Friday, September 13, 2013

Great Wall - A Dream Come True

The Great Wall. This was the reason I came to Beijing. Everything else was just extra. I actually considered skipping Beijing but I knew I had to walk the Great Wall on my first trip to China. Right? Why would I go to China and skip The Wall?  Nobody does that! The big decision was which section of the Great Wall?  We all see photos of the Wall but how many people realize there are different sections you can explore? I knew the main section, Balding was off my list. Too many tourists at that one. My remaining options were Mutianyu or Jinshanling to Simatai. This decision was discussed the first night at the Chinese Courtyard Box Hostel over free vegetarian dumplings. Everyone asks, "have you hiked the wall? Which section should I do?" I was told to do the Jinshanling section because there are very few tourists and the views are amazing. I had read that this was challenging and was concerned if I could do it. The guy sitting next to me said "of course you can do it! I am going and will make certain you do it!" So, I signed up for the 6 AM bus the next morning. I hoped I would not regret this decision.

I was awake and ready at 5:55AM and waiting outside the hostel for the bus with Eyle. When we were picked up, I was surprised it was a small mini van.  I was really going to be on a small tour. Wrong! We transferred to a large bus with about 35 people. We start down the road and the guide starts handing out breakfast. Yay! I am hungry. Until I see it is a ham muffin from McDonald's. Really? This is China! Anything would be better than McDonald's. I ate the muffin since there was nothing else.

It was a 2 hour drive to the wall and the guide explained we would normally hike to Samatai but it was closed for repairs. So we had to turn around and hike back the way we came. Darn! I was excited anyway. This was something I have wanted to do all my life. It was a dream come true and today was the day! Wow! That's a powerful feeling.

As we drove the highway everyone was looking, waiting for the first glimpse. Everyone saw it at the same time. There was a collective gasp followed by the click of cameras. I had to pinch myself. It was magnificent as it hung on the ridge of the mountains. There are things you never forget and for me this is right up there with my foal rat glimpse of the Acropolis, Eiffel Tower and the Duomo in Florence. Magnificent and perfect. 

As we entered the parking area the guide told us there were many tourists here today. Oh no! Everyone groaned. But as we left the bus and were given directions, we did not see many tourists. We were given a meal voucher and told to meet back after hiking to eat. Or guide was strict we had exactly 3 hours to hike and 20 minutes to eat. The bus was leaving at 2:23 PM. Wow! Couldn't that be 2:30? Oh well. She also explained that it takes about an hour to hike up to the wall and 40 minutes back down. If we want to see the wall she suggested we take a cable car. She also pointed out that it was 43C (109F) and suggested everyone take plenty of water. I am hiking in 109F weather. Really? I hoped she had the temperature wrong. Needless to say, I went with the cable car option to the top of the hill. We quickly realized that although there were many tourists in the parking lot, most took the cable car up, snapped a few photos and then went back down. There were few of us that hiked the portion of the wall.

Michelle, Eyle and Yvonne hiking the wall.
I set out on the hike with Eyle and Yvonne. We were all solo travelers and got along well. As we walked towards the chairlift we laughed as the locals were selling their wares. "Water, beer, cigarettes and snickers!" We knew in a few hours 3 of the 4 would sound fabulous to me! 
The chairlift was a smart idea. We arrived at the top and started hiking to the first tower. All 3 of us would stop and look at the view and wonder "How did they do this?" We each took turns reminding the others it was done on the back of slave labor. Many deaths occurred and the bodies were buried under the wall. As we walked, local women joined us. We knew this meant they wanted us to buy something. We told them we were not interested but the followed. There were several times they pointed out the path through steps that were basically rubble. It was tricky in some areas and I had to pay attention. The portion we were walking had not had much renovation. The bricks were crumbling, steps were uneven but it made it that much more authentic. It was odd to be walking the wall with Mongolian women when the wall was built to keep the Mongol's out of China. I asked one of the women about it and she laughed and said "I like the wall. Walk it every day because I can."

We climbed from one fortress to the next. There were portions that we had to walk along an 8" path. I had never been afraid of heights, it has always been a fear of falling. As I looked at the path, there were several times I wondered if I made the wrong decision. Eyle was always there cheering me on. He was so nice.

The highest section we hiked. It was a workout.

We finally arrived at the steepest section of the walk. We had been told it was only 103 steps. When I looked at it from a distance it did not make sense. It was higher than that. As I approached the section, I understood. The first 2/3 of this section is a step ramp. No steps. The last 1/3 of the section is 103 steps vertical to the top. I huffed and puffed my way up the ramp. I was being careful not to roll and ankle. I giggled out loud when I saw this sign as I started the hike to the top.

Only 103 steps t the top as we passed the dangerous sign.

I  took the steps one at a time and was doing fine until I stopped to take a photo and realized if I fell it would be a long slide to the bottom. The steps got larger as I went higher. Eventually, I had to go up sideways. The steps were over knee high. One at a time and slowly and all the hard work paid off! Look at the amazing view.

I loved you could see the Great Wall and the new highway in the background. Amazing!

We continued on to a few more fortresses. We were watching our time. We figured we could make it to the last one and still have time to hike back without taking a shortcut. We were in this to experience the wall. As we started walking back, Eyle said a beer sounded great. Yvonne wanted a cigarette and I was thinking about the Snickers. Damn! We should have taken them up when they offered at the beginning of the route. As I walked back to the chairlift, I took one last look back at the wall. It is an amazing sight. All the sweat and huffing and puffing was worth it to see this section of the wall.

When we returned to the restaurant, we ordered 3 big beers gave a cheers to one another and relaxed. Lunch was not the best...but it was better than the McDonald's breakfast. I had lived one of my dreams. It was a fantastic hike. I would recommend this section of the wall to everyone. The only thing I would have done differently is to stay at the hotel near the wall and be able to hike without a time constraint. But it was still amazing.

I was exhausted from the heat when I returned to Beijing. We sat down at the lobby and ordered veggie fried noodles and enjoyed the conversation with other tourists. We laughed until 2 AM when they kicked us out. Another fun discussion of world, love and travel with people from around the globe. These are the moments I love. 

1 comment:

  1. There was no time when the state of Yan started to build the Great wall,so the stones and bricks of the wall were laid and plastered with clay.According to legend,the king of the state of Yan ordered not to stop the construction even in winter in order to race against time so as to accomplish the task ahead of schedule. Visit the great wall connect with