We had travelled approximately two thousand kilometres in just over three weeks. We had seen breathtaking views from Victoria Peak and taken a bamboo raft along the River Li. We had been scalded by one of the world’s spiciest hotpots, nibbled by skin-hungry fish, overwhelmed by The Army of Terracotta Warriors and assaulted by flashing cameras everywhere we went. We had almost conquered China.
Arriving in Beijing, our final destination, we found ourselves slightly more bedraggled than when we had landed in Hong Kong. But the prospect of seeing one of the Wonders of the World was certainly enough to keep our adrenalin high.
Although by now, confidently thinking that we had assumed the role of experienced backpackers, we had seemingly learnt nothing along our travels and, abandoning our budget, were lured into the ease and convenience of booking ourselves onto a tour of The Great Wall. We later found out that we could have easily done this independently for a fraction of the price.
Due to the exhaustion of early starts and long overnight trains, we overslept and almost missed this extortionate excursion. Bleary eyed, and resigning ourselves to the fact that we would not be looking picture perfect for this longed-for moment, we joined our fellow adventurers.
…it was definitely very special…
When envisaging visiting The Great Wall I had imagined a long, exhausting trek. Our experience was very different to this, and despite being ridiculed for lack of effort by family and friends on return, it was definitely very special. Arriving in Mutianyu, having been advised that this was one of the least touristy spots, we were placed in a cable car and lifted effortlessly to our destination. With two feet placed firmly on the Wall, we could hardly believe we were there.
Having seen numerous pictures of a wall heaving with visitors and hawkers, we were stunned by out-of-season tranquillity. The few people we passed all shared a grin, a mutual understanding of just how mind-blowing it was to be here. Standing upon China’s top attraction was, admittedly, exciting due to the desire to report home and instil awe and jealousy. However, as we brushed our hands across the 2,000 year old stone and peered through dark watch towers, we appreciated the power this structure symbolised. Walking along The Wall, which was much narrower but impressively steeper than we had expected, and watching it tumble away into the landscape, was a fantastic feeling. As the time allotted by the tour was drawing to an end, we were reluctant to leave.
…the typical Chinese ‘peace sign’ pose…
This was not, however, the end of our experience. A 1,580 metre, stainless steel slide lay ahead of us. Yes, we tobogganed down from The Great Wall of China. As the sled snaked its way through the mountainside and we watched The Wall fade slowly behind us, we did not think things could get much better than this. Beaming for yet another photo at the end of the track, adopting the typical Chinese ‘peace sign’ pose we had grown to love, this was definitely something our extensive research had not prepared us for
The Lonely Planet quotes Mao Zedong, “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”. Clutching our cotton “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirts, which we had adamantly haggled for, we were definitely not going to let this memory go.
Image courtesy of the Great Wall of China Tourist Board