Soon it was 8a.m and time to go to the lobby to meet my tour guide Jack and Mr. Hong my driver and off we went 70 kms. to the Great Wall at Mutianyu, the green section of the wall that I hadn't been to before. Both in 1989 and 94 I went to the Badaling section that borders on the Gobi Desert and the terrain is rather bleak so I made sure to see a different section this time. Mutianyu is full of vegetation and life and is very green with pine and cypress trees covering 90% of the section.
Well!!!!! I hadn't done my homework and didn't realise how much walking was going to be involved, all mostly uphill of course and that I wasn't expecting. At the Badaling section the tour bus drove right up to the wall and you practically stepped off the bus and onto it. This one had quite a hike to first just get to the chairlift and then another hike with stairs, some of which were giant steps and the route was very steep and rugged. I took one look and thought "oh no!" I had fallen a week prior to coming to China and my back was still sore and out of whack. But how could I go that far and not try so I did and so glad I did as the views were awesome, the day was beautiful and warm, the sky a clear perfect blue. Apparently just a week before there had been a dust storm here. These storms are legendary and some in the past had been killers. Jack had been there that day and he said it actually wasn't too bad but it was rare and unexpected and they don't happen often anymore. He said to always look for the sky to be blue because if it isn't and it looks grey or whitish then be prepared to get into a safe place as it could indicate blowing dust and sand was on it's way. Later I looked towards Beijing and the sky was whitish grey and he didn't say anything. It happened again 2 days later while we were at the Summer Palace and suddenly the 30º day became grey and extremely windy and still he acted like nothing was happening. Later at home I learned that one of my daughters had called her dad because she had heard on the news that a dust storm had hit Beijing. So now I know why so many people were wearing the mouth and nose masks that day and the next few days as well. I think a lot of Chinese people have poor lung function now because of these storms but nobody there will admit it. They chalk it up to allergies and don't you have that in your country?
Back to climbing that hill up Mutianyu....it's quite a strenuous climb and not for the faint of heart as it's on an actual road for a long way and I know I was all pooped out before even getting off the road and onto the trail. Travel agents will always brag that you can ride up to the wall on a chair lift and come down on a toboggan. But, it's only for a small part of the way and you still walk a lot uphill for a long way before getting to the lift station and it's a lot higher up you have to go to get the toboggan down. Hiking down is actually harder than going up in some places as it's rough and uneven and there's one step here and walk a bit and suddenly 2 steps are jutting out. So you have to be looking down all the time to save yourself from a nasty fall. Just a friendly warning as I don't want anyone to go that far and then realize it's impossible for them especially if you're 60+ because honestly, I felt like backing out before I even got half way and that was still while i was on the road. You cant understand why your car can't be driving you this first mile or two but I guess they used to and now have their reasons why they can't. Hopefully your travel agent will tell you to go to the Badaling section instead if its your first visit there. After that any more trips to the area will have you wanting to see it in a different section and there's actually several. For those who haven't been on a chair lift before be forewarned; it doesn't stop to pick you up. You have to be able to jump-sit at exactly the right time and then jump off again and get out of the way quickly before the next one hits you as it continues it's way through. Easy peasy for kids, hard as hell for seniors.
Jack was great and waited patiently for me as i had to stop and rest and catch my breathe quite often as my lung function isn't great either. Here and there along the way were souvenir vendors of all sorts and a few stores and even a Subway perched on a hill. There was also a man with a fancy decorated rickshaw offering to pull me up a steep hill for quite a steep price. I wouldn't do it even for cheaper as the man seemed too old and he looked too sickly to be doing such a job. There were as well two guys in costume who charged a fee for having your picture taken with them and i passed on that too. At last we came to some restrooms and I went in only to quickly depart as the stall that became available to me had the old fashioned squatter type hole in the floor. Well, at least it had ceramic surrounding it so an improvement of those we had to use on previous trips that were merely slanted holes that went out to a field that you could see at the end of it. I thought i'd try this one but alas! i don't think i have my squatter muscles anymore and i chickened out as i thought for sure i'd be injured and on that filthy floor in no time so i departed. Jack asked if everything was ok and so i told him and he said some stalls have a proper toilet so back in i go and sure enough they did.
