Wednesday, June 4, 2008

China Day 05: The Road to Badaling

Next we embarked upon the road to Badaling. (Doesn't that sound like something Kipling might have written? It's the name of the section of the Great Wall which is closest to Beijing, and also most touristified.) Our long stop at the cloisonne factory put us considerably behind schedule - while I watched Bob playing with the big pretty dog, one of our bus-mates was apparently negotiating the purchase of the entire factory contents or something. It was already past 10:30 and we still had an hour-plus drive to the Great Wall, so there was a certain amount of edginess.

However, the delay was actually a blessing in disguise. We were supposed to take a major expressway, but there was a bad accident that backed up traffic for miles. Because we weren't on the expressway at the time, we were able to reroute ourselves onto a smaller side road that was much faster than waiting in the traffic jam would have been!

Soon we began to see mountains in the distance:
As we climbed farther into the hills we drove past a variety of brick dwellings and hovels where the workers live:
Some enterprising peasant used the space underneath a highway overpass to plant this garden:
(sorry it's a little blurry - we were in motion.) I kept wondering how the poor plants got any water or sunlight!

Soon we started seeing sections of wall snaking up the hillsides:
They just finished the restoration of this section, which includes a military headquarters post according to Fred. It's not quite open to tourism yet - too bad!

There had been several terrible, frustrating traffic snarls we poked our way through before this point, but just as we saw a sign saying "14 km to Badaling" traffic ground to a complete and utter halt. Here's the deal:

The road from where we were up to the Great Wall is, naturally, heavily used by buses and taxis and other tourist conveyances. To deal with traffic flow, some bright boy decided that the two lane road would be treated like some toll gates on the Ohio Turnpike: the lanes would permit traffic in whichever direction needed it more. I assume there were lights or something to indicate which way each lane was supposed to be flowing at any given time - I didn't see them. Well, Chinese people are not exactly rule-bound drivers. I've seen American drivers out in the cornfields at two in the morning, not another soul on the road for miles in any direction, obediently stopping and waiting at stop lights and stop signs. Not in China! The current impossible traffic situation was due to people pulling out and DRIVING UP THE DOWN LANE! This naturally produced some consternation a little ways up the hill when the bus trying to get down was blocked by the cars trying to get up...

It's past noon by this time and we're wasting this glorious summer day sitting on the bus. Heard some good Chinese cussing from the driver, though - he was reaming out the traffic cop who was out there completely failing to do anything about the problem. We inched forward at an agonizing snail's pace, until finally about 1.5 km out we attained zero velocity again.

We had had it. We abandoned the bus
and began walking the last mile. We climbed faster than this line of cars:
We climbed faster than this bus:
The sun beat down upon our heads:
but at last we triumphed!

This, as I mentioned before, is the most touristified section of the Great Wall of China. (If I ever get to go back to China one of my goals is to walk a different section, between Jinshanling and Simatai. They say it takes about four hours; I would probably need to allow an entire day, but I would do it!! To see what this section looks like, click here for a fabulous image gallery. Here is a link to another guy's photos - he did it in winter, my gosh!

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