Saturday, April 3, 2010
The Great Wall at Mutianyu
I wanted to get the major attractions in the Beijing area out of the way as soon as possible, less we experience rain later in the week preventing us from seeing everything on my mom’s sightseeing list. Today, we visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu.
Mutianyu is located about an hour or so north of Beijing. The Mutianyu Great Wall is slightly tamer than Jingshanling and Simatai, the sections of the Great Wall I visited over the summer, but that was the point of our visit – my mom didn’t want to traverse the more wild part of the Great Wall.
I hired a driver for the day, Mr. John Ping. John has been in the business for a number of years taking foreigners and Chinese to the various sights around Beijing. He picked us up at the hotel my mom was staying at and we were off.
Once at Mutianyu we had to pass through a market before reaching the chairlift to the top. We were bombarded by vendors trying to see us postcards and trinkets, hats and scarves, maps and water. I bought a green Mao hat from one vendor and was quickly approached by another man selling similar hats. He said my brother needed one and offered a fair price, so I bought it.
The weather at the Forbidden City was cooler than I expected – a wind added a chill factor that made walking around a real challenge – so for the Great Wall we’d bundled up, expecting similar temperatures in the mountains north of Beijing. But we were wrong. The temperature had climbed over night, and we soon found ourselves sweating and shedding out winter jackets as we walking along the wall.
Once atop the wall, we headed to the west, up to the peak of the limited section tourists were allowed to traverse. My mom eventually told us to go ahead, it was too much and she wanted to rest. My brother and I trekked along, up the steepest set of stairs I’d ever seen until we reached the top. We had to stop a few times on our climb.
We made our way back, picked up mom and headed to the east, toward the end of the Mutianyu section where a chairlift or toboggan would take us to the base of the mountain. Along the way vendors offered food items. “Chocolate, water, beer,” the vendors announced. Chocolate, water and beer? I understand why they’d sell water, you need it to rehydrate; but chocolate and beer seemed a stretch. Chocolate neither hydrates nor provides an energy boost. And beer. Well, beer gets you drunk, and the last place I’d want to be tipsy and falling all over myself was on the Great Wall. But I asked my brother if he wanted a beer. “How many times are you going to be able to say ‘I had a beer on the Great Wall’?’ I asked. He declined.
My brother and I took the toboggan to the bottom while mom took the chairlift. Then we found John Ping and headed back to the city.
On the way back, my mom made the mistake of showing interest in a group of people selling porcelain pottery along the side of the road (I hadn’t coached her to just decline when anyone said they were selling something) and we stopped to buy a few things.