“It not a Great Wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”
-Karl Pilkton, An Idiot Abroad.
After reading information about The Great Wall in his Lonely Planet China Guide and realizing many of the tourist sections of the wall were rebuilt in the 1980s, to include such ancient devices of revelry such as massive, German engineered slides, hawkers selling you skull caps with a single braid of black hair coming out of the back of them and pits filled with suicidal brown bears, Karl was left unimpressed by what some would consider one of the greatest feats of human skill and endurance of all time. Like Mr. Pilkington, I was very wary to see “The Wall”, as I was not interesting in see Great Wall 2.0. Not even 2.0. Mavericks upgrade. Shitty, cheap and simply a money grab.
The GREAT thing about the GREAT Wall is it is humongous. One, I shouldn’t be so judgement, so….yes…one…fine…gentleman attempted to walk the entire length of the wall. For starters, there isn’t just ONE wall. Regardless, He failed. Like not, you were SOOO close. No. He failed miserably. It goes over ice mountain ranges. Like, your ability to walk isn’t how it is in Skyrim in real life, sir. Its Lord of the Ring’s helicopter shot BIG. Back to the Greatness of this, the Chinese government simply doesn’t have enough resources nor care to “tourify” every inch of it and tourists aren’t going to be bothered to trek into the middle of no where to stare at a wall. Or so they think. I wanted to see The Great Wall. Or more so, the Real Great Wall, not the Fake Wall. Luckily there are enough people on the internets that feel the same way.
For all your up-to-date Wall needs, check out: http://www.greatwallforum.com/
Huanghuachang, the Great Wall that goes into a river, due to damming was the planned destination. Buses were researched and on a rainy weekend morning I headed out on a somewhat empty bus from Dongzhimen Central Station. Our excitement was a sweet as sugar, but the rain would not melt it. So maybe it was as sweet as honey as I think precipitation has no effect of that sticky substance. Through the outskirt hills of Beijing, in Huirou city. A few stops. Nothing unusual. Faces come on and off. Sits empty and fill. A pair of eyes meet mine.
“You going to Great Wall”
“Oh. It’s closed.”
Pause. From my research I knew that this was an unregulated part of the Wall. This means no ticket booth or official check in procedures. This SHOULD mean no opening or closing time. I was confused and in my confusion, we got off the bus and loaded into his vehicle. It was like so trance. Like trusting the white panel van full of candy.
“Where are we going?”
“To the Great Wall”
“What? I thought it was closed”
“Mutianyu is open”
Mutianyu was one of the horribly touristic sections of The Wall I had wished to never encounter. We had been duped. The man, who was wearing an official bus staff uniform, removed it. He was a Black Taxi Driver and we were at him whim, along with another white couple that sat in the car with us as well. I counted my wad o’ money. I knew that Huanghuacheng was no longer an option anymore, but I was damned if I was going to pay a zillion dollars to go pay a zillion more dollars to hang out with a zillion tourists on a 5 year old’s macaroni art project, deemed The Great Wall. We came to a “reasonable” deal. Exiting the black cab, we were suddenly drenched from above and from all angles, by rain and dripping hawkers. Pretty sure I don’t need a 4 foot statue of Mao made of the finest plastics. No, thank you, that’s awful kind of you, I just don’t think I am in the mood to buy a pet bird or cat or dog or ?. Though we did need an umbrella. Again, hard bargained, including using the line, I live in Beijing, I know how much this should cost, don’t fuck with me (yeah, I totally have no idea how to say that last line, but imagine that reaction). The adult umbrella was ridiculously priced, so we bought two kid ones. It was like walking on a tight rope, balancing the circumference of the small umbrella perfectly above our heads. Through hawkers row, lined with booths, flashing blinding lights into your retina, like maybe if you were blind you wouldn’t be able to see the piles of shit, drinks, t-shirts, shit and more shit being sold. But, to be honest, they are people just trying to scrape by, so I get it. I feel for them, but on a day where the clouds had opened both physically and metaphorically, I had very little patience to gab. Purchased expensive tickets with a glib smile plastered to my face plastered in wet hair. Climbed numerous stairs up and up and up. AND Viola! On the Wall. Or were we?
