It was 6 a.m., straight up, and I was on my way to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China. For weeks I’d looked forward to visiting the Great Wall, the most iconic monument in all the land. I’d planned to conquer this wonder of the world at the earliest possible time in my trip, so as to be strong and ready for the 10k hike along this awe-inspiring symbol of Chinese history. That opportunity arrived on day 2 of my excursion. A great day for the Great Wall, I thought as the fast-moving, full morning sun glared through the bus windows. Appealing and authentic as the alleyways and attractions of Beijing were, I longed for a clean and fresh scene full of natural beauty at which to marvel. A day trip into the mountains of Luanping county, some 110km from the city center was definitely in order. There was no doubt in my mind that surrounded by nature’s veracity and the grandeur of the Great Wall, my second day would be a first rate experience.
The tour bus made a couple of stops at other local hostels to pick up fellow tourists. At the third and longest stop, I was staring out the window trying to digest the greasy bag of breakfast they had thrown at me earlier when I was joined by another “woman waller” traveling solo. I held up the paper cup of morning caffeine they had offered (Coke) and asked her if she had already had breakfast. She smiled. “Yes. I knew better”, she said, nodding in the direction of my crumpled McDonald’s bag tucked in the seat pocket in front of us. Her voice, in just 4 words, conveyed a confident, savvy attitude. Her accent had a lively lilt and was resonant with British brilliance. Her name was Penny and she was in Beijing by herself for a brief holiday after conducting a bit of business in the Shanghai area. Penny was an interesting woman with inspiring stories and so we rode along sharing our adventures in travel and our ‘wanderlust in waiting’, until the bus had finally reached today’s desired destination.
I was silent on the ascent to the watchtower where the hike would begin. I wanted to feel the awe rising inside me and absorb the aura that was enveloping me. Slowly twirling 360 degrees, I took moving, mental snapshots of the magnificence and magnitude that could never be captured with a camera, and then proceeded up the path to step foot upon the Great Wall where I was ‘on top of the world’ in every way! Far less touristy than other sections of the Great Wall close to Beijing, the Jinshanling stretch of wall wound along the ridge of the mountain range like a tame, yet thrilling roller coaster route in disrepair. The trail was steep and several sections of the stone corridor were crumbled and collapsed making traversing it more trying. Parts of the path had dissolved into rubble and many areas of the edifice were overgrown with grass and plants. The periodic watchtowers were in various states of deterioration with some having been stripped of their bricks and their steps in ruins. However, undulating through this stunning terrain with its spectacular scenery under the summer sun made for an exhilarating and exquisite experience. It was truly a “wonder-full” day, but not one for the faint of heart.