Saturday, April 27, 2013

Walk through "intelligence valley"

Fruit and nut trees were in bloom in the valley
Cindy and I have been back in Beijing for just over a week but decided it was time to get out of the city.

A group called Beijing Hikers organizes trips every week. We picked one that advertised relatively flat terrain and lovely hike through a rocky area called "Intelligence Valley." The towns in the area have odd names as well. One is called Lucky.

Rock wall in Intelligence Valley.

We boarded a bus with about 20 other folks, half of whom were German mothers and their kids. We also met a German executive with Nokia telephones, a Canadian television journalist, an energy consultant and his naturalist wife from D.C., and a British elementary school teacher. All live in Beijing and are not tourists.

We headed north for about two hours into an area that includes part of a national park. Although it was Saturday, it turned out to be a work day and school day, so we ran into heavy rush-hour traffic. Everyone was working because the following week includes the five-day May Day worker's holiday, and in China you have to work on the weekend in order to take days off during the week.

So escaping the city and the traffic was even more welcome. The hike followed a valley between high mountain ridges that were covered with flowering trees. The naturalist, Betsy Robertson, said these were wild forms of pear, peach, almond, and cherry trees, among others.

It was roughly a three-mile hike that moved at a leisurely pace. The idea was to take in the natural setting. This area has become a popular weekend getaway for some of the 20 million people who live in Beijing, and the roads are lined with hotels and resorts promising barbecue, a ride on a horse, fishing and other amusements. Some of the hotels cater to a fancy crowd.

We saw a stream full of trout. One rocky pool was full of tadpoles, which amused the children for a while. The German boys amused themselves by throwing rocks into the quiet pools of the stream.

The structure running vertically up the ridge behind
Cindy is an unrestored section of the Great Wall.
 Parts of the Great Wall were visible from the trail through the valley, and the last stop on our tour was a climb up a steep portion of the wall that is crumbling and overgrown with trees and bushes. It seems more like an elevated path than a wall in many places.

The higher we went, the more the Wall took shape, with towers and a steep series of steps to the top of the ridge. It was a bit scary navigating the crumbly steps.

Bob Robertson of D.C. and me at one of the towers.

In the small world department, I was talking with Bob Robertson, an energy consultant, who asked what I was doing in China (teaching business journalism) and he mentioned that his sister was a journalist. Oh, really? Where? The Sacramento Business Journal.

That newspaper is in the group where I worked for 18 years (Baltimore Business Journal and Business First of Columbus). I knew the Sacramento publisher very well (he has since retired). So I emailed Robertson's sister a picture of the two of us at a tower on the Wall.

You can run but you can't hide.

Lunch was at a local hostel with simply prepared local dishes, lots of vegetables cooked and raw -- cucumbers, bok choy, lettuce, maybe zucchini, roasted peanuts (great) washed down with Chinese beer, Sprite and tea.

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