Finally we reached the chair lift where Jack explained the routine to me. It seemed to be coming awfully fast but I made it on ok with Jacks help. The scenery was spectacular as you will see in the pictures. Then the getting off the lift was a little stressful but it went well and another steep climb and finally I was very close to being on the Great Wall of China. But first there was a nice attached covered open air platform with views from 3 sides, tables and people having a picnic and even a scruffy little dog walking around visiting all the people there. Jack told me it was a semi-wild dog that people feed their leftover lunch to. It had been hanging around there for a couple of years and he thought that someone living nearby might be looking after him in the winter. I attempted to take it's picture but a little boy ran to the dog to pet it and photo-bombed me. There were a lot of huge bumble bees here and their size scared me at first because they're so big they can hardly control their flights, lol. We carried on and climbed the last few steps onto the wall and walked up it to a watchtower and it was a welcome relief to get out of the heat and into it. The open windows allow the cool air to blow through so a welcome relief from the heat which was 30º by then. Jack asked me if I wanted to climb higher and at first I said no but he added it was just a little way to a nice photo op so I said ok and glad I did because I got a better look at the sleeping giant on the mountain. I had seen another sleeping giant in Hawaii but I think this one might have been better.
Then I had to decide if I wanted to climb higher in order to be able to take the toboggan down. It's individual little one person cars on a track that you control the speed of by the use of a hand brake. I experienced this kind of ride once before on North Star Hill at Kimberley, B.C. and was aware that sometimes someone going faster might catch up to you and there's been rear end collisions. I also remembered having to use all my strength to get the thing to slow down and I was in better shape back then 20 yrs ago so that concerned me. Knowing there were a lot of young people there cinched it for me as I saw from the lift how fast they were going so we got back on the chair lift and rode down to the last stop. We then started our hike down by foot and some places were harder going down than they were going up because there's jagged uneven rocks jutting out all over the place. But we made it down ok and found our car and driver in the parking lot. We then drove down the road a few kms. to a jungle restaurant for lunch. Jack ordered two dishes for me as they spoke no English there and one was veggies and sprouts which was delicious and I devoured. The other was chicken with small diced vegetables and a bowl of rice. That dish had a few too many hot peppers in it so I finished the rice and tea and then we hit the road back to Beijing.
Mr. Hong is an excellent driver and I think you have to be born and raised there to live and learn and understand how to drive there. I know I couldn't do it as drivers are so aggressive but then they really have to be. You have to learn to tailgate and merge into other lanes with very little space around you and I mean like there's barely an inch all around your car and all the other cars too and everyone moves in unison. If somebody new goes out driving there for the first time I bet there'd be all sorts of issues and slow downs with anyone not driving like the rest of them. I didn't see any accidents and I thought we had a lot of close calls but Mr. Hong never seemed stressed or anxious. In fact I think he quite enjoys his driving job and he is cool, calm and collected at all times even when he answered his phone while driving. I think it's because drivers all sort of watch out for each other unlike here where some drivers are just plain mean and have no patience with someone going the speed limit and road rage sets in. A lot of drivers seem to have anger management issues but in China they look all relaxed and courteous while working together respectfully as a whole. The speed limit in some areas outside of the city is 120kms. but I doubt we ever reached that but most drivers including Mr. Hong were determined to try. I asked Jack and he said yes, there are accidents and then I started to notice some but they were just little tiny fender benders.
As we travelled to and from the wall Jack did his guiding duties by telling me the history of everything. I saw a McD's that was very Chinese and i think he said it opened in 1986 or 87. I loved the sight of it and would have liked to go in and see and taste what they offered as we do Mc D's quite often. Jack said they do offer rice and chicken dishes, but he loves their burgers. I was too late for the photo op so asked Jack if he'd warn me ahead of time if we were going to pass another one and he did twice but they were smaller regular looking golden arches without the Chinese writing so that was a disappointment. Sometimes I felt that he was deliberately encouraging me to look at the big shiny building or whatever when there was something else I would have rather seen on the other side. I think this happens on all tour buses but sometimes I would rather see the ugly but authentic than to be gawking at some fancy new build. The only other issue I had was having the sun be in the wrong place to get a picture but of course that's unpreventable.
After being dropped off at my hotel I went to my room and I think it was about 4p.m. Suddenly I felt so tired I needed a nap so climbed into bed. The next thing I knew it was 4 a.m. and I had nothing to do for a few hours. It was even too early for a Chinese breakfast! This 4 a.m. thing became a habit and I always awoke at that time every morning after that no matter what time I went to sleep. My time clock is still way out of whack even after being home a few days. I don't know if that's still jet lag at work or what to do about it.