Sept 7, 2011

All week we had tried our very hardest to get to the Great Wall.

We had planned, and talked and prepared -all without success. Everyday there had been a new obstacle that prevented us from going. Now the last day was arriving, and some of us even started to contemplate not going!

There were so many options to consider; which route do we take? So many sections of the wall; which one do we go to? So many tours…should we take one? If so, which one? We talked to lots of people, did lots of research, looked high and low and finally, FINALLY decided on a section of the wall to visit. David and Dad even found a bus that took us straight to the Great Wall! We were happy about that, if we were to take a cab it would have been expensive and worse -we would have to be in two separate cabs, which we hadn’t really had good luck with.

On the day before our last day we had woken up early. 5am early. We rushed out of the hostel fast -too fast perhaps. None of us were really “with it.” We somehow managed to catch the subway and get off at the right stops though. And armed with Chinese directions on how to get where we needed to go we were confident. The bus we needed, bus 867, turned out to be a tricky little bus to catch! It only left once a day, at 8am sharp. As sharp as it gets in China.

We arrived in the general area of the bus station but as the time got closer and closer to the bus departure time – we realized we still had no idea where to go. We flagged a cab down – they looked at our directions and pointed off in the distance mumbling something in Chinese, and then they drove away. Apparently, we were so close – that it wasn’t worth their time to take us there! And so they drove off. Leaving us clueless. Frantically, we started walking faster and faster…

“Lady? Sir? Great Wall?”

Amanda and I whirled around. Someone speaking English? Surely she could help us! We were eager to accept any help and immediately shoved our paper at her asking for directions. We had approx ten minutes to find the bus stop, and board the bus. She looked at the paper. And shook her head. “No bus. I Take you!!!” It was then we realized our mistake. She was a tour guide for the Great Wall, and instead of helping… she followed us for a good twenty minutes repeating herself. “No bus. I take. Sir. Lady. I take. Great wall. I take. No bus.” We were annoyed, and frustrated. Asking any random person we could, showing our Chinese paper at them, but to no avail.

Soon it was 8’o’clock. We stood there watching different buses drive by. Clearly we were in the right area. We were close. But not close enough. By now we realized that we had missed our bus, and were no closer to the Great Wall than we had been days ago, despite all our efforts and even getting up early! We decided to find the bus stop anyways though, and give it one final attempt the following day.

After finding a few helpful people we found our way to a bus parking lot. A bus station it was called. It was hidden way down the street, and away from the main bus station in a place that we hadn’t thought to look before. Finally I spotted the number of the bus we needed, in tiny numbers in the far corner of a bigger sign. Success. Or was it?

The next morning we were up early again.

Just as we had the past few days. Thanks to our ordeal the previous day with the Summer Palace and being caught in the rain, none of us were feeling that well. Plus we were tired from having been up so early the previous days and going until late at night, with lots of incidents in between. We were all exhausted. None of us were really “Feeling” like going to the Great Wall. None of us that is, except Dad. He really REALLY wanted to see the wall, while the rest of us would have been happy to sleep the day away. But none the less, we reluctantly rolled out of bed, and left the hostel before 6am. The skies were heavy grey, and rain was threatening.

This time however, we knew where we were going. We must have appeared confident enough because no tour guides harassed us that morning. Or maybe it was too early for them? We made it to the bus stop, the correct one this time, with ten minutes to spare.

The bus arrived, we all piled on and we were off.

We didn’t have tickets, but assumed that we could buy them on the bus. At least we hoped we could! When the ticket lady approached us asking for tickets we told her “Great Wall.” She nodded and ripped us out a STACK of tickets. This was slightly worrisome to us, and we really had no idea if we were supposed to get off somewhere along the way and change buses, or what we were to do with our pile of tickets. But we decided to wait and see what would happen. On the ride we attempted to eat the breakfast we had brought with us. It consisted of horrible yogurt and cheerios. This of course, did not work well on a bus and it soon looked like what would happen if you had a bus load of three year olds – cheerios scattered everywhere, yogurt smeared on us. And to make matters worse, David started to feel sick.

The bus traveled for hours. All the way from Beijing to Mutianyu. It made a few stops along the way, almost as if it were a city bus we were riding, and finally it pulled into a big parking lot that looked slightly similar to the one where we had boarded. We assumed that was our stop? Or was it? There was no Great Wall in sight. “WHERE IS THIS WALL??” Someone muttered loud enough for everyone to hear. But no one answered.

Nobody except David who stood up. “I’m getting off!” He didn’t look so well, in fact he looked ready to bolt. I looked around. It didn’t appear that there there was a rest stop, OR a wall in sight. I pictured David getting off, and us all getting separated. But before anyone could make a move, the bus lurched and off we went. Maybe they were changing drivers? Or not. We weren’t sure. But we were moving again. Towards the wall? Or not. No one was sure. But there wasnt much else we could do except ride it out.

After another 30 minutes or so, of long windy roads in a big bus that whipped the corners as fast as possible, we arrived at what appeared to be our destination. Signs indicated that we were at the “Great Wall” and arrows pointed in all different directions. In total the trip had taken about two and a half hours. Yay!! We were relieved!

We had made it!

We got off, scoped out the area, familiarized ourselves, and set off to find what we had came for: The Great Wall.

