Today, I started off on my journey to the Great Wall of China through a tour that I had booked the previous day. I decided for the half day tour because of reading on TripAdvisor that the other full day tour going to the Ming Tombs wasn’t as good as spending more time at the Great Wall itself.
So, I went to the spot across the street from where I was staying to get picked up for the tour. As I walked up to the stairs of the bank, a random man waiting in a car waved at me to get my attention. I was surprised, because it was just a man in a car, and I was thinking, um, ok who are you and why are you in a car and not some tour van. Of course, he didn’t speak much English, but I went with it, since he said Great Wall of China.
We were on our way and I was wondering the whole time why no one else was with me on my Guided Tour. As we weaved our way through the streets of Beijing, we pulled over to wait for a bit. For what, I wasn’t sure, but he was on the phone seemingly coordinating something. All of a sudden, we were then on our way again, and as we made a turn, he nudged me and pointed out a van that was driving in front of us. This was my tour van, and they were pulling over literally just for the few seconds to pick me up. It was pretty funny.
I got on board, and there were two others already in the back. A guy, Santi, who’s living in Beijing studying at University, and his sister who came to Beijing to visit. Together they were doing various tours around Beijing to show her around. We chatted for a bit before we stopped again, and loaded on about 10 other people to our tour van. And we were off.
Our tour guide, Monica, told us about 5 minutes worth of history of the wall, basically saying that it was built during three Dynasties, and we were visiting the newest of the built. The weather wasn’t the greatest, and I was a bit disappointed that over the last several days, the weather had been at least dry, and now it was wet with drizzling rain. The van was comfortable, and people began to fall asleep as our journey continued on to the wall.
After about an hour, we had a rest stop to use the restroom and get some snacks from a market, and within another half hour, we were arriving at the bottom of a main entrance into the wall. Complete with Subway Sandiwich and KFC available for doing something cultural, and then completely westernizing it in the worst possible way. We then got our entrance, and headed for the cable cars that would take us up the mountain to our first post.
Once we got to the top, we opted to head for the tallest of the posts, post #23, where the people would become scarce at the prospect of having to climb such steep stairs to the top. Luckily, the mist never turned to rain, and in essence, gave such an amazingly cool refreshing and mystical look to the entire landscape. While at this point, I was disappointed to not see the expanse of the wall, for we could only see a few hundred feet worth in front of us, how the mist crept over the walls and left the rest hidden behind the fog was very intriguing.
We pressed onward, and the farther we went, the fewer people were around, which made for some ghostly pictures of the wall in its solitary beauty. The stones making the stairs were pretty smooth, but we finally ascended to the portion of the wall that was a lot more rough, which made it look more authentic and historically ruined.
The higher we climbed, the closer we came to post 23, where we found a random old man manning a tiny market on the side of the pathway with a sign that says, ‘Last Food or Water for next 10km+’. At this point, we had hiked for almost 1.5 hours and figured we should head back so we could make it to lunch on time. After some pictures, we started our way back which was almost as challenging as the steep stairs going up. My legs began to shake a little bit from the strenuous nature of having a backpack, balancing, and just having spent the last 1.5 hours climbing up. Oh and I was beginning to get hungry, so there’s that too.
As we started back, the clouds started to part, and the expanse of the wall was beginning to show through the mist. The overwhelming nature of this structure can be felt simply by being anywhere on the wall, and seeing an endless path in front of you. It is by far one of the most impressive things I’ve seen, and while the architecture is as ‘simple’ as being a wall, the idea behind it, as well as the length of it, has by far impressed me more so than I thought possible. I’ve seen some amazing things in this world, and finally being able to see this structure has been a very wonderful opportunity.
As we headed back, it was almost completely sunny, and the sweat started to form which I was glad now of our opposite morning. We got the best of both types of weather, which made for great pictures on both fronts. Of course leaving down the wall we were confronted by a ton of merchants offering their goods. You couldn’t help but look because there were interesting things from Mao’s Red Book, Tibetan vibration bowls, silk dresses and such. By the time we were finished looking at all the items, we were looking like we’d miss lunch. So I went to Subway and grabbed a sandwich just to make sure. Then once I got to our lunch, sure enough, the dishes were practically all done, and I had just the scraps of what was left over.
Once back on the bus, I had my sandwich which I was glad I’d bought. Our ride back was quiet as everyone was exhausted. After a couple of hours I got back to my place and relaxed. I was happy to have my own space to relax and enjoy a quiet evening at ‘home’.
Overall, the tour to the Great Wall will be one of my favorite tours, and I could have stayed even longer on the wall hiking!