that's supposedly what richard nixion said when we saw the great wall in 1972. well, saturday was my first time seeing the wall and i'll have to say... it was beautiful, impressive, daunting, and tiring.
so jarrett arranged a driver for us for the whole day saturday. the driver had a huge red flag car (a chinese luxury car) that had the most leg room i've ever seen in a car that wasn't a limo. the cost for the entire day was 800 yuen for the four of us. (that's less than $100USD.)
me, jarrett, sean, and fintan climbed into this monstrous car at around 8am and headed out to jinshanling. jinshanling is one of the most remote and undeveloped section of the wall that people commonly go to. it's actually outside the beijing providence.
we got to jinshanling around a quarter to 11. the good part is that there was a huge parking lot for busses and cars and it was compleatly empty. while walking up to the start of the wall we didn't see any other tourists. (the downside to this was that the hawkers stuck to us like flies on fly paper.)
our goal was to walk from jinshanling to simatai. a 10+ km walk that would take us past 32 watch towers. simatai is supposedly the most beautiful and rough section of the wall. (rough as in really steep and no steps, just damaged section of the wall where you're walking on sand and loose stones.) when we started walking the sun was blazing down on us, it was about 38C (100F), and i had over four liters of water strapped to my back.
it was a brutal hike with many stops to apply more sun screen. we encountered many other people on the hike (including a french tour group that was having a wine break) but only four other people who we met were doing the same hike that we were doing. (all the others were doing shorter hikes.) of course, there were hawkers along the whole route (usually hanging out in the watch towers) who would offer you coke and ice water.
the scenery around the wall was gorgeous. there were rolling green hills on both sides of us. the wall itself was impressive. the sections near the start and the end of the hike had been extensively restored (IMHO) and the steps were in great condition. but the middle section had a compleatly different feel. there were quite a few watch towers that were just half standing crumbling husks. if there were stairs then they were usually very uneven. in some sections there were huge stairs that took you strait up or down at ridiculous angles. for some of the watch towers you simply had to walk around them. (unless you wanted to climb 12 feet strait up the face of them to a door.)
the best part about the watch towers was that they were usually really cool inside with a breeze blowing through them. so we stopped in quite a few of them to catch our breaths, drink some more water, and much on some food.
the wall followed the ridge of some small mountains so there was a lot of up and down walking. looking down from the wall you get the impression that anyone thinking of invading china past this wall would have to be compleatly insane.
so the entire hike took us about four and a half hours. at the end there was a large valley that had a small suspension/rope bridge across it. after crossing the bridge we were in simatai. the wall doesn't stop there though. the wall continues up at a stupid steep angle right out of the valley. when you look up at it you can see that it runs along the top of a ridge with very long drops on either side. the views from there were probably more impressive that what we had seen on the section that we hiked, but at that point none of us were ready to start climbing again. we all decided that we'd leave that section of the wall for the next time we were in china.
from there is was a long walk along a road next to two reservoirs to get to the parking lot where our driver was waiting for us. luckily there was a zip line right near us that would take you sailing at hight speeds over the entire first reservoir, at which point you would take a small boat across the second. the price for all this was 35 yuen (about $4 USD.) since we were all really tired and sore there was no way we could pass this up. i have to say, it was a pretty exhilarating ride with my feet dangling at least a hundred feet above the reservoir.
after getting back to the car i immediatly tapped a bottle of er guo tou and started passing it around. this impressed our driver and some of the locals immensely. they were so impressed that one old lady offered me a couple green peppers for free. (i kindly turn them down.)
after a long ride back to the city we went to a duck resturant for dinner that our driver had recommended. the duck there was absolutely great and our driver joined us for dinner. we had an expensive bottle of bijou (52% liquor) that cose 168 yuen. we also had one duck, about four other plates of food, two desert plates, and a bunch of beer. all this cost us less than 500 yuen (less than $62 USD.) this meal at the fancy and famous beijing duck resturant would have easily cost over 1200 yuen. and the duck here was just as good or better that the duck there. i can safely say i'll be comming back here a few more times before i leave beijing. to top it off it's really close to where i live.
needless to say after all that walking, drinking, eating, and drinking i was _really_ tired. so after dinner i went strait home, took a shower, and passed out. i must have been asleep by 10pm.