Tag Archive for China

Discover the Great Wall – Revamped!

No we haven’t painted it cream, but we have switched up our Great Wall itinerary in order to ensure it’s more challenging, more responsible and even more interesting whilst avoiding the overcrowded tourist areas to showcase the very BEST of the Great Wall!

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To those of you who have been following Charity Challenge for a while, you will know that our Great Wall itinerary is one of our oldest, but most popular, treks. In recent years we have seen many renovations and improvements to the structure of the Wall, as well as the addition of toilets, shops and other modern amenities (of dubious quality it has to be said!!). The knock on effect of these renovations has meant that certain areas of the Wall around Beijing are becoming very touristy, mainly Chinese tourists who want to see their beautiful country. It also means that some days of our current challenge have become a lot easier, with people knocking off as much as 2 hours in their completion… not ideal for a Charity Challenge!

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So for the last 6 months we have been looking into new areas of the Wall that could replace certain days in our current itinerary. This has been an exciting development and research phase, with our Senior Operations Manager, Carmel out in China this month with one of our groups, to inspect some of the amendments that we have already made.
The new areas are just as challenging, but quieter, more remote, and offer a more ‘authentic’ experience of China. So we hope you like them!!
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Huanghuacheng: The Huanghuacheng area of the Wall is new for 2015, and has replaced one of the other areas that was becoming a bit touristy. As one leader said it was like “Disneyland goes to China!” Huanghuacheng is possibly the most remote and rural part of the Wall in our new itinerary – you will find yourself scrambling up to the watchtowers across overgrown paths, crumbling, stony terrain and steep steps.

“It was totally amazing. Each day was so different in terms of scenery and terrain. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but loved every minute.”

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It has received rave reviews as ‘the most exciting day’. With many steep ascents and descents, it’s certainly a challenge but our participants are rewarded by the incredible scenery and the knowledge that you won’t see another soul!

“A truly amazing experience”

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Mutianyu: 2015 challengers are again the first to experience the change to the final day, at Mutianyu. When our 2014 groups trekked up the Heavenly Staircase to celebrate their achievement at the final watchtower, they were surprised to see another watchtower lurking on the horizon… this seemed a bit of a cop out to many of the group, who felt that there was still some of the climb left to do. They then turned around and trekked back down in the same way as they came, which, although an amazing achievement, seemed like a bit of an anticlimax. And that is alongside the rest of the tourists getting the cable car!! Now that the route up to this new watchtower has been repaired and inspected, we have been researching new ways to get there, and we are excited to be launching a complete route, which is set to be a spectacular improvement on the norm.

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The day now begins not at a busy carpark next to Subway, but at a remote village below the wall. You will trek for around 3 hours to reach the Wall itself, up a steep, narrow path amid the overgrowth, through which a watchtower looms about 200m above you in the distance. Comments from this year include ‘we’re not going up there, are we?!’… the watchtower actually represents the final climb and the pinnacle of the day, with a long (2.5 hr) trek down to the original carpark. After 3 hours of trekking amid the overgrowth, the views of the rest of the Wall stretching down in front of participants has provoked some emotional reactions… including a surprise proposal!!

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Carmel also went to discover a brand new section of the Wall in May, but has made the decision, as it stands, NOT to replace any of our current itinerary with that day, although it gives us options in the future when China becomes more and more visited by tourists.

“Life changing, after this trip I now feel there is nothing I cannot conquer. Bring on my next trip”

GreatWall8The itinerary as it stands provides an amazing overview of old and new, renovated and un-renovated, remote and touristed. We hope that this trek is one that will never get old, and to prove it here’s what they thought!

“It was an amazing adventure with an amazing team back in the UK and in China – Charity Challenge has done themselves proud again – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

Click here to discover the Great Wall!

 

Am I too old and unfit?

Am I too unfit blogAt Charity Challenge we are lucky enough to work with a huge variety of people and often get asked questions regarding age and fitness levels, so when 55 year old cancer survivor Jackie asked if she was fit enough to do a challenge, we were inspired and overwhelmed by all your incredible stories and support. A huge thank you to everyone and to Jackie, we can’t wait to have you on a challenge with us soon, you are an inspiration.

Below is Jackie’s question and your fantastic replies: 

“I am so pleased I found your page and have been enjoying the info and stories – I am hoping for some advice from you – I am a 55 yr old cancer survivor who has been looking into doing a challenge, both from the “giving something back” angle and also to give myself a goal and some much needed motivation, however I worry about not keeping up with the rest of the groups – your pictures show fit looking thirty ish people and I wonder if you can offer any advice on this? I walk and cycle at present and would obviously train, but I worry about my age slowing me up! Ps I am 2 years post treatment Thank you in advance! Jackie “

Sally Wilson: I broke my back Jackie in 2008 and since then I have climbed Kili, run the London marathon, trekked to Machu Pichu and sled 220kms with husky doges. £50k is in the kitty for my charity Help for Heroes having met two soldiers who lost legs in Afghan. They remain my inspiration. So…. Take a deep breath, commit to a challenge. You will NEVER regret. As for being fit. The Charity Challenge family supports all abilities and none of them are races. By being at the back you can enjoy the scenery and the kettle is ready and boiled at the end of each day. Do it x Thanks to charity challenge I now concentrate on life’s positives. Thank you. Kili remains the greatest achievement in my life and I thank Hellen our leader for that.

