|Huanghuacheng Great Wall|
Once again, TripAdvisor delivered and we found a guide and driver. It was [again] drizzling in the morning but we hoped the weather would hold out at the wall for our hike. Joe our guide met us at our hotel and we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us through some rush our traffic and more rain. It was a comfortable ride, glad to have a private minivan to ourselves. Fay and Carrie nodded off in the backseat and eventually I did, too. It was an uneventful ride, and after another hour of winding through hairpin turns, our driver dropped us at the side of a road with some small signage above a path. Our plan was to hike the Huanghuacheng section of the wall, which was reportedly away from any tourists. This was indeed true. The "entrance" to the wall was from the roadside path, up to someone's house, where we walked around to the back and up a small but steep path to the wall.
It was already beautiful as we stood at the top of a hill on the wall, looking down at a reservoir, dam, and small town. We could see the wall stretching out before and behind us. Aside from a couple of Chinese male tourists making their way down off the wall ("Take a picture with us!"), there was no one else in sight. This was perfect. Exactly what we wanted. Us and the Wall.
The hike up to the wall was steep, no lie. Carrie and I took our time going up and I took a preventative hit from my inhaler. I haven't needed it yet in the Beijing smog (which was still present up here at Huanghuacheng), thank god. Note, I had been pretty worried about the level of smog in the city and how my asthma would react to it. The smog was just as bad what I'd heard and pictures I'd see. My doctor advised me to wear a mask daily and take Prednisone when needed. I didn't do either and was fine all week, so I hope this was because my daily inhaler was managing my condition well.
It is a steep wall. I recommend hiking shoes. The grip was necessary. Heck, sometimes even walking backward up the wall was helpful, using other muscles. We spent hours on the wall, 4 in total. We anticipated a 3-4 hour walk so I was glad that we weren't slowing Joe down. Between the 5 of us, we alternated rhythm and position, sometimes not consciously... at times I wanted to take my time and be in back, at times I would get into a hiking/breathing rhythm on inclines and didn't look down, choosing to stay in the rhythm in whatever position I was in. For anyone that was taking more time to reach a rest point, it wasn't an issue because someone else would rest and take in a snack. We were all moving at a perfectly fine pace and I'm glad we didn't feel rushed. This was no place for a competition.
The wall was crumbling, at times we almost couldn't tell if we were even ON it. Sections were overgrown with shrubbery and decades of silt. Where we first entered the wall, it was generally restored, but deteriorated quickly once we were well off the road where we started. At one point we had to climb off the wall and follow a path alongside it because it was too risky to remain on it. Ancient stones were slippery from the smog/fog combo... there were few level places to walk, our legs were hit by branches, our footing uncertain, so a guard tower every few hundred feet was welcome.
I was fascinated by the construction of these parapets, built with random uncut stones placed as the inner fill wall, and finished stones with mortar creating the facade and inner walls. Few keystones were used, only slivers of a keystone present in places with arches inside the towers. Some towers had roofs that were accessible from inner stairwells. Some were ruined nearly beyond recognition. In many places, Chinese graffiti littered the walls. The Ming dynasty section of this wall had a stone plaque mounted, written in ancient script, detailing the number of soldiers, length of time, and commanders in charge of building that section of wall.
It was truly beautiful, standing atop the wall, greenery blanketing the mountains around us, the wall stretching out and tracing the ridge tops in two directions. We were alone with the Wall... then save the four European travelers we encountered in another section... they climbed ahead of us, then stopped where we finally did, and followed us and Joe down the mountain. Having a guide wasn't a bad idea, and they used ours for a bit. They were taking a bus or taxi back to Beijing, so we were thankful once again for hiring a car that would be waiting for us at the bottom of the wall.
The four hour hike came to an end where the wall jaggedly wound down a very steep mountainside and fell off into another lake and dam. From here, we walked down the mountainside along another pebble-ridden path that had a few of us on our rear ends at least once. Walking down mountains always seems to be just as difficult walking up them, as experience told us from Huayna Picchu. It was like holding a squat for 40 minutes. What propelled us along was the prospect of lunch at the end.
It was a small village, a roadside restaurant with just the owners inside. We collapsed into chairs on
|Best meal of the trip.|
...Aaand.... it kept raining. A formidable deluge once we made it back to the city. Central Beijing doesn't have any drainage system, so the streets turn into rivers. There's no real way to fight it. If you can't beat it, join it. One woman had. We saw her riding down the street on her bike in a bathing suit... complete with swim cap.
China certainly has its share of quirkiness to the Western eye. I'll delve more into that in a future entry, but note that it includes squirrels on leashes and tridents.