Once Around The Sun

17221 km

BEIJING

Beijing is only about 5 hours, or 1216km away from Xi'an on bullet train, which means we have arrived to the capital in the early afternoon. As it turned out our apartment was within the walking distance from the Olympic Village. We didn't hesitate too long and took a walk straight away to check out the legendary Birds Nest and the Water Cube. Just made it there for the best light of the day, the magic hour. It got dark pretty quick and we've watched the lights go on.

In the days to follow, Majka and me went on as good tourists to tick off the must see attractions: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Beihai Park, Jingshan Park, Pajiayuan Auntique Market... The highlight of our Beijing stay however, really was the very much (un)expected Great Wall of China. We set the date for Tuesday, trying to be predictive and pick a least busy day, just so we don't end up seeing tourist instead of our primary target. At first we were going to visit the renovated stretch of the wall at Mutianyu. Somehow miraculously I got in touch with a Spanish fellow, Jorge, who we have met in a hostel in Ulaanbaatar. He was in Beijing and going to do The Wall himself. We agreed to go together, the more the merrier, right?! Last minute we have changed the plan and decided to start at Jiankou and walk the wall to Mutianyu. That part of the wall is not renovated, mostly rumbles, steep paths, wild, unkept and overgrown. Not a big deal we thought, most articles we've read were indicating a 4-5 hour walk. Just to be safe and to get the best light, of course, we have agreed to meet at 7am on the most furthest metro station about an hour north-west from the city centre. From there it took another hour on a bus and a further 45 minutes in a taxi to get to this off the beaten track part of the wall. Our cheerful driver dropped us at the bottom of the hill and offered to wait for us for the return journey. When we somehow explained our intentions of walking the 8km of unkept wall, he couldn't quite believe and tried to talk us out of our plan. Still stubborn, hopped up on new adventure and still confident on keeping to the plan, our walk started at 9.20am. About 40 minutes later we have been on the wall itself. The first bit resembled more of a pile of oversized bricks rather than a wall. Straight out of this pile a watch fort towered upon us on a 10 meter boulder. No way up, just to climb. Many would say easy... I've never climbed before and on the top of that I'm afraid of heights and we had no ropes. It didn't look that difficult though, so I went ahead. Oh, I forgot to mention, neither of us was sure which way is our destination, but we were sure we can reach it on the wall, so it was 50/50. Left or right. Our destination was to the east of us, but it was not quite obvious from where we were, believe or not. Fortunately on the watch tower, apart from the eyes looking at is in disbelief, we have got directions which pointed back and up the other direction. It was time to climb down and head the other direction towards Mutianyu....

At the end the trek took us good 8 hours, so credit to our driver, who was genuine with us. Let me tell you however, it has been more difficult than I could have imagined from pictures I've seen and blogs I've read. Several times I've been shaking like a shit hanging from a 10 meter wall without any rope of course. The least to say, I'm not proud of myself and my fear of heights, but I've done it anyway. Majka, thankfully, was a trooper and a very fit kind, although all of us were afraid or at least worried at times. We both have agreed afterwards that this is only Jorge's lead that helped us through Jiankou. To be there just the two of us, we would have turned back very soon deeming the path impassable. Looking back at the experience after few days I'm very happy that we gained these memories and am very thankful that our Spaniard friend was there! Well worth the time, but if you're planning on taking this path, please consider a local guide! Unless you are young or stupid, you'll need one! Even the young will do with a guide and the stupid definitely needs one, even though there is no talking to them, I know from my own experience!

The rest of our days in Beijing was in a relaxed mood, trying to get lost in the Hutongs, checking out the CCTV building which locals call the underpants and trying to sample the taste of authentic Peking Duck.