Monday, July 20, 2009

Great Wall of Mutianyu

Date: Monday, July 20
Vu, Dan
Travel: Bus; Mini Bus
Lodging: Dorm
Photos: 20090720BeijingMutianyuGreatWall
The problem with a weekday is that there are fewer modes of transportation for tourist around. I'm sure we could have called a tour, or have just taken some private taxi to the great wall, but Dan & I decided we wanted it to feel like we were hardcore. There are a couple of locations in which you can visit the great wall, 2 of which are Badaling and Mutianyu. Badaling is a bit touristy, and usually full of people, but it's easily accessible by train. Mutianyu is a little more difficult to reach, but it has a Toboggan ride down the mountain. Need I say more on which one we decided to go on. There is a tour bus on the weekend, that could have taken us straight to a town called Huairou, but this was Monday.

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It was supposed to be pretty easy according to websites and books we read, take the local bus to Huairou, take a mini bus the rest of the way to Mutianyu. So we took the local bus up to Huairou, and tried to communicate to the bus attendant. She was probably one of the more attractive people I saw in Beijing, as everybody in the street we encountered we generally unattractive. Anyways, as we started to arrive the outskirts of Huairou, the attendant mentions that this is Huairou. We exited the bus, and immediately, there was a guy soliciting us for a ride. Everybody solicits here, but this feels shady. We are supposed to find a mini bus, not this random guy on the street in a gray van. We stand there a bit and feel like idiots not knowing where we are at, or what we are supposed to do. This was just a fairly small town we were at. We just stand there, and one person who knew English, asked what we were doing, but he didnt know the area, so he could not help. The only thing he told us was, "be careful." Wonderful... So now we start walking into town and the sun is shining strong, which fuels the need to even be on the wall even more, since it would be a beautiful clear day. The original solicitor starts following us, and keeps yelling prices at us, which I think he started at 300 yuan, and started coming down until about 100. We just keep walking and walking away, and decided to take another bus, because we were actually looking for a particular stop, the convention center, but we don't know how to say this, and we don't even know what its supposed to look like. We just need to look for the mini bus. So driving around for a while, we still have no idea what to look for, and no mini buses in sight. How can it be this hard, all these publishings just list these simple, general instructions. But I think the words "be careful" was still dug into the back of our minds. We gave up on the bus, time to take a taxi, but we only knew of the Beijing taxi cabs, which were blue or green, and had a distinctive look. We could not find any around, but we thought, hey maybe the hospital would have some. There should be taxis line up there. As we walked towards the hospital we get many other solicitors in gray vans to drive us to "Mutianyu." We kept walking, and there was this particular guy, (I'll call him Chuck), who started following us, and he was saying 60, then 50, then 40. We completely ignore Chuck, we didn't even say no. Just kept walking away looking for the hospital. There were none. Being distraught, we got lucky, finally found 1 Beijing taxi driving our way, and as we approached the driver, I point to Mutianyu on the map and he shook his head no, and just drove off. Damn it! That was supposed to be our savior. We were about to just give up, and take the bus back to Beijing. Again Chuck followed us around. As we reached the bus stop and people started to exit, we had found our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It wasn't quite gold, but her hair was. This young blonde lady walks around, and Chuck, among others, start soliciting her, and she could actually communicate back with them. We walk up to her asking for her help, and she says, well Chuck is offering to drive you for 40, and she pulls out her travel book and we conversed.
Pot of gold: "40 is a good deal, the travel book expects it to be around 50."
Idiots: "Yeah, but is it safe? can we trust them?"
Pot of gold: "Sure, I use them all the time"

After that reassuring tip, we take Chuck up on the offer, and after 3 hours of stumbling around, we get our chance to go to Mutianyu. I look at Dan and tell him, "Man, we are such pussies. Here is this girl going alone all by herself with no problems or fears, and here we are just standing around not knowing what to do, in fear we would probably lose our organs." Dan was not scared though, he had his GPS on him and told me,
"It's ok, if the driver does not take us on the correct path, we can jump out of the car."
On the drive up, I noticed a bunch of gray vans on the streets, and parking lots full of them. And then after thinking about it, only the drivers of the gray vans really solicited us about driving to Mutianyu. I started to wonder what the heck a "mini bus" was in the first place. It dawned on me that those gray vans ARE the mini buses. Whatever, it makes for another good story to tell. As we get to Mutianyu, Chuck parks his car, and walks us all the way to the entrance. He then tried to tell us that he will be waiting for us. Wow, that would be good, I thought the least thing we could do was to tell him what time we would be done.
Before entering the wall, we go out to the street vendors to buy some water. The vendor asked for 10 yuan. But it only cost 1 at our local market. So we ended up bargaining with the vendor, and threatened to walk away and we end up geting 4 half frozen bottles for 6 yuan. As we gulp down our ice cold water, other tourist buying water paid the full 10 yuan. Aye, no wonder why they raise the prices, tourist will still pay. I can't ever help but feel like I'm getting ripped off in China.
So we finally get to take the ski lift up to the wall, and it was a beautiful clear day. The wall was empty of visitors, and you could freely walk the amazing wall beyond the eye could see. After a few hours of trekking on the wall, the best part was to go down the mountain, as it featured a toboggan slide down, which you had the ability to control the speed. It was soooo fun, and we probably should have gone back up the lift just to go back down. There was staff along the toboggan ride often reminding us to slow down. The rowdy boys in front of us even crashed into each other.
As we completed the wall, as promised, Chuck was waiting for us at the bottom, ready to take us back. To think we actually were ignoring him the whole time, when he's really probably just trying to feed his family. We compensated him nicely for sticking around, and he was quite grateful. I think we had enough excitement for the day, but we did have a spicy hotpot for dinner, and that probably finished Dan off for the night.

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