the news that my little girl had fallen over a wall and badly hurt her nose and face and had to be taken to hospital to be checked out.   She’s fine but I felt such dreadful guilt not being there for her or being able to take my younger son to visit some universities or help him resolve his uneasiness about universities and course choices he has been feeling.   Of course it will all be fine and I was there for a reason but it all adds to the challenge.

Yet despite the challenges or perhaps because of them, overall I loved it.  It’s definitely been much tougher than China but I feel pretty proud that I can face my fears and take on and conquer a challenge like this.   Best of all I have laughed a lot, been blessed to visit a truly amazing place and come out with incredible memories which will stay with me always.

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With my lovely friends, Helen and Judith finally in Rio.

I’m not adverse to taking on other challenges for Bowel Cancer UK if it helps but I’m going to take a break from fundraising for a while as this undoubtedly is the worst aspect by far of any challenge.   People have been so generous but I know are fed up with my sponsorship requests and I simply don’t have time to organise events or have access to a rich list address book (although I’m trying to change that!).   Over these last challenges I’ve raised through sponsorship and gifts in kind around £30k which isn’t too bad but I’d still like to reach £50k eventually.

Best of all, lots of other people have joined me and taken on a fundraising challenge for us as well and that’s awesome.    I am truly grateful for everyone’s support because it’s only together that we will finally stop bowel cancer.
So just one last request…. If you can please sponsor me – the page will be open for a bit longer.   Thank you.

Www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina4  Or TEXT GUTS68 £5/10 to 70070

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#WeHaveGuts #IHaveGuts Thank you for your support.

Thank you for your support.  We all truly appreciate it.

So it begins…

28 Sep

SalvadorAfter a pretty much sleep free night Judith, Helen and I met at 3am at Heathrow along with our trek leader Phil and the rest of our trekking group.  After what felt like never ending hours of waiting around or flying later (London – Lisbon, Lisbon – Salvador),  we finally arrived in Brazil.  After 24 hours of only a bit of plane sleep I was pretty excited to finally arrive at our first hotel.   We had some time to freshen up then went out for a delicious dinner and had our first briefing about the trek.  It’s a nice size group only 12 of us including Phil and there are many very experienced Trekkers amongst them but all seemingly chilled and uncompetitive.  Phew!

The first morning we left at 8am for a tour around Salvador.  Whilst Helen, Judith and I were keen to get going actually it was a good beginning, as we are all still pretty shattered from the travelling.  Salvador is the third largest city in Brazil and was its capital for many years.  It’s right on the coast and is on two levels – upper town has the old historic centre and is more residential, and lower town is more of the commercial centre but as we drove past clearly has a lot of houses too.

Buildings in SalvadorWe drove to the lighthouse on the seafront and had a chance to walk around the historic old town.  I really like the multi-coloured buildings and cobbled streets.  It reminded me of Havana – similar style buildings and lively vibe with people out in the streets and lots of music blasting out of bars and town squares.

In the afternoon we took our third flight to Lencois which is the gateway town to the Chapada Diamantina.   It’s in the middle of nowhere – perfect – and we were all super excited to finally be here.  We were warmly greeted by our trekking guide Tiago – another super cool Discover Adventure local staff member whose English is excellent.  We were all immediately impressed.  Straight away we drove to the edge of the Chapada Diamantina for a short walk up Father Ignacio’s hill.  It’s a short walk and a scramble up rocks but oh my goodness the views were breathtaking.  I have so been waiting for that view!

Deborah and JudithEven better we were able to watch the sunset which was spectacular.   All the tiredness melted away – I felt energised, excited and ready for the challenge ahead.  The day ended with a lunar eclipse… Wow!