Sally Wilson Gareth Smith: I am over weight and unfit and I was able to walk the Great Wall. Was tough don’t get me wrong but I did it. Gareth Smith2 Mark Barry: In January last year I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs, but in October climbed Kilimanjaro. I am 51. You have beaten off cancer so you can do it. You can check out a blog I wrote about my experience. There is plenty of text and photographs you can use or email me and I can send you some stuff. The link to my blog at http://marksptc.blogspot.com I am thinking of doing an update 6 months on as 5 of our group have stayed in touch and met up. I think it is an important part of the story if anyone undertakes a challenge.Mark Barry

Steve Bignell: Go for it,you don’t know what your capable of until you do it,cancer is the hardest thing your ever going to face

Jamie Foskett: Hi Jackie. Firstly I think this will be a walk in the park seeing what you have had to battle through . Massive congratulations on that and that shows you’re a true warrior.
If this helps, I know countless people similar to your age that perform marathons with myself, life doesn’t stop at 55. Age is just a number. Get training and show all of those 30 something’s up!

Sue Gray: I was 62 when I climbed Kilimanjaro with Charity Challenge, although not at the peak of my physical ability due to recent chemotherapy, my team encouraged me all the way. That was nearly 3 years ago and the majority of my fellow climbers are still in touch with each other and have regular get togethers. Definitely go for it – I did and never regretted it!

Sue Gray

Christine Kelly: I was 51 when I did my trek and not that fit having beaten breast cancer. It was the best experience in the World.

Hilary Banks: I was 54 and just a few years earlier had a major stroke which left me disabled for a couple of years. I signed up for the same reasons as you are thinking – to raise money for the Stroke Assn and as a personal goal to work towards. I decided to do the Sumatra Jungle challenge. I was in a fantastic group of ladies (nicknamed by our guide Sunarto Kinol as The Tigers!) and with one exception we were all over 50 – the oldest being in her late 70’s. Yes it was hard work, but it’s not called a challenge for nothing! The thing is that everyone wants you to succeed and so you get the most fabulous encouragement and support throughout, both from your team members and the guide team. Take the plunge, you won’t regret it and it’s a huge sense of achievement…

Hilary Banks & Christine Kelly - Sumatra! Chris Robinson: I was nearly 64 on my first challenge and last year at 67 cycled over the Andes (though wasn’t 100% fit following an operation). Intend to do a cycle challenge again next year – when I’ll be in my 70th year. Do it Jackie and prove cancer didn’t beat you!

Moyra Mcglynn: I have done 2 trips with charity challenge … My first age 52 and second aged 56. The support you get from the other people with you and the organisers is incredible I am hoping to do one more before I am 60. You go girl. Both my experiences were nothing but exhilarating and the camaraderie was heartwarming and restores your faith in human nature x

Brian Palmer: Hi Jackie, I’m 66 and not exactly an athlete I have done SEVEN challenges with CC every single one has been fantastic. Rest assured the challenge leaders never set a pace that can’t be managed by all in the group and the support by the local team and doctor is always superb. Just make sure that you are able to walk all morning, 3 or 4 hours (with breaks) and another 3 or 4 hours after lunch. Stamina is the key not speed. Take my advice, go for it Brian Palmer - Stok Kangri Lesley Weeks Jackie…I did my first challenge aged 50, overweight and not very fit, I have since done another three, with each one getting a little fitter but not thinner  Don’t worry about it, Charity Challenge are brilliant at looking after you but not smothering you, there will be some sort of back up transport, jeep, car or horse if you really can’t manage it at any time. I would suggest something not too mountainous and walk it. If you are at the back of the group don’t worry about that either as as the week will go on the group at the back gets bigger and remember it’s not a race, you go at your own pace. Good luck and let us know what you decide.

Lesley-Weeks

Fiona Scragg: Hi Jackie, I did my first challenge when I was 45, unfit and overweight. I was even scared abot getting across London on my own to meet my group at Gatwick. 5 years on I have just entered the ballot for the 2016 London marathon. Go for it. You never regret what you have tried only what you have missed. xx

Rachel Walker: Hi Jackie, I am a soon to be 40 year old of just above average fitness I would say, and in September I am taking part in the Stok Kangri summit trek in India for the NSPCC. This will be my 6th overseas challenge with Charity Challenge and I can’t recommend them enough. They are truly life changing and you get to meet life long friends. My 1st trek was the Inca Trail which I did in 2005 with my Mum who was 68 at the time. She led our group over the highest part of the trek as the last thing you want to do at altitude is go fast! I’ve also done Everest Base Camp with a 64 year old (he had no problems) the human body is capable of so much! I would say get booking, you certainly won’t regret it!! Rachel xxxx

Sarah Kelly: And you’re always looked after too- it’s a group and everyone encourages each other – you will be fine x

Katherine Irvine: Ditto to all above and what Sarah Kelly said – like minded people who all look out for one another on the challenges. If someone is struggling a bit then it’s okay as everyone has those days – that’s what a challenge is all about. Arrive at the airport as strangers, but friendships are forged by the time the challenge starts. We all get each other through it! And the challenge leaders both from Charity Challenge and the local tour leaders really look out for us all, regardless of fitness or age!

Katherine Irvine
Iona Nelson: I did the Everest Base Camp challenge in March/April this year and we had a range on our group: from 22 right up to mid 50s! There was a massive difference in ability too, but the guides and sherpas always made sure the people at the back had someone with them, and spread themselves throughout the group to make sure everyone was alright. Everyone did really well, some.not making it due to altitude sickness (which has nothing to do with age or fitness), but everyone did really well, young and old. The group supported each other the whole way through – it’s an incredible experience and you’ll make friends for life! Definitely go for it!

Iona Nelson Everest Base Camp
Wendy Mould: I did the ‘Great wall’ trek aged 48 and ‘The Machu Picchu’ trek aged 50. Both very different but equal in the fact that we went thr speed of the slowest person. I went with the attitude that if the slowest person was me then so be it because at least i was doing it. On both trips the “team spirit” was amazing as we we’re all there with a common goal to raise money. For the reasons you stated just go for it. Enjoy x

Trudi Clark: Charity Challenge are best choice for organisation, attention to detail and people’s needs. I’ve done Peru, Kili and Zambezi with them; where I had the privilege to meet two cancer survivors, no one ever slows the group up it is always at a pace to suit everyone. I must say I felt, especially with a special lady on Kilimanjaro trek, it was an honour to have shared the challenge with her. So go for it, you’ll love it (but do take plenty of baby wipes!).

