Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Great Wall of China

A trip to The Great Wall was a certainty at some point during my stay in China. I couldn't imagine staying here for 2 years and not making a visit to it. As it was, I felt like my 5 month stay was far too long without venturing to this historic icon.

I was prepared to go during Christmas break since the start of the school year really. When I divulged these plans to people they advised me to dress warm because at that time of year Beijing is so cold. The winds out in the open would make it that much worse. I didn't want weather to deter me, so I purchased a large thermal jacket from the pearl market in Shanghai. I spent just over $100 on the coat and was hoping I didn't get ripped off by too much as I was not sure what I should be paying and I had to barter to get the price that I did get (a future post will go into detail about this). I looked at the same jacket online and it cost over $800 so regardless of if I could have acquired it cheaper here, I did save plenty of money.

Another constant warning was about the pollution and air quality in Beijing. Not surprising as this is an ongoing issue in most major cities in China, Shanghai included! Beijing is the capital of the country and of the air pollution problem. I would not let this deter me either, although I was really hoping I would be able to see clearly while on the wall.

There are many parts to the Great Wall. It stretches for close to 9000 km, with over 6000 km of actual wall. Some of the wall has been restored while other parts are rubble reminiscent of a structure built over a thousand years ago. The restored area is the area most tourists trek to.

I went with the tour group Beijing Hikers. The tour took us from Jiankou, an unrestored section of the wall, to the restored section of the wall in Mutianyu.

To start, we took a bus from Beijing to a small village. We hiked from there up to a tower close to 1000 meters above sea level.

The weather wasn't frigid. The wind wasn't noticeable. In addition, I was climbing up a mountain and physically exerting myself. The conditions made the need for a jacket non existent, let alone the thermal jacket that I was wearing.

When we got close to the first tower on the wall, we took a small break to remove excess, unneeded clothing. I took off the sweater I had on underneath my coat. The arms were damp due to sweat.

We finally arrived at the top where we found a crumbling tower of the Great Wall of China. It was so exciting to be standing on it. I thought to myself, I am finally here. I wondered if the 8 year old me from 1993 would have been pleased. There were some wooden ladders set against some ledges so we could climb into the tower and onto the wall.

Inside the tower there were layers of stone that we could climb up in order to get to the top of the watch tower. I could really tell how effective the wall could be in terms of defense. You would be able to see a group of people well before they ever arrived to the wall, especially considering the lack of transportation available thousands of years ago.

I was hot so I removed my coat once again. When I placed it nicely on the ground I noticed that I had steam pouring off my body. It reminded me of a cartoon who is so dirty he is drawn with dirt surrounding him (like Pigpen from Charlie Brown). I eventually decided I needed to get my sweater out again and retire the Canadian Goose furnace I was carrying around. It was good to know it worked though. It was so bulky that I needed help closing my back pack when I folded it up and crammed it in.

I was really enjoying being on the wall. The weather was warm for the time of year and the visibility was super clear that day. A lady from New Zealand who had hiked the wall twice before this said it was as clear that day as in New Zealand. Looks like I ended up being extremely lucky compared to my pre-warnings.

The hike continued along the top of the wall. At parts it was just a bunch of rubble that was being taken over by tress, shrubs and weeds. Some parts were extremely steep and I was glad for the small trees to grab a hold of and keep from tumbling down the wall and taking out everyone else who was struggling to stay sure footed. The sides of the wall were also helpful for this leverage.

We hiked along the wall as a group without meeting other tourists while on the unrestored part. We had a local tour guide from the small village we started in. Along the way one of the guides asked him to take her picture and then explained to those around that he won the 2013 contest for best Great Wall picture. I took several pictures myself, but I am sure I won't be up for any award.

One thing I enjoy about these types of tours is meeting other people who are traveling. A lot of people seemed to be traveling in threesomes on the wall. The ones I talked to the most were from New Zealand and Sweden. There were also a couple of lone climbers--like myself--one from England, and the other was a guy from Slovenia but had lived in Toronto since he was 10.

Once we arrived at the restored part of the wall we started to see other hikers. I was wearing a Detroit Tigers sweater and someone commented on it and asked if I was from Michigan. While explaining I was from Ontario, someone else walked by and announced they were from Michigan.

Just because the wall was restored, it didn't make the climb down the wall any easier. The stairs were extremely steep and my legs were sore for a few days after the hike. It did however make for nicer pictures and was more of what I had envisioned when I thought of the wall.

We arrived at the part of the wall where our trek was completing. We had the option of taking a
toboggan slide that we were told Beyonce had also taken, but I didn't have any interest. After the day the tour took us to a local restaurant where we socialized some more before we rode the bus 2 hours back into Beijing.

It's funny how you can have high expectations for things and they fail to live up to the expectations. Some of these things may have been pretty cool had they not been hyped up. I find this especially true for movies. It is unfortunate, really, that expectations can ruin otherwise good movies or outings. The pyramids kind of did this to me, although I am still glad I saw them. The Great Wall of China also had these expectations from me. Unlike the pyramids however, they did not disappoint. At the moment, I can't imagine leaving China without visiting the wall once more. The weather and the visibility luck probably had a lot to do with my positive experience on the wall. I wonder if I would be singing the same tune had I not been able to see the wall for miles in the distance.


  1. Glad it was such a great experience. You posted some nice pics.

  2. See now you are making me jealous.

  3. Andy, you are truly a world traveler. I was on the Great Wall this time five years ago, and like you I am grateful to have had the experience.