a short visit to Hong Kong to comply with our visa regulations and
pick up our friend Sarah from the airport we went back to Beijing to
visit the Great Wall of China.
We had an overnight tour planned and
were delighted to find out when we were picked up that we were
actually the only 3 on the tour!! Our tour guide was called Robert, a
friendly guy with very good English and a slightly overbearing
willingness to please.
Our first stop were the Ming tombs, the
resting place for 16 emperors from the Ming Dynasty (1400s – 1600s
ish) The whole site is huge, so we stopped at the Great Palace Gate
and walked up Spirit Way where we were greeted by 12 sets of stone
animals and officials. The animals came in sets of four, 2 on guard
and 2 resting and included mythical beast, lions, elephants and
strangely camels! The tomb we looked inside was Ding Ling, burial
place of Wanli and his empresses. The large red coffins were still
inside but they were empty as the tombs were wrecked during Mao's
Cultural Revoution. Interesting as the site was, and it was a
pleasant walk, we were itching to get to the wall.
We were staying overnight in a small
hotel at Jinshanling, at the base of one of the accessible sections
of wall, so came here first to drop off bags and rest after the long
Egg soup...60% solid, or so we're told!
The tour was originally intended to sleep ON the wall, in a
watchtower but due to the Olympics, security has been tightened and
you must leave the wall by sunset. So we left the hotel late
afternoon to have a 'practise' walk along the wall before the hike
the next day. We soon realised that this was to be far harder than we
imagined, as we struggled to even get to the base section. The walk
just to get to the wall was about 1km and all up very steep hills. We
were constantly hounded by vendors trying to sell souveniers, and
nothing we said would make then go away. When we got up to the wall
however the view was stunning, although we did not have very much
time to appreciate it at this time. By the time we had walked a short
way along the wall itself we were completely exhausted and more than
a little apprehensive about the next day. This was not helped by the
vendors who had followed us around, starting up their selling quite
aggresively. As we didn't want anything to carry the next day, we
decided to buy a couple of photo books of the section of wall we
would be visiting.
Our first glimpse at the wall
This meant that Sarah bought one, and Lisa and I
bought one between us. This caused huge friction between the women as
only 2 out of the 3 would be getting money. We had paid but the wrong
woman had given us the book, so then she wanted
paying too, and it all got very messy. We sorted it out in the end,
and the woman who ended up without money hounded us most of the way
back to the hotel, saying that her baby would not get anything to eat
now, as we had not given her any extra money *sigh*.
We came back to a Chinese feast at the
hotel which was delicious, despite our previous reservations of
Chinese food. The meat was actually meat *shock horror* and not just
bits of bone and gristle!! Our tour included food and drinks, so we
enjoyed a few beers with our guide and driver before retiring to bed
to prepare for a 4.30am start.
4.30am. It's not a pleasant time to get
up, and anyone who has met any one of us will know that we are
not too pleasant at that time in the morning either. We met our guide
who had prepared a breakfast of muesli, bread and fruit and tried to
eat as much as possible for the day ahead. Unfortunatly as we started
to eat, we heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, and sure
enough within half an hour we were in the middle of a full blown
thunderstorm. We couldn't start the hike in the pouring rain, and
given the position of the wall we were not allowed up while there was
lightening so we had to sit it out. Luckily it did not last too long
and by 6.30 we were able to make a start.
we started being followed by a man selling things, but as he didn't
seem to be bothering us like the women had, we didn't mind so much.
The temperature that early in the morning was not too high, but the
fog was very thick indeed and we had trouble seeing anything beyond
what where we imediately were. Before long we were feeling the
strain, and stopped repeatedly for rests. I knew that the Great Wall
of China was on the top of a mountain, but stupidly had thought that
once you got there it would be quite level, and well maintained. How
wrong I was! The walk along from Jinshanling to Simitai was 10km, but
we had already walked 1km just to get up the mountain and to the wall
entry point. Every step was either up or down steps and rubble. The
steps were outragous heights, up to our knees at some points,
requiring us to climb using our hands too. At some points we were
sliding down rubble with no walls along the side to stop us if we
were to fall. In fact most of the hike was exceedingly dangerous!
half way along we encountered some more vendors (where did they
come from?) who made us so cross
that Sarah had to reactivate her 'teacher voice' in order for them to
For the rest of the walk we were not bothered too much by
other people. Once it got to about 9am we saw a few more people doing
the same sort of walk, but we generally had the wall to ourselves
which was amazing, and certainly would not have been the case if we
had somply taken a day trip to one of the more busy sections.
500 year old wall markings
we got to one of the really old sections, the bricks had Chinese
symbols on them, from the Ming Era. The symbols denoted where each
brick had been made, and who the governor was, it was amazing to be
up close to such history. By the end, the path we were walking along
was more restored, and we saw the section that is more touristy. It
seemed quite a shame really, to see the floor nicely cobbled and the
wall upright, as we knew that this was not really the case! The end
part of our hike took us right down, so a bridge across a thermal
lake which was stunning, although I have to confess we were far too
tired to be impressed! Across the river we had to climb back up to
get off the wall, and about another 1km to the restaurant where our
journey ended with a well deserved meal and beer!
am struggling to put the feelings associated with the day into words,
and we have struggled even between ourselves.
The trip was undertaken
in memory of Sarah's mum, who always wanted to visit the Great Wall
but never got the chance, which made the experience even more
poignant. The hike was by far the most physically difficult thing I
have ever done, and even now I can't believe I managed to get to the
end (although there really was no alternative!). I am so proud of all
three of us for getting through it, and to say that it was an amazing
experience does not do it nearly enough justice!