The Great Wall, pretty much all to ourselves.
Huang Hua Great Wall Travel Blog› entry 38 of 251 › view all entries
April 23rd, 2008 – by: cmgervais
There are several sections of the Great Wall open for visits near Beijing. Badaling is the closest and therefore overrun with tourists -- steer clear! Mutianaya is just a little bit farther but reportedly much quieter. Simatai is farther yet and reportedly has some great hiking. Our planned destination, Huanghua, is fairly close, but isn't even listed in my guidebook. I wasn't sure if that is good or bad! (It was GOOD :^)
Lisa, Steve and I departed the apartment in a cab at 8:20 for our planned 9:00 rendezvous at the bus station.
We had planned to meet at the "main schedule board" but we found no such thing. There was only a very large, empty garage, food vendors, many buses, and lots of chaos. The hawkers set upon us like vultures -- "great wall" "cheap tour!" etc. We brushed them off (or at least we tried) and walked around trying to find Phil and Julia. It was by then after 9:00 and being late really stresses me out. Have they left?! Are we even in the right place?! Finally we walked around a section of food vendors and -- aha! There they are! We ran across the street for a reunion, relief on both sides. And then we tried to figure out where to catch this 916 bus. It seemed nearly ALL the buses were labeled as such.
We stood in the wrong place for a little while, then we found the correct line after just a minimal amount of gawking about.
The bus was somewhat uncomfortably small, but it was also pretty clean and completely smoke free. Good thing, since we were destined to spend quite a long time on it! Unfortunately, we seemed to have gotten on a local. It stopped frequently. Very frequently. We had expected a one-hour ride. 90 minutes into our trip, there was some concern that we had missed our stop, but some highway signs assured us that our destination was ahead of us. Quite far ahead, as it was.
We planned to transfer to another bus or minivan to our final destination, but when we de-bussed there was no clear transfer area, no line of mini-vans waiting to whisk us to Huanghua. No worries: there's always someone to drive you where you want to go here in China, and sure enough we were approached by a driver about 3 seconds after getting off the bus. Phil's book said 60 RMB (just under $10) was a fair price for this drive, so that is what we offered. The driver was more optimistic though -- surely we would pay double that! When we walked away to find the buses, he exclaimed (kind of desperately), "OK! OK! Come!" and so we boarded his little mini van.
Now. This is the kind of driver I know and love here in China! Foot firmly on the accelerator and letting up for nothing, he careened around corners and passed anything and everything in our way, regardless of oncoming traffic.
I had expected some form of development, some small signs of tourist-ness at Huanghua, but other than a few folks selling postcards, there was nothing. No tour buses. No groups in matching hats. No overcrowded ticket line. Perfect! What a find!
Of course, there was still the matter of getting to the actual wall. We could see it across a water reservoir, but there was no clear access path. And surely we must buy tickets somewhere -- Phil said the entrance fees at the Wall sights could be quite high. The postcard ladies indicated we should walk across the thin (very thin!) strip of concrete than spanned the reservoir.
We then got to the "entrance gate" which was one of the postcard women standing on the dirt path in front of a decidedly homemade-looking sign. Phil and Julia sprang for the entrance fee for all of us -- about 35 cents per person!
At this point we were walking alongside the wall, and still there was no clear point of access to the wall itself. The ticket lady waved us along in the right direction, so we followed the path through a rocky, weedy area, hoping to find something more interesting ahead.
When we got up to the ladder (stepping over a rusty, broken-in-half metal staircase on the way) we could fully appreciate its hand-hewn construction.
Steve was the first one up. No snapped rungs there -- this bodes well since he weighs more than the rest of us. The climb was not so bad. I looked straight ahead at the stone and never looked down. Maneuvering from the ladder to the wall was tricky business -- and terrifying, too. Lisa had a panicky moment, as she was sure the ladder was falling away from the wall behind her (it wasn't).
It took me some time to get my sea legs, and until I was used to the height I endeavored to have maximum body surface in contact with stone. Lisa and I both laid there while everyone stood and admired the magnificent views.
It was wonderful. The wall was au naturel in some places, and obviously restored in others. It wound for miles and curled around the surrounding hills in a ridiculously picturesque manner. Perfect.
We headed up towards a small sentry building -- one of several we would come across in a short distance. We stopped frequently for photos -- bless Phil, he is just as bad as I am. Everywhere I looked, pictures were begging to be taken. It was so lovely.
We walked for 30-45 minutes, the whole time meeting maybe 8 other people. Phil told us about the crowds and the trinket stands that cover the wall at Badaling. I felt fortunate indeed. What a feeling, to be strolling along the Great Wall of China in good company, surrounded by amazing vistas! There was nowhere else I would have rather been at that moment. I hoped I wouldn't spoil the special moment by being blown off the side -- the wind was really gusting.
Of course we didn't have enough time. Lisa, Steve, and I had to be back in Beijing for an evening train to Xian. We needed to leave Huanghua at about 2:30. So we climbed to that one last parapet in the distance, admired the new view revealed there, and then set back to face The Ladder again. At this point, I felt quite cured of my fear of heights, as long as I didn't walk close to the edge or pay much mind to how high we were.
Our driver was waiting to take us back and we likely broke our old speed record on the way back to the station. I liked that guy!
At this point it was well past lunchtime. The counterfeit Cheerios I had for breakfast just weren't cutting it. There weren't exactly a plethora of options waiting for us in town though. There was a KFC, which my brain didn't even register as a potential food source. Phil brought it up as an option and Julia mentioned they have some egg tartlet thingies that sounded pretty good, so soon enough I found myself in a KFC for the first time in probably 20 years.
From there we jumped back onto the 916 bus (Steve sat in center back for maximum leg room) and to our delight we found ourselves speeding back to Beijing with minimal stops -- an express! It cut an hour off our time. And we had one of those delightful maniacal drivers, which helped our cause greatly.
I was so sad to say goodbye to Phil and Julia, with whom we spent such a wonderful, perfect, delightful day.
We went home, packed our things, and now I am writing this (in my notebook) on a sleeper car to Xi'an, where the terracotta warriors live. Our cabin has four beds -- 2 up, 2 down. Steve (who is very unhappy with the arrangement) and I are on the top two beds, and Lisa is in the next cabin. Down below are two Chinese men, talking loudly. Just a while ago, one of them was enjoying his sandwich in a lip-smacking frenzy! I tried to get it on video, but it's doesn't convey the whole effect -- I was afraid to get busted filming him. After all, he's my roommate until tomorrow. It's an 11-hour ride.
Now that same man is on top of his bed in his skivvies! Guess he didn't want to muss his suit.
I hope I can sleep. Either way, I am still smiling. I had a great day.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!