After a surprise reunion with one of our Tiger Leaping Gorge companions Renaud, we decided to go to a less travelled part of the wall Jiankou. No public transportation goes there so Renauld's friend Melanie, a Beijing native, arranged for a black cab (not the London kind) to take us there. After finalising our plans over beers, Melanie attempted to catch a bus home, but they had stopped running at 7pm. No problem. Renaud has an extra bed in his room. Problem. The hostel reception informed him that by law a Chinese national is not allowed to share a room with a foreigner unless they are married (because she may be a prostitute). 2 police call outs and several conversations later, Melanie was finally left alone and allowed to stay the night (NB no one could actually provide evidence of existence of this law).
2 bus rides and a change of clothes for Melanie later, we met with the cab driver. His quoted price had doubled from the night before, but we begrudgingly reached an agreement. Melanie had warned us that he often gets lost. Estimated journey time according to Google maps: 1 hour. With 2 GPS's, a laptop, several stops in the middle road of the road, expressway exits and ramps to figure out where we were and countless breaks to ask for directions, actual journey time: 2.5 hours.
Soon we found ourselves looking at the following sign, "This section of the Great Wall is not open to the public." What shall we do? Carry on, of course. We had come this far and none of the locals we had asked for directions from had told us we couldn't continue (no wonder this section is not listed in the newer edition of Lonely Planet) There were signs that the path had been used in the past: abandoned rest stops and plenty of rubbish.
1.5 hours of trekking uphill later and the wall appeared. We climbed on it and we were awestruck. The wall continued in either direction along mountain ridges for as far as the eye could see (this actually wasn't very far because of the thick layer of summer haze, but it was still impressive).
This part of the wall has not been restored and there were sections that were crumbling and overgrown with vegetation. The best part was that we were completely alone. Silence fell upon us as we soaked up the scenery and the sheer magnitude of the construction.
As we climbed to one of the towers, we heard a "Hello!" Officials? Oh no...we turned around and saw 2 figures in the distance. They did not appear to have uniforms on. They turned out to be 2 students who had been trekking the wall for over 6 hours and had run out of food and water and had no idea how to get back to civilization. We shared our supplies and pointed them in the right direction. Crazy guys. we headed in the direction they had come from and soon realised that they were crazier than we origially thought. A section of the wall had completely crumbled away on a vertical slope. Somehow they had made their way down it. No wonder they kept saying it was SO dangerous...
Although Melanie may disagree (we hadn't truly prepared her for the hike she was about to endure, but to her credit she was a real trooper), we could not have asked for a better way to see the Great Wall of China.