The jetlag remains and I’m up early – 6am – and am delighted to be greeted by sunshine and incredible birdsong and glimpses of red and yellow plumage.  I feel so blessed to be here and experience this – even the nerves and tiredness.  So many of my patient buddies would love it here.  Somehow knowing that makes the whole experience more precious and intense.  Deborah and HelenI will do this for them because bowel cancer is a cruel indiscriminate disease and it’s time it was stopped for good.  So if you can please help by sponsoring Helen, Judith and me to fund bowel cancer research so we can find ways of identifying bowel cancer earlier when it’s most treatable.  It truly will help us save lives.

We leave Lencois today and will have our first full day of trekking in the Chapada Diamantina.  We are so ready.  Bring it on!

Click here for our JustGiving page.

Laughter and Tears at the 02

23 Jul

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*Fanfare of trumpets* We did it!

Today, Michael, Clare and I conquered the 02.  Of course like most things in life it was more scary thinking about it than actually doing it, but even in overcoming our fears of inadequacy there was a challenge.   I’m a firm believer that it is good to be challenged – I’m prepared to push myself outside of my comfort zone and try something new, because I’ve learnt by skydiving and trekking in China that it leads to the best memories and insight into yourself.

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Clare, Tony and Michael

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We started with inevitable photos – Clare had organised for Town Crier, Tony Appleton, to proclaim our challenge – he looked wonderful in his full regalia but my goodness his bell and cries are loud!  Then we had a short safety briefing – we were all a bit nervous at this stage as they talked about ropes and harnesses, wondering what on earth was ahead.

We then changed into our climb gear including our harnesses (what a look!) and it took me right back to my skydive with wonderful Nikki.

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Michael and I ready to go

Then we were taught how to use our safety harnesses and away we went.

Funnily enough the first bit is a steep ascent (where you can’t take photos because they want to sell them to you!) and looking up at it, I was transported back to China and actually that made me feel better.  Hey, if I could climb those steps on the Great Wall, I could definitely do this and I remembered that I learnt in China that looking at it was much worse than actually doing it!  In fact, whilst it is steep, it feels a bit like you are walking on a bouncy pillow which is a little weird but it was absolutely fine.

The views from the top were fantastic – it really is a wonderful panorama and thankfully the threatening storm clouds didn’t deliver any rain.o2 panorama

After a steep descent it was all over too soon, so we headed for a late lunch.

Of course much of our talk was about Lynda Bellingham, Michael’s wife, as he remembered all she went through and struggles with his grief, which is still so raw.   I am truly grateful for his support for Bowel Cancer UK – he is genuinely helpful and generous with his time and that is exactly what we need.  Now we need more people like Michael to step up and help us stop this dreadful disease.

We also talked about Clare’s Mother Ann, currently in active treatment for advanced cancer.  Clare’s love for her mother is quite wonderful and I hope my own daughter will feel like that about me too when she is grown.  I’m sure Ann must feel very proud, as she has a beautiful, funny, generous daughter in Clare and we are blessed that she has chosen to support us.  Of course both Michael and I have everything crossed for Ann’s next scan.

For many people challenges like this are a piece of cake but if they aren’t your thing then the challenge is real.  So I feel proud of us.   I have enjoyed  laughter and tears with two wonderful people, started my fundraising and maybe even helped raise some awareness.  A good day.  Now for the next challenge…..

For more information about Bowel Cancer UK, please visit our website.

To sponsor me, please visit www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina4 or TEXT STOP 68 £5/10 to 70070

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It’s all about people

23 Jul
The 02 Arena

The O2 Arena

I’ve definitely lost the plot this time.  I’m climbing up onto the roof of the 02 arena today.  I mean really – I’m 46 years old and didn’t dream of doing this kind of stuff even when I was 26.  I’m not sure what worries me most – the fact that I get horrifically dizzy looking up (weird) or the dreaded boiler suit (wish I’d started my diet earlier – I know outrageous vanity!).

But how could I not take part, when awesome charity supporter Clare Madden is taking on this challenge to raise funds and awareness because her Mum was recently diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer and our lovely patron Michael Pattemore is also prepared to take on the challenge in memory of his wife, Lynda Bellingham.  Bless them both.

