We woke up and got going early in the morning. The weather has been hot lately and the traffic in Beijing is notoriously bad so it is a good thing. This is the climax of the trip visiting a landmark that is renowned for its breadth and boldness. It was built to keep the Mongols out and now it serves to draw people to it serving as a symbol of a nation.
Our bleary eyes told the story this early in the morning. Seven in the a.m. is not the type of time to be meeting up let alone waking up. Somehow the draw of the Wall gave us the motivation to do it. We have been through a lot together in the roughly three weeks that we have spent together. We have endured long train journeys and all kinds of weather. This was the icing on the cake so we met with the same joyous attitude as before. There was the usual bit of banter and hive mentality at least enough to make it to the bus for the journey there so that a bit of kip could supplement the early rise.
Looking around out the window as we moved through the traffic it was easy to see why we left so early. Already the traffic was building up as folk made their way to most likely their jobs in some corporate office somewhere. I drifted in and out of conscoilusness for a while until we hit the country lanes and the buildings turned from corporate megaliths to homely buildings and eventually to weird looking tourist attractions. There was an odd ghost of the APEC meeting that was hosted here last year present in some of the signage everywhere.
When we got to the base of the wall we had two choices in how we wanted to get up to see the wall. One of them was to climb the path and the other was to take the gondola ride. Everyone except those crazy Brits took the latter. Once up top the wall snaked along the ridge as far as the eye could see. The turrets periodically peaked out from the backbone serving as markers and goals to be reached both high and low along the ridge.
The goal was to reach the twenty third turret that offered a view as well as something to do. We marched along each at our own pace in small groups towards that goal. The pace was hampered by the views offered to us by the height of the Wall. Some places were restored well while others had uneven pavement. There were sections that were quite steep where one almost had to crawl up the wall. It’s amazing that people used this for defense at all.
The original wall was built by the Qin emperor the same one that was responsible for building the Terracotta Army. As Harvey explained to us he spent a lot of resources building all kinds of projects and due to his strong will many people suffered and his dynasty couldn’t sustain such strain and fell soon after his death. The wall as it stands today was built six hundred or so years ago and stretches from the ocean to the Gobi desert some four or five thousand kilometers away. It was maintained and manned by all the successive emperors in that time and now is a historical monument and one of the wonders of the world.
Climbing to the twenty-third turret was a sweaty affair. The steepness of some of the parts took a toll not only on us but on everyone who made it a goal to reach it. There were other tourists who struggled to get there. A tourist attraction such as this wouldn’t be complete without vendors selling water and knock knacks along the way. Once we got to the twentieth turret the hardest part seemed to be over. Not that the rest of the way was easy. That initial push from fourteen where we started invigorated us, waking up the senses and the energy reserves making the rest of the way a easier to get to.
A brief pause admiring the view and the atmosphere and the look up the slope to the next destination motivated us to keep going. We each encouraged each other to keep going not through words necessarily but through our actions. Putting one foot in front of the other putting one step after another the climb was managed piecemeal. Before we knew it we reached our goal and the state of what lay beyond twenty-three didn’t need exploring. I had a sharpie and we marked the wooden fence surrounding the last turret. In a way we left a mark on the wall.
The climb down had its own goal to make it to the sixth turret to ride the slide all the way down. The journey to it was a lot easier although there were still parts that required us to climb up. We took a lot of pictures walking along both on the way up and on the way down. The haze that hung in the air hampered the full view of the vista in front of us but the excitement of being there erased all the worries. It’s a wonderful place and the portion that we visited wasn’t as packed as some of the others could be.
We ambled along until we finally reached the part which had the slide. Nothing better than finishing off the visit with a quick ride down the track that is unless you are stuck behind an old man with a bit of trepidation about going fast. I had to pause a few times after going fast in order to prevent getting close to him. Regardless though it was fun.
The long bus journey back to the hotel was preceded by a well deserved lunch. It is a good thing too as it took us more than twice the time it did to get to the wall. Traffic snarled at a slow pace as the sheer volume of cars made their way into the city. There was one close call as a car swerved others turning left. Crazy guy. Good thing the bus driver was paying attention in between fielding calls on his cell phone.
Exhausted, we got to our rooms for some much needed rest. The busses are not that comfortable with their narrow seats and trying to sleep on them cranks my neck in an uncomfortable way. I sat there watching the slow moving traffic most of the way. When we got to our room there was still the problem with drainage. I felt embarrassed going to the front desk to deal with the issue but nature compelled me to do so.
We had a few hours before we were to meet up for the Beijing Duck that we were going to have for dinner. Everyone had plenty of time to get ready as the bitter sweet moment to say goodbye approached. We really did have a group and I think we all enjoyed our time together. There certainly was a lot of laughter as we got more and more comfortable being around each other. The photos speak for themselves and I hope that someday we see each other again some way.