The fog, which was as thick as being surrounded by a legion of Santa beards, made it difficult to tell exactly where you were. It felt as if we were on a road in the clouds. The rain was actually a blessing in disguise, as it cleaned the wall of most of the tourists and hawkers. Yet, with map in hand, I had alternative plans. I was heading to the greyed out area at the edge of the map. I was going to see the REAL wall. And no, you can’t go beyond this point sign or cement blockade was going to stop me. Up an over the blockade and finally, we were face to face with antiquity. The fog felt more appropriate here, as if it became part of the myth of the wall, something that existed on a scroll in waves of black ink. We stood atop a crumbling tower, one of the many guard towers that appear along the wall. We followed The Wall for a bit. Old growth vegetation fought its way up through the crumbling structure. At points it was hard to tell where The Wall was and if we were just aimlessly meandering, lost in a sea of evergreens. But then a small rock, a patch of rubble would lead us onwards. We walked for 40 minutes until the underbrush, became the overbrush and we had to turned back, in fears of being engulfed. This part, getting to touch the real stone of this magnificent work, the same stones that the builders had assembled hundreds of years ago at the orders of their Emperor, was the pay off. Done with the Real Wall, the rest of the Wall was simply the elaborate pathway back to the bus stop. But wait! The story doesn’t end there!
I had to go to the washroom. Not being completely savvy in ways of the public washroom at tourist sites in China, I thought there’d be toilet paper. There was definitely not. My favorite game ensued. Check your pockets and see what will work. Several receipts and the umbrella cover. FINALLY, I found an alternative use for those things. Velvety soft.
Famished from the walk and not interesting in indulging in the extremely out of place Great Wall Subway or Baskin’ Robbins, we tried the local inn. The food was meh, but it filled the gap. Unfortunately, the slow service led to us missing our bus. No problem, we’ll just cab somewhere and bus from there. Black carred it to a bus stop. A bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Like NOWHERE. Wait. Wait. Wait…..RAIN. NIGHT. Finally. Bus…..bus comes and takes us into Huirou, where we catch a connecting bus back to Beijing.
The Great Wall is an interesting place to visit and can make a wonderful great day trip from Beijing. Just realize what you are getting into, what you want out of the experience and research alternatives. I ended up making it to Huanghuacheng and it was more of the experience that I wanted. Again, if you want to see an easily accessible, no hassle part of the wall, Mutianyu, may fit the bill. One note: Bring some information about The Wall with you, as it will truly enrich the experience.
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Quick Dos and Do Nots of the Great Wall of China:
DO your research. There are many sections of the Great Wall to see. Make sure you find a section that fits what you want to get out of the wall.
DO NOT listen to people telling you alternative information than watch you researched, especially shifty guys on the bus. They might be simply black taxis trying to get you to pay exorbitant fares to go with them. The bus will get you there.
DO Bring supplies. Food, water, rain coats, toilet paper. It’s for sale there, but at three times the price. PLUS, I don’t think toilet paper is for sale out there. It’s just a good idea to bring it with you everywhere.
DO NOT listen to the DON’T WALK HERE signs. They are simply trying to prevent you from walking on the part of the Wall they haven’t charged people to walk on. It has nothing to do with Wall preservation. Do you see anywhere else “preservation” happening?
DO bring info about the Wall. It’s a magnificent marvel, but context makes each part of it that much more awe ridden.
DO NOT expect that you will be alone on the tourist parts of the Wall. It will be you and 85 billion people trying to get a picture of the pristine Wall, without dude picking his nose not in the shot.
DIRECTIONS and INFO
The Great Wall – Mutianyu (慕田峪)
Cost: 45 Yuan
The fastest way is to take bus 916快 (express) or 916, which run from Dongzhimen to Huairou Bus Station first, get off at the terminus (or Qingchun Road North End or Huairou North Street), Walk to the bus stop on the diagonal corner of the intersection and take bus H23, H24 or 936 (Huairou to Dongtai) and get off at Mutianyuhuandao. Again, these buses’ numbers change frequently. Best to show the symbols of Mutianyu to the bus driver.