The only problem was… there were five people: Dad, Mom, David, Amanda and I – and we all had very different ideas of what this wall was, and HOW we were going to get up there!

Amanda, David and I had been told that there was a “Million stair hike” to the top of the wall, and none of us felt like that. But dad wanted to see the wall, and he was going to do whatever it took to see that wall. Others didn’t feel quite the same. Mom tried to reason among us.

We headed off the get tickets. Tickets for what exactly, we weren’t sure. Tickets in general. We stood at the counter, handed some money and were told to go “That way.” But that didn’t solve anything. We didn’t feel like hiking a million and one stairs. Someone had told us to take a ride to the top. And while Amanda, David and I tried to find this “Ride” Dad began to wonder and worry that we would NEVER see the wall itself. SO close, yet SO far.

Dad had somehow assumed that once you went through the “Gates” with the tickets he had purchased that we would be “At the wall” he could see it, touch it, hug it – whatever it was he had so desperately wanted to do with this wall. Dad didn’t understand why we weren’t on-board. “It’s RIGHT there” he kept saying. But we would have none of it, instead were looking for the “Ride.”

Mom and Dad took off up the hill. A hill which was so steep you almost had to walk up it sideways. It was raining and the hill was slippery. Venders lined both sides of the streets, desperately trying to sell us their trinkets and “I climbed to Great Wall” t-shirts. Amanda, David and I continued to slosh through the rain with our rain coats and umbrellas, looking and looking for the ticket booth for the “Ride” that we had been told of.

Thanks to a few English speaking tourist who had been there before, we were finally able to find out that we weren’t, in fact, crazy. There was indeed a ride to the wall. The Great Wall was located at the very top of the mountain. There were, in fact, many different ways to get to the top – you could hike, which was a very treacherous miles long hike up the side of a mountain with many MANY many stairs. You could also take the “Ski lift” or the gondola. The tourists that we talked to recommended taking the gondola with the roof, considering it was a very wet rainy afternoon.

I ran back up the hill (as much as one can run up a hill like that!) to tell Mom and Dad about our discovery of the ride, and to get the money needed. I found them, then headed back down to buy the tickets. Then back up again to reconfirm our decision. All the while dad was wondering why we weren’t going through to see the wall, and why we were forking out money to take a wild ride through the trees.

I should also add that we were on a strict time limit – if we werent back to the bus stop in a few hours – we would have to spend the day, or perhaps even the night out there.

I went back down the hill yet again to find David and Amanda -who were suppose to be getting tickets, then a bite for David to eat. But when I found them, they were in line for pancakes. Having been up and down the hill four times already, and soaking wet, I was not impressed.

I headed back up the hill for the last time, and informed Mom and Dad – who were very wet by this time – that Amanda and David were buying pancakes. Envisioning an hour wait while they dined on pancakes in a diner – Dad took off through the gates. A few minutes later, and David and Amanda found their way to the top of the hill.

At that point – no one was impressed. We were all soaked through, David was still feeling sick, Amanda was very worried about him, I was tired, and Dad was frustrated that we weren’t coming through to see the wall that was “Just around the corner” – or so he thought.

Eventually Amanda and David went off down the hill, I was determined to NOT WALK UP THAT HILL AGAIN, so I reasoned that we should just go see the wall, and get it done with. After all we were on a time limit, had come that far, paid that much – we might as well just get it over with.

Mom and I joined Dad on the other side of the gate where we discovered that the wall was NOT in fact “Just around the corner” but was, as we had feared, up the mountain -a gazillion and one stairs, OR, you could take a ride up the gondola, and get dumped out on-top the wall.

The wall was located WAY up on the top of the mountain. The wall itself, was probably only about 15 feet tall, but it stretched on FOREVER. And EVER. And EVER. It was then we were thankful for the ride up, and decided it would be worth it to get a ride down too!

It only took about 15 minutes before we, ok, I, was starting to feel guilty about going without David & Amanda. Mom hadn’t wanted to go to begin with and Dad, well, he was just happy to have finally SEEN the wall, and was ready to go back down whenever. So back we headed. We couldnt get down fast enough it seemed!

Mom and I on top the Wall

We were finally at the bottom of the wall, where we found a soggy Amanda and David. Everyone hugged, talked and finally, for the first time that day – communicated. We decided that communication was in fact, a good thing. And we purchased three more tickets – and this time, I took David and Amanda back up to see this “Great Wall.”

The wall that seemed to go ON and ON for EVER. It was wet and rainy, and somewhat foggy, but even in the fog – there was a unique beauty to it. The wall itself wasn’t that pretty, but standing that HIGH up in the mountains, looking down on all the green trees, it was probably one of the most beautiful places we had been in China.

Three hours after arriving, we hopped back on the same bus that had taken us there. We may not have conquered the world, but we conquered the Great Wall – and that was good enough for us!

When we got back to the bus station in Beijing, in was hot and all sunshine and blue skies! A real contrast to the soaking wet rain that had been at the wall. I think we were probably the proudest when we made it back to where we had started at the end of our journey!! And finally, we could mark the “Great wall” off our list of things to see.

And considering what it had taken to get there, well, it just added to the experience. It had taken us five days to reach the wall! But finally, we had made it.

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