Sunday, October 4, 2009

I'll huff and I'll puff

And then I'll get overheated. Climbing the Great Wall was a real experience, though true adventurers should definitely head for the unrestored wall on a tour with Wild China or Wild Wall, or even just the day hike from Jianshanling to Simatai. We headed for Mutianyu, about an hour directly north of Beijing, a drive taking you through small towns and past tons of newly planted trees, which a Chinese student told us were done to cut down dust for the Olympics.

Mutianyu is well restored, but at least early in the morning, quite peaceful. When we started climbing around (before 9am), we were perhaps two of ten people on the Wall. It was, as promised, steep and slightly perilous in parts, even though so well restored. I didn't see anyone tumble, but I did hear people saying that they had fallen down stair sections. I calmly and shamelessly resorted to all fours on the steep parts. Why not? Easier than trying to hang off a shoulder-height flanking wall.

The little watchtowers were quite interesting, though of course bare. Little animal stone carvings decorate the corners, and you could even climb up on the roof of some of them. The unrestored section isn't just slightly crumbly on top; it's completely overgrown with shrubs and weeds. You can barely see the wall. I'd imagine that the Wild China tours must go to parts of the wall that are in a more desert location than Mutianyu's greenery, which was quite lush. We got good views of it from the ski lift that carries you up, and then on the toboggan that you can take down. My first toboggan ride! It would have been more fun if the middle-aged European lady in front of me hadn't been terrified to go at more than a crawl.

All in all, an excellent half-day trip, complete with a lovely, friendly cab driver (a black taxi arranged by our concierge). We bought him a bottle of tea, and he then felt compelled to stop and buy us some fruit.

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