When I realized I’d been living in Beijing for six weeks and hadn’t seen the Great Wall I was a little embarrassed. Luckily my friend Phoebe invited me along for an overnight trip out to the wall, so I packed a bag and prepared to rub shoulders with a million of my closest Chinese friends.
A lot of people don’t realize that the Great Wall is actually a series of walls that were used to protect the Chinese Empire before they were fortified and joined together to form one long, winding wall. The Chinese are justifiably proud of their wall, which is over 2000 years old and reached 6,400 km long during the Ming dynasty.
Living in a city like Beijing has made me crave solitude. Being constantly surrounded by people is not something that I’m used to, which was why I had been putting off going to the wall. I just couldn’t handle the pushing and shoving that goes hand in hand with Chinese tourists.
It turned out that we weren’t going to that part of the wall though. You know-the bit that’s been completely restored and looks like it was built yesterday?
Instead we were going to a relatively untouched part of the wall and staying in a little village right underneath it. We left on Friday night after work, and as we drove into the countryside I could occasionally catch glimpses of watchtowers and crumbling rock through the darkness.
We arrived at Chenjiapu, a tiny village around an hour and a half from Beijing. We were all unprepared for how cold it would be outside of Beijing, and I prepared to sleep in my jeans and sweater. The air was fresh though, and everyone in the group was ready to socialize. Our hosts were busy cooking up a storm, and although it was 10.30pm we settled down to stuff our faces.
I often find Chinese food to be really heavy and oily. This food was delicious though. Chicken, omelettes, green beans, fried rice and sliced potatoes cooked in spicy sauce. The food kept coming and coming, until finally we told the owners that we were stuffed and couldn’t eat another bite.
The next day I stumbled out of bed and into the chilly air. It was a beautiful sunny day though, and we ate breakfast before we left to hike up to the wall.
Chenjiapu and Beijing are as different as night and day. Here there were ramshackle little houses, crumbling stone walls and winding dirt paths. The hills were dry and there was little greenery to be found, but the silence was welcome, and punctured only by the sound of little dogs barking fiercely as we intruded into their territory.
We paused frequently to admire the stark beauty around us, and also because I’m currently woefully unfit.
An hour later we made it up the top of the hill/mountain. It was great to see a part of the wall that is completely unrestored, and the best part was we had the place completely to ourselves.
And then all of a sudden I was standing on history!
Staying in Chenjiapu was the perfect way to see the wall. This was the first time I had been outside of Beijing, and I was almost shocked to find that there are parts of China that are actually beautiful. Living in Beijing is sometimes like living in a busy, crowded, polluted bubble, and this trip was exactly what I needed to relax.
We stayed at Great Wall Fresh, a small guesthouse in Chenjiapu. The owners were lovely and fed us until we couldn’t eat any more. Rooms were 50RMB a night, but with three or four beds in each room this was divided down to 10RMB each-less than $2! Food was 50RMB a meal, which is quite expensive for Chinese food, but the sheer amount of delicious food and the fact that all the vegetables are grown in their garden made it well worth it.
I can definitely see myself returning for another weekend, as it’s the perfect place to bring a book and go for long rambling walks along the wall. With no cell service or wifi, you’re forced to relax, which is sometimes exactly what I need.