Friday, December 15, 2006

Hiking the Wall

We began the day at a section of the Great Wall to the west of Beijing. It was far enough out of the way from the Badaling section that it wasn’t crowded, but it was still touristy enough to be well kept over the years.

Our sorry excuse for a tour guide told us that we’d have ample time to climb the wall and capture the views. An hour and a half was what she gave us. I began thinking it would’ve been better if my parents and I had taken the city bus to walk the Wall ourselves--we would’ve learned just as much history from a travel office brochure as the girl speaking Chinglish gave us.

Mom and Dad didn’t look pleased staring up at the steep steps of the Wall. I knew they wouldn’t make it far before turning back. I took the bare necessities (my camera and wallet) and sped off ahead of the group. Unfortunately, I left behind my water bottle with my parents. That mistake cost me six kuai about half and hour later.

At the third tower along the Wall was a shop that sold certificates stating, “I climbed the Great Wall,” and an engraved name and date for about 80 kuai. It seemed that almost everyone stopped here for a breather and to head back down the mountain. I gazed up toward the peak and noticed the crowd dwindle with each step--that was where I wanted to be.

At the fifth tower, I was sweating profusely and a cool breeze was blowing past me. I stopped to re-hydrate with an over-priced bottle of water. I conversed with a European couple attempting to purchase a T-shirt. The gentleman didn’t realize that Chinese sizes run much larger. I explained that in the U.S. I wore a medium size, but in China my size ranged from XXL to XXXL. They laughed and purchased their enormous, foreign-sized souvenir shirt, thanked me for my help, and headed back down the steps.

At the sixth tower, I was exhausted. I met a nice university student from Fujian Province with limited English skills to match my Chinese. He graciously took a photo for me and I returned the favor. I was tempted to head back in exhaustion, but the student coaxed me into going further with him and his companions.

I took another short break at the seventh tower and began climbing to the eighth—the last tower I was convinced I would make considering it was at the peak. After a couple steps up, I glanced at my watch. I had only a half hour to make my way back down the mountain. I grudgingly turned back and hurried my steps.

Back at the second tower, I was confronted by an older Indian tourist who asked, "How much further is it?" "Depends how far you want to go," I responded. His son found this answer much more amusing than he did. I elaborated, "Well, most people buy their souvenirs and head back after the next tower. But I made my way up to the seventh." The older man didn’t appear to want to trek that far up the mountain.

I arrived at the bus just in time for our scheduled departure only to discover that we would be delayed by another half hour--enough time for me to have gone all the way to that elusive eighth tower.


Stuart said...

I think this is the same section of the Wall that I visited the first time. On that trip I climbed as far as I possibly could. Though, I was in much better shape at that time. Did you find that going back down was harder than going up?

Everyday Critic said...

Sometimes going down was harder than going up...especially when I looked down. But I was in a hurry to meet the stupid tour guide and couldn't really think about it much.

daydreamer said...

As a Chinese, I'm ashamed of saying that I've never been to Badaling when I was in China. Is the eighth tower the highest one?