Trudi Clark - Zambezi

Sue Youngman: I’d say probably not but you’ll never know just how much you can achieve unless you try. I was thinking similar thoughts this time last year when my friend Elaine Nicholas (58) was trying to convince me to sign up for Trek Cuba at the age of 63. I agreed, to celebrate my 10th anniversary of finishing treatment for breast cancer. Once signed up we followed the training schedule religiously to make sure we were the best we could be. We had an amazing time and taught the youngsters a thing or two. The picture says it all!

Trek Cuba - Sue Youngman

Jo Berridge: I’m a fairly unfit 30 something. On the 4 treks I’ve done I’ve been accompanied by several cancer survivors aged 30-60, my mum aged 67 came on my last one (and is coming on my next!) and the CC celebrity that Shirley (now aged 80 and having done ten treks I think!!) was also on the last one. The only person on the 4 treks I’ve done that really struggled was a 30 something who’d done no training. I promise that you will be fine but more importantly whichever challenge you pick you will love every second and probably end up addicted keep us posted please!! Xx

Jo Berridge - Machu PicchuElisabetta Maldini: I was an unfit 48 years old and managed to complete the Machu Picchu trek. The group, the guides and all the staff have been amazing all the way! I would recommend it xx

Anne Williamson: A challenge is not a race. You go on it for your own achievement and enjoyment . Enjoy.x

Anne-Marie Davies: No way – do it!

Marie Chaston

Marie Chaston: My dad went to China with my sister and I in April this year and he’s 70. He’s by no means a fitness freak and he was at the front or middle of the group. I don’t know about the other challenges but you will be fine on Great Wall. My sister and I were both over weight and did about 6 months walking and didn’t find it too hard. I’m sure if you already walk and cycle you would be fine. No one was ever rushed or felt like they couldn’t keep up. Charity challenge is a fantastic company and will look after you.

Marie Chaston's Dad - Dave Relph

Leah Hocking: My mum is this age suffers from Parkinsons and attempted the great Wall of China challenge. In the end it was too much for her to go with the main group, but the local guides martin and tony did a fabulous job arranging alternative routes and another local guide. She was disappointed not to do the full challenge but still had an amazing time and overcame a huge personal challenge. I’m a 20 something and not terribly fit and felt like I was dying once or twice but the team and Angela Gillespie our English guide got me through. Give it a try you’ll be fine!

Sharon Hartley: Jackie you survived cancer. You can do ANYTHING x

Katie Podgorski: Regardless of age, Jackie, you can do it.

Jackie Whalen: A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has commented on my question, I can see that I’ve come to the right organisation and I feel so inspired by your stories and support, I feel amongst friends already and now it’s just a question of choosing my challenge!

A huge thank you to Jackie and everyone that replied. Jackie, welcome to the Charity Challenge Family!

If all these incredible stories have inspired you to challenge yourself, why not take a look!

team-photo

Get through the Winter blues with £100 discount off the deposit on our spring departures!

We’ve had a great summer this year and although we’ve been promised a heat wave this month, Autumn and Winter are slowly creeping up on us.

The first few months of the year always seems to be the slowest and hardest months to get through, so we’ve decided to give you something to look forward to.

The majority of our departures between January and May now have a £100 discount off of the deposit!*

This includes:

Book on any one of these challenges by quoting BLUES and get a £100 discount off of the deposit* and have something to help motivate you through the winter blues. Offer ends 31/10/2014.**

We know that some of you have been let down by Student Adventures and are now looking for alternative challenges, hopefully you can take advantage of our current special offers.

Don’t forget, we’re still celebrating Pachamama in Peru and the Moon Festival in China and are giving £100 off all 2015 China and Peru challenges! Make sure you book soon (quote promotional code PERU when booking on a Peru challenge or MOON when booking on a challenge in China), as this offer expires on the 31/10/14!

If you have any questions about any of our challenges, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Kind regards

Firdous
Marketing Manager

T: +44 (0)208 346 0500 | E: info@charitychallenge.com | W: www.charitychallenge.com

*One promotion can only be used at any one time.

**Subject to flight availability

In China we say Ni Hao

Emotional goodbyes at terminal 5; Mums, Dads and friends not lucky enough to be coming with us. Ten hours on a plane is long enough to send anyone doolally, but British airways do their best to ease the pain. We stumble off the plane at 2am London time like zombies, heading for a new adventure. Stomachs are tense, eyes are bleary, minds are jittery. All soon put at ease by our local guides, Jason and Ming; no, sorry, ‘Tony’.

We learn that ‘in china we say Ni Hao’. ‘Ni Hao Jason’; ‘Ni Hao Tony’.

Head straight to Beijing Olympic park for a warm-up walk. Lots of familiar buildings, bird’s nest and water cube, plus a new tower under construction which apparently will be Beijing’s highest tea house. Yet, as always in China, it seems that we are the attraction – the Chinese delight in our presence; waving, smiling and shyly taking opportunities to say hello. The only ones not interested are the kids, fiercely coddled by their mothers and forever scowling.

The weather is muggy, and you can’t help but wonder if this is the result of rapid, coal fired in-dustrialisation. A quick lunch at a nearby restaurant where everyone falls asleep in their soup, and then onto the bus for the journey out of Beijing. Suicidal traffic manoeuvres are glimpsed through heavy eyelids, though our driver, Master Jung (for ‘he has the skills of a shaolin master’) seems to have it all under control. His wrath is reserved for fools who dawdle in his lane in their blinged up BMW’s as he sticks religiously to the speed limit, flashing his lights at them repeatedly.

