Several years ago, I had the chance to visit Beijing for a couple of days as part of a two week trip to China and Nepal. I only had a couple of days to spend in Beijing but was lucky enough to find a Hostel to stay at right in the Dongcheng district in downtown, so I had a bit of time to walk around and experience a little bit of the city.
My hostel was located in one of the hutongs in downtown, so once I figured out how to not get completely lost, I was able to walk around a bit and see the tiny shops and houses in and around the small alleyways cris-crossing downtown Beijing, see some of the Forbidden City, and even venture out to a section of the Great Wall a few hours north of the city. Of course, I am incapable of traveling anywhere without getting into interesting situations, and the Great Wall visit was no different. On my last day before having to return home, I asked my hosts at the hostel if they had any thoughts about which section of The Wall to see, and they recommended Mutianyu, about 70km north of Beijing. When I asked about the best way to get there, they kindly recommended I hire a taxi, which I did. When I also asked if I would be able to get a taxi back to the city after I was finished, I also received an enthusiastic “of course!”
I called the night before to make sure I would get a taxi early enough (around 4 am) to make it to the wall by sunrise, knowing that the entrance gate opens at that time. So the morning of, I walk out of my hostel and the 3-4 blocks to where the taxi is waiting, have a fairly uneventful ride up to Mutianyu village, where the taxi dropped me off and sped away. I walked up to the entrance area with rows of souvenir shops, all with their windows shut and doors closed – not surprising, as it was just after 5 and the entrance should have only been open for a bit. I walked around until I found the ticket office since I needed a ticket in order to be allowed entrance up to the wall. Of course, there wasn’t anyone at the ticket office yet, so I figured that I could just use the stairs (all 4,000 or so of them) to make my way up and catch a bit of the sunrise. Naturally, once I made my way to the entrance gate to the staircase, I found the only other person there, who was collecting tickets. From the ticket office. That wasn’t open yet. After lots of arguing in two languages and zero understanding, I somehow convinced this person that I would pay my fee on the way down once I was finished, and slowly made my way up to the wall.
Many hours (and photos) later, in complete awe at the grandeur and sheer scale of the wall, I made my way back down to what was now a bustling scene – lots of locals driving up in their own cars and heading up to the wall, the occasional tourist group on a small minibus, but all with one thing in common – nobody was being dropped off, there were no taxis, just people driving up and parking, or simply walking up. This wasn’t really inspiring confidence in my ability to get home as it was almost 10 am, my flight was that afternoon, and I still had to make it back to Beijing, back up, and get to the airport. After waiting about 45 minutes, I decided that the best course of action would be to go to one of the souvenir and food shops and see if anyone would take a quick lunch break and drive me to at least the closest town or village, where I could 1. get cell service, and 2. maybe even get a cab. After wandering around stall to stall, I finally convinced a very nice woman who was selling soup to drive me to the closest village, where she told me there would be a bus depot. A short 20-minute drive later, we pulled up next to a large gray building that she mentioned was the bus depot, wrote down the bus number I needed, we exchanged goodbyes and she drove back.
Bus number in hand, I made my way to the building, only to find a conspicuous absence of any buses, or activity of any kind in or around the building. The chain on the front door with at least a week’s worth of dust on it confirmed that there would be no busses forthcoming. While trying to think up ways to hitchhike back to Beijing (since I had nothing even resembling phone service at this point) as I walked in the general direction back to the highway, I came upon a group of middle-aged men sitting and playing cards. Figuring that the same approach that I used to get down from the wall might work here, I asked if anyone would drive me back to Beijing, except this time, this would obviously cost me. After a few minutes trading my phone’s calculator back and forth while we punched in different numbers to come to a very agreable $40, a very nice gentleman agreed and we drove back at what I can only assume was twice the speed limit and only narrowly avoided mowing down maybe 10 or 15 pedestrians.
Anyway, here are some photos.
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