Groundhog day on the Great Wall of China

Today we skipped our rowing events to instead head out to the Great Wall of China. We originally planned on doing this with a friend that we ran into yesterday, but she overslept and missed it. Doh!

But first… Groundhog Day. I’m not sure if it has been totally clear from my previous posts, but you don’t see the sun in Beijing. I’ve talked to people that have been in Beijing for weeks and haven’t seen the sun through the haze. But today was Groundhog Day and we saw the sun! It was a really bright and clear day, and perfect for our trip along the wall.

(That’s not to say that today was great visibility, since there’s still quite a bit of haze. But instead of seeing soup a kilometer away, it was several kilometers away, and the sun broke through.)

The Great Wall

All I have to say is WOW! I’m so glad that we went, and it was incredible. There are several sections of the Great Wall near Beijing, and we went to Simatai. It’s certainly further away and harder to get to than other sections, but much more scenic and less “touristy.”

The Simatai Great Wall has two sections of wall. One runs off to the west, and eventually connects to another section of wall. (You can hike from one to the other if you’re ambitious). It’s beautiful, with sloping arcs of wall across the top of a mountain ridge. The other section of wall runs off to the east, and is absolutely incredible. It’s incredibly steep, and has watchtowers seemingly perched on nothing at all. In fact, after a certain point you aren’t allowed any further because of the poor condition of the path and the impossibly narrow wall. At one point it supposedly narrows to about a foot wide for over a hundred meters, with serious drops to either side.

We walked the entire eastern section until the sign and guard prevented us from going any further, and went as far west as we could until it was time to head back. The wall actually stops as it is on either side of a river, though there’s a bridge (used to be rope, now suspension) that you can use to get across.

Unfortunately my proper digital camera ran out of batteries before I finished importing the photos, but here are a couple that I managed to grab with my phone. They’re fairly poor, but start to give a sense of the size and incredible scale of construction. (All of the really cool photos are on my camera, and I will post them later.)

Getting out to Simatai was interesting. We had to go into central Beijing, get an express bus (980) out to one of the suburbs, and then catch a minicab/minibus out to Simatai. There were a few other Americans going the same way and we shared a rather death-defying 45-minute minibus ride out and back. Though we split up to tour the wall in different directions, it was nice to meet a few new people.

To make sure we weren’t exhausted by the time we got to the wall, we took a cable car ride up the mountain, and then a funicular even further. Even after all that it was a bit of a tough climb to get up! It would be a hell of a training session for a rowing/running/cycling team!

One of the best parts of Simatai was the incredible variation. In some places it’s just a walkway on top of the wall, in other places there is a high defensive wall to one side. Some places are fairly flat and nice, others are so steep that each step was nearly as high as my knee. Some steps were very deep, and others were so shallow we had to walk up and down sideways in order to fit our feet on the steps. Parts of the trail we were actually bouldering to get around.

All in all a fantastic day out. I really want to finish uploading my other photos soon.

More from our neighborhood — the Airport Dormitories

We got a tour through our local neighborhood this evening with our hosts that own the flat we’ve been staying in. This neighborhood really does come alive at night. It reminds me somewhat of neighborhoods that I’ve been around in Italy. At night the whole city comes out to the parks and common areas to socialize. Tonight we saw organised dancing (Chinese line dancing and ballroom-type dancing), people out for walks on a beautiful new running track, and kids playing everywhere. It seemed just really nice, and a fairly close-knit neighborhood.

Oh, and for Jose, who asked about the crowds of identical supporters and their identical “Thundersticks,” here’s an article I found about them. It seems to be a fairly accurate depiction of what’s going on.

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