‘Impression lodge’ has a warm welcome, though favourable impressions are reserved until after dinner, which is an excellent buffet (they even throw in some chips to spoil us). We celebrate Tamara’s birthday, there is cake, drunken Chinese businessmen proposing toasts, and a round of beers outside to finish us off. Day one complete!

‘Black Dragon Pools…and the steps begin!!’

It’s a jolly morning; everyone is eager for their first day’s trekking and glad of a proper sleep. Most eager and jolly is Dave, who managed to drink 10 beers last night; can’t work out if he’s jolly or still drunk, but that’s just Dave; a happy chappy to say the least 🙂 Master Jung navigates a short ride to Black Dragon Pools, the location for today’s trek. A lot of construction in and around the road, it seems the farmers in this area have found a new crop – tourists.

Jason has the mic for the journey, and we practice our new mandarin phrases – ‘Ding ding hao’ (very very good) rolls off the tongue with ease, the rest are quickly forgotten.

The Black Dragon Pools consist of a series of gorgeous natural pools and waterfalls in a gorge in the shadow of the great wall. This stunning natural wonder has been ‘enhanced’ by all the extras that Chinese tourists seem to want – giant rubby duckies, zorb balls, the latest hits blaring out of speakers hidden in rocks and numerous signs telling us what and what not to do. We ascend the steps at a decent pace, stopping to regroup occasionally and exchange pleasantries with local tourists, before reaching the temple at the top, whereupon we pass through a locked gate into an area marked ‘no visitors’. It soon becomes apparent that this sign is here as there isn’t really a path, and we scramble up quite a steep slope through overgrown jungle, the theme tune to Indiana Jones ringing in our ears. No drama though, and we soon reach a tarmac road where the going is a lot easier. No one seems quite sure why this road has been built, we only see one car on it during the next hour, which turns around and comes back to get a better look at us – there are also ominous big brother style cameras watching precisely nothing, well, except us. First views of the great wall – there’s an ancient watchtower overhead on a small hill with faint outlines of old wall snaking out along the ridgeline. We leave the road to scramble up to the watchtower and are rewarded with magnificent views down to the valley below; you can just make out the entrance to black dragon pools where we started many hours ago, and a river valley with fertile fields either side. There is a Chinese character carved into the field next to the river, which apparently says’ beautiful Great Wall’, though our guesses vary from ‘silly foreigners go home’ to ‘McDonalds next exit’. The scramble down from the watchtower makes the ascent seem like a doddle, as we hack our way through the jungle on a very indistinct track, following the path of the wall as it makes its way down the mountain. Sometimes we walk on sections of the old wall, which are very narrow in places and have rather alarming drop-offs on either side. You often lose sight of the person in front of you through the overgrowth and the silences are broken by blood-curdling screams – fortunately these are the result of an encounter with a nasty looking spider or centipede rather than anyone falling off the edge.

After 90 rather tense minutes we reach the bottom where Master Jung awaits us with the comfort of the bus. Back at impression lodge the staff out-do themselves, providing an excellent BBQ and a plentiful supply of cold beers to calm our nerves and reward our 1st day efforts. The night ends around a campfire in the courtyard, beers are flowing and the obligatory sounds of Gangnam style are on repeat. There may have even been a dance-off but hopefully that’s one video of this trip that will never see the light of day.

Day 2 done and dusted, an eventful and memorable introduction to the unpredictable nature of china and the spectacular scenery that awaits us on the great wall.

THE GREAT WALL

And so to the highlight of the trip, The Great Wall itself. There are still a few remnants of another boozy night but we set off in good spirits and jump on the bus to the sounds of Auld Lang Syne, which Impression Lodge have been playing on repeat for the past hour, perhaps to hurry us on our way, though Jason claims the Chinese version means ‘friends forever’; either way, we are sad to leave Impression behind as they have looked after us excellently and we will stay friends forever, at least in memory.

We reach the Gubeiko gateway, our entrance to the wall, and enjoy an enthusiastic warm up by Georgia and Elicia . Then the trekking begins, and it is a hot quick march up to the wall, which is not restored in this area and provides some exhilarating moments when you walk along narrow, crum-bling sections with drop-offs on either side. Those not wearing brown trousers soon are. Still, the views are absolutely magnificent as the wall snakes along endless mountains into the distance. This is the picture postcard image of the wall, the one google images offers you, the National Geo-graphic special, the money-shot. The haze has burnt off and it promises to be a hot and sunny day. We reach a restored section of the wall where the going is easier and the old watchtowers are re-stored to some of their former glory – they offer a welcome respite from the sun and we stop to lunch in one of them. Then the real fun begins as we have to meander off the wall and around a military base – this area is totally closed to the public so we take small village paths through corn fields and along ridges parallel to the wall. The scramble back up to the wall is slightly hairy as we negotiate a vertigo inducing narrow ledge with the wall on one side and nothing on the other – there’s only one way to fall and it doesn’t look pretty. Of course this is the moment Dr Fox chooses to call live from Magic FM for an interview with Denise, and I find myself running along the ledge with the phone in one hand and some-ones bag in the other. Being the pros that we are the interview is pulled off without a hitch and Denise is live on the radio from the Great Wall – a moment to remember. After climbing back onto the wall we proceed along a nicely restored section for another hour before reaching our destination for the night, Jinshanling. The Jinshanling Lodge is a large ramshackle place with lots of little courtyards which appear to be straight out of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’. We have a good feed at dinner although it doesn’t have the intimacy of Impression Lodge, toasts by drunken Chinese businessmen are swapped for toasts by other tour groups. After dinner Jason teaches us to write our names in Mandarin and threatens that there will be a test on this tomorrow night, which no-one is looking forward too. We then visit the paper-cutting family for a demonstration of this ancient Chinese art and everyone is suitably impressed to part with a few quid for a souvenir to take home. An early night tonight as it’s been a long hot day, even Dave lays off on the beers.

