Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Wall, a Park and Some Big Underpants

On my whole journey so far, I have visited a lot of cool places and then, later in the day, either on a bus or in a bar or bedroom I have written a few pointers about what the day was like a few funny stories and maybe added a bit of passion to try and describe what I had seen and experienced during the day. Today is a little bit different.…...

I am sat on a small hill, maybe 300feet high having walked for about half an hour from my new hostel. I am alone. Totally alone. The warm sun is just dipping towards the horizon behind me and in front to my left and my right is a wall. This wall climbs from down in the valley, along the razor sharp edges of the hills as they rise up towards the sky. Every now and then there is a small tower and then more wall. It stretches away to me left and disappears behind the hills, but to my right , where I can see for maybe 20 miles, it continues onwards snaking it was to the horizon. This, of course in no ordinary wall. It is a great wall. THE Great Wall.

I am actually surprised – I thought after the hype and disappointment of the Forbidden City and in the past things like the Taj Mahal, which although spectacular isn’t as good as a lot of other things I have seen. The wall is not a disappointment, It is in fact even more breathtaking than I would have imagined. Its even better when I think that instead of taking the easy tourist route of a bus there and back. I rode two local buses mixing with the local people, who all joined in a mass discussion on-board trying to help out the strange white-man – They even told an over zealous taxi driver to get away from me, when he wouldn’t take no for an answer, Today's journey has been great. A real taste of how nice, friendly and fun the Chinese people can be and I now have satisfaction that I don’t think could be matched by just being driven to see a touristy over hyped, souvenir filled bit of rebuilt wall. I was told to avoid that part and come here instead – I have been here little over an hour and you can tell by the smile on my face that I’m happy and it was worth the effort. The wall is Great.  

Later that evening a few of us sat around in the hostel with a few beers, chatting and playing on the internet. The hostel is great. The 5 bed dorm is massive and modern with great beds and a heater! There are currently only 2 of us in there – Myself and a French/Canadian lawyer called Annie, who also works temporarily at the hostel. The Hostel itself is situated in a small valley just behind the wall and claims that part of the garden wall is the wall itself! Its a really cool place with great facilities and is just so mellow. Much better that the big city hostels you find everywhere around  the world. Tomorrow, I am going on a walk up on the wall itself.

Well, what a day it was. Annie came along with me as she hadn’t yet walked the whole way from here to Jinshaling – about 10km along the wall. We started on a bit that was just derelict – Bricks laying all around on top of a hill. This turned into a proper wall – still in poor repair – but about 15-20 feet wide with the remains of watchtowers and side walls. There was then a military zone that we had to skirt around, when we found a cool old thatched cottage with old newspapers covering the walls and 3 really old deep wells outside. We took a wrong turn through a tiny village where they had a sign advertising Ice Cream! (It was about freezing!) But found our way back to the wall where we met up with a couple of German guys and a Brit, who we had chatted to earlier and had taken the correct way. This part of the wall was restored and just like you see on the TV. We walked this part for a km or so before it got dark and we headed down to the tourist car park and grabbed a taxi back to the hostel. It was brilliant to wander along the top of the hills, on top of the wall itself.

After another quiet evening in the hostel, I went out on my own the next day to tackle 'The Tiger'. This is another section of the wall in the opposite direction that yesterday. However, instead of just following along a ridge-line, this section climbed up about 500metres to the top of a peak and then down the other side. It took me about 2 ½ hours to climb – literally – up the wall – sometimes clinging onto it as it rose over the hills below. It was a beautiful day and when I reached the top there was a stunning view way way into the distance in all directions and you could see the wall snaking its way towards the horizon.

That night in the hostel and new guy arrived – Sergio  - a half Mexican American and we all enjoyed a few beers as we played top trump travel stories and showed our photos.

I woke up at 4.30am the next morning and immediately knew why. My head knew it was my last day at the wall and my legs felt like they were ready for anything – so I quietly got out of bad and after borrowing a torch from the kitchen I ventured off in the dark and up the hill to see the Great Wall at sunrise. It was probably about -10degrees – but I move quickly and apart from cold hands when I was taking pictures, I didn’t feel it much. It was one of the best things I have done in China as 2 hours later I was stood atop a watchtower as the sky turned red and then gold as dawn approached. It was amazing to be there in the middle of nowhere, all alone for 3 hours between 5 and 8am. It is a magical place.

After a cup of coffee and a shower back at the Hostel, I left to head back to Beijing, with Annie who had finished work there after 3 weeks. We grabbed a cheap taxi cab and then the 980 bus back to Beijing, arriving just after lunch. Then I wandered around a while with Annie while she looked for the place to renew her visa. We couldn’t find it though and Annie kindly told me I could leave her to look and go to my Hostel. I hope she found it. I will find out tomorrow though as we are going to meet up to have a look at the CCTV building and a beer before I finally leave China.

The wall was just amazing though. It is yet another place to add to the list of 'Words cannot describe'. The bit I walked was only about 15km or so and this thing goes on for about 4000miles.  It is indescribable.
This is the part we walked and the article describes it in a much better way than I ever could  -

My last full day in Beijing and I visited the summer palace, which is actually more of a park, with a big lake some cool bridges and a boat made of marble. It was almost like a British Autumn afternoon, with wind, leaves falling from the trees and birds flying around. It was a nice walk around though and when I headed back into town I met up with Annie again and then went to see the CCTV building – also known as 'The Big Underpants'. Its a really strange building with two towers joined at the top by about 10 stories of offices that jut out of the towers at a strange angle, meeting above the ground with nothing below. We went to a bar that is on the 80th floor of the tower above a shopping mall opposite where you a great view of the city and streets.

We Only had a couple of beers though and then I said goodbye on my way home and went to pack my bags for the USA.

I leave in a couple of hours for the airport, so Im going to nip out to the park, where there is a Pagoda/Temple overlooking the forbidden city. A couple of photos of that and I will be coming back here to the Hostel and posting my blog (Or at least sending it to Buffy to post) Thanks Buff, for doing this for the last month or so. I will be able to do it myself again very soon! Plus I will be posting ALL my photos and videos from China on Picasa and Youtube.

Overall, China has been great. I have enjoyed travelling on my own and meeting new people around the country – But I would lie if I said that after 5 months I wasnt looking forward to leaving Asia. It IS a great place to visit, but now, with the end in sight I cant wait to be able to eat normal food every meal. I wont miss the smell of fish oil being cooked like in Vietnam or the sight of days old meat being eaten in the street side caf├ęs. It has been a brilliant experience though and I have stories to tell that will take up a lot of drinking time over the next few years. But this time tomorrow, if you go by the date – I will be in San Francisco. It will actually take me about 21 hours to get there, but as I cross the international dateline – I will travel backwards and end up in SF 30 minutes before I actually take off in Beijing. Its my first bit of actual backwards time travelling and I cant wait.


  1. I totally love this place and have to visit again this coming December for holiday season with my family.

    Buzios Pousadas

  2. Yes, but Rick -did you ever see the film Waterworld?

    Hey -how do you get that map on your blog?