Published: October 15th 2009October 8th 2009
Our first view of the wall
Our first feelings of despair
Today we finally made it to the great wall. We were supposed to go a fortnight ago, but Sue was sick. Then we were supposed to go the following Thursday, but the big poo of a national day got in the way again, so we put it off till today, so it's been a long time coming, and to be honest I half expected we'd never make it. The part of the wall we went to is called Simatai, which, according to the website, is celebrated
for its steepness, queerness, and intactness
It is definitely intact, and its steepness was never in question. I was a bit confused about the queerness until Lloyd posed for a photo. Then all was revealed. Metaphorically speaking anyway. So yeah, the day started thusly:
We woke up nice and early at 6:00. Lloyd and I realised that the only way we could possibly make it to the station we had to get to was to promise the girls a MacDonald's breakfast. For the last 5 weeks, cattle prods wouldn't have made those girls move faster. You give them the dangling carrot of a MacDonald's breakfast (which incidentally has very little to do with cattle), and
In the chairlift up the moutain
all of a sudden we couldn't keep up with them! So we made it there in record time, and had a leisurely breakfast. The driver who we hired's name was Mr Pei (even in chinese characters, his name is Mister Pei, very weird guy). If you ever want to meet a shifty character, here's your man. We'd (I will be using the term "we" very loosely in this blog - it's usually Lloyd - he needs the practice in Chinese) negotiated a price and all the details a week in advance, and when we rocked up he had a little mini-van and told us that there would be another group of people coming with us. We got annoyed, decided that wasn't going to happen, and so he arranged for another driver to take us out.
The drive is a LONG
drive - about an hour and a half I think - I sort of dozed off a few times. The scenery when I was awake was fantastice though, and when you start driving through some of the rural villages you can see life in China as I imagine it was hundreds of years ago - except for
Kate & Lloyd
Ever wonder what they would look like in a chairlift? Now you know!
the occasional truck and tractor. People are still getting about on bikes towing trailers with ridiculously huge loads, there are mule-drawn carts, people threshing whatever people thresh, and other things. The major feature though is the corn. They all grow corn, and then stack it up on top of their houses, or in their yards, or tied to trees, or anywhere they can find a place, and wait for it to dry out. I read somewhere that they are mostly interested in the actual plant for livestock feed, and the corn is just an added bonus, but I have a fair amount of skepticism about that - these aren't the sort of people who do things without a very good reason.
So the whole drive was littered with little villages of clay huts, splashed with yellow corn stacks, and an overwhelming sense of dust, which apparently has very little fat, so if you are dieting, dust is a good thing to eat.
We eventually arrived at the wall, paid for our tickets, and then paid for our other tickets to actually get to the wall, and then got on the chairlift. China is a bit scary, and when
Yep, we walked every inch of this and more
you think of how many people live here, you realise that if one or two die in a chairlift accident, it's probably not going to be treated as a major deal by most people - Workplace Health & Safety isn't a common practice around here. So keeping that in mind, we got into an antique cable car - which we had to jump into because they don't stop, then the lady chased it because she couldn't shut the door, and almost plummeted off the platform before she eventually succeeded, and we were finally on our way to what was, in all likelihood, our doom.
But, we made it, just a short walk up a hill on a gravel path and we were at the wall, and all of a sudden you realise that it REALLY IS massive - I mean, obviously, a wall that is 6,250KMs long is going to be impressive, and when it's 15 feet wide, that's pretty impressive too. And being built on the top of a mountain range 1500 years ago raises a few eyebrows. But it's not until you actually stand on the wall and see it stretching forever infront of you and behind
you, up and down the mountain ridges, that you realise two things.
Firstly, you realise that no matter what you write about it, or how you try to explain it to other people, words are never going to be enough to describe the magnitude of the wall, and how many people it must have taken, and how horrible the work must have been, and just how much money the Emperors must have had to even consider building it.
Secondly, you realise that it's a really, really, really long way to walk, and the mountains are really, really, really steep, and you're really, really, really unfit.
But we powered on anyway. The first half of the walk is relatively wild - it's still very well looked after and nothing like the bits of the wall that aren't maintained, but compared to other bits it's a tiny bit treacherous, some of the steps are a bit scary, and somtimes you have to jump off the wall for a few hundred metres. One set of stairs was particularly demoralising because it seemed from where we were standing (panting) that they were virtually vertical, and pretty badly eroded.
2 hours we arrived at a watchtower where we hadn't realised you were supposed to go around it off the wall for a while, so we jumped into one of the windows and sat around in there for about half an hour and had our lunch - it was really nice, completely secluded (because nobody was dumb enough to walk up a path that was obviously a dead end!), nice and cool, and had a fantastic view. I even got to write my Chinese name on one of the walls with a bit of mortar I found lying on the ground, so if you ever got there, look for the worst formed chinese character in the entire tower, and that's me!
After that we walked for another half an hour and got to a couple of guys that told us that we had to buy another ticket to keep going along the wall. Get this, there's a ticket office at the beginning where you pay I think RMB40. There is NO mention of any other tickets, they never say that you can only go halfway and then you have to buy another ticket, nothing like that. Typical China really,
Stairs of Despair
We deemed Kate to be the fittest one
they do things in such strange ways. They could easily charge RMB80, they wouldn't lose a single customer, and you wouldn't have to get annoyed at the top of the mountain. The only two options you have are to pay or to walk back where you came from! Luckily we all had money with us because I would have been spewing if we had to walk back again!
The section was following that had been very well restored. The walking from there on was much easier for the most part, and the views were even more spectacular - but I think I'll just let the photos do the talking for that.
At the end, you can either take a cable car, walk or catch a flying fox down and then a boat - the flying fox is the obvious choice. Susie and I both got strapped in and you fly down over a lake, and get dropped off waiting for a little boat to take you to where our driver picked us up and took us home.
It was a fantastic day, I can't believe how much I loved the wall, and how much more impressive it
Just to give some perspective on how steep some of it is.
was even than I expected.
Argh! I had about 30 photos with captions, and this blog site just wiped half of them and changed the captions for the rest of them - very upsetting. I'm only putting half of them up again.
That's all for today, we're off on our holiday from our holiday tomorrow night, first to Xi'an, then to Pingyao, and finally to Datong before getting back to Beijing. Not sure about the internet there, so the blogs may be a bit thin.
Hope everybody's OK - send me messages!!!
There are more photos below