JINSHANLING LOOP

Another beautiful morning; not a cloud in the sky, just the ever present wall looming picturesquely overhead. Warm up duties today are performed in the shadow of the wall by the ever enthusiastic Dave; highlights include the funky chicken and pretend you’re a cow – perhaps not the most physiologically sound warm up, but very entertaining nonetheless. Being suitably enthused we send a group “Get Well Julie!” Message to Dave’s wife back home, who was meant to join us on the trek
this week but has stayed at home for more chemotherapy – just one of the many sad yet inspiring stories that have brought the group here and gelled them all together for this challenge.

We climb up to the wall and begin the now familiar pattern up ascending seemingly never-ending stairs and counting down watch-towers. Today’s total is 15 towers, which we can see snaking off over the mountains into the horizon. The sun is beating down and it is tough going on some sections, but if you can manage 100 odd stairs in one sitting, then you can manage this. And everyone here can manage 100 stairs, certainly when they are as driven towards fundraising for their charities as this lot. We reach the 15h tower and stop for a well deserved packed lunch – those of us who still have energy to burn decide to negotiate 3 final towers towards the closed off Simitai section of the Great Wall. This is a section of the wall that is closed off due to renovation and these towers are really hard to access so it is up to the fittest members of the group to take up the challenge for us – step forward Catherine and Clare who return after 30mins without even breaking a sweat.

We re-group and head down to the bus where the ever vigilant Master Jung awaits us to take us 2hours to our nights’ accommodation. We pass through a brand new town with mock European style townhouses, Dutch windmills, massive lake side villas and a huge egg shaped ho-tel/conference centre under construction. It all seems a bit bizarre to say the least, particularly when I learn that this massive building project throwing up a huge cloud of dust and pollutants is taking place here as it’s an area with ‘good air’.

Our lodge for the night is called Fairyland and has a large number of buildings dotted around a river in a gorge – quite a pretty setting. We explore the riverside decking which doubles as a bar, one of the restaurants where the food is decent and plentiful, and then on to the karaoke bar where the winners of the ‘write your name in Mandarin’ challenge are rewarded with a Charity Challenge buff and the losers are made into a karaoke team and perform a rather cringe worthy version of Fernando. Still, not as embarrassing as my version of Old Macdonald which warmed everyone up, but that’s another story…

HEAVENLY STAIRWAY

Today we tackle the most tourist friendly section of the wall at Mutianyu, and the much anticipated Heavenly Stairway. It lives up to expectation with loads of stalls selling souvenirs ranging from Obama t-shirts to cuddly pandas to chopsticks; we run the gauntlet and manage to hold on to all our cash as we have a mission to accomplish. There is a cable car leading up to the wall here, and a toboggan run leading down from it, but as usual we’re doing things the hard way, with nearly 1000 steps to ascend before we even reach the wall. Once on the wall it’s relatively easy going, and there are lots of tourists dressed accordingly in flip flops and skirts – we stamp our authority as hardcore trekkers with our walking poles and our boots. The path undulates along a few towers before the dreaded Heavenly Stairway comes into view – this is a continuous section of 300-400 steps leading straight up the mountain, seemingly into the heavens. It’s a steep climb and a challenge for all, but by this stage we’re old pros and we ascend with comparative ease to the sweating masses. At the top we have a round of high fives and a group photo, before heading back down, some of us braving the swaying cable car, others opting to rely on their own pistons. Our reward for the day’s efforts is a footlong Subway and a decent coffee before we jump on the bus and head to a jade factory to see what it’s all about…Well it appears the jade factory was all about making money – incredibly they had one piece on sale for $61,000, which not even Alan could afford. Still, a few trinkets were bought by a few of us and the tour made for an interesting diversion. We then made out way to our hotel for the night, Juyonngang Lodge, where the staff were rather mean and but the rooms were rather good so we forgave them for it. Jason scared us all at dinner with the briefing for tomorrow, which is apparently his least favourite day of the trek and involves a constant ascent. Sounds ominous.

BADALING

Badaling Badaling Bada-ling; it rolls off the tongue rather nicely don’t you think. Well, Badaling Old Section is the location for today’s trek, the final section of our adventure on the Great Wall. First, we have to find it, for the mists have closed in and it’s hard to see more than 20metres. Still, Master Jung has the skills and the instincts necessary for any bus driver, and finds his way to the wall (in all honesty, it’s very well signposted, even in English).

We stop for our tree planting ceremony, inspired by Chris Edwards, who’s planting a tree in memory of her late husband, Mick. 13 of us think this sounds like a nice idea, so we also opt to partake, some of us choosing to commemorate a loved one, some of us looking towards the future, such as Steph and Chris, our honeymooners. The mists are still swirling around us and it makes for an evocative and reflective atmosphere, very fitting.

Tree planting done and photos taken we make our way to the wall, for the beginning of our last ascent. Unfortunately Jason wasn’t fibbing, and we climb steadily for the duration of the morning. There are still mists all around and it’s easy to lose sight of the people in front of you as you naturally separate into small groups of similar ability. There is the sound of shouting and beating drums coming up from below which is easy to imagine is the sound of armies advancing on our wall, though Jason assures its office workers on a day out.

