Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Taxi To a Bus To a Cable Car To an Incline

There are two fascinating things about Simatai, the section of the Great Wall we visited this weekend. The first is this series of modes of transportation we had take to get to this spot about two and a half hours away from downtown Beijing. We started out bright and early, catching a cab to this church not that far from Tiananmen Square. Why a church? Well, right out in front of the cathedral is this depot for long distance buses. Imagine the area in front of the National Cathedral in DC. A driveway. Some grass. Very pristine. Now fill it up with buses everywhere. This is roughly the strange scene that greeted us when the taxi driver dropped us off.

Onto the Simatai bus we jumped, anxious not to miss it. Little did we know that the departure time seemed to be a bit, uh, flexible. Ba dian ban. Eight-thirty, we were told, would be when the bus pulled out. I got the feeling that they wanted to sell as many tickets as possible before hitting the road. So all of that hurrying up, and here we were waiting again. Rather than "Beijing Huan Ying Ni," the city's motto ought to be "Hurry Up and Wait" (however that would be translated into Chinese).

Anyways, we finally hit the road, passing the incredible new CCTV building on our way out of town. (You really need to do a Google images search and check it out...) We made one stop on the way, to hit a public toilet. Our guess is that this was because the driver had to go, as there was no such break on the way back.

As we were presumably closing in on Simatai, this dramatic set of peaks came into view. Really tall. Really craggy. Definitely worth a snapshot out the window. Approaching even closer, we suddenly realized that the Great Wall ran along the top of these peaks, and that this in fact was Simatai. How on Earth are we going to get up all that way?

The answer? Run the gauntlet of workers trying to convince you to take mechanized forms of transportation to the top. Sure, you could walk up. But our driver only gave us three-four hours before meeting back at the bus. It quickly became clear that, to spend any significant amount of time on the wall itself, we would have to fork over some cash, and first take a cable car and then an incline in order to reach the summit. They had us unsuspecting waiguoren right where they wanted us.

Which takes us to the second thing about Simatai that is fascinating...the wall and the views it commands. Sections of the wall have obviously been worked on at various points since the dynasties. Others, though, are in more natural (and thus much worse) condition. This led to things like standing on top of watchtowers, climbing through windows, and looking out over deep ravines.

As for the views themselves, they were, of course, obscured by the fog, mist, or whatever that was hanging in the air. (Uh, we know...) That said, we looked out at mountain after mountain, so unreal that it looked like an overly dramatic painting. But it was the real thing. And there's a motel at the bottom of the mountains. I think we'll be back...

~Steve

PS: Blow up the bottom picture to read what the red sash says...

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