A hike across the Great Wall of China

Sometimes one knows when to push oneself beyond one’s limits and sometimes not. Ever since my 2005 road traffic accident, I have found that I am reluctant to push myself beyond my perceived limits in walking as it has always ended in a lot of pain. As this adversely affects travel experiences and that of my travel companions, I tend to avoid pushing at my limits especially when I am in a group. I also have a fear of re-injuring my leg, in a difficult to access region or a place, without facilities to treat me in case of another accident.

So by the time the end of our group’s three week travel around China was in sight and I ended up with not only a fever and nasty sore throat but also fatigue and leg pain, I decided that I would not exert myself the last couple of days. However, I was hoping to do one last walk on the trip – a hike across the Great Wall.

We took the bus from Beijing to Dongpo village, where we were accommodated in a simple home stay/ guesthouse.

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Stacked corn at the village

When we reached the village at the foot of the Great Wall in the afternoon, we found it was colder there than it had been in Beijing. After some coffee, the group decided to go for a sunset hike. I initially tried to go on that short hike but just a few minutes after we started, I was finding it more and more painful to walk so I took a photo of my friends continuing the hike and returned to the guesthouse.

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Hiking around Dongpo village

I enjoyed sitting in the courtyard resting my leg, while attempting to make friends with the little dog under the chair, and watching the sun set over the hills.

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When the others returned from their sunset hike, we had a lovely sumptuous dinner following which the hosts started a bonfire outside.

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Our sleeping space was in tiny rooms where six mattresses had been placed on a concrete platform in each room. The platform had smoldering coals underneath them to warm up the sleeping space. We had to sleep like packed sardines so it made for an uncomfortable night.

I woke up very sick and with a lot of pain in my leg and I knew that I would not be able to keep up with the others on a hike across the Great Wall. I told myself that I did experience a lovely home stay at a village at the foot of the Great Wall and had experienced lovely views of the wall in the distance. After everyone had left on the hike, I completed my packing and waited for the cars that would leave with our bags to the meeting point with the hikers. I was enjoying my coffee when three of my friends, including a staff, returned. In some ways, it is nice to have company rather than being alone when you are feeling a little down. We decided to play a game of cards till our departure time, which was a lot of fun.

When it was time to leave the guesthouse, the hosts offered us some ‘baijiu’ (Chinese beer) and the others encouraged me to try a sip as well, suggesting that it would be better for my throat. I tried a sip of the bitter, pungent concoction which was my first introduction to beer. I did feel slightly better as the drink burned my throat but the taste put me off beer that I didn’t attempt a second taste till several years had passed.

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Gretchen’s reaction to baijiu

We went with the hosts in their car to the point where our bus was parked and transferred to the bus. The bus took us to one of the entrances of the Great wall. I initially assumed we would be waiting at a restaurant at the entrance, and the others would join us for lunch after their hike, but I found myself following the others on a walk to the base of some steps leading upward to the Great wall. One of our mini-group members decided to go up the steps and meet up with the rest of the group. When walking back to the restaurant area, we passed the cable car ticket counter and the staff with us suggested we take the cable car up the mountain, since we had come all the way to the great wall and it would be a pity if we at least didn’t take a photo on top of the wall. Tempted, we agreed and took the cable car up.

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As we were in the cable car going up the mountain, we learnt that the rest of the group had begun their descent down the steps. We took some photos at the viewpoint at the top. I was happy that we had made it to a tiny portion of the Great Wall and it was amazing seeing the wall winding its way into the distance.

Given the context of today’s world, it was easy to imagine the fear that provided the impetus for the Chinese empire to start building its walls to control migration as well as prevent attacks by nomadic tribes along its borders. Some fears of humans seem to remain the same despite a couple of millennia of evolution.

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When we returned to the cable car, we were told that the cable cars had stopped working and that we had to climb down the mountain. I felt dismay because I knew I was not fit to attempt an arduous climb down and worse, I had left my hiking stick in the bus thinking that we were only going to a restaurant to order lunch for everyone. We agreed that the less strenuous way would be to walk across the wall to the nearest steps that led down the mountain rather than attempt the souvenir sellers’ rough hiking route downhill. I steeled myself to face the inevitable. One of the souvenir sellers, who had been pointing out her walking route down the mountain, said that she would accompany us to ensure we found the stairway. She also found a stick for me which I could use as a temporary walking stick.

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There we were, the four of us, going so slowly across the great wall marking each tower we reached as an achievement and keeping our spirits up. The souvenir seller was a very kind woman and she helped me across the steep inclines and steps. She mentioned she was from the Mongolia side of the wall and I found it admirable that she made the hike up to the wall and back every day to sell her souvenirs.

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I am glad we went up the cable car and were forced to walk across the wall as it turned out into a special achievement of will and perseverance, besides actually experiencing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of walking on top of the Great wall. I felt quite proud that despite my initial dismay, once I resolved myself to face the task, I undertook it without a murmur of complaint even at the tough sections of the wall which we had to cross.

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The unexpected kindness of the souvenir seller touched me and I felt that simply giving her some money, as if in payment for her services, would devalue her kindness. So, I bought a Tshirt for my mother from the souvenir seller, which my mother loves to wear on her short evening walks knowing the story behind it.