Episode 5 of Each Mile – Cormorants, Beer and Canals – Check it out as Ira and Rachel continue through the diverse mosaic of China:
A little bit behind the journal entries. These shall be my “Photo for the Day” for a wee bit:
I pull the covers over my tarnished black legs. At my feet it reads “God Bless America”. Lady Liberty’s flames rub my ballsack. How appropriately you act, my dear femme fatale. Unlike last night, the room is heated and in the same quarters as the couch surfer host. There are no dead flies on this bed and I feel safe to use the various pieces of the bed as what shall keep me warm through the night, rather than a bunch of misrepresented bedding I will try to avoid. When did I last write? Who knows. I am certain I wrote in Townsend…yes…as I stole Quimper’s signal. Good times. Never did go into any shops in Port Townsend. This trip is prepping me for my inability to see it all on the second bike trip. I have no time. I did, for your Global AFCers, have time to do quite a bit of work finding accommodations. More to follow on that front.
Port Townsend was gorgeous. The rest of the day I wandered by bike, following the historic map up Washington Street and Lawrence Street, passed the old warning bell for the fire bragade, passed the unimpressive Rothchild’s house and the unpink Pink House. Try to fit that court house in a shot is a ridiculous task that I absolved myself of by clickity clacking it in portions. Bumped into a lady who invited for internet and spoke about the marvels of wifi. I mistook their movie theatre for a theatre theatre. A man going uphill stopped to explain how great this town in and how when he broke up with his girlfriend he lived at the homeless shelter. I believe just because through break up your house broken, doesn’t you don’t have a pot to piss in. Quite the opposite if you think deep.
The post office was an amazing stone building that seemed a bit to large for this town. Imposing and physically astounding, the former customs house occupied my last 15 before returning to the bus depot to return to Discovery Bay. The millions of numbered cash boxes, the wood liquered panelling, the augmented glass windows, the natural light created skinny half oval pillars of brightness on the ground. I explored, but felt that odd feeling you get when you go into closed door rooms of other people’s houses. Fascinating and overwhelming.
I came home. Shot the shit with Andrew. He showed me the Llamas, a baby goat…
Longest day of my life. Worried that people think I am dead. I am NOT dead. Internet tomorrow to insure that death has not occured. No pictures. Nothing. Biked 100 miles to insanity. Never again…I think the stupid Google Earth sucks teste. Saw lots through Joyce and Sekiu and…..need to rethink trip as I cannot ever do this again. Going to bus at least to Forks tomorrow. Its not cheating…most people do not come out this way. Makah Tribe. Night night.
A day was lost due to scarcity of life left in my loins. Yesterday took my body to a wonderful new place I have never been before. Apologize for my summation of the events that occurred…this past night I have slept in the Forks visitor centre. And much to my own choosing, since I refuse to give a cent to a motel that I will only occupy for 5 or so hours. First daylight and I am gone…gone…gone. I have no real idea as to the next stop, I am trying to hit Taholah. Oh…I slept outside for a bit….damn shoes suck and the water pants froze me even more…the sweat from two days ago’s epics still seeps in its pores. I chose to reside here due to helpful tip from the lovely server at Fork’s Pacific Pizza. I ate a personal pan for no reason. I wasn’t hungry. I am spending cash like a rabid dog…10 bux a day…10 bux a day…I keep trying to convince myself that such frugality is possible with how I want to do this trip. Again, I feel, no avail will come to it at all. I am finally heading down down down after a treacherous day up up up.
Two days ago I did 100 miles in a day. From Sequim, I rode the Discovery Trail to Port Angeles…where it failed…I took it all the way to a split in the ocean that lead to a dead ender at the Nippon Paper Mill. Span around, up a hill, left on 18th, and onto 12 to take my chances with that callus road. That be a road I shall never forget as long as I live. No shoulder, up hills and down hills, twirling and twirling, truckers honking, tempting beaches, warning go 25mi, walking when my knees eroded. Finally, at 7:30, I pulled into Neah Bay…..made it to the Tyee Motel, pulled myself under the awning, near the sign that says “if you need a room, call Cary” and placed my 50 cents in a pay phone and called Vicki, a couch surfer who lived this way. After several attempts….tada…Vicki pulled up in her car and I followed her to Hemlock Road, to Nursery Road, to Hemlock Road, last house on your right.
