Zac and I chose
to do a 10km hike along an unrestored part of the Great Wall, from
Jinshanling to Simatai. We had arranged a mini-bus to the wall through
our hotel so at 6:30 a.m. we left for a 3 hour bus ride to Jinshanling. It
wasn’t too far away, actually, but there was no highway going from Beijing
to the Great Wall, so we had to wrestle with traffic the whole way there.
Finally, our driver dropped all of us off next to a cornfield and gestured up a path. He
said he would pick everyone up at 3:30 in Simatai.
At this place, the approach to the wall was
beautiful—there were no tourist gimmicks, only a beautiful blue sky, warm
autumn weather, and a trail winding up to the Wall. At the Wall, we had to
pay an entrance fee, climb up some steps, and then we were there: Sera and
Zac walking on the Great Wall of China. Throughout
the hike, I had difficulty entertaining any romantic notions about the Wall
and I didn’t think much of it at all except that it seemed like a silly idea
and a waste of money and manpower. But who am I to question emperors past?
Perhaps they were just crazy megalomaniacs, but maybe they had great
foresight and knew that someday hoards of tourists would pay money to come
and walk on it. Or maybe they knew how photogenic a wall winding atop the hills
would be once someone invented a camera, who am I to say?
What I can say is this: it was a
gorgeous day and I was grateful to those poor people so long ago for
building a path across the tops of the mountains so that one day we could enjoy walking
there. Instead of pondering ancient intentions, I enjoyed the scenery and
appreciated my good fortune which had brought me to such a momentous place.
I was thankful for being able to experience things I had never imagined I
would. Of the whole Beijing trip, that day was the best.
As to the Wall itself, well, it was a wall. Because we
were on the part that had not been restored, it was crumbling. Because it
was on top of hills, we continually walked up and down. The steps were also
disintegrating, and some parts were quite steep and gravelly. Every so
often there was a guard tower—cold and dark on the inside, in various states
of disrepair on the outside. The wall was also peppered with people
shouting, as you came near them, “Cold water, coke, beer…” or “Later buy
book, ok?” or “T-shirt? Great Wall T-shirt?” Luckily these people were few
and far between, so for most of the walk we were unmolested and quite