Suitcase and World: THE Great Wall!

Friday, July 3, 2009

THE Great Wall!

oday’s the day I finally get to see the Great Wall…..a lifelong dream!

Breakfast was to be on our own this morning and I had so much dinner the night before, I really wasn’t hungry. I met up with the rest of the group in the lobby and we all got into a van for the 3 hour ride to the Simatai section of the Great Wall.

Of the three sections of the wall that are open to the public, Simatai is one of the least visited section as it is the one that is located the furthest from town. It is also the least restored section and therefore, the one that is most representative of what this section of the wall looked like when it was built during the Ming Dynasty. Simitai is also the steepest section of the wall that’s open to the public so climbing it can be challenging. Of course, I had no idea how challenging it would be until I actually did the climb....if I had only known beforehand :-(

We arrived into a very small village that even Jenny did not know the name of and pulled in front of the Great Wall Hotel. By now, it was late morning. Jenny got us our rooms and Jan and Miread kindly offered to share. Considering both were not feeling well....both were battling bad colds, I took them up on their offer without hesitation!

After we all got settled into our rooms, we had a quick lunch in the hotel restaurant and after that, started our climb.

Jenny got us started with a review of the layout of the section we would be climbing. 12 turrets in all that are separated by about 120+ feet (if I remember correctly) which was the furthest distance that arrows could be shot at that time so there was no chance of accidental shootings taking place between shootings. From where we were standing, we would ascend about 700 meters by the time we reached the 12th turret. Looking at the layout and then at the wall beyond, it looked very easily manageable.

It all seemed so simple at first. A paved walkway that ascended at a low grade but then we arrived at the 1st turret which was a junction point for us. Jenny had instructed us to turn right and so I did just that and was immediately faced with a set of very steep steps.

I started the climb up and made it up to the second turret without much problem. The steps from the 2nd to the 3rd turrets were equally steep and before I was even halfway up, I had to take a breather. Not only was it blisteringly hot but my lungs were also heaving for air. Poor Jan was suffering as well. She also has poor lungs as I do and her cold only made matters worse for her. Luckily, the view compensated for our misery. We could see more of the wall and its turrets as we climbed higher and higher. Though it was another hazy day, I was not disappointed by the magnificent vistas I saw.

I decided I would take it slowly and soak in the fact that I was walking on THE Great Wall. Jan did the same and we became climbing buddies of sorts....supporting and encouraging each other along the way. When we needed to, we took breathers but otherwise, chatted about love, life and the pursuit of happiness....anything to distract us from the challenges this climb was presenting to us.

Rest stops in the turrets were particularly welcomed because they offered shade from the hot sun.

Jenny had told us that it would take about 1 ½ hours to do the climb but Jan and I just took our need to try and set any land speed records.

At some point, the steep steps between turrets gave way to steep paved walkways that no longer had side walls. Then we lost pavement all together and really had to start hiking up a path that was defined just by a metal chain rope. The views of the wall as it snaked across the hilltops were phenomenal!

Back around the 4th turret, Trevor too had picked up a climbing of the souvenir vendors who decided she would accompany him all the way to the top. They were both about a turret or two ahead of us so even when we lost count of what turret we were approaching, we knew that unless we passed Trevor, we had not yet made it to the 12th turret. Jenny was also deliberately keeping a slow pace....I think to make sure us laggards were doing okay.

Somewhere before the 8th turret, we bumped into Jackie and Miread who were already on their way back down. They assured us we had completed the most challenging part of the climb and that the path to the remaining turrets was much easier....relatively speaking, of course! The spectacular views around us were motivation for us to continue to climb higher.

I think it was the 9th turret when we bumped into Dean, Bernd and Robbie who were also on their way down. Jenny soon arrived as well. At the same turret, there was a souvenir vendor selling stone tiles that he was carving images of the Great Wall onto. Jan wanted to buy two of the tiles and Robbie kindly agreed to carry them back down for her. He also kindly agreed to wait while the vendor engraved one of the tiles with Jan’s name and the date.

We left the guys and Jenny behind and continued our ascent up. Before we made it to the top, we met Trevor and his climbing partner on their way down. He had made it!!

Soon, Jan and I would declare VICTORY! We knew we had made it to the 12th turret when we saw the sign warning that we would be fined if we climbed any further. It had taken us nearly 3 hours to make it to the top and. I had drunk nearly 2 liters of water on the way.

We did out photo ops and then took our time to savor the views of the surrounding hillsides....marveling at the section of the wall that was now behind us. This is one hell of a wall the Chinese built so many centuries ago and once you experience it, you can fully appreciate why it was voted on by so many travelers as one of the new Seven Wonders!

As always, the climb back down is so much easier than the climb up. Surprisingly, the guys and Jenny were still waiting for us at the same turret. I asked them if they would do a Happy Jump for me and they kindly obliged though by the look on her face, I’m not sure Jan quite got the idea :-)

The guys blazed their way back down. Later on, we would find out that just after the first turret is a zipline that will take you down to the river and from there, you can catch a boat back to town. Apparently, that’s what the guys did.

Jan, Jenny and I walked all the way back and when we got to the zipline, debated whether or not to take it. I would have done it if not for the fact that I was carrying a really heavy backpack on me that had all my electronic gear in it....I did not want to risk losing anything.

We were the last to make it back to the hotel and all I wanted to do was take a shower and relax. It had been a great afternoon but the sun had sucked every ounce of energy out of me. The cold refreshing shower did revive me a bit and it was only then that I realized I was also getting hungry.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and after that, walked to a nearby grocery store to buy some munchies. For me, I opted out on getting any munchies but did treat myself to an ice cream…..a well deserved one, I think :-)

After we got back, Jackie and I started the process of gathering photos from everyone so we could compile a set of group photos that we would then share with everyone.

Once we had all the photos in order, I was ready to call it a day. I was so tired I think I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

It had been a fantastic day! I will never ever forget experiencing the challenge of climbing the Great Wall, basking in the the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and admiring the ancient Chinese for having constructed this wondrous landmark!! And, I have photos like this to remind me of just how lucky I was to have been there! :-)