Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The China Chronicles - Hiking
We got up early, packed a lunch, and headed off to the Starbucks at The Lido, a popular expat hotel / condo residence to meet other members of the Beijing Hikers Club for a day long hike outside of Beijing. There were about 20 people total on the hike: US, Swiss, German, Aussie, Isreali, Irish. All were expats living and working in Beijing - I was the lone tourist.

We were headed about 100 km northwest of Beijing, about an hour and a half outside the city to hike from one village, up over the crest of a mountain, and down into another village on a hillside in the shadow of the Great Wall of China. The hike included the bus, guides, and a late lunch after the hike for about $35.

First, a word about traffic in and around Beijing. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced. I spent most of my time in the back of taxis alternately holding my breath and closing my eyes. The sheer proliferation of cars and bikes is almost too much to comprehend. It's like jumping into the stream of a rip current and being flowed along. The taxi drivers are utterly fearless. All of them. You can't just rent a car in China, you have to have a Chinese license, and they are not for the faint of heart. Yet, more and more Chinese own cars and continue to clog the roads.

The flow of traffic is almost organic at times. It's like a living entity. It's as if cars were birds flocking or fish swimming in a large school, everyone instinctively twisting and turning, merging and emerging in an almost ballet like movement. It just moves at such a fast pace, it's hard to anticipate the direction, and if you aren't paying attention to everything - you're going to crash.

I wondered aloud a lot about how they planned to handle the traffic for the Olympics. I can't imagine any more vehicles being put into the mix. Given the utter gridlock we experienced the evening before, I could see a lot of people - and perhaps even athletes - missing events altogether because they were stuck hopelessly in traffic. There are plans to perhaps limit the cars that can drive on any given day by license plate numbers. Yeah - that should be interesting.

So, our bus driver went barreling on the Ring Roads out of town, and we quickly found ourselves on narrow, poplar lined, country roads passing through fields and villages. Not a tractor or harvester in sight - but plenty of people in the fields harvesting cotton, fruit and corn by hand. We wound our way around the Miyun Reservoir which supplies most of the drinking water to Beijing.

In each village we passed through, there was corn lying everywhere there was an open spot to dry. On top of roofs, in parking lots, even one stretch of road was closed for corn cobs to dry.

We finally arrived at the village. It was small, rural and very impoverished. The contrast between life in this rural village and what we just left in the metropolis of Beijing was pretty drastic:

Village Children

Main Street - rural Chinese Village

Almost immediately upon leaving the village, we started climbing through thick, forested, terraced hillsides covered in chestnut, walnut, and hazelnut trees. Along the way, we passed lots of donkeys like this one, tied to trees along the trail waiting for their owners to load them up with bags of nuts to bring down the mountainside.

Transportation for the workers and Chestnuts

We also heard the farmers in the forest. They carry long, bamboo poles to knock the nuts off the trees, so as we hiked, there was a constant sound of "Whack, whack, whack" accompanying us along the way.


The nuts are bagged, and then loaded on to the donkeys to bring them down the hill.

Bags of chestnuts headed down the mountain

I struggled on this hike. The "sweep" guy, a Chinese guy named Joe who spoke good English was pretty much my buddy on this trip. A little too steep and a little too hot for me, but I finished it, and was very happy to have had the opportunity. We hiked out through a larger village, which seemed a little more prosperous, but just as we were coming off the mountain, we unexpectedly passed four graves in the forest. I wish I could have read the tomb markers, but at this point, I was beat, so I just imagine that they are the tombs of the unknown hikers...

Tomb of the unknown hiker

We headed down the road a bit to a restaurant in the shadow of the Great Wall of China at the edge of the reservoir. You can see the Great Wall running across the hill behind the restaurant. Lunch on the rooftop terrace was lovely: scrambled tofu with herbs, boiled peanuts in their shells with ginger, wonderful local fresh grilled fish with spice, cucumbers, and lots of nuts.

End of the Hike - Lunch in the Shadow of the Great Wall

The Great Wall

Before we left - a couple of people stopped to purchase bags of the nuts we saw being harvested on the hike.

Weighing Chestnuts

The ride home was even more harrowing than the ride up. I fell asleep in the front of the bus, only to awaken to our driver careening around the corner of a blind mountain pass trying to pass a small truck. I think the entire bus took a collective deep breath on that one.

We got back to Beijing just before nightfall, and went with a girl that we met on the hike (from Baltimore no less!) and headed to the Modern Art Center called Area 798. I'll post some photos from there tomorrow. Had another absolutely fabulous meal in an unnamed basement dumpling house with just terrific dumplings, my favorite fried green beans with chilies, a hot salad of eggplant, pork, scallions, garlic and cilantro, and two beers. Cost? About $6. As my friend says "Cheap and cheerful".

Up next: Art and the Dirt Market.
posted by Broadsheet @ 12:00 PM  
2 Editorial Opinions:
  • At October 25, 2007, Anonymous DUDACKATTACK!!! said…

    "I wish I could have read the tomb markers, but at this point, I was beat, so I just imagine that they are the tombs of the unknown hikers..."

    Oh relax. That headstone simply reads "I told you I was sick".

  • At October 25, 2007, Blogger anonymouscoworker said…

    "The nuts are bagged, and then loaded on to the donkeys to bring them down the hill."

    He he he he he he he!

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