Sunday, September 20, 2015

China

Back in July my work sent me to Beijing for three weeks.  I spent most of my time working, touring around Beijing, and shopping.  I won't bore you with the specific details because I spent most of my free time doing what everyone else who travels to Beijing does.  However, I did spend a whole weekend at the Great Wall and I had quite a fabulous experience.  So in this post, I'll focus mostly on that side trip.

Ever since I arrived in Beijing I was looking for a particular experience at the wall (in China, the Great Wall is often simply referred to as the wall).  I didn't want to go to the restored, overly touristy parts of the wall.  It was too ordinary for my liking.  So when one of my coworkers started telling a couple of us about a really unique trip she took to the wall, my interest was peaked.  This coworker of mine went for a "Wild Wall Weekend" with William Lindesay and his family.

William Lindesay is a British man who now lives in Beijing with his Chinese wife and their two teenage sons.  William is considered one of the world's experts on the Great Wall and he is also a big advocate of conservation of the wall.

Our weekend started off with us getting picked up at our hotel on Friday afternoon after work.  We then drove for about 2 hours out to "the Barracks," which is how the Lindesay's refer to their residence near the wall.  While we were there, the Lindesay's treated us like we were their personal guests.  We ate with the family and they engaged us with many of their stories of the wall.

On our first full day there, we woke up at around 3 AM because we had to leave the barracks by 3:30.  To many people, this seems absurd, but considering it was summertime at the wall, it made perfect sense.  If we went out for a hike later in the day, we would be caught in the worst heat of the day.  So we started our hike at around 3:30 and hiked up to the wall.  Once we reached the wall, we started to hike along the wall.  At some points the wall was so steep, I found myself holding on to the wall with at least one hand in order to work my way along the wall.  This was by far the most difficult hike we did that weekend, but it was incredible.  We eventually made our way back to the barracks where a full breakfast was waiting for us.  After eating and bathing, we were then told to go nap through the hottest part of the day.  I couldn't have agreed more.



After napping and having a little lunch, William's wife took us on a short hike (or a stroll, as they referred to it) to a lookout point about 2.5 kilometers from the barracks.  The rest of the evening was spent relaxing, eating, and socializing.  It was incredible how we could ask William almost anything about the wall.  He was unbelievably knowledgeable and able to answer any question.

On Sunday morning, we again got up at 3 AM and left the barracks by 3:30.  Our hike on Sunday was a little shorter and a little easier than Saturday morning.  We hiked up to a different part of the wall this time.  Just like the day before, once we got to the wall, we hiked along the wall and then back to the barracks.  We returned by around 9 AM.  After we got back we had some breakfast/lunch and then we packed up and headed back to Beijing.



Over the entire weekend, we were hiking and climbing parts of the Arrow Nock (Jiankou) part of the wall.  The China Daily has referred to this part of the wall as the most dangerous part to hike unless you are with an experienced guide.  It is completely unrestored and it is often overgrown.  I felt like that's what gave it part of its charm.  It is the same exact wall that those of the Ming Dynasty used so many years ago.  Despite the danger and the challenge, it was completely worth it.

This was not only an incredible adventure, but it was also completely unique.  The only way you can go on a wild wall weekend is if you know someone who went.  William does not advertise these weekends at all.  It all started after he hosted a friend of his for the weekend.  Later that friend told William that he had a few friends who would like to come visit as well and that William could charge them a little something.  Now anyone who goes on a wild wall weekend can pass along William's contact info to friends and acquaintances for them to go on a similar adventure as well.  This is a great way to keep these weekend trips rather unique.