Last weekend, we set out on our Great Wall of China trip. We left Beijing at around 10 in the morning, and we drove around 3 hours until we reached the Great Wall at Jinshanling. The day was beautiful, not particularly hot at the beginning, but it surely was when we started going up the stairs later on. We all had so much fun taking pictures and exploring that part of the Great Wall that had been restored. There was a woman trying to sell basically anything (T-shirts, water, food, tissues…). She followed us for approximately 20 minutes until we really had to ask her to stop doing it. It wasn’t very annoying for me actually, because I took it more as a funny fact (maybe because I’m used to that when I’ve been to sightseeing places in Spain, or in Morocco, where it’s pretty common), but it was for other people in the group. I wonder if that’s the only thing those women rely on for living. I guess that their husbands and a great part of their families work in the countryside, the 农村, nongcun (this word I’ll never forget). I was very impressed anyway by just imagining these women going up there every single day of the year to persuade the tourists to buy something… It’s really amazing.
On our way down, we could all feel the pressure in our knees. We certainly didn’t know what was about to come in a few hours. I don’t know why, but this whole story, apart from having been magical and especially meaningful for me—because I had the time to reflect upon the sunset in the countryside (whereas in Beijing it’s always the same monotonous landscape: the building in front), it has also been conceived by my mind over the days as especially comic and anecdotic. Maybe because of the situation with that woman, or because of the way we were driven to the small village where we spent the night (literally flying in sand roads in cars).
So, continuing with my story, we had a super tasty dinner with the family that hosted us in the countryside. It’s hard to describe the feeling that seized me when we were enjoying the tasty food (all kinds of vegetables and meats) and the sunset stood on our right amongst clouds and that strange fog that followed us throughout the whole trip. I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the, I’d say, sylvan scenery. Dinner was followed by a brief walk through the few houses of the village because I was exhausted. What a great surprise when we came back home and there was a fireplace and fresh watermelon awaiting us.
I think I can now firmly claim that that’s exactly what I needed after a full month in Beijing. Trees, plants, forest, dewdrops, mist.
We played mafia and the Spanish version of it. I think my fellow American friends liked it. The cute little girl of the family also played with us—in her way.
We went to sleep early because we had to get up at around 4:15 am for our hike. Of course, when Maya (one of the RAs) woke us up, it was still dark outside and deep night surprised us by having blown away the clouds and fog that impeded us from seeing the stars. But there they were now, guiding us (along with one of the men of the family) to the Great Wall to see the sunrise.
The hike started by going up the village and passing through cornfields. Then, we encountered the first rocks and ascents. We reached a point where I thought I was not going to be able to make it (especially after falling down and hitting myself on the knee with a rock and twisting my ankle). We also were walking with flashlights in our hands, so that made extra difficult.
When I wasn’t that exhausted yet, I remember being moved by the smell of the mountains. Those wet, slippery, dark mountains. They smelled of brown leaves and cracked branches, of cold winter nights, of chimneys’ smoke. They smelled of my hometown.
I think I’ll skip the part where I’d tell you how hard the way up was, and recap it until the moment we started reaching the top and the sky became clearer. Now, I want to prevent myself from sounding too corny, but here starts the story of one of the most beautiful things I’ve even seen in my life.
Seeing that Great Wall Tower, enveloped in pink and purple clouds for the first time was like going back to those fairytales that I used to read in my childhood. It was like actually being inside one of them. I couldn’t believe we went so far when we reached the top of the mountain. The chilly wind was blowing up there in the mountains, but the scenery was really the most beautiful dawn I’ve ever witnessed, truly dreamlike. In all of the pictures I appear in, I look extremely tired and my face is as red as a tomato, but I believe that’s the real proof of the effort that took us to get there, and how proud I felt of everybody for walking up there. Sunrise was this weird, fascinating mixture of being in a wild fairytale (wild because of the vegetation) that surrounded the easternmost side of the wall.
Going down was most of the time thinking about two things: the first one just reflecting upon what we had just seen, the second one, about the breakfast that we’d have once we’d get back. I was starving—what a hike!
The man that guided us was imperturbable, he was carrying lights and he even dared smoking while we were all extremely cautious for not falling down (and we did no matter what). We finally reached the town and enjoyed the fresh noodles, rice and mantou (steamed bread) that the family offered us. It was now time to go back to Beijing, with the warm feeling of having had a real adventure time.
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Alejandra Sola Ávila
<div>21, from Southern Spain. Translation and Interpreting student in University of Granada.</div>
<div>Now IES Abroad student. Currently living in Beijing and studying in Bei Wai University. </div>
<div>Passionate about books, poetry, cinema, good music and travelling. I believe I was born to travel the world while helping others.</div>
<div>'Not all who wander are lost'.</div>