The view when we reached the top of the watchtower was straight out of a postcard. The crumbly wall snaked for miles along precipitous ridges, the battlements and watchtowers emerging from the forest like plates on the back of a stegosaurus- or, more appropriately for China- a dragon. The scale of the walls was staggering, and confusing: if invading armies had managed to claw their way up to the top of the sheer mountain cliffs, surely another 10m of wall wouldn't be much of a deterrent? But no matter. Literally standing on top of such an epic piece of human history made all discussion of logic seem trivial.
We finished the hike along a restored section of wall- a few kilometers where the forest had been cleared away and the paving stones smoothed out. This area had considerably more tourists, and Steven told us excitedly that this was the place Michelle Obama had visited a few weeks before. “But,” he told us conspiratorially, “she only visited 5 watchtowers in two hours. You have visited 26 watchtowers on this hike! In only 3 hours!” We also learned all the dishes Michelle Obama had eaten in China, and that most of the restaurants had now renamed those dishes in her honor.
After our two-day break (and fortified by a good meal of Peking duck), we were ready to head off on the wildest leg of our trip: up north towards the Siberian border, and then way out west to the Tibetan Plateau. We left Beijing via overnight train to Harbin, excited to have the bright lights in our rearview and be heading back to the backwaters.