26 July 2007

The Great Wall Experience

I'm having such a good time traveling that I'm lagging behind in updates. This overcast afternoon is my opportunity to redeem myself. Hopefully I'll get to cover all of China.

As soon as we arrived in Beijing, Tracy and I booked spots on a bus to the Great Wall. Since day one of trip planning, I have been adamant about wanting to see the unspoiled part of the Wall. So, we decided to hike from Jinshaling to Simatai. A 10K (6.2 miles) walk should be easy enough, right? It can't be that difficult if it's in a tour book. Sure, Amanda.

The mere detail of getting from Beijing to Jinshaling and Simatai to Beijing was interesting enough, but I'll talk about Chinese traffic in another post. Let's just say that I first suspected we might be in for more than we requested when the 90-minute bus ride we were expecting turned out to be nearly 4 hours.

Nonetheless, we were excited to arrive at the Wall! Tracy wisely "convinced" me to ride a gondola from the bus to the base of the Wall to conserve energy for the hike. By the time we got to the top, I was down right gitty! The parts of the Wall near the access points are in pretty good shape. These sections have been renovated and maintained over the years. The farther we got from Jinshaling, the worse the shape of the wall. It's still intimidating, but it is most definitely crumbling in sections. Interestingly enough, the terrain also became incredibly difficult after leaving the immediate Jinshaling area. The photos of this area are gorgeous, but reaching them proves a struggle to anyone who's not truly fit. One memorable section had three sections of 100+ steep, tiny steps each separated by a small watch house. A handful of local people were walking the Wall hoping to sell water and/or provide assistance to those who weren't prepared.

The Wall is every bit as amazing as your most imaginative dreams. Really. The analogy of it being a dragon along the mountains reigns true. It's tall - probably 15 feet (3 meters) - in most places. When standing on top, some places have tall walls while other areas have only the base remaining. At one point, we were standing there looked at the Great Wall as far as we could see in front and behind us without anyone else within sight. Talk about goosebumps! I feel privileged to have been able to experience it and hope that my pictures will say what I'm not able to articulate.

But wait - that's not all. By the time Tracy and I reached the end of our hike in the Simatai area, we were done. Pure exhaustion set in. And then we discovered the "flying foxes." For 35 RMB (less than $5), you could zipline from the Wall to the area where our bus back to the city was waiting. I hesitated, but wise Tracy convinced me that nothing would feel better than some good ol' fashioned wind in the face. Yes! It was fantastic! We each ziplined down the gully and across the river. It was a truly unique way to end a very special day!

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