It’s almost exactly six years ago that I became CEO of Bowel Cancer UK and I’m as passionate and committed now to saving lives from bowel cancer as I was then.  It’s been a tumultuous six years – full of amazing highs and some rotten lows but I feel so proud of my colleagues at Bowel Cancer UK because as a team we are doing some brilliant work and we know we are making positive change happen.  But I’m not happy yet.  I want us to do more – I want us to Stop bowel cancer for good.

I started taking on fundraising challenges of my own for two reasons:

  1. I am genuinely moved and humbled by the things people, who are often closely affected by bowel cancer, do to support Bowel Cancer UK and so I feel I must also push myself, go out of my comfort zone and in solidarity join them in raising funds so the charity can have even more impact. So over the next few months I am taking on 3 challenges, climbing the 02 Dome today, a 20k London Bridges Walk in September and another trek from the 26th September – apparently tougher than the Great Wall challenge – this time in Brazil.
  1. Because I am tired of feeling impotent and unable to do enough to stop people dying of this treatable disease. After all since I joined Bowel Cancer UK, seven years ago, around 112,000 people have died because of bowel cancer.  It’s so large a number it’s not quite imaginable but we must…

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…Because it is all about people including all these dear friends who we have so tragically lost.

Whilst we know that bowel cancer can be cured and early diagnosis is the key, what it more difficult is detecting people early.  Symptoms can be vague, the current screening test too blunt (which is why we must move to Faecal Immunochemical Testing in all 4 UK nations ASAP) and patient and clinical delays lead to poorer outcomes.

We also don’t know enough about who is most at risk – we know about some broad groups – people with known genetic conditions such as HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome or Familial adenomatous polyposis, people with a strong family history or who have had an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) for over ten years but we don’t know exactly who amongst those groups will develop bowel cancer.

Many people at high risk present young hence why we’ve been talking about them a lot as part of our Never Too Young campaign but it cross cuts age.  If we could get better at identifying people with increased familial risk for example or who with an IBD might develop bowel cancer then we could ensure they are effectively screened so it is prevented or diagnosed early.  It’s research linked to solving big issues like these, that I am fundraising for.  We hope to launch our first grants round in 2016 themed around issues related to Never Too Young. solidarity

However, we need to raise funds to make this happen, so I’m fundraising again.  It would be simply awesome if you could sponsor me or take on a challenge yourself, or hold a coffee morning or just ask your friends to donate.  If we join together and take action, I genuinely believe, in time, we will Stop Bowel Cancer.

And for that hope, today, I will happily don the dreaded boiler suit and harnesses and conquer that dome!

To donate please go to: www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina4 or Text STOP68 £5 / £10 to 70070

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Challenges and reflections

29 Oct

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So I’ve been back from China for almost a week and my brain is finally beginning to feel less addled by jetlag and the hour change and it’s certainly good to be home.  My daughter is delighted by her panda bear toy so all is well and I’m almost forgiven for going!

I left my blog rather abruptly to go off to a celebration meal on completing the trek and then took to the tourist trail, spending a couple of days in both Beijing and Xi’an where I visited the Terracotta Army, Terracotta armyinspired, as I mentioned in an earlier post, by my patient friend Gail.  I’m pleased I spent the extra days as it gave me a greater insight into China and its contrasts.  It truly is a fascinating country and culture.

It’s also given me time to reflect on the trek.  I freely admit I was terrified before going – of failure I guess and my lack of time for preparation definitely didn’t help.   My lovely husband stoically put up with the tears and traumas and thankfully once I was at the airport I began to feel calmer and embraced the challenge more positively.

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That’s me in green! That was seriously steep.

