By Catherine E. Wood
Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of traveling to China. I have always had visions of scaling the Great Wall, hiking Yellow Mountain, and seeing the Warriors at Xi'an, and finally, at 21 years old, my wildest dreams were coming true. I have been living in Beijing for three months now and one by one, I have been crossing off item after item on my "to-do while in China" list, sadly though, my time is almost up and I only have two more weeks in this wonderful country.
| The Wall beckons trekers to "Never Stop Exploring." [China.org.cn]
Still there was one item in particular on my list that I was NOT willing to go home without completing: hiking the Great Wall.
And I don't mean any section of the Great Wall, I had my heart set on a remote, pristine, and crumbling section of the Great Wall, I wanted to be able to enjoy the full aesthetics that Simatai has to offer. So Saturday morning, under a beautifully blue Beijing sky, my friend William and I set out, determined to conquer the Wall and my number one "To-Do" in China. We left our apartment by 9:00 am, fully confident that by lunchtime we would be enjoying the view from the top, the only problem is, Murphy's Law decided to follow us every step of the way…
You see, Murphy's Law dictates that "if anything can possibly go wrong, it will," and as long as I can remember, this has been following me around.
We had our trusty traveler's gospel with us, "The Lonely Planet" guidebook to show us the way. This book has been with us everywhere in China and really been a lifesaver, unfortunately and unbeknownst to us, today was Murphy's Law day and everything was destined to be incorrect. But, with full faith in our guide we headed into Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station, and through broken Chinese, found our way to bus 980. Initially the day was going very smooth; we hardly even had to wait for a bus. William and I marveled at the clockwork like efficiency of the bus station in action, two busses would pull up at the same time to accommodate the hoards of people and then within 5 minutes, two more would show up. We took our seats near the back left side of the bus, careful to choose the best seats possible for our journey, and after paying the 15 RMB ticket price, we took off! Out to explore the wild adventure of Simatai! Only, after about three minutes into our journey, the bus was burning up and the downfall to our seats was discovered: no curtain. Out of the entire bus of seats, we had picked the one row of seats that the curtain had been ripped off; just my luck. Of course I justified this with that outside, hiking on The Great Wall, there would be no air conditioning and I was just acclimating myself to the temperature. Although I was sweating on the bus, I decided to make the best of things, throw on my beloved sunglasses, pop in my iPod, and enjoy the countryside.
Before I knew it, we were being told to get off the bus. "Simatai, umm, Grrreaat uh Wall," a man was speaking to us in broken English, we did as we were told and stepped off the bus, only to find ourselves on the side of the highway; peculiar. Apparently we needed to find supporting transportation and began getting slammed with a slew of minibuses to take us wherever we needed to be. The only problem was, well really one of the only problems (besides us being stranded on the side of the road) was the language barrier; they didn't speak any English and unless you want to order dumplings and a draft beer, my Chinese is well, less than par. One of the men began hassling me in Chinese, he drew: M->S, on a piece of paper and wanted 180 RMB for a ride, unfortunately for him, William and I are about as cheap as it comes. A group of 6 young men were also standing at the bus stop with us, I was amazed when one guy began to open his mouth and fluent Chinese came out, and then another guy, and then another guy; they all spoke beautiful Chinese. William and I decided to tag along with them.
We ended up getting the ride for 40RMB per person and figured this was as low as things were going with these guys. I justified things once more by saying that we were burning daylight and needed to get to the Wall A.S.A.P., we needed to catch the last bus back to Beijing or be stranded wherever the heck we were. The group of 8 piled into two cars and we were on our way.
For some reason, William, a man of a very tall stature (6'2" or 188 cm) decided to cram in this middle of what seemed to be a very small backseat, I sat on one side and Jake, one of the guys from the other group, sat on the other. We were like one crammed, hot, but excited little family. The ride was nice for a few kilometers until we hit traffic unexpectedly. A three lane road was converging into one for no obvious reason than to create a whimsical bottle neck and pushed us back at least an hour's journey. But we all had fun and talked along the way. The boys were part of a language school near the Beijing Zoo and had decided to spend the summer abroad to learn Chinese. They said that the rigorous education was great, they were learning about 70 characters per day, but really needed a break for the weekend, they were planning to make the hike from Simatai to Jinshanling and camp out on the Great Wall. I thought this was a wonderful idea, wish I had heard of it earlier, it would be on my "to-do list"; no matter.