The Great Wall of China can be seen from the International Space Station, (although the view was probably better before China’s industrial might took hold) and I dream of one day seeing it from space for myself – in fact I am saving as quickly as I can for this galactic adventure. But until commercial space flights are available to the general public, I decided to satisfy my curiosity by getting a closer look on a trekking trip.
My 11-day trekking holiday in China was aptly named: Walking the Great Wall. Our local guide, Kevin, an English name given to him by his English teacher many years ago, explained all the history of the Dynasties and the extreme lengths they and their people went through to build it. It took centuries and was still being extended and repaired during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Today, walking the Great Wall is a truly magical experience, whether on the restored sections or in the wild areas where few travellers make it. It is humbling to tread over the paths of many of the Chinese ancestors who believed the wall would protect them from any invaders.
Our group experienced a truly remarkable week; great weather and even better Chinese food in the homestays, guesthouses and restaurants we visited. Although at times the weather was very hot (average: 34-38C), the flexible nature of the trip ensured we could walk early in the morning and enjoy the whole experience in some comfort. For the most part, we had the section of the Wall we were walking that day to ourselves – in a country home to so many people, this surprised us all.
I have been lucky enough to have travelled to many parts of the world over the years (having worked in the adventure travel industry since 1984) and this trip really was a special one for me. I was in awe of the length of the Wall, very few have walked the whole length of it, the one person who has is the late Professor Lou Zhewen, who sadly passed away aged 88 on 14 May 2012. Professor Zhewen was an advocate to preserving the Wall its watchtowers by pioneering the restoration programme on many sections where the tourist of today can enjoy the legacy of the Chinese Dynasties.
If you have considered experiencing this aspect of Chinese culture, I urge you not to underestimate the challenge of the walking and if properly prepared, you too will marvel at the great expanse of the Wall and wonder at the human endeavour that created it.
I can honestly say it was one of the greatest pleasures of my life to do this trekking trip with a group of like-minded travellers. It was a joy to share the moments of each day with them. I never envisaged being able to walk up and down the Wall and appreciate the wildness of China, what with the huge population we hear so much about. The Chinese people all smile at you and make you feel so welcome; one can’t help but smile back, say “ní hão” (hello) and let them take pictures of you with them because they always like to see our different coloured eyes!
By Bob Matthews, Exodus Webmaster and a former Adventure Guide in Alaska, who travelled on ‘Walking the Great Wall’. For more pictures from Bob’s trip (Album ref: bobm), please visit the holiday’s images page.