The mists clear as we ascend higher and the sun warms up and it turns into a beautiful last day on the wall. In these remote mountains the wall is not restored and it is easy to transport your imagination back centuries to when it was built. You can’t help wonder if all this effort was completely pointless; there’s no-one here to defend now, how many people must there have been when it was constructed millennia ago?! Still, it makes for very pretty trekking, and the deteriorated sections make a decent challenge for the final day’s trek. We reach the top at about midday to an enthusiastic series of high fives and a few emotional hugs and kisses – it’s been an incredible jour-ney for some of us to get this far, and I don’t have the prose to sum it up sufficiently, you’ll have to come yourself next year instead 😉

For more information on our Great Wall Discovery, please click here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Jo, our Ops Manager on jo@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Our Challenge Leader Penny Knight shares her experience with her Great Wall Trekkers April 2013

Before even meeting my great wall trekkers, I sensed a friendly, sociable and self motivated bunch as I approached the collection of people sprawled on the floor of Terminal 3 chatting excitedly.

As we trekked along the wall, climbing up steep ledges and clambering over broken stone steps, the real life stories started to emerge.  By the end of the trek, I realised that I had been incredibly privileged to spend such a memorable time with such an inspiring group.

Margaret, Kerri and Andy Chapman were a pleasure to spend time with, although I didn’t see much of them as they disappeared over the horizon! They had trained hard together prior to the challenge, were fit and driven, never failed to smile and effortlessly worked together as a family unit.

Edel McCaul and I walked together for much of the trek and my distraction tactics to encourage Edel up the numerous steps resulted in me discovering more and more about her astonishing story.  Edel was walking in memory of her beloved Grandfather who had died of cancer.  She had always felt a close bond with him and before he passed away she had vowed to do a challenge for him that took her out her comfort zone. After a selfless act whilst a teacher had resulted in an accident which left her in a wheelchair, Edel had worked on walking and then being able to get up a flight of steps. This challenge caused her severe pain in both knees but she remained determined throughout, conquering every step of her Great Wall Challenge.

Despite a heart condition, Marie (with her trusted colleague, Edel at her side) overcame many individual challenges, resulting often in tears which were instantly followed by laughter.  Marie had a naturally upbeat and jovial nature and nothing got her down for long.

Donna Freeman was another inspirational lady who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and had major surgery and after recovering from all of that, she was then told that it had failed and that she had only 6 months to live. Instead of giving up, she put her life and family in order, ensuring that they would be looked after in her absence and sorted all the practical aspects she could.  Out of the blue, Donna received the incredible news that there had been a mistake and that she was for now cured – she vowed to live life to the full.

Abbie Ross and James Dennis were the only couple on the trek and won everyone’s hearts in no time. They were just adorable together, always watching out for each other and showing a respect and mutual admiration to be envied in any relationship. At a colourful oriental temple perched on the side of the hill below Jinshanling, James got down on one knee and proposed to a tearful but ecstatic Abbie.

The school holidays seem to have bought an influx of teachers and nurses to this group and the pre- natal and maternity crowd from Bristol Hospital were excellent value on this trip.  Claire and Kirsty although challenged by the trek remained inseparable and their unique friendship gave them a strength as well as a much needed sense of humour in order to tackle the many hurdles. Kath, Paula, Hien and Sheena all completed the challenge even throwing in some energetic dance moves and high spirits at the top watchtower!

Emily, Michelle and Zahrah knew no-one else on the trek when they started but I feel certain that some lifelong friendships will have been made during the trip.  Emily was already well travelled and despite this being uncharacteristic of the rest of her family, she is driven by her motivation to raise money for Great Ormond Street Childrens Hospital and the bear came with us as support. The hospital has asked Emily to go up in person to have photo’s done when she donates the money.

Michelle never faltered. She was physically fit, determined and always positive bringing fun to every situation.  Her and Donna will remain strong friends after this trip, I suspect. I hope her dance students appreciate her dynamic personality.

Zahrah was such a strong character and we got to spend a great deal of time together.  Backed by her class with their notes and pictures to encourage her on, Zahrah refused to miss any part of the challenge even when she found it tough.  It seemed that the more I put her under pressure, the more she raised her game and we finished the trek below Badaling at a run.

Naomi, with her infectious laugh, was a naturally caring and giving member of the group who was often more than happy to chat at a slower pace with those at the back.  She has overcome her own health issues which no-one would ever have suspected.  Nothing Naomi did was ever about herself and she was invaluable to the team.  I understand that she and Joe will also be tying the knot before long and he is a lucky man.

I hope that this exceptional group will continue to inspire others as they have done me. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.

Penny

You can also find out more about our Great Wall Discovery by clicking here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Jo, our Ops Manager on jo@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Valentine’s Day all around the world

It’s that time of the year again! For many people, St Valentine’s day can feel monotonous and commercial, all fluffy pink love hearts and cherubs, and teenagers sending each other Justin Bieber themed E-cards! However, outside of the UK and the US, there are still places where the festival of love is celebrated in more traditional, unique and frankly bizarre ways! So if you’re looking for inspiration for new ways to mark the ‘day of lovers’, then read on…

Brazil
In Brazil, Valentine’s day is not traditionally celebrated on February 14th, since the nation is still in the throes of the Rio Carnival. Instead, they celebrate the “Dia dos Namoradas”, otherwise known as the “Day of Lovers” on June 12th, on this day a feast and parties are held to celebrate the patron saint of romance and matchmaking.

If your approach to St Valentines day mirrors Brazil’s work hard, party harder ethic, then you should check out our Brazil Trek and Kayak Challenge! This is one of our most unique and varied challenge – the combined elements of rainforest trekking and sea kayaking make this a very tough challenge! But on the completion of your challenge in Rio, you will definitely have reason to celebrate! And of course, what better place to celebrate with your Valentine than underneath a Rio sunset?

