So, you’ve heard of the Great Wall of China but have you ever heard of the Secret Wall of China? If you have ever stayed at Leo Hostel in Beijing then you probably have, otherwise probably not. Well, let me enlighten you!
There were two different trips to the Great Wall of China on offer. I opted for the one they named the Secret Wall because I love a bit of mystery and adventure. To get to the Secret Wall, I left the hostel at 7.30 am in a minivan with a group of 6 other female travellers. It was a fairly long drive and a hairy one at times. After a couple of hours or so on the road, the driver stopped in a village and picked up an old man who was standing at the side of the road. We had no idea who this person was because neither he nor the driver could speak English and we couldn’t speak Chinese. We concluded that either the driver was just giving him a lift or he was our guide. We had no idea which was correct until the driver stopped on a country road in the middle of nowhere. He switched off the engine and got out of the car as did the old man. We followed and, as I was looking around, I heard the engine start and the car pulled away leaving us in the middle of the road. This confirmed that he was our guide so, when he started walking up a grassy bank at the side of the road, we followed him. After walking for a while, he turned around and ran past us. We had no idea what happened and couldn’t see where he had gone so we stopped. We joked about that being the ‘secret’ bit of the Secret Wall. After a while we decided to continue on the path upwards because we could actually see the wall, yes the wall, as in the Great Wall of China! We knew our guide could catch up with us because he proved to us that he was sprightly… and he did. I think he was checking to make sure he hadn’t lost anyone.
When we finally reached the top, I couldn’t believe that I was actually standing on the Great Wall that took centuries to build over 2,000 years ago. It was a privilege to finally be there and on an unrestored, non-touristy part of the wall. I say non-touristy because, in the 2 or so hours we walked along the wall, I didn’t see any other tourists. We had a great view and could see the snake-like wall winding around for miles.
After walking for a while, I could see a figure in the distance sitting at the top of some steps that led to one of the towers. I said to the others that if he was selling tee-shirts, I would buy one because it was the last thing I expected. Lo and behold, when we arrived at one of the towers, there he was selling refreshments and souvenirs, including tee-shirts. I kept my promise and bought a ‘I climbed the Great Wall’ tee-shirt. In fact, we all bought something from him because we were probably his only customers for the day. I think he really deserved it because he trekked up with all that stuff in preparation for our arrival and it made me laugh.
We continued along the wall for a while longer before beginning our descent. I was really glad by that point because I was hungry. The trek ended in the local village. Our guide indicated that he wanted a tip. We all obliged because, although he couldn’t converse with us verbally, he had looked after us and he was really sweet. I referred to him as my Chinese granddad.
After that, he took us to what seemed like someone’s house in the village. That is where we had our lunch. It was great. We sat round a couple of big tables that had circular glass turntables in the middle for the food. It was a simple but delicious traditional Chinese meal. It was all vegetarian so that was great for me. Once we had finished our meal and had time to relax and recharge our batteries, the man in the minivan picked us up and drove us back to the hostel.
So, it’s called the Secret Wall because it’s a section of the wall that isn’t visited by hundreds of tourists daily. For me, this trip was really special for a few reasons. Firstly, we couldn’t see anyone for miles. That gave us uninterrupted views of the wall and the spectacular scenery, which was great for taking photos and marvelling at this amazing sight. Secondly, it was good for the people in the village. Our guide, the salesman, and the couple who fed and watered us all earned money from the trip. It is a great and sustainable way for them to increase their earning potential and it keeps the money in the village. Thirdly, the surreal experience of the ‘pop-up’ shop in one of the towers was ingenious! Lastly, the suspense of not knowing what to expect helped to make this an unforgettable day for all the right reasons.