She gave up her own bed so I could pass out. She fed me Elk Soup and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The next day I awoke. I discussed Makah History with Vicki. She explained how the language was being kept alive and about how her different parts of her family looked at religion, the advent of Catholism, the different parts of where the Makah would roam, the mudslides at Ozette that covered the town for 500 years, the goats that mysteriously appeared on the small Wadah Island and their eventual escape over a rock jetty built to protect the bay. She spoke about the Coast Guard that use to live on Tatoosh Island, a girl named Vicki who she looked up to in elementary school, her grandfather that would teach her to live off the land and her sons who fought and put holes in the walls. She went on about drugs, a Native Art, and her laugh sang to me its own tales. I went to the Makah Museum and learned about the covered Ozette site, where over 50,000 Makah artifacts were found, preserved for 500 years by a mudslide. A whale from the 1999 whaling incident hangs from the ceiling, long canoes sit below it. A long house in its entirety sits in the centre of the museum, built to perfection. I walked the town, bought a note book, listened to people interact…tried to get smoked salmon, but the guy only had tuna. Albert, one of Vicki’s 5 children, showed me how to put up a tent. Simple enough. At 7 I left on a bus to Forks and here I am. Today is a new day at 6am. Gonna try to sleep for 2 hours. Tata.
We were rushing for the border. Day 3 and we were crossing from The Netherlands into Germany. And yet, our Dutch friends never ceased to amaze us. This museum sign is literally in the middle of nowhere on some back country road. Since of our hurry we never did get to check it out. Lucky for me, the internet let me have a second chance. PS, my friend biked all the way to Budapest, this being his only faux injury. No poles with museum signs were harmed during the taking of the picture.
The crash museum website:
With Southbend in my rearview (figuratively speaking) and only a few towns ahead til the end of Washington, I set my sights on the town of Ilwaco. Unfortunately, due to a late start and my wandering soul’s good intentions to take everything in, Ilwaco was not where I would end up that night.
Passing the 4,000 intertidal mudflats, the numerous shells strewn about by accident or by design, put this part of the world’s secret on display. The Willapa oyster, smoked, friend or cooked, a gumbo, a burger or raw, was apparently the creme de la creme of oysters. That’s quoting a local resident. Despite what the episode may say, I did for lunch have a fried Willapa oyster burger, and while yes, I’d rather have breaded fish or beef between those two buns, this was pretty damn good with homemade tartar sauce.
So yes! No Ilwaco, yes to some random town called Naselle that had not much more than a shopping centre, a church, a gas station and a motel for 30 bucks a night. After sneaking my bike in the room (they had told me I could keep it outside…if I had to argue for it’s right to stay inside like people due, I would have seemed a bit off), I went to the a-joint restaurant/pub/karaoke bar for some eats and a beer to wind down. Lucky for me, it was karaoke night and in a small town like this one could only imagine the wonderfully unique inebriated locals that would come spitting their sorrows into a song. Well tonight was a good night, because it seemed to be biker night. Not just any type of biker, but as I sat at the bar conversing with the bartender a wide-stanced shadow lured me to see who had entered into our midst. There stood the large sized lot, posed like a pose take a photo, tattoos faded, masses of blotchy colors, hair blowing in the wind. Drinks were consumed like bullets from firing squads, laughs drowned out conversation, slaps on the back would have hospitalized me. Their women sat on their laps, my knees hurt from thinking about such weight situated on my frail frame. Nothing was frail about these ladies, their saliva was iron ore, their sweat was ethanol, their glance made doors where walls once were. Then the singing commenced. Duets, solos, manage a trois, a guy constantly laughing and talking to his friends instead of singing, you name it, it happened. A large man, who reminded me of Gimli from Lord of the Rings, perched tidiously on his stool beside me, the leather screatching beneath him as he swivelled to catch the performance. We talked, I don’t remember about what, partly because it was about nothing, partly because his English has turned into slurred jargon. He introduced me to “Bill, Ted, Ryan, Ethol” a slew of characters from his motley crew. It was his turn to sing, he stared at me for support, so I sang loud too, not knowing what the hell I was singing. He asked where I was staying.
“Right here, at the Inn”
“Wellllll….whhhhhy don’t you come stay with uuuussss??”