Romania
Romanians also don’t traditionally celebrate Valentine’s Day, they instead celebrate “Dragobete”, a more earthy rural festival on February 24th that denotes a celebration of lovers, spring and new life. It’s a day when traditionally “birds get betrothed” i.e. Start building their nests’, girls collect snow to melt for magic potions and children sing songs of spring. It is also said that if during a couple’s dance, one lover steps over the foot of another, then that lover will play the dominant role in the relationship! So if you’re planning on going out clubbing this evening to celebrate St Valentines, take note!

If you find these medieval notions of magic potions and rural living romantic, then you should defiantly check out our Trek Transylvania, where you and your beloved one could journey through rugged landscapes in a tough challenge that culminates in a visit to the enigmatic Dracula’s Castle.

China
China celebrates two Valentine’s Days, the first being the 14th of February St Valentines Day that we all know and love (or hate!). The second day of celebration of love is a little more unusual and falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This day – known as “Qi Xi” or “Magpie Festival” comes from a Chinese legend over 2000 years old – and is the ultimate story of star crossed lovers! Like all folk tales, there are many variations of the Qixi Festival legend, but the basic story is usually the same: Niulang – a cow herder, and Zhinv – a weaver girl who is also the daughter of the Goddess of Heavan, meet on earth and get married. When the Goddess discovers this she orders her daughter back to heaven. The cowherd followed her there and in anger the Goddess cuts a river into the sky – the Milky Way, thus separating the two lovers. But once a year, all the magpies of the world fly up to the Milky Way to bridge the river and allow the two lovers to meet.

To celebrate this day, lovers visit the Temple of the Matchmaker and pray for love, happiness, and marriage. Singles also visit the temple to ask for luck in love. It is also traditional for young girls to carve melons and offer up fruit to the deities on this day.

If legends of star crossed lovers inspire you, then take a look at our Great Wall Discovery Challenge, where you and your lover will have to overcome 1000s of steps to reach your destiny.

Sweden
In Scandinavia, couples here will exchange “lover’s cards” on February 14, and like us, indulge in the commercial St Valentines day. But they do have a poetic and quirky card tradition known as the “gaekkebrev”, whereby the man sending this special card will write a rhyme for the lady to whom he’s sending it, but instead of writing his name he will sign off with a dot for each letter of his name. The puzzle is then for the lady receiving the card to guess the name of the sender. If she can guess correctly, her prize will be an Easter egg at Easter. But if she doesn’t guess, she owes the sender an Easter egg instead!

If this puzzling addition to Valentine’s Day brings out your competitive side, then check out our Dog Sledding Challenge in Sweden, where you’ll need to figure out how to successfully drive your own team of huskies, mushing over 200kms through beautiful, frozen landscapes. And as our Swedish Ground handler Jordana puts it “What could be more romantic than cuddling together on reindeer pelts by open fire whilst hearing the sleddogs howl to the northern lights and full moon!”

So there really is 100 different words and ways to say “I love you!”

Here at charity challenge, we think there is nothing more romantic or love affirming than taking on a challenge of a lifetime together – supporting each other up the mountains, sleeping together under the stars, taking in the most beautiful views in the world! You can see the top 5 list of Charity Challenges most romantic challenges here.

To see the many other amazing challenges we offer, you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all Charity Challenge news, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Chinese New Year: Year of the Snake

Charity Challenge veteran team leader, Trevor Gibbs gives us his personal slant on the Chinese New…

A time for feasting, families and fun, the Chinese New Year is the longest and most important of China’s traditional holidays. Also known as the ‘Spring Festival’, the 15 day celebration ends on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which this year falls on the 10 February 2013. Celebrated in Chinese communities throughout the world, the new year festivities can trace their origins back to the legend of a voracious beast called the Nian, which once devoured livestock, crops and villagers across mainland China. In reality though, it is more likely that these colourful (and loud) celebrations evolved as a means of heralding the arrival of spring and the end of winter.

In Chinese communities across the world pigs, ducks, chickens and sweet delicacies are sacrificed  to a celebration of family, thanksgiving and reunion. The spirits of the ancestors, along with the living, are believed to come together as one great community on New Year’s Eve, to honour the past and the present. The Chinese probably consume more food during these New Year celebrations than at any other time of the year, with huge quantities of fish, dumplings, rice and vegetable cakes joining the feast. The abundance of food, the obligatory firecrackers and the fiery red lanterns that adorn every house are all believed to trace their origins back to the mythical legend of the ferocious Nian.

As you might expect with a people as traditional and superstitious as the Chinese, New Year brings with it many customs and taboos. Chinese houses should be cleaned before New Year’s Day, as it is believed that to clean or dust on the day itself could sweep good fortune away. All debts should be paid and nothing should be lent, and everyone is discouraged from using foul language or ‘unlucky’ words. Even crying is discouraged, as it is believed that if you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry throughout the year. This is particularly good news for unruly children, who tend to be tolerated by their long suffering parents for fear of burdening themselves with a snivelling offspring for the coming year. It is also believed that appearance and attitude during New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. Red is considered a particularly auspicious colour to wear and red envelopes, often filled with money, are given out to young and old alike.

Visually, Chinese New Year is a blaze of colour, with lanterns, flowers and decorations joining the exuberant displays of dragon dances, drums and clashing cymbals across the globe. It is also a time of hope for many Chinese, with the deafening pops of thousands of firecrackers driving away the evil spirits for another year. As the Chinese themselves say…迎春接福 (Yíngchúnjiēfú)

…“Greet the New Year and encounter happiness”

China is one of our most popular destinations and we have three fantastic challenges in which you can see the country. You can now trek, cycle and now even run and see China at its very best. Our challenges in China are:

Great Wall Discovery
Great Wall Cycle
Great Wall Run

To keep up to date on all Charity Challenge news, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

For more of Trevor’s view on the world, check out his blog at:

http://alizardwandering.wordpress.com/

<Images taken from Google>

Top 5 Romantic Challenges of 2012!

