THE GREAT WALL: Day 194, Tuesday March 11 2014

Zhuangdaokou great wall hike

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Meiqi hadn’t slept well, but at least she seemed in a bit of a better mood. I walked out on the street to look around as soon as they opened the front gate. The town itself was small, not much to see but grey house and grey roads. And then I turned to the mountains, and there, high in the peaks before us stood two watch towers. “I can see it! I can see it! There’s the wall!” Nate and Meiqi came to join me while our hosts, and the few people on the streets, looked at me like I was crazy.

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After tomatoes, eggs, and rice for breakfast we struck out for the wall following the lonely planet book’s instructions “Follow the lane along the stream and then up behind the houses until it meets a rocky pathway that leads up the wall. Once at the wall… turn left to commence a two hour hike along a crumbling stretch of shrub covered wall.” (2013, Harper D. Et al)

“I feel like I’m marching to Morador and the mount doom.” Meiqi commented as we kicked through the mountains which were darker shadows int he grey landscape and heavy mist.

“I don’t know if the wall really was supposed to be a beautiful happy place.” I mused, “I mean most people sent to work at the wall didn’t come back, it would kind of been like marching to mount doom for them.”

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It didn’t take more then 20 minutes before we came to a sign with holes in it that claimed the wall was closed. Below in some sort of pen a previous traveler had scribbled “are you sure?”

“Uh Jenn, it looks like the wall’s closed,” Meiqi commented.

Nah,” I replied, “the book says to walk past that sign and climb the stairs to the wall.” I couldn’t help but laugh as Meiqi’s face grew incredulous and she let out a gufaw of half laughter, half disbelief. I don’t think China’s been at all what she expected.

“What’s the point of a wall when there’s a hole in it?” Nate asked, we were at a gate that led both up the wall and through the wall.

“Well I imagine this would have been guarded.” I replied.

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To our right was a section of restored wall winding off into the distance. The stone was smooth and grey. The watch tower stood proud and tall as it must have when the wall was new. To our left crumbling stone led off into the distance on a winding path that snaked up and down and around the mountains. The guard tower on this side was nothing but a crumbling ruin. Turning left we began our first climb of the day up to the first guard tower.

We were dripping sweat by the time we got to the top. We were over dressed! We’d opted for layers, but had chosen too many. We found a spot to store our stuff and left some layers behind.

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We began to realize that when lonely planet said “treacherous” they meant it. There was one place where we had to step out over a gap that plummeted to the ground on the wall’s northern side, and rock climb up to one of the towers. There were a couple other places that would be sketchy doing in the other direction, so we decided we’d have to find a different way back, and make the 20 minute hike back up to get our clothes after.

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Each guard tower was unique in it’s own way, each in a different state of disarray. Some were so warn down that they were nothing but platforms, while others had mazes of walls. Similarly, some sections were wide and flat, while others the sides had crumbled away, and the stone carried away (a lot of it was used to build the houses in the nearby villages), to such a degree that nothing but a thin foot path was left. Farther from town there were sections of wall that still had upper battlements with arrow holes.

As we neared the next small town the wall became so rough and warn that it was inadvisable to continue, and we instead followed a footpath back down. We managed to catch a bus on our walk back to our hostel. Nate volunteered to climb back up and get our stuff. Meiqi and I looked for somewhere to eat, but other then our little hostel the town was pretty dead. We ended up ordering a pork and chestnuts dish, along with three bowls of rice, from the hostel.

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The bus back to Beijing was swarming with school children. Nate had his 3DS with him, witch attracted a lot of attention. One boy wouldn’t stop grabbing Nate’s hair!

Back in Beijing we managed to fit in some shopping at the silk market before our train home. Nate wanted to ship a bunch of silk shirts back home for his friends and family. He bought twelve, and the lady he bought them from met us in the subway station to make the deal!

When we made it to the train station the ticket office was closed! We couldn’t book tickets on the machines without a Chinese ID! After momentary panic we realized the sign said “ticket office 5,” meaning there must be other ticket offices. We managed to buy tickets from “ticket office 6”.

Up the five flights of stairs, that on tired legs feels like Tai Shan, and in through our door. Home!

We’d warned Meiqi that she’d have to wait 30 minutes for the shower water to heat up, but she didn’t want to wait. “Um guys? I think I broke your shower head.” a forlorn voice came through the door a few minutes later. Somehow she had turned it so that the water only came out at a trickle. We couldn’t fix it, but she seemed to get more or less clean regardless.

I’d forgotten about some of the house’s quirks, which all came to light when we were trying to get Meiqi to settle in. “Don’t close the bathroom door, it has no handle on the outside, the light in the kitchen doesn’t work, the paneling’s lifting off…” all of this made her break down in hysterical laughter that we all kind of joined in on.

In the end I suppose all of the misadventures could be chalked up to “the curse”. Ever since my mom was a child she’d had an interesting sort of luck, everything’s always turned out, but not how you’d expect. I distinctly remember paddling furiously across a lake, on more then one occasion, to stay a head of a thunderstorm when I was growing up, the skies opening up and drenching us, and just making it to shore before brilliant bolts of lightning lit of the sky. Another instance had me holding a sliding van door back on to the vehicle, as we drove very slowly. It had slid right off when we’d tried to open it! I must of inherited “the curse”. I guess I’ve always considered this sort of misadventure something that just makes a trip more exciting.

Harper, D., Chen, P., Chow, C. W., Eimer, D., Ho, T., Kelly, R., . . . Pitts, C. (2013). Lonely Planet (13th ed.). Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet.

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