Friday 20th May
5 kiwis, 3 Canadians and 2 Americans get onto a bus…….. This sounds like the lead in to a bad joke but it was how our day started on our trip to see one of the main attractions that was on our list for Beijing.
Up at 04.30am……the kids did not enjoy another early start. Just before 6am ourselves and the other kiwi staying here were in a minivan on our way to visit the great wall. After driving around the streets of Beijing for around 20 minutes the minivan parked up and the driver hopped out……a few minutes later he came back and told us to get onto another bus….so we did. On the bus were the aforementioned Canadians (all young girls and the american couple along with another few people making up 15 in total. By 06.30am we were heading out of Beijing on our way to Jinshanling which was around 130km away and where we would get to walk on the wall.
A couple of things to highlight…… we were adamant that we did not want to see the wall in Badaling or Mutianyu which are the most popular places to access the wall. Our idea of experiencing this was not spending it with thousands of others. The other point was that although we are not overly keen organised tours and could have made our own way to Jinshanling via a few trains and buses with the kids we had to look at the time and how long the day would be if we did it this way. We opted for the tour to Jinshanling (organised through the hostel )for 3 reasons….
- To minimise lost time and manage the kids day
- It was one of the cheaper tours we had seen (we know you get what you pay for)
- As not many people go there then it wouldn’t be crowded and it adjoined the Simatai part of the wall which has not been restored. Tours to Simatai do not run it seems as they deem it too dangerous
On the way out of Beijing we got a briefing by our guide, a young Chinese girl who spoke good english (well the 50% we understood was good but the rest we were too tired to work out).Her manner and way of speaking combined with a weird sense of humour had us all looking a bit perplexed and after a 15 minute monologue she said she was tired and was going to sleep and we should to. The kids and I had the back seat of the minibus and with the kids on either side of me both had stretched out and were sleeping. I found it more interesting looking at the countryside and some suspect passing manoeuvres of our driver.
It took us around 2 hours to reach the turnoff and first glimpse sight of the wall in the distance. We were going to enter the wall and walk 6.5km along it and exit at the start of the Simatai portion. Now 6.5km isn’t a long distance and we had sold it to the kids as easier than climbing Mt Kinabalu but it challenged them in places although both admitted it was enjoyable afterwards.
Once unloaded from the minibus our guide gave another monologue of which still only 50% was understood (and we were all awake). Her style was truly unique. We were instructed in where we were to access and exit the wall along with how to deal with the many hawkers trying to sell overpriced and unnecessary souvenirs. From there we were left to follow her directions and set out to walk on this (new) wonder of the world.
It was a 15 minute upward hike on a well constructed path which although steep in places was a pleasure to walk after Mt K and followed by our souvenir lady who we could hear panting in the background asking us to slow down as we were going too fast for her (there was a reason for that)
It is pretty hard to explain stepping onto the wall. The scale of it (that word again) made it hard to get your head around that we were standing on something we had only seen in pictures or on tv. As far as you could see in both directions the wall snaked along the ridgeline with towers every 300 odd metres. The group walked at their own pace as we had 3 hours to complete the 6.5km. The time was 9am….we could see our end point in the distance …the tower with five windows..it was special as most only have 3 or 4 windows (apparently as we were told by our crazy guide)
Armed with our cameras we made our way slowly along capturing the scenery and history followed by our faithful souvenir seller who was having no luck. Again it was hard to record via photos what we were seeing and one of the Canadian girls astutely pointed out that it was better to just drink in the moment and enjoy it. She was also wearing a t-shirt with a “drink more beer” slogan.
Much of the Jinshanling wall we were on has been restored but there were portions that were unrestored so it provided a real contrast and provoked questions like how did they do it? …. How did they build something of this scale in the days before machinery ? The one thing they did have was a plentiful workforce and it’s pretty well known that many perished building it so you only imagine what was lying beneath our feet as we walked.
The wall surface we walked on was undulating ranging from flat to gently sloping to downright steep. At the entrance and exits from towers the stairs steepened and one section saw you using your arms to climb the stairs it was that steep. Best of all we could only see a few people in any direction we looked.
At one tower we found an old man smoking what looked to be an opium pipe who Noelle wanted to photograph. He refused to comply unless she brought something off him so an exchange of money for a bottle of water was made and she got her photos.
It took us around 2 hours to cover the distance and surprisingly our guide passed us along the way and met us at the exit point to show us the way down to the bus. As we still had an hour and others had gone ahead of us we made out way onto the Simatai part of the wall which was unrestored and definitely more rugged. To me this was the real Great Wall in it’s natural state.
We all regrouped on the wall then had a 30 minute walk down to the bus where we were then driven to lunch. I need to add our souvenir lady gave up just before it got steep and headed back – unsuccessful in any sales to us. Lunch was 7 dishes brought out onto tables for us at a restaurant which was great. Simple food but tasty all the same. It was a social event where various discussions were taking place then just after 1.30pm we were back on the bus for the 2hour trip back to Beijing. Traffic of course slowed us down heading back in. Travel stories from everyone and various topics killed the time travelling back with both BB & KK sleeping at times in the backseat. Everyone was interested in what we were doing and how we made it happen.
Finally just after 4pm we were dropped off at our hostel and bade farewell and safe travels to our group. The rest of the day was spent chilling out and resting. Tonight we had a pizza & fries in the hostel bar for dinner, mainly to soften up the kids for another early start tomorrow as we aim to get to the Forbidden City and secure 4 of the 80 thousand tickets available for the day. We are then looking to head to an area that has a lot of food stalls selling unique food items for dinner. The American couple highly rate fried Crickets and silkworms.
Overall although we only had 3 hours on the wall and would have liked to have spent more time on the Simatai part we were no less thrilled that we had made the effort to venture to a lessor known area that had very few people making the experience even more memorable. Everyone on our trip was doing it for the same reason…….to get away from the crowds and do something unique. I think we achieved that and given we didn’t lose any time fluffing around, met some great people, had a quirky host/guide and some lunch thrown in meant we got real value for money in our eyes.
For you bikers ……….. some parts would be rideable and some parts would be suicide so take it as an overall would not attempt at this stage. Biking on the wall would be icing on the cake.
Right off to bed for a 6am alarm tomorrow…… The kids are already asleep.
**** MORE PHOTOS TO COME LATER SO WATCH THIS SPACE ***