Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Great Wall Adventure Part 3

Since we took so long to get to Jinshanling, we thought we would hike back from Simatai to Jinshanling before going home.

But after the arduous hike in the wee hours to the watchtower and back, I didn't think I would be able to hike another 8K and suggested we get back to Beijing instead.

Our gracious hostess Mrs Liu told us how to get back home -- by catching the 9am bus to Miyun (密云) which would cost 6RMB ($0.87) each, then the 980 bus back to Beijing for about 10RMB each.

Liu senior charges between 200-300RMB ($29.29-$43.94) per person to stay overnight and we gave him a bit more, making him a bit embarrassed by the extra cash. But they really had been hospitable and not to mention energetic guides.

Before we left, I took some pictures of her with her naughty grandson, who was awake and precocious as ever, pulling on her ear. She and her grandson led us down the paved roadway that led to her son's restaurant and hostel, the Dongpo Family Hostel.

It has opened for a few years and business is relatively good, with hikers coming down the wall and eating at the restaurant, or even staying overnight.

When we arrived, a young Chinese couple had just finished breakfast and were about to go on their hike.

We chatted with Liu and his wife for a bit, and she proudly showed us their guest book filled comments from people from all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Greece, France and the UK.

We also added our comments, particularly about "Super Geezer" and then Liu's wife took us back on the road towards the entrance to Simatai. Being handed over from one person to another felt like we were refugees fleeing to safety and they were our trusted contacts.

Walking along the "wall" next to a reservoir was not the same as what we had experienced earlier in the morning.

The path was clear and neat, with signs periodically saying, "Be civilized visitor, set up the ecosystem scenery together!" (sic), or "Appreciate the Great Wall lovely view, do not forget the fire is heartless" (sic).

It was already 8:30am and groups of people were starting their climb up, with hikers of all ages from kids to the elderly. I didn't know how far they were going, but I doubted them would go far.

At the bottom we found the parking lot where we waited for the bus to Miyun.

A young man tried to take advantage of my being an out-of-towner by trying to persuade me to get a ride in his car than wait for the bus, but I held my ground.

Around 8:50am the bus arrived and we got on. It was like one of those travel coaches, though a bit run down inside. A woman collected our money and just after 9am the bus made several stops along the way for over an hour, and I pitied those who had to stand for an hour on the bus.

Then we heard the woman announce it was the stop for the 980 bus and we made our way out. We walked another 50 metres before seeing a giant line of people climbing onto one of two buses that filled up quickly and left.

We got onto the third bus in line around 10:40am and again got a seat. This bus wound its way around Miyun before heading onto the highway. It seemed like Miyun was like a suburb, with pretty uniform streets, things looking relatively orderly, apartments a few years old. The place also had its own public transportation system with small buses that didn't seem to adequately serve its customers.

The bus passed a giant outdoor fruit market, the stalls covered with large umbrellas, and the public health bureau of Miyun, an official-looking building furnished with lions to guard the gate. The middle of the city has the "Great Wall Roundabout", complete with the Chinese characters (长城岛) sculpted from bushes.

Finally we got onto the highway, but our bus had trouble shifting gears and I prayed it wouldn't break down. Thankfully it didn't, and eventually made it to the bus terminus at Dongzhimen Wai at around 12:30pm.

Walking out onto the streets of Beijing and back into my apartment for a shower in 48 hours was a surreal experience. In the early morning we had hiked up a hill, eaten breakfast in a simple farmhouse with no running water, and now we were back in civilization where cars were constantly honking and people everywhere.

As we waited at an intersection to cross the street, a man approached us with a card. "Mutianyu?" he asked, pointing to the card that said Beijing to Mutianyu (慕田峪), another part of the Great Wall.

I said no thanks and we cross the street.

He had no idea where we had just been.

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