It was terrifying sitting in that small smoked out room under a cloud of thick cigar smoke from the Chinese authorities who puffed away in the early hours of the morning, well before the sun even came up. All I could concentrate on was how the rest of my life would be played out in an Asian prison. That measly 2 hours seemed like 2 days as I shook back and forward in the corner freezing my ass of and coughing my lungs up thanks to the rent a cop / wanna be big shot security guards smoking away.
How did I even get here I thought. Oh yea that’s right I wasn’t thinking clearly at all!
Or was I? I had just embarked on a 5-day solo hike across the Great Wall of China. What I didn’t realize was that the Great Wall of China was in worse condition than I imagined, even after all the research I did. I knew there are only a few sections open to the public. However, it’s hard to find much information on it or to even get a proper map of the Great Wall of China. I had even e-mailed certain people looking for answers. As an explorer (amateur one at that) I believed I could muster my way past the broken sections and continue through with a bit of dedication. However what I didn’t know is I would be far from completing this ambiguous hike especially doing it solo over 5 days.
Sunset over the Great Wall
Jinshanling being the section of the Great Wall of China where people have been known to sleep overnight is where I tried to visit initially, until I realized it was closed when the busses didn’t come and then the locals told me it was closed. But hey if at first you don’t succeed try again. Well that’s my motto anyways.
So I lowered the bar and went to a more accessible area of the wall where I could walk on and walk off as I pleased as I was far from finding a lending hand for directions from the locals as my Chinese is nonexistent.
Great Wall of China
I knew maybe I couldn’t stay on this part of the wall, but never the less I wanted to try. After all I wanted that sunrise shot as I woke up on the Great Wall of China. I had it all sussed, I camped out and waited until the security did their final checkout of the wall before it closed for the day. I then found myself a nice quiet spot to bunker down and catch some sleep. My alarm was set for 5am, well before the sun rose and then unknown to me the security decided to do another check of the wall.
Little did I know they would close in on me at 4.30am just half an hour before I was to slip away to find a quiet hiding spot. Dang! That was it, I was busted. I got up, put on some extra clothes, stuffed the gear into my backpack and darted down the stairs in pitch darkens with nothing but a head lamp guiding my way as I hectically bolted down the wall. I was thinking, yep I got this, I’m out of here, I was so far in front of the security guards. I am no hero, but my fitness levels were exceedingly good at this point in time and then bamm, I missed a step and fell ass over tit jamming my knee into the crevice of another step. Ahh yep that hurt . . . next step, for me, JAIL.
At first the security stood over me as I got up and they then lead me down the path. The Chinese security seemed quite friendly at first, just having a giggle and what not, probably at my ambitious dart down the steep steps. It wasn’t until they lead me into this room where I thought, “Ok here is where my life ends”. I was greeted by the big wig, he was not at all impressed and I was about to get my ass handed to me.
Taking a rest on the Great Wall
Best case scenario here, a US$1000 dollar fine and visa removal, and worst case, a very sore bum in a Chinese prison for the rest of my life.
I couldn’t help but sit there pessimistically re-enacting how the remainder of my life would pan out stuck in an Asian prison. Maybe I had a few years before some of the super infectious diseases won the battle for my body. With my wheat allergy (Coeliac disease) and zero Chinese to explain why I was not able to eat bread, I could be done within the year.
I sat tight as various marshals came in and decided to scope me out and ponder what to do with me. I was asked to stand up or shuffle over closer to the light so each of them could take my mug shot on their cell phones. I couldn’t gesture no, as what was I to do, get made and be put violently under the light. It wasn’t cool although was it? They had my mug shot and that could reach the papers to where hopefully my family would see it was me, I was the idiotic tourist in China who played up and ended up in an Asian jail, maybe they could then look into the matter and come to my rescue. Or I am sure a white mans organs will sell quite well on the black market in China, my body could actually be a great investment to them. Now that is a scary thought.
Sunrise on among the shrubs hiking to the Great Wall post escape
After a long time, lots of officers and many phone calls, they lead me to a van, they were going to drive me somewhere. I sat in the van with my backpack in front of me ready to bail. I kept gesturing with my hands for them to let me go, flee, get away, leave me alone sort of thing, it was really a cry for help. Eventually, after only a few hundred meters the van pulled up as the officers wanted to talk to someone in a flashy car, someone who looked important. This was it, my escape. I had my hand on my bag ready to kick the sliding door open a little wider and bolt off into the trees.
What was I thinking? I had a backpack and had to try and out run them, seriously Jaryd, can you do that? Maybe I could, but maybe I shouldn’t because of my injured leg. So I didn’t, I sat tight and hoped for the best, even though I had already accepted my fate. They started to drive on and stopped once more. “Please let this be my stop” I told myself. They got out and gestured for me to get out of the car and pointed towards the train tracks, signaling for me to go catch the next train and get the F@^k out of their sight. Pheeewwwww, what a relief that was. No Chinese prison. No fine. No beatings and I had been released. So happy and pleased, I stood out the front of the closed train station in the freezing cold, with the adrenalin still pulsating through my body as I high fived a few of the passengers waiting for the train as they knew what just happened. Until a whole 15 minutes later, when I set off again to hike another part of the wall.