13 October, Monday: Yesterday Violet sprung some “news” by saying, “Sorry, I can’t take you to the Great Wall tomorrow.” Apparently she had to take a test to get her driver’s license but didn’t tell us till the day before our outing. I was angry to say the least, but just told her to resolve the problem, which she did. She arranged for a driver to pick us up at our designate 7am time and would charge us the same 500RMB price that I had negotiated with Violet. In the end she did us a favor, as we didn’t have to pay her 350RMB/day fee. I did have two backup plans in case any guide fell through. In fact, I had hired a driver the year before and even though we corresponded quite often and up until about 2 weeks before I left for China, he too backed out. Must have gotten other customers where he could make more money.
The driver met us at the hotel and we were off to the Wall at Mutianyu. It was an overcast day, unlike our first 2 days in Beijing. As we neared the wall, I could see parts of it in the distance. I was getting excited! Reenie had told me this is the one thing she wanted to see while in China – her trip of a lifetime. We arrived about 8:30am or so and there were already a few buses. However, I had read this part of the wall was less crowded than at Badaling. The driver escorted us to the ticket office, where we purchased our entry fee, the cable car fee and toboggan fee (all for 120RMB per person).
The cable car ride was short but we enjoyed the views despite the haze in the air. The wall winds its way through the peaks of mountains and wooded hillsides. We headed towards the left first. Up and down the stairs we went, some were narrow and some were wide. It was great to be on such a historical site and to wonder how it was built on such high mountain peaks. The number of people it took to build must have been in the thousands. We walked through several towers, which varied in size and height. I would stop now and then and just look out into the distance where I saw the wall disappear. I wish we had all day to hike the wall, but it wasn’t possible.
Heading back in the opposite direction, we passed the cable car station and headed to the other end. We had even better views! The air cleared up somewhat and we saw blue skies above us. It seemed at times we had the wall to ourselves. I noticed some small groups of people walking a very short distance and then turning back to leave. What a shame. The wall deserves a few hours at least! We were on the wall for about 3 hours, and I would say 4 would even be better. We felt a little rushed getting back to the car and the length of the wall to the right was longer than I thought it would be.
Our trip down the mountain was fun! We took the toboggan down where one sits in an individual seat for the ride down. Each controls the speed and breaks, with a toggle in the middle. A worker tells us to lean as we hit a curve. I knew Reenie would be going down slowly, so I started first. And wow, did I go fast! It was so much fun!! It probably took 5 minutes to get down, but I was ready to go back up for another ride. I woo-hooed all the way down! This is definitely a "must do" for any visitor to the wall. After, we walked through the gauntlet of vendors selling cheap t-shirts. I should have bought one, but didn't. They were dirt cheap, two for $1. Oh well. We have the memories of our wall hike. And our many photos.
The driver was waiting for us in his car, taking a nap. We headed next to the town of HuaiRou for lunch. Recommended by fellow fodorites, we certainly enjoyed lunch: Eggplant sautéed in a brown sauce with bits of chopped meat; fried dumplings (which had a crispy topping, almost like flat layer of almost-burnt cheese); and a mixture of sautéed mushrooms. Reenie said they were canned mushrooms, but the dish was still tasty. We shared a bottle of beer while the driver waited for us in his car. I did ask him to join us, but he declined. (74RMB for the two of us).
Continuing on, we headed back to Beijing and stopped at the Lama Temple for an hour or so. It was such a colorful temple filled with people praying with their incense sticks. It was quite smoky and I imagined the many temples in Beijing played a part in the pollution. There were several courtyards with individual temples. Buddha’s, large and small were inside. No photography is allowed. The last temple contains the largest in the group.
For dinner (after our usual glass of wine), we met up with fellow fodorites Lisa, Charna and Manny and Evelyn and Manny. We met in the lobby of our hotel and not knowing where to go, I suggested the small dumpling restaurant from our first night. They all loved it! We ordered a variety of dumplings, as well as a delicious pickled, garlic cucumber salad. Some had sodas, while Reenie and I shared a beer. Dinner per person came to 15 RMB, or about $2.20, to which the group was amazed. Eating in places like this makes me a happy woman!
Lisa joined Reenie and me and we walked to the night market. However, not realizing the time, we arrived just as it was shutting down (10pm). Lisa did get the jist of it and I hope she had the opportunity to go there another night. Quite frankly, we should have returned directly to our hotel after dinner, as our feet and legs were sore from the hike on the wall.
All in all, this was a great day. The Great Wall was certainly a highlight of our trip!!