So, there I was, in Beijing, with a few days left before my trip to Mongolia. I decided that since I was in China, I had to see The Great Wall.
I posted a message on CouchSurfing saying that all those interested should go together, and I'd help organize the whole thing. In the end, about 10 people decided to join - from different countries, as well as a few Chinese, which was great, as I had no idea of where to go, how to do stuff and what were the best options. So I just trusted the Chinese people who took the initiative and organized the trip. We met really early to try and avoid the traffic jams (which we managed) and headed to Jiankou, a particularly scenic part of the Wall. On the way there, I was told by a few of them that up to 10 people had died on the hiking/climbing of that part of the wall in recent years. As I am a young man with very little sense of consequence, that was an incentive, and I got all hyped up. They said the climb would take about 2 hours.
Once we arrived, I could see the Wall on top of a steep mountain, and wondered who the hell climbs all that in 2 hours. Nevertheless, I walked on, following the group. The day was incredibly hot, and even though I was wearing my Vietnamese clothes and hat, I was already sweating before we reached the hiking path. After a few minutes walking through souvenir shops, food stands and benches, two Frenchmen stopped me. "Do you know the way to the wall?" one of them asked. "I have no idea, I'm just following them." I replied. "Well, we hiked for 3 hours yesterday and couldn't find anything!" the other Frenchman said. "We found the wall, but there was no way around it, nor a way to climb it. We couldn't go to the top, so we came back here and camped". I said "Well, we have a few Chinese with us, I bet they know what they are doing." I left the Frenchmen, with a bad feeling starting to grow on me.
Soon after we found the path and started the hike. It was hot, too hot - and the path was not easy. After a few minutes walking up the steep base of the mountain. I looked up and couldn't imagine myself being there in 2 hours. Then I saw a sign which said "This section of the Wall is not open for visitors". I pieced all the information together and decided I had to say something. So I tried to convince the other travellers that the climb was certainly longer than 2 hours, and if 10 people had died there, the Frenchmen couldn't find the top and there was a sign saying that the Wall was not open for visitors here, it would be a better idea to go somewhere else. They didn't care, and moved on. All of them but one - a young lady from Vietnam, who had been living in the US for some years. We decided it made no sense to sweat that much and risk dying only to find we couldn't reach the top of the Wall, so we went back and took a taxi to the Mutianyu section - a bit more touristic, but with stairs all along the way and the certainty that we'd be able to reach the top and walk between the forts and shelters. And being the lazy cat I am, I do not regret at all the change of plans. In the end, they did manage to climb to the top, but there was not much to walk around or see, as the section was closed. Instead, I managed to see this impressive part of the famous Wall (from the top of which, I must confess, I 'numberoned', ehehe - Tyrion style!), and it was a lot of fun to walk up with the "Vietnamese-American" gal, which took several photos (which I should be able to retrieve soon and post here - she had a nicer camera and much more talent, so I think it'll be interesting to have some good photos for a change).
No picture can portray how massive and impressive the Wall is, but I'll post some of the photographs I took anyway, in the hopes that it will encourage some of you to come visit one day.
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer
I know, I know, China deserves a lot more than the two meager posts I have come up with, but I really didn't have the time back when I was there, and now I am in Mongolia, having a good time and filling my head with Mongolian things, so I'll just apologize to China. Nevertheless, I want to point out once again that I had a great time in Beijing - the friends, the jam sessions, the music, the food, the experiences and the oldest movie theater I've ever been to (built in 1903). Also, I must say that the cleanliness of the city was as impressive as their horrible habit of spitting everywhere (for each Chinese person spitting, there was a Chinese worker cleaning the streets, which were beautiful and spotless, despite the horrible car pollution).
In addition, I really liked the public toilets and showers - in Europe and in Brasil, you have to walk so much to find a public toilet, and if it's not disgusting, you usually have to pay. In Beijing, there are big free public toilets everywhere. Some are cleaned twice a day, and those can be very dirty and smelly, but many have a permanent personnel, cleaning it quite often. And being in the abandoned house, which obviously didn't have running water, I had to use those all the time - and let me tell you, Western society; you have to rethink your pooping habits. Squatting is the way to go. Seating toilets are not as healthy, that is a scientific fact. The public showers were also quite interesting, specially in comparison to the western European public showers I tried during my hitch-hiking days. Cleaner, cheaper, with warmer water and... sauna and massage service available. An amazing experience, which showed me that a little bit of the 'communist' spirit still lingers in this huge money-obsessed capital.