Friday, February 13th, 2004 – Day 360

Friday, February 13th, 2004 – Day 360

I was up at 7.00am and had breakfast (included in the price). I then booked out and rebooked into the hostel across the road which is 60 Yuan per night but does not include the TV, ensuite facilities. At 7.35, I met the mini bus. We collected about half a dozen other back packers.

The Chinese call it Wan Li Chang Cheng, the “Long Wall of Ten-Thousand Li.” (with three li to the mile). Actually, the Great Wall is even longer than its poetic name claims, measuring about 6,200 miles from east to west, counting all its serpentine sections. The Wall’s origins go back at least to the 5th century B.C., when the rival kingdoms of the Warring States Period (453-221 B.C.) built defensive ramparts against their enemies. The First Emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang Di, fortified the barriers in the 3rd century B.C. Over a 10-year period, 300,000 conscripted laborers, many of them slaves, knit the walls into a continuous rampart to protect the western frontier. New sections extended the Wall east to the Yellow Sea.

The Great Wall was constantly repositioned along new routes as successive dynasties rose and fell. In the year A.D. 607, more than a million workers toiled on this line of defense, but soon after, the Great Wall was abandoned. The Mongols eventually broke through from the north and established the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1271-1368), making Beijing their capital. Their successors, the emperors of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), set in motion the last great phase of wall-building, which created the Great Wall as we see it today north of Beijing.

The Great Wall at Simatai is quiet, remote, and virtually unreconstructed; it is far less crowded than other sections of the Great Wall near Beijing. Locals proclaim it the most dangerous section of the Great Wall. Because it is largely unrestored, it does indeed have difficult and dangerous passages to hike. Fortification aficionados consider Simatai the most beautiful section of the Great Wall. It is beautiful, but its main aesthetic attraction is its state of ruin. This is how the Great Wall really looks 500 years after the Ming constructed it. Simatai is also a paradise for hikers and hill walkers with its dramatic natural scenery, the contours of the sharp peaks heightened by the outline of the Great Wall and its crumbling watchtowers.

The Chengde highway to Simatai is smooth; the countryside, green. At Miyun Reservoir, the terrain steepens. The roadside is clotted with fishing families selling their catch, enormous reservoir trout, many 3 feet long, sheathed in plastic and suspended on posts like lanterns. At Gubeikou, 70 miles northeast of Beijing, a country lane winds 7 more miles through the foothills to Simatai Village and the entrance to the Wall. The town at the base is tiny. The main street leading to the Wall has a few beef noodle cafes, souvenir shops, and vendor shelters stocked with T-shirts and Great Wall tablecloths, but this is a mere minnow pond of sellers compared to the ocean of hawkers flooding the gates to Badaling and Mutianyu. Towering high over the village is the formidable outline of the Great Wall at Simatai, slithering like a dragon’s back over a series of sharp, clipped peaks.

You can visit the Great Wall most easily at four dramatic points near Beijing. I would be walking from Jinshanling to Simatai. Simatai is a wild, nearly unrestored segment, farther from Beijing and, as a consequence, far less inundated with tour buses – a fitting representative of the greatest wall ever built by man–what one 19th-century traveler called a “fantastic serpent of stone.”

It took 3.5 hours on the bus to get there. I didn’t bring any food or supplies as it a 10 km walk. We started at noon and the bus would collect so at 4.00pm. I didn’t think there would be any problem walking 10km in four hours. Six backpackers walked. We were the only people walking this stretch that day. You could walk the 10km in 2 hours and we took our time, stopping to chat and take pictures. There were three English people, one Canadian and one two Norwegians (brother and sister). We had some hawkers selling postcards follow us the first 1/3 but they headed back. It was far colder than Beijing and we had a small snow shower, but the wall itself surpassed my expectations.

I was expecting tour buses, hawkers, souvenir seller and restored walls but we were the only people on the wall, the only bus and the wall stretched as far as I could see in most directions. It looked fantastic. I could not believe how lucky we were to get the place to ourselves. We had a very enjoyable day stopped to talk lots of times and spending other times in silence contemplating the magnitude of the wall.

We arrived at the end of the walk at 4.30pm where the bus was waiting. You have to buy two tickets at 30 Yuan each (3 Euro). One ticket each for Jinshanling and the Simatai sections.

It was cold and windy by 4.30pm and most of the bus was falling asleep. We were on a three lane highway back to Beijing and we were in the outside lane. All of a sudden, a truck passing in front of us to turn right down a small road. He did it without warning and our driver had to apply the brakes fully to avoid hitting him. We all got a jolt. All of a sudden our driver let out a roar and started following the said truck down the road at top speed. We went about 2 miles down the road following the truck at top speed until we passed him. A few back packers were roaring at out driver at this stage to forget about it. Our driver stopped in the middle of the road so s to stop them moving off.

We then went up to the drivers window and smashed it with a screwdriver. He then dragged him out and started belting him and trying to drag me into our bus. We then started hitting him with the screw driver. Half the bus was shouting for the driver to stop. The other half (me included) were egging him on to smack him.

After a few minutes our driver returned and we heading back on our journey. No body slept the rest of the trip. It took four hours to get dropped off back at my hostel.

I found a nice place to eat (I hadn’t eaten all day) and had three bug meals. I had stripped pork plate with vegetables. I had a large plate of chicken fried in garlic with onions and a very large bowl of rice and a beer. I also had a side plate of green vegetables. It could have fed 3 people. I was so hungry though. It all came to 23 Yuan (2.30 Euro).

There are so many restaurants here. Very second building is a restaurant. The only thing is hygienic. What I don’t see I don’t care about. It was a family restaurant. There was a granny and grand kid. With kids here, they wont wear nappies but a had a slit in the back of their pants so that they pee and crap in the street. In the restaurant with the encouragement of the rest of the family, a little kid about 3 years of age, peed in the restaurant floor in front of me. Not a pretty site.

by the way – my hostel:

Far East International Youth Hostel

113 Tieshuxie Jie, Qianmen Wai

60 Yuan day/ with a breakfast coupon most people upgraded with an extra 5Y.

It’s southeast of Qianmen gate at the southern end of Tiananmen Square walking distance to many good cheap restaurants, sites, and shopping. You can walk to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven or the metro line to the rest of the city.

Metro stations are Qianmen and Heipingmen.

Ita a good place as you can walk to the metro and its near many of the main sites. It can be find first time out bit once located you will find it a quiet spot far from the noisy traffic. There are also some bus stops here.

It’s on an old Hutong street, in American that would be “Hey, this looks just like an alley! You can get nice pork and verg meals in the alleys and I never felt unsafe there. They are empthy after ten but I walked it with no problems. There a great ense of community in these alley ways even in Beijing with 16m people.

(p.s I did not relaise it was Friday the 13th until I was going to bed).

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

the Great Wall – Beijing (13-02-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

the Great Wall – Beijing (13-02-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

the Great Wall – Beijing (13-02-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Frozen river near the Great Wall – Beijing (13-02-2004)