A Global Citizen’s Log: Sleeping on the Great Wall of China

Last week I spent a night doing what few can ever say they’ve done: sleeping on the Great Wall of China.

Following a journey from Shanghai to Beijing, one highlight was stopping at the Silk Market for an opportunity to bargain-shop. Haggling for prices was quite the experience, and the money spent was well worth the fun. Another highlight was our visit to the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City. The part about China that really gets me is its age as a country. We were humbled by the sights of buildings that were twice as old as the United States, and signified a culture whose history far preceded even that.

As the afternoon drew to a close, we headed for the wall, about a 3 hours’ drive outside the city of Beijing. We arrived at a small village, enjoyed a delicious dinner, and prepared for the hike and compaing ahead. Hiked up to the wall at about 9 PM, the temperature was already below freezing and only getting colder. We were each geared up in about 15 articles of clothing to keep warm! We hiked vertically past a village, up into the mountains, on trails partly covered in snow. Midway through the journey, our tour guide stopped us and told us to turn off our flashlights and look up. Never have I ever seen so many stars in the night sky. Easily one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, a photograph could not have done it justice. It was at this point I knew the biting cold, even the numbness in my feet, was worth the experience.

Following a chilly night (to say the least), we woke up for a sunrise hike. I begrudgingly left my sleeping bag to find a nice dusting of snow had covered all of our gear overnight! Finishing breakfast and taking our first steps of the morning, it appeared we were the only people on the wall as far as we could see. We hiked up the mountains and found ourselves witnessing a beautiful, breathtaking view of the sunrise.

Hiking and camping the Great Wall is one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life. Something I can’t wait to tell my kids about one day. A sacrifice of comfort and sleep for something worth much more, I’m grateful we all stuck through it together. It was a perfect trip and a memory I’ll never forget.

Katie Norton is a sophomore at Chapman University , studying communication and sociology. She’s currently studying abroad on the SEMESTER AT SEA® program and traveled on GCT’s CHN02 trip in February 2012.

Trip Recap – 7 Highlights from our recent Amazon Adventure Cruise – Manaus, Brazil

Last month, 64 global citizens traveled on riverboats down the Amazon and Negro Rivers. Over the next few intense travel days the group experienced too much to cover in a quick blog post, but here are 7 of our favorite highlights!

1. Fishing for piranhas. Using sticks for poles, no bobbers, no lures and no sinkers, the group spent an afternoon pulling in some of the meanest looking fish on the planet. To attract the piranhas, guides instructed students to thrash their poles in the water before dropping their line in. Who knew? Thousands of piranhas surrounded the boats as we made sure to keep our fingers and toes inside of the boat.

2. Soccer match against the locals. When in Brazil, why not a little futbol? We organized a barefoot, 11 v 11 match against a local village on the river and spent the next couple of hours rooting each other on. After the dust settled and the locals had dribbled us in circles, the game ended in a 3-1 defeat. Without our goalie Deke, it could have been a lot worse! The game was interrupted at one point by a parrot flying down onto the field. Only in the Amazon.

3. Swimming with the pink river dolphins. On the third morning, the group woke up early to head to a part of the river frequented by wild pink river dolphins. After a few students at a time got into the water, the locals helped the group attract the dolphins in closer by slapping fish against the water. 6-8 dolphins (despite the occasional screech from a group member) surrounded the group, jumping in and out of the water.

4. Camping in the Rainforest. As it started to get dark on our first night, the group packed up their bags and headed into the rainforest for a campfire and an overnight. The guides prepared barbequed chicken and sausages over the fire as Jordan and some of the others played some sing-alongs on guitar and had drinks. Some new mosquito nets pre-sprayed with Deet caused a small scare, but the group was tough and came out of it with a great story. The whole night was an experience we won’t soon forget.

5. Hiking to the Waterfalls. The morning after camping in the rainforest, the group set off on a long hike learning about the medicinal plants and different animals that are unique to the Amazon. Our final destination was to a set of small waterfalls where the group enjoyed cooling off after the hike. When we were almost back to the boats on the hike back, the group experienced their first Amazon downpour – with arms out and heads to the sky we got back on the boat and went on our way.

6. Caiman (Alligator) Spotting. Using canoes, the group headed out at night with our guides to find and catch caimans with their bare hands. With one guide in the back and one in the front with a flashlight, the boat would sneak up on the alligators and quickly bring them into the boat while holding them tightly. Although the caimans weren’t enormous, they didn’t look too happy with us! After a few pictures, we let them get back to their life in the Amazon.

