The Day I Hiked The Great Wall

It’s 4am. The taxi is waiting. Today I am flying to Beijing.

A few days ago, we had applied for our visas to China through our concierge at our hotel in Hong Kong. It was a lot easier and cheaper than going through the private agencies in Toronto. The visas arrived last night at 5pm. We are flying in to China this morning to complete a whirlwind visit to the Great Wall, Tienamen Square, The Forbidden City, and to sample some of the local cuisine.

We touch down in Beijing and are led through a series of very thorough airport check-points. The luggage conveyor belt circles, delivering bags and suitcases to everyone on our flight. The crowd thins out as everyone collects their bags. After about twenty minutes I am standing alone staring at the empty track. Still no bag. The conveyor belt stops with a jolt. Still no bag. I try to ask for help at the baggage claim desk. No help and still no bag. I run a few anxious laps around the baggage claim area. Still no bag. I think about the contents of my tiny little suitcase. It contains everything that I have to live on for the next two months. Party dresses: gone. Underwear: gone. Jackets: gone. Souvenirs: yup, gone… but wait… the belt starts up again. I look at the small opening in anticipation. And then out of the gate emerges my little silver suitcase. I live another day!

When visiting China, be sure to befriend your hotel concierge. They will make your life a lot easier. English is pretty much spoken in most countries. But in China, it is very rare. The concierge has arranged for a cab to drive us to the Great Wall, and many of the other top sites in Beijing.

The Mutianyu Great Wall is located in the Huairou district of Beijing, which is about a 2 hour drive from the hotel. After exiting the expressway, we drive through the rural areas of China. It is like we have traveled back in time. Chickens cluck at the ground in front of the modest homes that line the narrow road. In some patches the road turns into a dirt path. Finally we pull up the Mutianyu Great Wall. It seems a bit like a theme-park. There are old men dressed up as Chinese foot soldiers aggressively motioning for us to have our pictures taken with them. But, time is limited.

According to the historic record, this part of the Great Wall was built up by General Xuda who served the Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang during the Ming Dynasty (in the year 1404). To get to the top of the mountain we take a running start on to a rickety chairlift. The chairlift dangles us just above the tall evergreens for about a half a kilometre.






We walk up and down the stairs through each tower along the walkable stretch of the wall. It seems surreal to be at the top of the Great Wall. In the early hours of the morning, I woke up in Hong Kong and now I am looking out over an engineering marvel thousands of miles away. But, the taxi is waiting and I have to get down off of this mountain to continue the tour.

The Forbidden City, Tienamen Square, and the Egg building are gems that sit along an incessantly crowded network of roads in the city centre. There are six cars on either side of the cab driving along a two lane road way. Mopeds weave in and out of the gridlock. At the end of the tour, we arrive at the hotel tired and hungry. Just one last stop. It’s time to eat!

Hot pot is the local fare. Ordering is a challenge. It turns into hot pot charades as I try to act out our order. Mushrooms proves to be the hardest one to communicate. At this point it is hot pot surprise… But, it is delicious and washed down with a few beers. And, thus concludes the day that I hiked the Great Wall.


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