The Mysterious Great Wall of China

August 8, 2010. I have spent 5 out of the last 12 months in Beijing, China where my goal was to get to grips with Mandarin along with enjoying myself. I was less than a year out of university but had already seen through a couple of short term event contracts so I was prepared to give myself a little break. Of course, it helped that my parents were pretty encouraging!

First impressions of Beijing fitted exactly with the stereotyped image I'd created. The pollution was terrible - I could hardly see beyond 300m - the traffic was ridiculous and everywhere was extremely dry and dirty. However, this all changed after two weeks. The skies cleared up and there wasn't a single cloud to be seen. Furthermore, I had got used the craziness that was Beijing and as I was starting to speak a little mandarin I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy myself. 

Around this time I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to go hiking with an overnight camp on the Great Wall of China. Sods law though, the day I got there it was wet, misty and I didn't get to see any decent views along the wall. Luckily though, at the very end when it started to clear up and we could see about 1.5km ahead instead of 500 I was able to capture a worth while shot.

Canon 400D, EFS 17 - 85mm f4 - 5.6; 17mm, f10, 1/125, ISO 400 - 3 shot stitched panorama with CS4

Later that night I built a little shelter out of a few plastic raincoats and some loose sticks on the top of a guard tower. I don't need to share my "tent" because it wasn't much to look at, but believe me sleeping in it was fantastic. I was right up against the wall, which protected me from the wind and kept me warm, and as the clouds cleared I got a full view of the stars above. You can't get much better than sleeping on the Great Wall of China with nothing between yourself and the stars above except some disposable plastic rain coats!

The next morning I got up early to catch the sun rise and with the mist rolling up and over the Wall I was optimistic for a pretty cool sunrise. Well, just as the sun crept above the horizon the mist went into overdrive and completely wiped us out!

After a quick breakfast, a few of us committed ones continued along the Wall whilst the rest walked back down to the village and took the early bus back into Beijing. They missed big time out because the mist disappeared, the sun came out and we had the most stunning walk. We were so privileged to see views that stretched out for as far as the eye could see and the Great Wall just went on and on for miles!

What made both of the days special was that I was lucky to see the wall under two contrasting conditions. The mist and rain of the first day and the absolute clarity of the second day. We were trekking away from the main tourist route on a somewhat wild part of the Great Wall which added to the sense of danger and adventure and the fact that we hardly saw anyone else other than members of our group over the two days made it that much better.

Exhausted but satisfied we got on the bus back to home to Beijing and all promptly fell fast asleep. However when I got home the night was still crystal clear and I felt I had to take the most of the opportunity. I only had a week or so left and you could never tell when the pollution would return and so I climbed my bike and cycled to the Olympic Park. I couldn't leave Beijing without a photo of the two iconic stadiums!

Canon 400D, EFS 17 - 85mm f4 - 5.6; 45mm, f32, 15s, ISO 100

The 'Birds Nest' and the 'Water Cube' need to be seen in the flesh - well in steel and plastic! Photos can capture the colour but the grandeur and coolness of these stadiums just has to be experienced. With so many options and varieties in which to capture the two stadiums I strode out a big figure of 8 (around and through the two) to try and find the best vantage point. I spent longer looking and walking around the 'Water Cube' because the blue is just addictive to look at.

Canon 400D EFS 17 - 85mm; 17mm, f11, 20 sec, ISO 100

I had to leave that time after a month but the taste I got for the city and the experiences I gathered were enough for me to engineer a return later that year and again the following year. I would so like to return to China experience a different area of this vast country but if you have the opportunity to go to Beijing, it's a no-brainer. Get on the plane, you won't regret it!