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Scaling the greatest wall of all

Beijing, China: 19.8.98

Today we went to the Great Wall of China at Simatai. It was really fantastic! After breakfasting at the bar with the very Chinese meal of  club sandwiches, we got on the bus and of course waited ages for it to depart, which it did half an hour later. Despite being a rickety old thing, it got us there with seemingly little problem. We drove for at least an hour before we got out of the city – it’s so huge.

Shelter in a station

I was tired on the bus from a late night and lots of stories – Stephan from Quebec told us how he climbed Mt Everest!! He wasn’t prepared and had little gear – all unbelievable,  but yet also totally believable. You couldn’t make that shit up!

Anyway… it was such a jiggly and noisy, rickety bus and there was no way I was going to get any sleep. So I was entertained by the Chinese countryside, traffic and villages. Not much forest or forestation and some really old looking houses – it’s amazing what the Chinese live in. You would think that the countryside would have progressed with the kinds of technology you see in the city. But no, only the cities get these things – the country folk remain as poor as the proverbial church mouse. There were so many old ladies on the streets selling dried god-knows-what, all the colour of the dust around us. The roads here are good in parts, I was surprised – we travelled on some beautifully sealed tarmac, some not so.

Finally after three hours on the bus we arrived – wow – it was so amazing! So high, so awesome.  It cost 20Y to get in and then tickets up the cable car. People said that the wall at Simatai was still in it’s original condition, almost no work has been done (not sure I believe this, below pic of me looks as if that part was restored).  It was a really clear day and we could see for miles and it marched over the hills. We were so lucky as the weather hasn’t been great lately.

There were, of course, lots of people up there trying to sell us stuff and it was really really hot.  We decided to take the cable car as the mountain looked so steep. It was so peaceful on the car, smooth and quiet, with stunning views of the wall. The cable car didn’t take us all the way up the hill so we got off to do a whole lot more walking up the hill. By this time it’s about midday, it was a hot walk!

Accompanying us were these two older Chinese ladies, we saw them scrambling up the slope as we glided in our cable car. When we got out they followed us and tried to have a conversation which we couldn’t make head-nor-tail of so we just smiled. They ended up following us around. They kept saying, “go up, come down”. They weren’t sweating or puffing like we were, they were super fit – I bet they climb this hill all day, every day.  They were also wearing the silliest plastic shoes you have ever seen!

At the top, we flipped a coin and went left down the wall. The ladies still pestered us. Finally another tourist told us to tell them to go away – so we bought postcards from them and convinced them we didn’t need a guide. At this point we were on a very steep, very crumbly part of the wall, so we were trying to come to some kind of deal with them in high winds, on the ridge and the most precarious part of the wall at Simatai. Ridiculous! Finally they were gone. That’s what they meant – “go up, come down”, they wanted to guide us. God, I felt completely dense.

We carried on our way and stopped at the stations.  People were living in some of them. In one they had a generator for a TV and fridges and freezers. A man had his young child up there and had built a lean to from canvas and plastic.  Some parts were so narrow you couldn’t walk on them, some was just one narrow step after another. We could see the wall stretch out for miles and miles – amazing.

The story behind the Great Wall stretches through the dynasties and is really interesting. It started as a whole bunch of fortresses way back in BC times. Then in the Qin and Ming Dynasties it was connected together. It was heavily guarded and built with great human cost. It marches over a huge part of northern China and is in all sorts of states today. Most people at the time went to Badaling to see it, where it is fully restored for the visitors. And, it’s a myth that the wall is visible from the moon.  We came all the way down the section of Simatai and had lunch in a small restaurant around the car park.

Me on the Great Wall '98

It was a real buzz for me being on the Great Wall, standing on one of the greatest sites of the world (along with the Pyramids).  I loved it! It made me want to see more of the world and these wonderful places I had only heard about or seen in books. It was the start of many other journeys to see architectural and cultural wonders.

There were very few tourists at Simitai back in 98, although I hear its different now. I went back to a different part of the wall (the Wild Wall) in 2000) and stayed the night. But that’s a different story.