The Great Wall

Most people have heard of the seven wonders of the world, the unparalleled creations that seem impossible and inevitably coax jaws to be dropped and minds to be blown. A mixture of apparently divine creations and astonishing human endeavours. Nobody, however, can determine what they are. Sure, there are lists that can be reeled off and notorious constructions that can be named, but even a quick google will come up with an over-abundance of apparent wonders. There are the ancient wonders and the modern wonders, the man made and the natural and a whole army of things claiming to be the eighth wonder of the world. With such a broad selection of marvels you may wonder which is the wonder I chose to wander?

Although China could boast its own seven wonders, and probably does so on some random list, there is one stand out which has made it onto the “official” list of modern wonders. Despite colossal infrastructure dating back over 2000 years and natural phenomena which inspires sci-fi movies, the stand out inspiration is a really big wall. A wall with an immense but skeptical past and an array of misleading figures. A wall galvanised in legend and glorified through history. A wall with a lot of exhausting steps and tiring hills.

We set off from Beijing early in the morning to visit this big wall and prepared ourselves for the tricky task of tackling the public transport. The journey to the bus station provided no obstacle and the first of two buses went to plan. At the next bus stop we sat in admiration of our navigational abilities as we waited to complete our final leg. We were determined not to let the persistently pestering taxi drivers lure us into their cabs on standby and kept waiting for the final bus. One by one, buses arrived and left, but none to fulfil our bus bingo dream, but we kept our hope and remained patient. The pick up pests kept pleading for us to use their services but we stood by our refusals. Buses kept coming, but still not our number. One old lady began singing horrendously and the shocking sounds, aided by the beating sun began to wear down our confidence that our bus was on its way. Eventually, after repeated eye contact and occasional notions of complaints, we coupled up with a Colombian couple to complete the course and gave in to the lowering price of haggling hag and jumped in her minivan to reach the Wall.

The Wall stretches from the Gobi Desert to the Bohai Sea but the point at which we had the luck of walking along it was in the green mountains which dramatically fill the skyline. With rising peaks and plummeting drops it’s almost as if the drastic defence wasn’t needed against a seemingly impassable natural one but along the ridge lines amazingly stood The Great Wall of China. We were dropped off at a modern tourist centre complete with everything from local stalls selling figurines to the ever present fast food giants. It seems that whichever Wonder you go to there will inevitably be a Burger King or similar franchise around. No matter how far away you go or to whatever strange land you get to, before you reach a truly epic destination the familiar smell of the Whopper will sting your nostrils.

Bypassing the fallacious franchise we jumped on the cable car to the ridge at which we would start our trek. The Wall seemingly went on forever in each direction and the views stretched as far as Beijing across the beautiful backdrop. By now the Mercury was rising over 35c and shade was only provided by the occasional watch tower. We set off westward still in awe at the scale of it even though we could only see a fraction of the construction. One of the main myths is that the wall is a continuous structure blanketed across Northern China, however, the 5,500 miles that still stand aren’t all connected, and most aren’t as old as claimed. Although the Chinese began building walled defensive structures over two thousand years ago, the gluttonous rice flour buildings no longer exist. Most of the images you’re familiar with are from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and even they have been restored in the last fifty years. Still, nothing prepares you for the scale of it, and nothing can prepare you for the exhaustion. Climbing mountains on tiny steps in the midday sun with rations of water and the remnants of jet lag aren’t the facts included in the brochures and it was a draining effort that dragged us to the end of the section we had chosen. The walk back was just as energy sapping and despite the top of the cable car signifying the end of a once in a life time trek, I was pretty happy to see it.

There is a broad selection of marvels all competing for status as a wonder of the world, but The Great Wall justifies its place on the list. The size is incomprehensible and the man power to create such a giant is astonishing. The endlessness and consistency is somewhat beautiful, even exhausting. The journey to get there and get along it was worth every ounce of effort and it was an epic adventure.

It was almost sad leaving, but at least I had a filling Burger King to cheer me up.

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