One of the key things Lauren wanted to do in China was, of course, visit the great wall. I had visited years before, when in China teaching English, but was more than happy to go again. There are various options for visiting from Beijing – the closest parts can be accessed by public transport and get ridiculously busy. This is also the Chinese summer holiday period, so I decided we would book a tour that could take us further out and get us there early. While it’s almost impossible to escape the crowds in China, I did want to at least be able to walk along the wall for a while in relative peace.
Another reason for choosing the part of the wall that we did is that it has a ski lift up to the top of the mountain, so you can concentrate on walking along the very steep great wall itself, and, best of all, a ‘toboggan ride’ down. The wall runs along the tops of mountain ridges, and I saw no need to exhaust ourselves on the way up and down if there were fun ways to get there instead.
We set off early in a minibus with a bunch of other tourists – a Dutch family with teenage girls, a couple from the US, a Spanish speaking couple and some young Chinese guys.
Once there we all split up. Lauren and I headed straight for the ski lift, which was great fun, if a little scary. Lauren freaked out about getting in while it was moving, but once safely in proceeded to shriek and squeal and say how amazing it was, while jiggling up and down in her seat. I just hung on and tried not to look down on the forest canopy below, telling her through gritted teeth to sit bloody still!!!
We decided to do the ‘arduous’ trek to a watchtower beyond which the wall had not been maintained. It was very arduous. Not that far really, but so steep that at times we were using our hands, and the relentless sun and almost 100 percent humidity was a killer. By the time we finally reached the last watchtower, I could wring the sweat out of my top, our eyes were stinging from the combination of suncream and sweat flooding them, and our knees were shaking. It was worth it though, if only to get away from the crowds who gave up halfway, and for the spectacular views over the surrounding mountains. It was a bit hazy (hence the humidity) but still, you could imagine being an ancient Chinese warrior looking out for barbarians coming from the North. Well, Lauren could. I just sat in the shade of the watchtower and tried to get my breath, sucking on a water bottle.
Once somewhat recovered, we headed back – the steep steps almost as challenging on the way down as on the way up – and queued up for our ‘toboggan’ ride. This was really a small plastic cart with wheels, that ran down a metal slide, twisting and turning as it headed down the mountain. It felt very unstable, despite a rudimentary brake you could apply, and there were guys at most bends shouting at you to go faster or slow down. In Chinese, so I never knew which…..
There had been signs all over saying children ten and under had to be accompanied by an adult on a double cart, then when we arrived at the front of the queue, the guy just motioned Lauren into a cart and she was off, without a backward glance. After a moment’s hesitation I jumped in a cart and tried to catch up, but apart from the odd glimpse of her below me or the occasional ‘wheeeeeee….’ heard through the trees, that was it until we reached the bottom. The ride lasted about ten minutes, Lauren loved it, but I was just grateful to reach the end in one piece. There was no way I was taking pictures while I went, so we forked out for a picture at the booth at the end, so this is a picture of a picture….
Once down, we treated ourselves to a stupidly expensive ice cream, then wandered among the stands buying our China ‘swag’ (we try to get a pin, a postcard and a magnet in each country) then reconvened with the group for a ‘traditional chinese meal’ at a local restaurant. This was most definitely a westerner-friendly Chinese ‘traditional’ meal though, with all dishes containing identifiable meat and vegetables, and no innards, insects or full chillies. Bland but tasty.
And that effectively concluded our time in Beijing, and in fact in China.