I realise that must sound pretty pathetic but as I noted back in August, I’ve a had a mild phobia of physical challenges since my school days and my life is a bit mad after all, juggling a full on job, long commutes and my most important role as a Mum.  I guess taking on the trek reminded me what a fine tightrope I walk in my day to day life.  So who would have thought that today I would be able to say I loved it.  In fact, I loved every moment of it – even the really challenging bits.

pressing the limitsMy lovely bowel cancer survivor friend Fiona was a particular star in the run up, helping me to fundraise by personally donating, baking cakes to sell and doing an office collection.  She predicted the challenge I felt would make it more worthwhile in this picture she sent to me.  I held onto that thought before I went.  Thank you Fiona, you were right!

So what was so great about it?  Well it proved yet again that if I dig deep and hold my nerve I can extend my comfort zone and it does make the achievement sweeter.   I wasn’t sure I could manage the steep climbs but thanks to will power and focus I did and the views were an awesome reward.   In some places the mountains seemed to go on forever and the sheer scale and beauty of our surroundings was inspiring.  Trek 15 mountains trek 10 I’m now determined to hold onto the feeling of an endorphin fuelled buzz after a tough physical challenge and try and incorporate it into my normal life.  I’m not great at ‘me time’ but I am now hoping to join a local trekking group in the Cotswolds as I think the  benefits to my physical and mental health outweigh the downsides of time away from home.  I am even seriously thinking about doing another trek – I didn’t predict that I would catch that particular bug!

I think it was also great because whilst I didn’t raise as much money as I originally hoped (but I’m still working on that) I did raise some new funds for the charity and we’ve benefitted from some extra media coverage, which all helps to raise awareness.  I’ve also felt blessed by the tremendous support I’ve had from my friends, family, colleagues and my lovely online buddies.  So many people have been incredibly generous with their support and a few have even given multiple donations and I have found that humbling.  Thank you so much to everyone who has donated.

At a time when so many of my patient friends are having a tough time, going through  gruelling treatment, the fact that they still took time to cheer me on across the twittersphere was incredible.   I definitely carried thoughts of them and many we have lost, throughout the trek.

Of course whilst I was away there was the sad news about the death of Lynda Bellingham.  Yet another reminder that there is much to be done and why Bowel Cancer UK’ s Time for Guts campaign is so important.  People continue to die needlessly and I firmly believe its time it stopped.  I hope more than anything that my trek will encourage others to take action too and help us raise further funds and awareness because after all, no one individual or organisation can make the change we need but together we can.

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If bowel cancer has affected you or someone you love please don’t be a bystander, take action, get involved.  With focus and determination, together we really can save lives.

I hope you have enjoyed the pics and of course it’s still not too late to donate!

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

or Text GUTS72 £5 or £10 to 70070.

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#Ihaveguts

17 Oct

Deborah #IhavegutsWoo hoo I did it! I completed my trek on the Great Wall of China and I’m elated and sad all at the same time.

Great Wall final dayWe set off for our trek around 7.45 this morning and drove for about 90 minutes to the Juyongguan Pass which is closer to Beijing. Alan, our Chinese guide, warned us to expect more people and he wasn’t wrong. Coach loads of Chinese tourists were climbing the Wall, although thankfully mostly on the other side to us.

The scenery was dramatic with mountains all around but we’ve all been spoilt by the peace and tranquillity of the remote places we have visited and actually seen very few people or cars. Here in stark contrast, wherever you went, you could hear the hum of the busy road that cut through the valley.

The Wall was lovely as ever and of course we were instantly challenged to a steep climb. I’ve got to be honest – it was steep but a delight after yesterday!

We walked for a couple of hours only today, which felt too short for me. I would have liked to be back in Jinshanling with mountains stretching all around me. Of course, the purpose of today’s walk was for closure and to finish with a celebration. So after the trek, we all walked as a group off the Wall where Jen and Mark (our Discover Adventure trek leaders) were waiting with bottles of Chinese fizz. There was happiness and tears.