“Well, thank you, but I already paid for my room”
“I can take care of that”
Not wanting him to take care of that or me or anything, I slowly slunk out, like Alice at the tea party and passed out in my room, exhausted and beer smelling.
The next day I packed, returned my key and zooooom, I was on the Columbia River, one of the widest rivers in the US, Oregon was on the other side, but it was still a world a way. Many boats over the centuries have been engulfed by this moody body of water and I saw a few victims washed up on the shore. Lewis and Clark, the great explorers almost died in the Columbia several times. I tried to imagine crossing such distance in a canoe. I looked at my arms. Not much there, I would probably have capsized two strokes in. In boats, unlike bicycles, there are no downhills, no cruising. And before me stood my only way across this monstrosity of H2O that separated the two states. The Megler Bridge, one of the largest bridges in the states, over 4 km in length, I wasn’t really sure if bikes were allowed to be on it. Well, there wasn’t really an information booth insight, unless I wanted to round the bend, go in the wrong direction, back to Ilwaco. To hell with it, it was windy, so might as well throw caution to it and see where it flies. And fly I did, cars zoomed passed me, my camera tried to capture the moment I crossed over the boarder, you barely can make out the Oregon sign. Winds tried to hurl me off the side into the blue below. Not a single car honked, so I knew I was in the clear on that front. I wasn’t in the clear for many other fronts. Headwind tried to blow me back into Washington as well. The clouds were heavy and looked like at any moment they would unleash, slickening this already terrifying crossing. At the last moment, the bridge turned upward, into a steep incline. So this is where the boats go under….so happy it’s at the end and so suddenly. My legs screamed at the sudden hill, my hands worked quickly, changing my gears around so I could manage. There was no possible way I could stop and readjust. Finally, the incline, declined. I was in Astoria. I was in Oregon.
Washington had been my learning curve of the basics of touring. Oregon would be the intermediate and hard level as the landscape turned into a roller coaster of peaks, cliffs and gullies. As I sat in a coffee shop, staring at the poster proclaiming that Ninja Turtles had been shot in this town, I thought of how great this trip has been a rekindling my inner child, how much fun it was to play again, how one should never loose this light, this light that keeps one exploring, and wondering and being curious about all things, making the world new everyday.
Yessiree. I am a Jew. Through and through. What that means is that my family can make you feel guilty for committing atrocities that you didn’t commit, let alone weren’t born in the same decade that they happened in, so that even if you had an inkling of wanting to kill us all, which, God, if you meet some of my family members…..(holds breath and exhales sooo very slowly). So anyways, my mom, also, just so happens to be a Jew as well. But like an American who thinks they’re flag is also a fashion statement and something to plaster all over your house and lawn, my mom finds it hard to not mention the fact that something in the conversation is Jewish, or was Jewish, or once she gets through with it, will be Jewish. I am a Jew by culture and food. Nothing more. But, I love my mother dearly and am also still and yes, I am still in a wee bit of awe when I see something Jewish. It’s kind of like seeing Canadian Geese in another country, I mean, they exist there, but in your head, the image doesn’t sit right. Canadian Geese in Mexico, really? Maybe it’s the opposite situation as it is with humans.
Anyways. So I took this picture to make my mom happy. Was she happy with this picture? Welp, she hasn’t seen it yet, so hopefully it will garner the admiration, which I so seek out by appeasing the little old yente in her. Love you mom. Whoopi Goldberg is still not Jewish, but don’t worry your gaspritzin punim, Drake is.
Camp Pendleton, California. America is scared, in a constant state of readiness. The enemy is not an outside virus, but a cancer, unrecognizable deep in the capillaries and veins of the each state. And though, the painting looks unified from a distance, closer up, you can see the harsh hatch work of troops in green fatigues in well drilled marches, odd white bubble satellites on the side of arid landscape hills monitoring each phone call where Russia is mentioned and Apocalypse Now helicopters, dark brushstrokes in the sky, up and down, every moment taking off and landing. It’s not entirely true and just gave me a chance to be a bit floral with language without getting too abstract, but there is something to it. Why is there this massive base in Southern California? A militarized city in the desert? A helicopter, so big, that if you hadn’t noticed it’s approached, you’d feel it, darken your skin to ash, eclipsing the circumference of the sun.