My last day in China.
Ed Note: I added some photos and a video to yesterday’s report.
Most of the riders loaded into the bus this morning with a few sticking around for later flights. Tara and I weren’t flying home till 8pm tonight so we had one last day to spend in China. We said our good byes finished breakfast and hit the Good Luck Beijing desk (the promoter) for some help with the taxi. They walked us out the door and found us a taxi that would take us to the Wall, wait for us and then take us back.
The drive began with some back roads before hitting the highway and about an hour later we started to see mountains. Once in the mountains the buildings began to look more traditional Chinese (based on pictures and books read in the past). As we drove through the mountains we began to see extensions of the wall. Then we started to see signs and lots of buses stopped near buildings off the side of the highway. We began to wonder if our driver was taking us for a ride as he kept passing these areas. A few minutes later we saw exits for The Great Wall at Badaling (or Ba Da Ling depending on the signs). He eventually made his way over to this exit and drove through a toll booth.
From here the drive took us through some strange parking lot with an giant elephant structure on one side. The elephants were life size with many of them creating a building of sorts while two others were leaping at each other to make an entrance. Our car turned left, away from the elephants, and drove down a hill. Another left turn and we saw people, lots of people. There was a smal village of sorts here with hundreds of people milling around. It took a few minutes for our driver to locate a spot and with luck we ended up directly in front of the entrance. We paid the driver 400 yuan, he gave us a note paper with his license plate number (every taxi looks the same) and we headed off toward the stairs. Both of us were thirsty and hit a stand for Cokes (okay, her’s was diet).
We bounded up the stairs, followed people around a corner and saw numerous lines for tickets. One was for some visual theater, another for tour guides and another just had signs with prices for each person by age. We didn’t know if we had to have tickets as there were no signs. Thus I stood in line while Tara took off around another corner to see if she could figure it out. Nope, too far to see. Thus we purchased tickets (45 apiece) hoping that we didn’t just get hosed. Tara said it would be funny if they just built a builing, added a ticket counter and waited to see how many suckers they could get. Around the corner of another building we dropped into the actual village. Low and behold there was a Starbucks. American culture is bleeding into every corner of the world.
A couple blocks up the street, past numerous vendors we found a tunnel barely large enough for most American cars. We squeezed through, as were the throngs of people, while crazy mini-mini-vans drove through at mach speed. On the other side we found more directional signs and more steps. We entered a large open space between buildings, watched people and noticed we no longer saw the signs for the great wall. Great, we just got ourselves lost. We turned around to head back and discovered a giant gate stating “Great Wall” and a smaller sign telling us to enter here. Yeah, we felt dumb. And yes, we did need tickets.
Remember the older days at Disneyland when your parents squeezed your arms and dragged you around hoping not to loose you in the crowds? If I had brought a kid here it would have been the same with me. There were thousands of people on the wall. No line at the LA County Fair or a sporting event compares. I can’t think of anything or anywhere in the states that compares. Even the Olympic village in Atlanta (pre-bombing) had less people and it was packed.
I also hadn’t anticipated the workout. Tara and I had spoken to folks over the past couple days and they spoke of the option of walking or taking the gondola. They also said you could take an alpine slide like trip down. The walking option as supposed to be about a mile and a half. Tara and I had already spoken of walking. Heck, she’s an athlete and I used to be. We should be able to drag our butts up and down the wall. The walk was more like a hike and really more like a minor workout.
Hey boys and girls, the word of the day is STEEP. So kids, remember, whenever anyone says the magic word you are supposed to scream…yeah, memories of Pee Wee’s playhouse… So, lets practice:
My calves say STEEP, we all scream AAAHHHHH
My thighs say STEEP, we all scream AAAHHHHH
My heart says STEEP, we all stop screaming because I am trying to catch my breath.
The only places on this wall that are flat are the towers and you have to climb to get there. Yes, climb! The first section of the wall we climbed was easy, twenty some steps. The next section was a few hundred feet long and super steep. If I were wearing my clogs I would have slipped out of them, that steep. We walked through a tower and found a slight drop before the next steep section. This one got really steep. Yeah, San Fran has nothing on this. Tara and I figured this had to be about 30 degrees and it went for a while. The we hit the stairs. These took getting used to as they were about a foot deep but only two or three inches high. The stairs were also built into the slope so there was a grade to each step as well.
Another building and more steps. These rose up very fast and some of these steps were a foot plus in height. Imagine climbing two stories in twenty steps. That’s how it fealt. Check out the photos below, You’ll see how steep it is. And let’s not forget you are fighting through a crowd of people, some who can climb at your speed, some who are dying in front of you. I think I bumped the back of someone’s knee with my head.
At the next tower the route was split with a guard forcing the upward crowd to head right around the tower. This is where we found the flea market in the sky. There were five or six booths set up selling trinkets and one where you could dress in old Chinese outfits and get your picture taken just like the cowboy photo booth at Knotts Berry Farm.
This is where we had to get aggressive with crowd control. The group was not moving as many were stopping to ogle the crap on the tables and some just stopped as it was the first flat spot in a while. To make matters worse, the trail on the other side narrowed to a single person’s width and dropped down some large steps. At the bottom of these steps we found the alpine cars to the right and an open gate to the left.
The cars were similar in style to mixing a traditional alpine slide cart with a kidding car at an amusement park. We considered taking it down the hill but it veered the wrong direction and looked as though it went to the wrong parking lot. We could probably take it but the road from there to our lot looked pretty far and we were running out of time. We told our taxi driver we would be back at noon.
We opted to go through the gate, around a bend and turn around. This left us with another steep climb up into this tower. The other side was a bit freaky as we almost had to climb down the tower steps to get to the stairs. Some of these blocks were pushing two feet in height.
Once out of the tower and down the steepest set of steps we revved up our engines and headed back the way we came. I know I hit someone’s head and another’s back with my knee on our way back. I’m not kidding, it was that steep. I commented that this would be an easy place to fall backwards as all you would do is sit down. We also chatted about how it was too slick of a course to be used in a downhill race.
This is when we came upon an older couple who had just made the same trek. Age really isn’t an issue here. They keep plugging away. Tara says she needs to determine their secret diet so she can keep kickin’ for years to come.
Once off the wall and back onto the market street Tara went about looking for trinkets for family members. The closer we got to the parking lot the more aggressive the sales people became. Tara dared me to bark at them, like a dog. I considered it but opted not to as I fealt myself starting to laugh. She began to dart away from them almost like a football player making his way through defenders on the field. She picked up an umbrella and some chop sticks before we made it back to the taxi and headed home.
For some reason traffic was lighter on the way back allowing us to arrive at the hotel quicker. This is when things got funny with the taxi driver. When we got out he asked for 600 Yuan. This was confusing as he only charged us 400 for the way out. Tara gave the guy funny looks while I went to find a Good Luck Beijing person to help translate. Turns out it was 600 total for the trip so we only needed to pay him an additional 200. That converts to $80 for an hour plus drive out, a two hour parking lot wait and an hour drive back. Yep, only $40 for each which is about the same cost as a taxi drive from the Vegas airport to the Venetian.
So, that’s technically the end of my trip. We met again at 4pm, took a shuttle to the airport, checked in, got on the plane and made our way home. I think Tara slept. I was surrounded by kids. Most slept ‘cept for the one right in front of me. ARGHHH!