7. Indigenous Village. On our last morning, the group made one last stop at an indigenous village before heading back to Manaus. The villagers showed the students some of their traditional rituals and dances and even got the group doing some of the dances with them. Some of the younger girls in the village painted our group’s faces before we said our goodbyes and made our last trek down the river towards port.

Cam Braddock is the director of business development for Global Citizens Travel. Cam studied abroad in Australia as an undergraduate and has traveled the world with GCT since. If you have questions for Cam, you can reach him at cam@globalcitizenstravel.com.

A Closer Look at Spring 2013, Part III: South Africa, Ghana, Morocco

In the final part of this three-part series, we take a look at our upcoming Spring trips in Africa! From a game drive safari in South Africa to the rolling dunes of the Sahara Desert, GCT travelers are leaving their mark.

South Africa

Talk about a #bucketlist… it’s not complete without an African safari at Kruger National Park. You may be asking, “What makes GCT’s safari different? Why Kruger rather than another park closer to Cape Town? Someone mentioned a cheaper safari down the road…” Stop right there. Although we could go on and on, we’ll give you 3 quick reasons:

  1. Guides. We have the best in the entire park, hands down. Featured on YouTube’s famous “Battle at Kruger,” our guides are some of the most well-respected and experienced in the industry. Not only do they know how to find the animals (and everything about them) but also throughout the trip they’ll be cooking delicious South African meals for you!
  2. Authenticity. We use small vehicles during the day so we can venture off the beaten path—areas larger vehicles can’t get into. Furthermore, we plan a bush walk so you can get out of the vehicle and go eye-to-eye with animals you’ve only seen in Lion King. Then, a night drive so you get to see lions, hyenas, and hippos at times they’re most likely to be on the move. To top it off, you’ll stay at lodges inside Kruger, near a watering hole, so you can hear the animals at night. This is the best of the best, from start to finish!
  3. Kruger, is Kruger. There truly is no substitute in the surrounding area that would deliver an experience like Kruger’s. We tell students all the time: If you can’t swing Kruger for whatever reason, don’t try to substitute it with a cheaper safari. This itinerary is what we believe to be the ideal, most genuine time spent in the area. So you can know with certainty: #bucketlistchecked.

Ghana

Experiencing Ghana is all about experiencing the people! Our trip heads away from Accra to western Ghana for a few days at the must-see location, a little history, and a whole lot of culture. We’ll visit local schools and meet villages of people who are just as interested in you as you are in them. We’ll take a humbling trip to the Cape Coast to see some of the earliest castles and dungeons of the world’s slave trade. We’ll canoe through the marsh to reach a village built completely on stilts. We’ll try—big emphasis on try—to dance and drum like the locals. We’ll walk across canopies of the region’s lush Kakum Rainforest, hundreds of feet in the air. Ghanaian food, well, maybe not our favorite… but we’re not hiding it from you! Jamming Shakira’s “This is Africa” is optional, but recommended at least once during the trip.

Morocco

If you’ve been browsing our website for more than a couple of minutes, you couldn’t help but see some of the stunning Morocco photos from previous groups. Many students who make their way to Morocco have aspirations of doing a camel trek in the desert, perhaps mainly for a picture and the right to say, “I rode a camel in the Saraha.” Although without a doubt that’s pretty neat, what’s even more unique, in addition to riding camels through the desert (which we do!), is the opportunity to camp out under the stars in the middle of nowhere. Our head guides will drive deep into the Sahara to our base camp, where we’ll be surrounded by 300-foot rolling sand dunes, where the sky is clearer than you’ve ever seen, and the sand is untouched for miles around you. Authentic food, amazing local guides, and hookah and tea under the stars… a GCT favorite.

Don’t see what you’re looking for in these itineraries? Dates don’t work for you? Want to plan something for just yourself and a few friends? Shoot us an email and we’ll work to customize something that fits exactly what you had in mind.

A Closer Look at Spring 2013, Part II: Burma, India, Mauritius

In the second part of this three-part series, we take a look at a few more Spring trips we’ve planned. Meditate with the monks of Burma, experience India’s holy land of Varanasi, and cruise the paradise that is Mauritius. We’ll give you the scoop into why these trips were designed the way they were.

Burma

After months of planning, we’re thrilled to debut our newest trip this semester: Burma. The influence of Buddhism permeating this country, we thought that students might find an overnight stay at a remote monastery something a little different than their typical travel plans! With special permission, students will be given the chance to eat, sleep, and breathe amongst the monks of a local monastery. Early wakeups, meditation, and teachings of Buddhism: an immersion into the life of a monk. We’ve also coupled the experience with another influential part of the country’s culture—elephants! A ride through the jungle of Burma onboard an elephant? Not exactly an everyday experience! This is definitely one trip we’re proud to offer this Spring for those willing to step a little bit outside their comfort zones.

