My husband has a friend that works in Beijing. Our friend hired a driver for the day, picked up a group of us from our hotel and took us to spend the day in the countryside.
First stop? The Great Wall of China. Before I can tell you how magnificent, and surreal, and life changing it was- I need to describe the drive there. Our driver's name was Mr. Lee. He was young- probably mid-30's, and a really nice guy. But Mr. Lee cannot drive. Nor can anyone else I met in my short stint in Beijing- including every cab driver I unfortunately came across. Every time I got into a moving vehicle, I took a deep breath, clutched my husband's arm and tried not to dig my nails in as we zoomed through intersections, made right turns from left lanes and cut off every rickshaw in the joint.
Mr. Lee took us about an hour outside Beijing. The smog lifted, and the skies were sunny and gorgeous. Groves upon groves of persimmon trees (some over 500 years old) were dripping with fruit, and before I could take a picture, Mr. Lee decided to play chicken with some oncoming semi-trucks on a 2 lane highway.
We got to Badaling, one of the more popular parts of the Great Wall around 10:00. We were surrounded by rocky hills, sunny skies and cooler air. We set off on our climb- and it was really and truly, absolutely fantastic. Each part of the Wall is separated by towers, and you weave your way through the hills and get higher... and higher... and higher...
I was pretty peppy to begin with. I kept making Ghengis Khan jokes, and pretended to hide from some Mongols in a tunnel in one of the towers. For the first 20 minutes- you are absolutely amazed with where you are. What you are doing. Where you're walking. What you're seeing.
And then it gets kind of rough. The Great Wall is steep. Some parts have stairs, some are just rubbly steep inclines that put any stairmaster to shame. It quickly degenerated into a game of survival. Of trying to put on a happy face to the rest of the folks in my group who were also quietly suffering and try not to look too winded. It amazed me to see folks huff and puff up to a tower, and then light a ciggy before taking the next leg.
One guy brought a Flat Stanley for his niece's classroom project, and I did notice that he spent quite a bit of time arranging Stanley for a photo opp. I really think he was buying time to catch his breath.
I did get some amazing pictures- and will post them once I get them off my husband's hard drive. You will see my red, sweaty face, my gleeful smile and the panic in my husband's eyes when he realized how we were going to get down.
We didn't walk down. We took a tram. Suspended on wires, Badaling has little cars that careen down the mountain at an alarming pace. They had a sign in English that said "Please keep bodies inside." And another one that said "Don't scratch the cabin." That struck me as funny until we started, and I realized some folks must turn into rabid stray cats and claw the doors for safety.
My husband screamed like a little girl, but you didn't hear that from me.
Next up? My lunch in the countryside. Life changing. And yes, chicken heads are involved.