Monday, April 1, 2019

China memories, part 2 : the Wild Wall hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu

Up early after not a lot of sleep -- it's a big time change -- and left the hostel early in search of a cash machine. Easy peasy -- and with renminbi in our pockets, we knew we'd be set. We also stopped at a small window around the corner where a man was selling fried bread in a few different shapes. We bought two flat sesame bread things for 1 rmb each -- so good.

Then we gathered our things and walked out to the other main road and picked up some water and snacks at the Family Mart convenience store. We chose a pair of dumplings; the clerk kept trying to explain what we were ordering by showing us the packaging -- we think she wanted to warn us that there was no meat in the ones we had picked!

Back at the entrance to our hutong we spotted our guide Peter easily, and got in the van. We headed to the posh part of town to pick up the other two couple who would be joining us. Bryan and Shannon from Sacramento (maybe Santa Ana?) were in town for a conference he was attending and she was happily tagging along. Adam and Tatiana were from New York, and were in town for a week's holiday, like us. (Though unlike us, they were jam-packing their itinerary -- oh, the energy of youth!)

Peter told us history and other tidbits en route. At one point I saw two guardian statues by a doorway and asked, "Dragon?" Peter said no, so I asked what they were. He paused, smiled, and said, "I can't tell you ... they don't exist." There's no word in English, apparently. But it was a qilin  -- a gentle and peaceful creature who walks so carefully that it doesn't even bend blades of grass when it walks. It's appearance often heralds the birth or death of a sage and benevolent ruler. And they're adorable:

We eventually arrived in a small village -- if village = a handful of houses at the end of the road. We had been driving past signs asking not to visit the wall here as it's not officially open, but tried not to feel odd about it.

We had a quick stop at a "public toilet" -- a concrete building with two trenches in it -- and then we started hiking.

The way was steep, but the path was pretty good. We were also lucky that it was dry, and had been for days -- so no mud, not slippery.

And soon we had our first glimpse of the Great Wall ... and I am not the only person who squealed.

We hiked up, with short breaks -- to Zhengbeilou, the watchtower you can see in the upper left of this picture.

Here's the view from the side of the wall at the base of the watchtower.

Apparently an enterprising farmer had maintained a ladder there for years, but a while back some tourists refused to pay the 5 renminbi (less than $1), so he took the ladder down.

We picked our way carefully along the base of the wall -- slightly scary -- then climbed up a section that had collapsed in an earthquake. And, boom -- WE WERE ON THE GREAT WALL!

Note that we're pretty high up ... and that there are no parapets. Welcome to the Wild Wall. 

We walked to the tower, climbed up to the roof of it, and took some photos. All of us kept saying how we couldn't believe it -- what the wall looked like, or that we were on it. 

Why, yes, this roof did make me a bit nervous.

It was so amazing to see the wall stretch as far as we could see, always at the tops of the ridges.

Inside the watchtower was also amazing, though it has clearly been partially restored at some point.

We retraced our steps to where we climbed up onto the wall, and walked along the wall toward Mutianyu. Here the wall is really wild -- unrestored and crazy picturesque.

Looking back where we had come from:

Some of the watchtowers were pretty ruined, so we moved through them quickly.

We continued along the wall until we approached a very steep section.

Peter, our guide, told us that this section is so steep, that if it was foggy or damp we would have to descend from the wall and take a detour as it's so slippery.

Climbing up was just like going up a very steep, occasionally slick trail.

I promise you, this is steeper than it looks.

When we got to the top of this section, we could look back along where we had come from:

Again, I promise you this is steeper than it looks.

At the peak of the section there's a ruined watchtower, and a chance to catch our breath.

... before turning to head down.

No photographs of this section exist ... because making our way down was incredibly tricky. Some of the surface had been smoothed by centuries of feet.... and there were no steps (#wildwall)... and it was incredibly slippery. I figured I would end up on my butt, so I scooted down much of this section... on my butt. I was not alone in this. But we made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece.

From there things started to even out...

Adam, Tatiana, and Bryan on the wall -- we've all survived the steep part!
 Soon we came to the restored area at Mutianyu.

First we saw a bunch of wish ribbons --

and then passed a woman selling them, along with snacks and drinks. And medals. We had hiked from 10km away... though to be honest I didn't see any snacks there...

After this little gate, the wall was perfectly restored.

Crazy, steep, but restored with steps.

And the wall just stretches on and on.

We were hiking between tower 23 and 14, where we didn't see a lot of other people.

Our group decided that we wanted to take the "slideway", so we walked all the way to Tower 6, which gave us a great chance to look back along the wall:

It also gave us a chance to see some great signage:

Some Chinese graffiti:

and some completely inscrutable instructions:

What can you say about the Great Wall? We kept looking at each other and saying how we couldn't quite believe it. The weather was nice and the skies were blue -- so lucky!

Finally, we reached the Slideway... a self-controlled toboggan ride down to the base of the wall.

Tobogganing is so simple. 

We would get on these little carts and hurtle along this track to the bottom of the wall. 

I was the first in our group to go, and for most of the run I was able to go as fast as I wanted -- only towards the bottom did I catch up with the people in front of me... and then eventually Wil caught up with me. At the top there were two Aussie kids in front of us who kept talking about wanting to go fast -- but in the end the older one slowed down a lot, and the younger one was too small to ride alone. Awwww. 

These photos were captured en route -- unbeknownst to us -- and OF COURSE WE BOUGHT THEM!!!

We gathered at the bottom, took a shuttle bus to the parking lot, where we were picked up by the driver for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Peter asked what we liked, and ordered 8 dishes -- 4 with meat, 4 without, half spicy, half not spicy. All the meatless ones, at least, were delicious. 

We were also all given BIG BOTTLES of beer, which we all cowboyed straight from the bottle. I think we were supposed to pour them into the little cups, but whatevs. 

Then back to Beijing, where we were surprised to notice we were in our hood. I think the others were impressed that we were staying in the old part of town. 

We went home, dropped off our backpacks, changed our shoes, and decided to go out for a little walk. We ended up at the lakes in Shichahai, wandered around resisting being pulled into a yet-empty bar by a tout saying, "Hello! Beer! Happy hour!"We managed to avoid being lured into a bar; they were all too surreal. Bored performers sitting on stage in front of an empty room, checking their phones....

The lakes were surrounded by restaurants, bars, and little shops -- we knew we'd be spending multiple evenings there!

We spent a few hours wandering around, poking into shops and people watching. We saw an amazing shop full of postcards that you could write out and then put a date on them to mail later. And then we saw SEVERAL MORE OF THOSE SHOPS. Seriously, this is a thing in Beijing. Write postcards or letters to your future self, or someone else.

I did buy some beautiful washi tape, and some postcards from Beijing ... before going back to the hostel to a well-earned sleep.

Read part 3, the Forbidden City and Beijing

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