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 peaceful.