We wanted to climb the Great Wall and we didn't want to do it alongside thousands of other tourists and postcard vendors. So, we decided to head to Huanghuacheng- a section that was further away and much less touristic than some of the other sections. Considering we were already going to be heading out so far, we decided to also go to the Ming Tombs (mausoleums for the emperors from the Ming Dynasty from 1368 - 1644).
We met up with Aaron, an Australian that we met on the Trans-Manchurian, at 7am on Sunday morning. We headed off to find a bus that would take us to Chongping, a city closer to the sites we wanted to go to. We spent about an hour on the bus, along with some really talkative early-bird locals. When we got to Changping we hailed a cab and spent about 10 minutes bargaining with the cab driver for the price on hiring the cab for the entire day. When we'd finally agreed on a price, we headed to the Ming Tombs. The cab ride was really fun, striking up a conversation with the driver with our minimal Mandarin, and trying to learn some new words from him (mostly farm animals that were in the farms at the side of the road).
The Ming Tombs were interesting enough - we got to climb underground to actually look at the tombs but they were really restored and not overly exciting. After a couple of hours of walking around, we got back in the cab and headed to the Great Wall.
A few kilometers away from the section of the Great Wall we were going to, we could already see the wall snaking through the mountains. It was really exciting! At one point we could tell that the cab driver had no idea where he was going, but luckily he kept stopping and asking people in the nearby villages where we had to go. When we finally got to the wall, we were told by a guard that it was shut down...We were a bit disappointed as we assumed that we would have to ask the driver to take us to the more touristy sections. We were told however that we could head to a lake where we could hike and look at the wall.
The driver drove us there and then a woman who said she was an official tour guide said that we could pay 50 yuan (about $8) and she would take us to the wall. We thought it might be a waste of money, but we agreed and so she lead us through back alleys around the village, through a construction site and up a slope that would lead us to the section of the wall. She left us at the bottom of the hill and so we clambered up to the top. The view from the top was incredible, and high enough up that you began to feel a bit uneasy about where you were standing.
We ended up climbing for 2 hours - one hour up the mountain along the wall and one hour slowly easing yourself down the wall, sometimes on all fours. Given that our walk along the Great Wall was less than official, we were kind of worried that we would get fined or something as we came back through the village (passing "Do not climb on the wall" signs along the way). Fortunately, the only people we met were an older couple (the woman had a cane) who were heading up the slope to climb the wall. With no language in common we tried to convey to them that the climb was pretty steep and difficult - we hope that they got the message! Anyway, we got to experience something pretty unique!
And as Mao once said, we are now "true men" (and women).