India

Our itinerary for India is a staple of what we strive to plan in every country—sending our group as “global citizens” through an incredible few days of travel. The Taj Mahal is a must-see and we wouldn’t consider planning the trip without it. However, our favorite part is actually the time spent traveling to and experiencing Varanasi. After time in Agra, rather than flying or leaving the next morning, the group will board an overnight train with virtually no foreigners on board to make their way toward Varanasi. Saving some daylight hours and bringing you an incredible experience? We’re all over it. Tough to put into words, but the ceremonies both at sunrise and in the evening are what students consistently tell us were among the most powerful and life-changing things they saw during their entire time abroad.

As always, we aim to include authentic Indian food (bring the Pepto!) and experiences unique and important to the culture. In this case, we’ll be learning and playing a game of cricket, the national sport, with a group of university students, as well as visiting a local orphanage. Students that want to see and experience India as travelers—not tourists—shouldn’t let to this opportunity pass by too easily!

Mauritius

Alright, we’ve got a confession to make. If there are any trips on here that don’t meet the Global Citizens mold of cultural exchanges and worldly experiences, it’d probably be this one. We wouldn’t plan on any culture-shock after this trip, unless a sunburn and a slight hangover would count for you. However, a one-day stop in beautiful Mauritius brings a few things to mind: the beach, sun, snorkeling, friends, and of course some delicious drinks. We’ve organized several catamarans of 30+ students to head out from port to the pristine Gabriel Island for all of the above. We’ll take our time cruising around the waters surrounding Mauritius while students lay out on open nets. Free time on the beach, a full barbeque for the group, and more than enough drinks will fill the afternoon before pumping the tunes and taking our time getting back to the port. It’s pretty tough to have a bad day in paradise!

Don’t see what you’re looking for in these itineraries? Dates don’t work for you? Want to plan something for just yourself and a few friends? Shoot us an email and we’ll work to customize something that fits exactly what you had in mind.

A Closer Look at Spring 2013, Part I: Japan, China, Vietnam

With the launch of our new website this week comes the launch of our set of Spring 2013 trips! This, without question, is the widest range of unique trips we’ve put together for any given semester. Let’s dive a little deeper into why we chose to plan the itineraries as we did. In the first part of this three-part series, we’ll take a look at what we have planned in Asia.

Japan

Students, for good reason, traditionally have their eyes set on seeing Tokyo and Kyoto when visiting Japan. On top of that, others ideally want to see Mt. Fuji and the surrounding area but find it difficult to coordinate all three in a short span. We’ve been able to schedule transfers that allow students to spend 2 nights in Tokyo, 1 night in the Mt. Fuji area and 1 night in Kyoto—in our opinion a perfect end-to-end itinerary for a country that can be tough to navigate. We’ve also included a couple of cultural experiences famous to Japan—the final day of one of the largest sumo wrestling tournaments of the year and time spent learning how to make sushi from the best. Plenty of free time, access to nightlife and 5 cities in 5 days… Japan done right!

China

Working with our partners abroad, The China Guide, we are able to offer a unique and intimate experience at the wall that has continued to be one of our most popular trips. Almost all students visiting China want to make their way to Beijing and the Great Wall and our trip does just that, while also allowing time to enjoy the nightlife and sights of the surrounding area. GCT has students covered in what is always one of our most famous authentic experiences.

The unfortunate timing of this itinerary over the Chinese New Year has caused prices to be a little higher than normal for China this semester. Also, we are encouraging students to book this trip as soon as possible to guarantee space on the trip. Students who wait ’til the last few weeks to plan their time in China will likely find train and plane tickets between Beijing to Hong Kong wildly expensive or even completely sold out! Traveling at this time of the year in China is like traveling the day before Thanksgiving in the U.S…. but with 1.5 billion people. So don’t wait too long!

Vietnam

Our trip to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay has been hands down our most popular trip over the past couple of years. Affordable, tons of free time, amazing food, and jaw dropping scenery are just some of the reasons we have consistently attracted large groups. Since all the “junkboats” hold between 16-24 students each, this trip also offers a great chance for students to gather a group of friends they’ve made over the semester and travel through Ha Long Bay’s islets together. Kayaking, swimming, exploring caves—it’s easy to see why this has been named one of the “natural wonders of the world.” A can’t-miss experience if you’re traveling to Vietnam!

Don’t see what you’re looking for in these itineraries? Dates don’t work for you? Want to plan something for just yourself and a few friends? Shoot us an email and we’ll work to customize something that fits exactly what you had in mind.