Great Wall Trek groupIt’s been an incredible challenge and for some of the group it’s been harder mentally and physically than others. The group has ranged in age from 21 – early 50s yet we’ve bonded well and also found our comfort points within the group. I’ve been particularly impressed with some of the younger members of our group. There are a few who have barely travelled, have struggled physically and felt homesick, and yet here they are completing this amazing challenge. I’m in sheer admiration of their achievements. Fantastic.

Deborah trek shirtAfter the trek we drove back towards Beijing and stopped briefly in a silk factory and museum which was interesting and then went on to have a foot massage. It was great, but oh my goodness it was so painful. I think my masseuse found every aching muscle in my feet and legs and there were a lot of them! I’m sure it will help in the long term.

We are off out now for our celebration meal as a group. Tomorrow we have a day exploring Beijing. Will write more then.

Happy weekend all.

Please sponsor me: www.justgiving/deborahalsina1

Mutianyu Great Wall

17 Oct

Great Wall long stepsI woke feel a bit ropey this morning. We’ve been eating really well, lots of gorgeous fresh Chinese food but yesterday it was a bit greasier… who knows what caused it but I really wasn’t sure which way the day would go so decided a long walk would sort me out one way or another 🙂

From the outset at around 9am it was hot and we had to walk from our hotel at the bottom of the valley up to the Great Wall. Oh my goodness, it looked high and far away, and for the next couple of hours at least we walked uphill.  We started on the road for what felt like an eternity. It was terribly hot, pretty steep and there were times when I felt dreadful. I tried to keep up with my normal walking buddies but kept slipping back. I couldn’t quite work out why it was such hard work. At the top of the road we were finally at the foot of the hill and started zig-zagging up the paths to the top. Bizarrely this instantly felt easier – in part because we were walking through trees.

As we finally climbed the steps onto the Great Wall we met some other tourists who looked at us with great surprise and admiration and said “Have you really just walked all the way up?”. We were all suddenly superheroes and the exhaustion of the climb was behind us. They had come up on the cable car (if only I’d known there was one!!). I suddenly realised I felt better, so the steep arduous climb had indeed sorted me out.

At the Wall we had a choice – either a couple of hours extension walk or waiting whilst the back of the group caught up and just chilling until those on the extension walk came back. So of course in the spirit of the challenge I signed up for the extension walk.

Deborah #ihaveguts stepsI think yesterday I said it was the steepest toughest climbs we had done. Well scratch that, it was today! 500+ incredibly steep steps below the first watch tower which were extremely daunting to look at but in fact were better once you were doing it. I cannot believe how far I’ve come over these last few months of training and trekking. Just a few months ago there was no way I could have climbed those stairs and smiled at the top, but today I did!

We then went on and did another four similar watchtower climbs. Only a small group of us went the full distance but we were buzzing from the sheer hard work, sense of achievement and awesome views.

Once we re-joined the group we all walked along the Wall for the descent, but, of course, there were a few final twists.  In fact before we could go down we had to go up so we were back climbing in 80 degree heat.  Eventually we had three options – we could walk down, go by cable car or toboggan. Personally I liked the walking option but everyone else wanted to toboggan (why??) so I decided to face my fears and join them. After all I’ve jumped out of a plane; surely it couldn’t be worse than that!

Great Wall viewFor surreal experiences, it was quite hard to beat… Tobogganing 2km downhill in 80 degree heat with the Great Wall towering above you is something I will always remember. But I’m such a wimp, I’d quite like to have taken it steadily but could hear group members whooping with delight behind me, itching to go faster, so I did my best to speed up and was delighted when I finally reached the bottom.  After that and the exhausting trek I feel a sense of achievement today. I have definitely pushed myself very hard and been pleased that both my mind and body have risen to the challenge.

Sadly tomorrow is our last day on the Great Wall. We will only walk for a couple of hours before taking our final group pictures and heading back to Beijing for the next couple of days. I’m pining already for the views.

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