Sorry, I meant the Great Wall of China. It’s pretty much impossible to visit Beijing and not visit the wall. I mean, come on. Since I wasn’t staying at a hostel and Megha wasn’t running her own private tour to the wall, I needed to find a group to hook up with for the day. Leo Youth Hostel runs a fantastic tour. The hostel had been recommended to me by some coworkers who spent our March break in China, and for good reason. Leo is located in Qianmen, behind Tiananmen Square on a main shopping street. The decor was awesome and the bathrooms clean, but that’s about all that I had time to see before we left for the Great Wall. Ten of us squeezed into a van that drove us the couple hours out of Beijing.

After awhile, unable to sleep because the driver constantly pounded on his horn to let everyone within a 5km radius know he was passing another car, I gave up and just looked out the window. Much to my surprise, I saw the wall, snaking through the mountains like a long, thick rope. Words fail to describe how I felt in those first few minutes. The Great Wall is just that–great, immense, awesome–and seeing it in pictures and books is nothing compared to driving under it, next to it. Occasionally it would disappear or trail off, only to reappear again a few minutes later. It blows my mind to think that what I saw of the wall was only a fraction of the 4,000 miles it spans.

Now, there are many different areas of the Great Wall open to visitors. Many have been restored and are in prime condition for the millions of tourists who come every year. A couple hours into the drive, I started to see signs for Badaling and my heart sank. Badaling is the most popular section among tourists because it is easy to access and fully restored. However, my own faith was restored when our driver continued past the Badaling parking area and drove a few kilometers more down the highway and off onto a dirt road.

The van came to a complete stop down the road, in front of a siheyuan, a traiditional courtyard surrounded by buildings. The driver beeped his horn a few times, and a few moments later, an old man ambled down a hill and hopped into the van with us. Another kilometer down the road and the van stopped again and the driver motioned for us all to get out. The old man, who I’d finally gathered was our tour guide, started to walk up a dirt path and we followed. It turns out that one of the guys on our hike, an English teacher in southern China, spoke a bit of Mandarin and could communicate the basics with him, which helped all of us out a great deal.

The hike wasn’t terribly long; at the highest point we were only at 888 meters (less than half a mile), but the terrain was a bit rocky at points. It was nowhere near as strenuous as 2005’s Avi Chai hike up Har Yishai, I’ll concede that much. Every so often, our guide, who we figured out was 73 years olds, would give us a break so he could have a cigarette.

 

Our guide told us that he often hikes up to the wall with his buddies and gets drunk. Oh, China...

Our guide told us that he often hikes up to the wall with his buddies and gets drunk. Oh, China...

 

After about an hour, we reached the wall. It wasn’t at all like the refurbished parts you see in calendars. The part of the wall we stood on was falling apart, weathered by centuries of wear and tear. Dilapidated watchtowers sat every few hundreds yard, topping of the peaks of the hills. You’d think that the hike up to the wall would have been the most difficult, but no, that was reserved for the steepest parts of the wall. Broken brick and stone stairs spanned from watchtower to watchtower and we had to navigate up and down to get from one watchtower to the next.

 

On the first part of the wall, before climbing up to the watchtower

On the first part of the wall, before climbing up to the watchtower

 

 

Watchtower remnants

Watchtower remnants

 

 

Graffiti on the wall...who defaces the GREAT WALL OF CHINA!?

Graffiti on the wall...who defaces the GREAT WALL OF CHINA!?

 

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The highest point on our tour

The highest point on our tour

 

After navigating our way back down, we were treated to a large Chinese lunch (well, not really treated, since it was included in the tour fee) in a siheyuan in the village. We stuffed ourselves with bowls of rice, noodles, zucchini, beans and chicken.

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After lunch, we piled back into the van and headed back to Beijing. Too exhausted to deal with the subway, I grabbed a cab back to Megha’s apartment, where everyone decided we should eat Mongolian hot pot for dinner. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of this, but it’s fairly easy to explain. Mongolian hot pot is basically Chinese fondue. You order meats and veggies and then cook it all in boiling sauces. This was undoubtedly one of the most satisfying meals I had in China.

Next up in the China series: FOOD!! Because I love to blog about it.

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