The travel lesson for me from my Great Wall experience is that sometimes when you find yourself in an unexpected and seemingly impossible situation, there is always some residual strength and determination left within you to go the remaining distance and often, where you least expect it, you come across unexpected human kindness and empathy.

Great Wall

[I am linking this post to:

*Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World

**Travel Link Up – August theme of ‘Travel lessons’, hosted by Two Feet One World, Adventures of a London KiwiSilverspoon London and #TravelwithNanoB]
Wanderful Wednesday

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40 thoughts on “A hike across the Great Wall of China

  1. That is a lot of corn…

    Go you for making it in the end! It can be hard to push ourselves beyond our limits and sometimes it doesn’t work out so well, but other times it’s a cause for celebration at our own determination. Good on you!

    I’m glad that you got to see such an iconic sight in human history!

    ~ K

    http://www.lifeasunusuals.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have pain in my knees and often can’t do everything I want to do, so I know how frustrating that can be. But I’m glad that you did get to hike on the wall even though it wasn’t the original plan, and also that you made it across in good spirits! #wanderfulwednesday

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ava. Sometimes knowing your limits can be frustrating, especially when you are drawn to hikes and places which are difficult to reach. For instance, exploring Machu Picchu and Antarctica has been two of my top 3 travel wishes for years now and I am still hoping to make it there somehow 🙂

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  3. This is such a wonderful post and great inspiration! I’m glad you didn’t fall or get hurt making it down from the wall. I think it was so sweet of the souvenir seller to help you and your friends not only find your way but help you get down as well! It makes me feel like there are generous and kind people in this world. I know you must have felt so successful when you made it down from the wall!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Amanda! It was certainly very kind of the souvenir seller to help me navigate the uneven and steep inclines along the wall and down the steps. I regret that I don’t remember her name but her act of kindness is one of the most memorable aspects of my China travel. And yes, I felt like I had achieved something incredible when I finally made it down the wall, till then I simply kept my mind focused on making one step at a time.

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  4. I’m so happy you had the courage and strength in you to keep going. I can totally relate, hiking is not my thing but the views are so worth it! His kind gesture was a sigh that you were supposed to be there all along 🙂 Wonderful story!

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  5. Such a bummer you weren’t feeling well and had leg pain on your trip! At least you didn’t let it keep you down completely and still walked a portion of the wall! #WanderfulWednesdays
    ps. My post is the image that didn’t load properly on the link up! It is safe!

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  6. It sounds like quite a tough trip and i think you did really well considering you have problems with your leg – the sleeping situation alone sounds a bit of a nightmare! I’m so glad you didn’t only get to observe the views of the wall in the distance (although sometimes the views of the thing can be better than the views when you’re on the thing) – that’s really sweet about the souvenir seller helping you and I agree that buying the t-shirt was the best gesture. Little human kindnesses that you come across, like this, always make me want to cry! You’ve had an iconic experience, that bit of the wall that you’re on in the last picture is stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment! Random acts of selfless kindness by strangers have always made me teary eyed and deeply touched and I have come across many in my travels, especially at moments when I have been feeling a bit of despair.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it’s great that you even tried anyway and even greater for actually walking so much! I can totally relate as I have scoliosis which is especially worse when travelling as you’re sitting in awkward positions on the plane or train or bus for so long or you end up walking around town for miles. Can be so frustrating if you have to cancel a plan or skip seeing a certain sight just because your body doesn’t want to do what your mind does 😉

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    • Thank you, Van. It is certainly tough especially when I seem to be most attracted to places that involve a lot of walking. I have found that traveling in winter seems to be particularly tough for me, which is a great pity as Antarctica has been at the top of my travel wishlist for decades now. Had to look up scoliosis and sorry to hear that you also have to be careful about walking limits when traveling.

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  8. What a wonderful post! I love that you were able to push through your pain and sickness and had the chance to walk on the Great Wall. And I love what you wrote about the themes of fear and anti-migration persevering through the centuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m sorry that you weren’t feeling well and that your leg was hurting, but good for you for taking on the challenge and walking along the Great Wall! I’m sure at the time it wasn’t very enjoyable, but it will always be something that you will remember and a story you can share! Hard times like these are what make travel all worth it in the end! We learn what we’re really capable of and how far we can push ourselves! Thanks for sharing your inspirational story 😀

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  10. I love your last paragraph so much..

    “The travel lesson for me from my Great Wall experience is that sometimes when you find yourself in an unexpected and seemingly impossible situation, there is always some residual strength and determination left within you to go the remaining distance and often, where you least expect it, you come across unexpected human kindness and empathy.”

    AMEN!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s great that you were still able to go up and see some parts of the Great Wall, even though you were dealing with all the pain in your leg. That was so kind of the souvenir seller to help you get to the appropriate place, and to get you a walking stick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have had a few travel experiences where I had to forego a destination, that I would not probably visit again, but I am glad that the Great Wall ended up being a positive experience and not one filled with regret.

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  12. I’m glad that it turned out to be a very positive experience for you. My ankle has been constantly hurting for the last 3 years, and I hate it when I end up slowing the rest of the family down to my speed. That homestay seems like a wonderful way to get to know some of the local people, and that souvenir seller was a great boon to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Michele. The souvenir seller was a very special person indeed and I am glad I made it across a portion of the wall, with her help.

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