Monday, April 11, 2005

Day 11 - Beijing - Great Wall

Woke up this morning with a complete lack of desire to go on a 9km hike. Twisted and turned in bed for about an hour until I decided that I might regret skipping out on this and that I would then have to go find another way to get to the Western Wall, so lazy fears over uncertainty beat laziness and I went down to the hostel from where the minibus was leaving.

I got to the hostel a bit late, but the driver was even later. In any case from the hostel were leaving 2 Slovenians. When we got on the bus there were also a couple of Korean girls, a Brit, an Aussie and a girl from Singapore. The drive to the Great wall takes about 2.5 hours. Once we get there the driver turns around collects the money, points in a direction and tells us that we should make a right after the 28th tower at the bridge. So we started walking. I didn't bring a hat so I was wearing my rain jacket with a hood.

A bunch of innocent women farmers apparently decided to take the same hike on top of the wall from their village down to Simatai where the hike ends. I am sure there are more effective ways of traversing the distance other than an actual walk, but the language barrier prevented me from expressing my misunderstanding. In any case, one of the friendly farmers decided to walk near me and help me through this arduous journey. Interestingly she decided to slow down whenever I did and speed up whenever I did so and seemed concerned about my health. She then proceeded to point out several shortcuts to me. At this point I didn't feel like having a minder so I pointed out to her that I did not need a guide. She replied that there is a custom - 'one visitor, one friend walk'. I again demonstrated my lack of enthusiasm at the suggestion and she finally got to the heart of the matter. She took out a book, some postcards and other stuff that she wanted me to buy. I rejected these. I had however done a very touristy thing when I bought a 'Great Wall' baseball cap earlier on. This probably signalled me out as a good subject for hassle. In any case my farmer/friend/guide/minder followed me for the next hour or so taking every opportunity to again and again try to sell me something. After roughly the halfway point she gave up and left. From this point on there was a pleasant hike, though tiring. The hat certainly helped and I was suprised how much easier it was to hike with one's head covered. The pleasant hike was interrupted occasionally by other friendly Chinese farmers trying to sell me something.

The Wall is an interesting contraption. It goes up and down, up and down and up and down and follows the contour of the mountains. The hike I did, from Jinshanling to Simatai was of course over a rebuilt section of the wall. Even rebuilt at many points it was partially damaged. The wall is definately a feat of engineering, and is an amazing feat of what forced labor, when taken in large enough quantities and driven mercilessly can accomplish. Stretching so long and so far away from civilization I have no idea how this wall could have ever accomplished any objective. The whole length of the wall can not be guarded and it can be scaled with ropes at almost every point. The guardtowers might work during the day, but at night I doubt they would be able to do much. At the same time there is always the problem of corruption, laziness and sleep.

At the end of the hike there is a bridge for which you have to pay to cross and then a cable ride down to the bottom. There was a line for the cable, so I just walked down. At the bottom there are several restaraunts. At one of them the people who came in the minivan with me gathered and we had a meal of what was essentially barbecued chicken. The driver came a bit later, picked us up and took us back to Beijing. We got to Beijing at about 6 and some of us went to a retaraunt to get a full meal. This consisted of rice and thin pieces of chicken and beef...

After this I went back to my hotel and went to sleep. I should have gone out, but i was tired after the hike.



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