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The Great Wall of China...Best... Stairmaster...EVER!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Great Wall of China

I was ecstatically happy that our first day in Beijing was going to be spent on The Great Wall! In fact, this was my most desired stop on this multi-month trip. From Tianjin, we drove about three and a half hours to Beijing. It was interesting that the drive through the countryside of Eastern China was basically what you’d see driving on any state highway, except for everything being in Chinese…and that Chinese drivers are suicidal. Period. Not being rude here, in fact, they are proud of their ability to drive like bats out of hell and ignore every sane highway rule that was ever invented. One of our chinese friends informed me that this is why Chinese acrobats are so good…they have years of training behind the wheel. Let me tell you, those highways and city streets are scary.

The Great Wall of China

My first impression of Beijing was that I was seeing Dallas, but overseas. We have all of our fantasies about ancient Chinese civilization showing itself around every corner..rickshaws, red lanterns and cinematic music coming from somewhere. Well, I hate to tell you, but that doesn’t exist in Beijing.

The Great Wall of China in Beijing

Beijing has grown into a large, spread out, crowded “Dallas” of the East. So let me add some things before someone gets offended. Beijing has come into the future. They have built themselves a very modern city that doesn’t have one main skyline, but many buildings over miles and miles. They’ve built upwards and did a pretty darn good job of it. I’m not sure if the romantic imagery that we have about Beijing is purposely perpetuated, or if it’s something we’ve just done to ourselves. None-the-less, I’ll repeat…Beijing is big, modern and spread out. Now the good news. Beijing has preserved the important things such as The Great Wall, and a number of other places I’ll post about later.

The Great Wall of China

Traffic in Beijing is worse than L.A…by far. It took us hours to get from point A to point B. Once we were on the outskirts of the city though, it only took us about 20 minutes to get to The Great Wall. It was wonderful driving into the mountainous area and you could see the wall in the distance. I believe it is something like 10,000 Kilometers long, so you can only see parts of it. There is more than one area that you can access the wall at, so we chose to drive to the closest location to the city.

The Great Wall of China in Beijing

I’ve been considering this my summer/tropical vacation simply because at some point over the months, I will be in a tropical climate…see the logic there? However, Beijing, specifically the mountains where we drove to, were freezing. Our first day In Beijing was met by a wind storm. It was odd being in hurricane type winds, but no rain. Once we reached the wall, it felt like winter. Of course, we had shorts on. Is there anything else a red blooded American would wear to all parts of the world?

A Climb Straight up on The Great Wall of China

My friends, I tell you the truth, not what the T.V wants you to think…so here’s the fun part. The Great Wall of China, is way…way…way…up a LOT of steps. Now, I think that there’s a wimpy section somewhere further out that’s “Popular”, but where we went…let’s just say I almost tinkled myself halfway up. Okay, when I say “half-way”, I mean a quarter of the way. When we walked from the parking area towards the entry steps to our section of wall, I proudly exclaimed to a grinning tourist “We’re climbing the wall today”…and it was met with “HA! Good luck!”…and they walked on. You’d think I would have taken a hint, but no such luck.

The Great Wall of China in Beijing

So let me see if I can explain this. The Great Wall dips down at one point where you can enter and begin to climb some steps on the wall to the different watch towers at the top of the mountain. Of course the wall keeps going, but the goal is to reach the top and tell your friends you did. As it were, we were pretty high up. Now, the “Steps” are original and made of stone, but these were made by men who didn’t understand that steps need to be a consistent height and for normal human beings. So, as you begin to climbs a few steps, you realize that some strides are different than others. This wouldn’t be so bad, if they were naturally tiered upward…but they’re not…they’re very, very, very, very steep. Did I mention steep??

The Great Wall of China

You still don’t believe me about the steps, so I should have gotten testimony from the Filipino lady that was clinging to the railing while she tried slowly descending the steps with what I thought were her tiny little legs (turns out that it was just BIG steps). I laughed at her (good natured of course) and she laughed back, but said she’d rather cling like a baby than fall to her death….I snickered again and began to climb more.

The Great Wall of China in Beijing

There were a number of people going up and down these stairs. Generally, very slowly. Everyone is energetic until about a quarter of the way up the first section. At this point, it almost appears that people were crawling on their bellies to go up further, but maybe I was hallucinating. Finally, after multiple intervals of start and stop, I couldn’t make it any further. Yes, I admit, I could not do it anymore. I was up far enough though that when you turn around and look back, it’s very high and pretty scary.

The Great Wall of China
Coming down the wall. This was a whole new event in itself. Boy, did I feel bad about making fun of our sweet Filipino mom type character. Go with me for a moment…think about standing on the very edge of a high mountain cliff. There’s a drop thousands of feet below you and the only thing you can think about is the numerous, unstable and cranky New York tourists coming down the wall behind you (embracing/clinging to/ glued to the same railing).…and any minute one of them is going to trip and you’re going to roll the rest of the way down….and die. Okay, you’re not on a cliff, but the fear is still the same.

The Great Wall of China in Bejing

I never fully understood the term “Rubber Legs” until my experience at The Great Wall. I could barely walk back to the lot after spending a long, long time making it back down the steps. Overall, it was amazing. Spectacular even. I think I got some great shots. However, I could not, no matter how hard I tried…capture how incredibly steep these steps were…so you’ll have to take my word for it. Some of the pictures I've posted are of the various sections of the wall, you can see some people on the top of the wall here and there. (just so you know, we hate those people). If you ever get the chance to visit this part of the world, don’t pass it up. In all seriousness, it was one of the most fulfilling feats that I have ever experienced, especially thinking about the amazing history behind it all, and that I walked on a wall that the sentries did up to 2000 years ago. By the way you can access the additional photos of the area HERE. (Sorry that my photos are a bit washed out, I don't have any way to really edit them well on this trip.)


Cory Lynn said...

Most people that go to Bejing enter the wall at Dadaling & that is where you went. I've been there & completely understand what you are saying about the steps & climb. I thought that I could make it to the top of the section from the parking lot but only made it to the stop before the top. It is a great thrill to visit the wall. Happy to see that you made it!

Cory Lynn said...

Sorry for error in name of entry to wall. It is Badaling not Dadaling.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I laughed through most of your commentary. I could just imagine. I would have taken the easy way or just stood and said I was there!
Love, E

CarolD said...

Wow Luther, great blog. it was Juyongguan Pass we were at. I'm exploring where to go next for a fabulous trip thought I'd ask you for suggestions. Can hardly wait to get going.

Luther Bailey said...

Hi Carol!

Thanks for the note! :-)

If you've never been to the Med, then you should give that a try. Spain, Italy, Greece and other countries in that area are amazing. The food and weather are great, along with the diversity in scenery. If you've tried that area, then give the Baltic Sea cruise a look. They are very popular and northern Europe is beautiful. I will be doing the Baltic next year.


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