Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.
There are two ways to get down from the Great Wall of China – the smart way, or the way I took.
The bus ride from Beijing is about an hour, depending on which part of the wall you visit. I chose Badaling, the closest access. It was a steep walk up from the parking lot, then a short, swaying ride in a cable car. Suddenly you are poised on the landing area overlooking the verdant forests and mountains of northern China.
It is a breathtaking experience, which is almost too bad, because you need every breath you can get to walk the Great Wall. I hadn’t realized how steep the climb would be, but the wall follows the contours of the mountain range. Up, down, up, down. Duh.
To add to the fun, each step is different. The rise and the run and the width keep changing. That was deliberate, because the architects assumed it would make it more difficult for invaders to attack. It certainly confused a number of tourists, several of whom were soon limping noticeably.
The scenery is stunning. Visitors get a real perspective of the immensity of the wall and how northern China stretches forever toward Mongolia and Russia. The magnitude of the engineering and construction is astonishing.
Walkers struggle their way up the inclines and entrepreneurs gather in the little round guard towers to be found every few hundred metres along the wall. They offer soft drinks, cigarettes, chocolate bars. I wonder what Mao would think.
I keep exploring. Huffing and puffing are constant refrains. So is sweating and soft curses as large Western feet try to fit onto small Chinese steps. Women wearing sandals or flip-flops are in hell.
I climb a final rise, shoot a last lingering glance at the distant view while imagining Mongol warriors riding toward the wall, and prepare to leave. The smart ones in my tour group take a nice, safe cable car. I took the alternative mode of transportation – a rather rickety, hard-metal sled. I realized, too late, that it might be a mistake to perch my Western butt on this small, uncomfortable slab of rusty metal. There is a metal bar sticking up between my legs, which I hope desperately is the brake. There is no instruction other than a gesture to pull in order to “Whoa!”
Every few seconds, another tourist is pushed off down the steep metal run. I notice the track is marred by streaks of coppery residue – are they blood stains from scraped tourists? The potential for disaster is apparent. I’m guessing the safety inspector hasn’t visited the slide lately. Or this century.
The ride lasts three long minutes at a breathless pace. Somehow I make it to the finish. I’m greeted by two more entrepreneurs: Mongol warriors who take a picture with me for a couple of bucks. As I stagger toward the bus, a determined vendor sells me a T-shirt that says “I survived the Great Wall of China.” I look at the tag and start laughing: the wall has kept out warriors, but not entrepreneurs; it reads, “Made in Russia.”
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