Happy Valentines Day everybody! In honour of St Valentine, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 most romantic challenges…

5) Etna Volcanic Adventure – coming in at number 5 is the Etna Volcanic Adventure, a challenge so hot that it’s literally bursting at the seams! (The last eruption was literally last week). With breath-taking scenery, real Italian Spaghetti, isolated shepherd huts in the wilderness and the chance to sleep under the stars, there was no way this challenge was not going to make the list! This long weekend challenge might not be as gruelling as some of our other challenges, but the fact that you need to carry sizeable rucksacks whilst trekking adds a whole new dimension to the trek (in fact, this is a perfect challenge to take your other half on, as you could do with someone to help you carry your bags!) Also this challenge is currently on special £75 promotion!

4) Great Wall Discovery – Anyone who’s seen the sun setting over the Great Wall will know why this challenge makes the list. It’s a truly unforgettable sight, especially if you have somebody to share it with. China is also the country steeped in myths and legends where beautiful Chinese lanterns light the sky. This challenge also has a £100 off offer running on it, and what makes a more romantic valentines gift than a discounted trek across one of the wonders of the world!

3) Kilimanjaro Summit Climb – On the surface this challenge may not seem as romantic as the previous two, but this is the challenge that has brought together the most couples out of our entire challenge catalogue! A few years back we even had a proposal at the summit of Kilimanjaro. And standing in footprints of past celebrities (Gary Barlow, Cheryl Cole and Chris Moyles to name but a few!), with the backdrop of a stunning African landscape and an inescapable long walk back down, you’re really not going to say no! Kilimanjaro is our most favoured challenge and we have various expedition dates throughout the year, click here to see them (note: all challenges with the red stars by them are currently on special promotion!)

2) Escambray Encounter – this is on the list for all the singletons out there, who are currently ripping petals of roses and ceremonially burning their ex’s stuff. We have it on good authority that our Escambray Encounter Trek is the ultimate challenge for people looking to have a fun trek. The city of Havana is alive at any time of day or night with music and street parties, the locals are friendly and there is even rumoured to be a free bar on offer to challengers once they’ve completed the gruelling trek! It’s not too late to sign up to our three current departure dates in November of this year and in 2013

1) Dog Sledding Challenge – This challenge had to be number one for so many reasons. As our Sweden Ground handler Jordana put it “What could be more romantic than cuddling together on reindeer pelts by open fire whilst hearing the sleddogs howl to the northern lights and full moon!” We simply couldn’t think of anything, which is why this challenge tops the list and gains the title of Valentines Challenge of 2012! So for the ultimate Valentines gesture, click here to view and book onto one of our upcoming Dog Sledding Challenges!

Welcome to the Chinese Year of the Dragon!

Just when you thought the hubbub of Christmas and New Year party season was over. Here we go again with yet another celebration! But this one has a slightly more oriental feel, as today sees in the first day of the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year, also known as ‘Spring Festival’, follows the lunar calendar. The origin of the festival can be traced back thousands of years through an evolving series of legends and traditions. One of the most famous legends is that of Nien, an extremely cruel and ferocious beast, which the Chinese believe, eats people on New Year’s Eve. To keep Nien away, red-paper couplets are pasted on doors, torches are lit, and firecrackers are set off throughout the night. Early the next morning, as feelings of triumph and renewal fill the air at successfully keeping Nien away for another year, the most popular greeting heard is kung-hsi, or “congratulations.”

Celebrations for this year’s Chinese New Year are particularly special, as we are entering the Year of the Dragon, which is a mighty and significantly symbolic creature in Chinese culture. Quite the opposite to the Nien and Western Dragon, the Chinese Dragon is a loving and benevolent creature. In ancient China, the celestial Dragon represented the emperor and power. Today, it is the ultimate auspicious symbol signifying success and happiness. It is even said that the mighty Dragon sent down his nine sons to help the first emperor of Ming Dynasty conquer China. These Dragons were invaluable to the emperor as they each had different attributes and appearances. For example, the second sons has large wings and is a strong warrior, and the seventh son has tusk-like teeth and seeks to uphold justice.  However, it is said that the Emperor found the nine sons such powerful allies that he decided to prevent their journey back to the skies by tricking them into spending eternity in China. Enraged by this, the nine sons decided to no longer to serve the emperor and instead turned evil!

Despite this rather unfortunate ending to the story, it seems China is still in awe of the nine sons, and they each play an important role in Chinese culture and architecture. For example, the image of the music loving first son can be found as a decoration for musical instrument, such as two-stringed bowed violin, and the image of the 5th son (who loves quiet and tranquillity) can often be seen on and around temples.

On our Great Wall Discovery and Cycle Challenges you have the opportunity to experience Chinese culture, and see the influence of the dragon and his nine sons first hand! The famous Forbidden City (which you have plenty of time to explore on both these challenges) is a whole world of dragons!  There are 19 dragons painted in gold on the throne, 79 carved in the folding screen behind the throne. Plus dragons carved in the golden table and other furniture, making a total of 590 dragons in the hall alone. Add on to that the 6 golden pillars swirled by dragons and the ceilings painted with golden dragons all around, and there are 40 doors in the hall and 5 wooden dragons on each door, which equal a massive 3, 504 dragons in total, which is only the tip of the iceberg  in regards to the Dragon’s influence and embodiment in China!

So if you’re interested in combining dragon hunting and exploring Chinese culture with exercising, raising money for charity, and frankly doing something incredible! Then click here to check out all available departure dates for our Great Wall Discovery and Great Wall Cycle challenges. For a taster of the spectacular Great Wall Discovery Challenge, click here to watch a video of the trek, filmed by China Operations Manager Jo last year.

To keep up to date on all our challenge news, subscribe to this blog and you can enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.