Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 2. The Great Wall

Since Yin Ru is with us, and navigating your way to the Great Wall is difficult, we decided to visit the 8th wonder of the ancient world today rather than toward the end of the trip. Now, the Great Wall extends from the Pacific to the Gobi Desert, over a distance of nearly 2,000 km, so when one goes to “see the Wall” it means you have chosen one of those 2,000 km for an outing that will take all day. The part that everyone sees is probably the closest to the urban area of Beijing, but we figured that we didn’t want to be lost among hordes of tourists, and chose an out of the way location known as Huanghua. It took us from 7:00 am to 11 am to get there (and Yin Ru had to made constant inquiries to make sure we took the right bus), first in metro to the long-distance bus terminal (no problem there, since the metro of Beijing works really well), a long-distance bus to the north of the urban area, and then a local bus that penetrates deep into the countryside to provide service to hamlets scattered across the green valleys and mountains. Huanghua is one of these hamlets, and its claims to fame are a reservoir and dam (the latter made with pieces from the Great Wall), a magnificent segment of the Great Wall running along the crest of mountains and dipping into the valleys, and a stubborn refusal to let the federal government take over the restoration and tourist management of their wall. The feds have answered by posting stern signs indicating this segment is closed, but the locals blow them off and encourage the rare visitor to go climb the wall.

So we did, starting about 11:00 am, a time when the sun is at its hottest. Yes, it was miserably hot and muggy, even if we never saw the sun due to the pervasive haze that was with us all day long. Klaus claims it is smog, but here in the country it cannot be anything but fog and haze caused by the very high humidity. We were all drenched in sweat for the day, but we got to see one of the better exponents of the Great Wall, and with no tourists! The architecture was magnificent, the slopes impossibly steep, and nature was luxuriant all around us. Luke was climbing around like a goat, while I huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf. Georgina, you would have loved it; we must have climbed 3,000 stair steps, some of them at a 45 degree angle!

At the end, however, the heat and the humidity got to us all and we reluctantly went back down the mountain to seek our ride back. We had to wait for about 45 minutes, which we filled drinking beer/soda, and eating popscicles. By the time we had taken first the local bus, and then the long-distance bus back to the metro it was 5:30 pm (i.e., peak time for people and traffic).

So we entered the metro and were treated to what I have been reading so much about: A wave of humanity ebbing and flowing through corridors and platforms, like a pulsating amoeba. Maya, I wish you had been there to see us scrunch into a metro car, cheek to cheek and buttock to buttock, unable to move a millimeter in any direction. Hah! And people say the metro in Mexico City is crowded. You have not seen crowded until you try the Beijing metro at rush hour!

We finally made it home, to a cold shower and a big plate of chilled watermelon. Luke bailed out after that, assuring us that he needed more sleep than food, but Yin Ru, Klaus, and me still ventured out to have barbecued fish (super yummy, with peanuts, chives, and other green stuff), and an oven pot of pig intestines and slices of blood pudding. Yin Ru and I asked for the latter just to gross Klaus out, which we managed to do beautifully. Still, it was a very tasty dish, and we brought home some of it in case Luke gets hungry or Klaus changes his mind. Yeah, right!

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