The previous night we asked around about the different options to get to see the Great Wall. It turns out there are three: Badaling—full of people and never recommended, Mutianyu—not so crowded and recommended by a lot of people—and the third option—arrange a car to get to farther away sections of the wall which require some trekking and time but are usually empty.
We made our mind and chose Mutianyu, going without a tour, together with a very nice couple from New Zealand that we met while asking.
In the morning, we meet our new friends Viv and Scott at the entrance of the hostel and start our “without a tour” journey. To get to Mutianyu, we take the metro to the East Railway Station and find the bus stop for the 916 express. There is a huge line of people waiting but the lady officer tells us to get in the line jumping three quarters of it. We do as requested originating a shower of complaints and apparently Viv got scolded by an old man too. We feel sorry but can’t express it in Chinese so we get to the bus and try to forget about the situation.
At the bus, a man dressed like a bus officer is trying to help us and lets us know that he will tell us when to stop. We learnt in the guidebooks to ignore people trying to make you stop earlier so we start suspecting this will be the case. And here it goes, the bus officer tells us to stop four stops earlier. We kindly tell him we don’t want to stop there and he is confused, arguing with us. Finally he gives up and gets off the bus. Interesting: Wasn’t he the bus officer? Immediately after, two more persons enter the bus offering us a ride to Mutianyu which we refuse. The bus continues and we finally arrive to our stop. We get off the bus and, oh surprise, the same bus officer as before is already there offering us a ride to Mutianyu along other drivers. The bargaining wars have started.
We try to get the price of 15 yuan per person that the guidebooks recommend. It is impossible to get there and we finally settle it for 20 yuan per person. Our driver? The bus officer, who is actually just a taxi driver that scams people out of the bus earlier. This way he can request higher prices per ride. Clever.
Time ago the taxis would drive you directly to the parking of the cable car that gets you up in the mountain to where the Great Wall is. Today, they built a ticket office with restaurants and shops some miles before the cable car and they force you to pay 15 yuan per person for another bus ride. Of course, our mafia driver knows best and he offers us a drive to the cable car for the same price—he can give some cigarettes to the officers to let him pass—which we refuse since we don’t trust him. At the end he gives up again and immediately starts looking for other victims.
At the ticket offices, we pay a total of 158 yuan per person for the Great Wall tickets, cable car tickets, toboggan to get down—yes, why not?—and stupid extra bus ride, which we take immediately after, ignoring all shops and restaurants.
The area where the bus stops is quite confusing and it is in construction. The cable car appears farther away in the mountain but there is an entrance close to us that says cable car too. We decide hesitantly to go to that entrance thinking that it will lead us to the cable car we see up there, but no. It leads us to a ski lift up to rightmost section of the Great Wall. The views are good too and we don’t care what section it is as far as we can finally get there and enjoy it.
Once up, we get our reward for all the efforts, we can see the wall restored as far as our eyes reach. It slowly starts to get to our minds. How could they build something like this up in the mountain? And this is just a small section, it is indeed amazing. And exhausting too! More than walk, you climb or descend stairs the majority of the time. And today is hot, it is good that we brought an umbrella, it really helps.
More than an hour later, the wall turns right over a slope and we finally see it far away: A section of the wall going dramatically up the hill. Are we really going to climb that thing?
We decide to just arrive to the bottom and turn back. In the way we pass a tower dedicated only to those suffering the stupid signature syndrome. Pretty clever indeed, it reduces the number of stupid signatures all over the place.
A little bit further we will also meet our friend the mantis. Say hello!
We arrive to the bottom of the climb. Our adventure spirit betrays us and we finally have to climb it. The sweat down the shirt and the lungs out our mouths. Worth it. The views from up here are rewarding.
At this point ends the touristic part of the wall as the signs say. According to a very nice group of Spaniards that we met at the hostel and that we found here again by chance, going 15 minutes further will reward us with a section of the wall that is not restored. But we are too tired so we decide to finish our adventure here and undo the path until the toboggan. And more pictures!
Yes, touristy to the spine, there is a toboggan to get off the Great Wall, and we want to try it. We fear a bit for the conditions of the structure and the security, but we remember a picture that the mafia driver showed us of Michelle Obama doing that same ride. Yes, we can! And indeed, the ride is secure and fun and we end with a smile after more than 4 hours hiking.
Back in the ticket office, we eat some dumplings and this time we manage to get a 15 yuan price for the drive back to the 916 bus stop. Here is where we fail taking the 916 that is not express. That bus will stop literally everywhere before we can get to the metro for the hostel. Now a shower and a pillow. It’s been a long day but we loved it!