I awoke the following morning to a splendid show of autumn outside the window. If there’s one season my heart aches for after having lived in hot places for 6 years, it’s autumn. Leaves crunching under your boots, leaves falling from tree branches into your hair, that smoky stove smell that hangs in the crisp October breezes.
Judson and I started the day by grabbing breakfast down the street. He bought a few bags of buns* and I waited in line for a pancake-burrito type thing. With no Chinese at my disposal, I resorted to pointing at things and nodding. Mostly it was the friendly Chinese woman and me laughing at the fact that we had zero communication skills, and my pancake ending up a bit spicy with the chili sauce she put in.
We managed to find the Air BnB and pile everyone into the van for a 2-hour drive out to the Jinshanling portion of the Great Wall. As we drove out of Beijing, we left the smog behind and found instead mountains and rolling hills, all resplendent with red, yellow, gold, orange, and brown. In time, we could make out portions of the Great Wall rising up on the mountains. The closer we got, the more the wall looked like ridges along a dragon’s back. Talk about excitement!
The only person more excited than we were when we arrived at the parking lot was our driver, who seemed especially eager to get us out of the car. He whooped loudly when we jumped out and assured us we could finish the wall quickly.
“Two hours,” he said with a wave of his hand, as if it’d be a quick walk in the park.
The first leg was all uphill, but it was up a very autumnal hill, so I was happy. Judson suggested raking some leaves into a pile so I could jump in them, but this sadly didn’t happen. I did rejoice in crunching some brown leaves under my boots.
It was a pretty strenuous walk up, but once we climbed up into the tower and made it to the wall, the breathtaking views and the crisp breeze made it all worth it. The hike from the East to the West gates took longer than 2 hours. There was too much to see along the way, and certain parts of the wall were extremely steep, so we had to walk down them cautiously.
Apart from us, there were very few people on the wall. I’m lucky to be able to say that both times I’ve been to the Great Wall, we’ve managed to avoid the tourist section. And for 60 yen and a 2-hour drive out of the city, I’d say it’s worth it.
A few hours in, we stopped to have a picnic near one of the towers. Judson and I had gone shopping the night before for bread, cheese, avocados, ham, and other sandwich staples, and we ended up with a perfect spread. A vendor was selling beers nearby, so we grabbed a few bottles and reenergized. The hike itself was a perfect mix of strenuous and strolling, and we were definitely feeling it in our thighs. Lunch could not have been better timed.
And as far as lunches go, a picnic on the Great Wall of China is probably the most epic lunch I’ve ever had.
We hung around for an hour or so in that spot, running into a professional photographer who took a group photo for us. It’s worth mentioning that the plaid look was semi-planned. The afternoon before, we’d all noted that we’d packed plaid shirts in our suitcases and decided to wear them on the Great Wall. (Of course, Judson had plaid, too.) The result is a series of photos that could come straight out of an American Eagle fall catalog.
After this, the walk to the West gate was shorter than we’d thought. Our driver picked us up and sped us off back to Beijing, where we got stuck in a massive traffic jam that rivals even Manila in its standstill. It was the perfect time for a nap and some bad improv games, but it also tired us out.
Judson took us to another brewery where we ate some pub food, tired from all the duck the night before. Everyone else went back to the Air BnB, but Judson and I went on to sample some signature cocktails at a tiki bar, peruse a record shop, and play with swords and armor at a bar owned by a guy who – you guessed it – designs armor. I think it’s pretty bold to leave customers drinking mead in your armor shop, but I won’t argue because I got to wield a sword.
We ended the evening at a smaller brewery airing a Michael Jackson tour video. A large green cricket wandered around a small cage that hung from the beer taps, trapped but warm.
Later that night, listening to Lou Reed, I wished we had more time in Beijing. That Great Wall can put a good spell on you.
Stunning photos below taken by Blair Berg.