Our second day of trekking took us to the beautiful Black Dragon Paw National Park in Beijing Province. The Terminator started the day with one of his usual "light" warm up sessions, leaving us breathless and wondering if trekking could, really, be any worse than our morning gym sessions! Eager to get trekking, we started out past a few smallholdings where local subsistence farmers peered around the corn at the strange group of foreigners stomping past with their big boots and poles. Used to walking the terrain every day, the local Chinese were sometimes seen ambling up the hills that we found so difficult just in flimsy canvas shoes.
The sun came out for us on Day 2, illuminating the surrounding mountains just before we disappeared into the undergrowth. Several cries of "ooh, I feel like Indiana Jones" were heard as we battled through the overgrown path. Some parts were very steep and slippy, nothing to grip to but loose earth, needing our hands as well to scramble up. DP and the other guys were chivalrous in helping the ladies down the steep descents, and we reached our first stop quicker than expected at the mouth of the gorge that we would be descending the side of next. At the bottom of the descent we found what seemed like a popular destination for local families. There was a pool at the mouth of the cave with old truck tyres that had been turned into boats floating there for kids, and an ice cream stand. Chinese characters had been carved into the rock all along the side of the stream.
Finally, we had some reasonably flat walking along the side of the stream to our lunch stop for the day. There was a hairy moment for some when we had to come down a long metal ladder into a cave, and there were a few who had to put many fears aside to do it with the help of their comrades. The lunch stop was welcome relief - a mobile noodle kitchen this time, noodles and veg with a Chinese version of KFC. I don't think I have ever eaten so quickly in my life, as soon as I saw that food I realised just how hungry I was.
The afternoon was the piece de resistance . We had to climb up to a watchtower that used to be part of the Wall. We had noticed it on the way in, but not thought for a minute that we'd actually have to climb it! It was steep, tough and slippy in places, and considerate DP stayed with the back of the group to help a few of the less sure-footed up the steep bits bless him. The view was worth it, we could see for miles across the Hidden Dragon Valley and Crouching Tiger mountains, OK, so a lot of the scenery was sweetcorn fields, but they were Chinese sweetcorn fields, OK?
Strangely enough, the toughest part of the day was walking back down the road. The hot tarmac was unyielding on our already well worn feet, and the hot sun was unrelenting as there was no shade, unlike when we had been scrambling through the shade of the undergrowth or had the cool of the water nearby. It was also a very bad time for Beijing Belly to strike, and there being a choice between some dubious toilets at the end of the trek and some bushes, I opted for the bush. Having snuck off quietly, I managed to escape the humiliation of one of my trek buddies who "mistook" the shed for the toilets, and earned herself the nickname "Shitty Shed" for the rest of the trip. Thankfully she's a good humoured Geordie lass so took it all in her stride - and she might have been pointed in the, ahem, wrong direction, by one of her so-called trek buddies!
That night, we spent at the Longevity Travelling Palace just over the border in Hubei Province, which used to be a place of rest for the emperor and his entourage once. It was traditional, with proper kang beds, which looked very lovely but were, being made of concrete, not that comfortable. They told us in the olden days they used to have a fire burning underneath the kang to keep the bed's inhabitants warm, but as far as I could tell the only benefit to that would have been that while your bum might have been numb, at least it was warm. And the shower in this place at least worked. There was a 60th birthday that night in our group, another tooth-rottingly sweet Chinese cake, and of course, plenty more of that fabulous local beer.