Going Solo in China: Day 2 – The Great Wall

Huanghua to Xishuiyu

May 27th kicked off the awesomeness that was the rest of my China trip. My hike was booked through Great Wall Adventure, which I wouldn’t have found if it wasn’t for Nomadic Chick’s Great Wall post and some hunting around for hiking options. I knew I didn’t want my first experience of the Great Wall to be clogged with tourists and modifications to make the climb easier. I wanted old school. I wanted to experience the wall in its original state. Initially, I signed up for the Jiankou to Mutianyu hike, but considering I was the only person signed up for it, my correspondent suggested I try out the Huanghua to Xishuiyu route, which was considerably cheaper. It wasn’t as long of a hike as I would have liked, but I had a great time and met some cool people.

It just keeps going.

Before we started our climb, we stopped by the restaurant where we would end our hike. Anyone who needed to go to the toilet would have to go now or hold it. I faced off with my first squatter toilet since I was a child. According to my mother, the last time I encountered something like this, I walked in, saw a hole in the ground, and walked right back out claiming I didn’t haven to go anymore. Well, thankfully, I’ve learned beggars can’t be choosers.

We started off in a small village that was mostly in ruins and full of art students drawing various parts of the scenery. The hike up the valley to the wall went by fairly quickly with Pesh and I discussing Dr. Who and traveling. He let me in on some scams to watch out for in Beijing, which I’ll share with you soon. Once we reached the wall, and for the next half hour or so, I swear all my pictures were the same. Honestly, I couldn’t get enough of the Wall. It is so large and long that you could imagine walking to every point on the horizon, and then another pops up. The Wall just keeps going, and I wanted to go along with it for as long as I could. I found it very difficult to connect with it in context and in its gravity. Sure, I had plenty of Mulan instances, but I just could not wrap my mind around the fact that soldiers with full armor would go up and down this steep wall all the time. It would be interesting if something similar to a folk village was set up for the Great Wall so people could catch a glimpse of how life was like back then. Or maybe some kind of historical reenactment would be good. My point is, I don’t think anyone can accurately describe what the Great Wall is or what it means to the people who live there versus visit.

  He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man. – An old Chinese saying

The view was amazing.

Two years ago, when I was teaching sixth-grade Reading in San Antonio, I would never have imagined that I would be standing on the Great Wall anytime soon. We were learning about walls all over the world and their historical and cultural significance.  The Great Wall was one of my students’ favorites. It was very important to me to show these kids that if you put your mind to it, if you focus and put the work in, you can do anything. These days a lot of people consider that to be a joke. I know I have had more opportunities than some, that I have been luckier than some, but if I make up my mind to do something, good luck telling me it’s not going to happen. I make my life amazing, and I want my students to know they can do the same. So part of this trip was for them, even if they weren’t there in person with me, I was thinking about them the entire climb. This experience was so rewarding, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to go.

Honestly, I would go back to the Wall in a heartbeat. I would leap at the chance to hike more of it. Hands down it was my favorite part of visiting China. It wasn’t the easiest climb in the world, and there were many times I had to sit down for a breather or two, but it was so worth it. I didn’t want the hike to end after our delicious lunch, but that just means I have a reason to return.