Where do we even begin to describe the trip we took to Beijing and The Great Wall of China? We flew from Hong Kong to Beijing and the first order of business was to make it through customs. Well, everyone in the airport was trying to get through customs, so you have to take a look at the picture we took. After getting through customs we took a 2 ½ hour bus ride to Miyun County, which is outside Beijing. We had a wonderful traditional Chinese meal and then stayed at a really nice hotel.
The Chinese name for the Great Wall is Wan Li Chang Cheng or "the Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li." The first sections were built as early as the fifth century B.C. when a number of Chinese states in the north were fighting against each other and occasionally against the northern "barbarians." It was not until the unification of the empire under Quin Shi Huang Di in 221B.C. that the various sections of the Wall were linked up. It is said that more than 300,000 men worked for 10 years to complete it. The wall has a pounded earth interior with stone facing walls and a stone roadway along the top.
Our first day of hiking was the Simatai to the Jinshanling Section. It was an 8 kilometer hike along the unreconstructed part of the Wall. This was not what we expected at all. We met a local guide at a rest stop and she charged us to use her bathroom (a squat toilet). Then we followed her through the village and an abandoned farming village and up a trail we would have never found on our own. Before we knew it we had hiked up a mountain to start our Great Wall hike. This particular section is not like the Great Wall you see in all of the pictures. There are very steep passages with no barrier walls on either side. The huge drop off on both sides of you can mess with your head a little but it was still amazing.
About 4 km into the hike they told us we would have lunch at the next watch tower. The previous night they had given us a choice of chicken, beef or fish. Well, we got to the tower and we saw no food anywhere. Then, out of nowhere, we saw these three men with igloo coolers with 6 huge sodas on top strapped to their backs. They had carried these packs on their back all the way up from their village. Well, that was not the big surprise: when they opened the coolers what was inside... McDonald's... SERIOUSLY. We were shocked! So, we all laughed, and some people complained, but we have found that some people complain even if they win the lottery. So I had my very first Big Mac on the Great Wall of China!
We continued hiking until we came to a portion of the wall that was closed. So we walked all the way down the mountain to a village and back up again to the part of the wall that was open for hiking. It was cold, but we had our North Face Jackets and scarves and gloves and hats so we were pretty prepared. When we reached the end of the day we talked our guide into letting us stay and watch the sunset on the wall which was AWESOME. By the time the sunset happened we were freezing and we ran back to the bus that was waiting about 30 minutes down the mountain.
The next day we hiked from the Jinshanling section to the Gubeikou Section. This is a famous section of the wall that occupies a strategically important location which is difficult to access, and its construction rates highly as an architectural acheievement. There are 14 beacon towers 143 watchtowers, 16 strategic passes, 3 citadels and many other military constructions. Many of them are famous like the Big Flower Beacon Tower of the Northern Qi Dynasty, Fairy Tower, General Tower, and the Wangjing Tower.
Now this was a strenuous day. Although this portion of the Wall is reconstructed, it has many major up and downhill climbs on stairs that are not wide. There were certain sections of the wall that we had to stack stones so we could step up to the next section. But it was an adventure. I did fall down one section of the very steep portion as we were descending, but besides the bruise on my rear that is shaped like Asia, I am good.
Surprisingly, there were lots of local people on the wall trying to sell you things. During the winter there are not many people that hike the Wall because it is too cold, so the locals were very excited to see us. The local Mongolian farmer women would follow you all day and help you up and down the wall and say "you buy souvenir from me later." Some of the girls on our trip made friends with these women over the two day hike and at the end gave them a big tip and all of their extra food for helping them along the way.
This was a once in a lifetime kind of thing that we just experienced and I think we can both say it was a major highlight of this voyage. We never thought we would be able to say we hiked the Great Wall. WOW!
-There are hardly any restrictions on the wall. You can sleep there, eat there, sell things there and, well, use the bathroom there... we had no other choice. YUCK!
-They have a gondola ride that takes you up to the wall, but of course, we had to hike up instead
-Oh, and PS, for all of you that are keeping up with Jenna (our student that had a severe case of Malaria), we are so glad to report that she is finally home and is doing very well. All of her organs are functioning again and it looks like she will make a full recovery. YAY!!!