The Great Wall - China Travel Story
China Travel Tips
Embassy & Visa
It's Not A Good Wall, It's A Great Wall!
Getting to the Wall was the first challenge. I hired a car and driver with the help of the hotel concierge to take me and a friend to Badaling. Although there was a decent highway, it was filled with lopsided trucks and other hard to describe vehicles filled to bursting with cabbages, pigs, ducks, etc.
Chinese drivers often equate good driving with fast driving, and our guy was no exception. While my friend sat frozen with fear reciting her children's names as a Mantra, I scrambled in my English/Mandarin dictionary for the characters that meant "Slow down. I will pay extra." I finally found the equivalent and motioned wildly to the driver to pull over. He took the book and looked intensely at the characters I had highlighted. What happened next confirmed my worst fears. He reached in his pocket and took out a large, powerful magnifying glass so that he could see!!! (If you go, think about taking a big safe tank of a tour bus.)
After an hour and a half eternity we arrived at the base of the Wall. November can be a cruelly cold month in the Beijing area. It was spitting snow and there were patches of ice on the ground. The winds were whipping our faces. My friend looked at me and said "Oh, you know, it's OK. You go on up. I think I'll just take a few pictures from here." I would hear none of this, so I steered her toward the little stalls outside the entrance that sell Great Wall souvenirs and other goods so that she could outfit herself with warmer layers. At first, when she inquired about buying pants, she was told there were none. After a few minutes, however, someone came out of a back room carrying a pair of (still warm) pants. She swallowed her pride, plunked down her renminbi, and pulled them on.
Outside, I was being accosted by a mob of scarf sellers who were intent on making a sale. They all but strangled me to reach their goal. They extracted the yuan, and left me with a silver grey plaid scarf, their choice. If this happens to you, my best advice is to immediately surrender to their will.
Armed with layers of warmth, we paid the entrance fee and began the climb to the top of the Badaling section of the wall. No one ever says this, but here it is. This wall is really a staircase, the biggest one ever. A steep staircase.
In the winter, there are patches of ice. Beware! The wind, blowing off the Gobi desert, whipped our faces with tiny particles of sharp sand. We clung to the sides of the wall and crept along as we were able. To our utter humiliation, MANY elderly Chinese with walking sticks and canes were skippety hopping past us. One actually stopped, pushed back the scarf I had wrapped around my face, just to see what manner of feeble creature lay within.
As we approached the top of the section, I called out to my traveling companion to film my ascent to the top. She obliged, but we later realized upon viewing the tape that her vision must have been quite compromised by the whipping sand, as she actually filmed just my posterior ascending the wall.
Apart from the sense of history, the splendid views, and the serene beauty of the landscape, I found several over the top great things to buy and do. If you manage to make it to the top of the section, you will be eligible to buy an elaborate certificate with your notarized signature that declares you "A Lucky Hero" for having made the climb. Also, you can purchase cast iron replicas of the Great Wall in three different sizes.
These weighty must haves will add pounds to your luggage, but may in fact provide some traction for the icy descent, should you travel in winter as we did. Back at the hotel, we put them in our carry ons and practiced walking with a light step.
I've saved the best for last! There is a small platform that is reached by a small alley and a door at about the halfway point up the wall. You can sit astride a sleepy camel or a prancing steed and pose for a polaroid with the Great Wall as a backdrop. In my book, the camel won, hands down. He was warm and toasty like a down filled sofa. It was hard to leave him and make the icy climb back down!
The Great Wall visit provided us with adventure, thrills and laughs! It's a spectacular place, one of the seven wonders of the world, and the only structure on earth visible from space. Don't think of visiting Beijing without planning a trip to the Great Wall. Dress for the weather, and expect the weather to be more extreme up there than in Beijing. Take your time. Take lots of pictures. And give my best to that fluffy old camel!
Story Courtesy to Professorpam