Intrepid traveller Claudine Haber has earned her bragging rights, since she conquered thirty Great Wall towers on her breathtaking adventure in China…
“Let’s get one thing straight first off – you cannot see it with the naked eye from the moon. A Chinese astronaut went and checked it out in 2003 and found that he could see other objects, but not the Great Wall of China. Myth dispelled!
It’s 8am. I’ve been in the country for less than 10 hours, but am already downing a crispy piece of Chinese bread from the local vendor on my way to the Great Wall of China. It’s a perfect autumn morning as I arrive at the Simatai gate of the wall with my tour group. The pathway to the wall is lined with maple leaves rich in shades of reds, yellows and oranges. Persimmon trees hang above, their fruit ripe. The fresh wind blows gently across my face. It is perfect feng shui, as the Chinese would say.
Our guide Emma announces that once we start there is no turning back. That doesn’t sound ominous to me – I’m ready, I’ve done some training. I hope it helps.
As we climb through the dry grasslands to our starting point, I can’t help but notice the tranquility and serenity of the place. Not even the other tourists stand out.
I have 30 towers to climb. My first step of the wall is a special moment. Overwhelmed, I begin my journey. The terrain is rugged. Each watchtower is a challenge, with harrowing descents and steep ascents. It is surrounded by grasslands that carry on for miles and miles. On one side, the China side, the other belonged to Mongolia.
A Mongolian farmer befriends me on my journey. She walks the wall on a daily basis and knows the terrain well. She drags me up the steep sections. I am meant to be doing this on my own but still, each tower I conquer feels like an achievement.
By tower ten, I am on my hands and knees. A gust of wind blows my hat into the grasslands. If the wind was any stronger I would probably be there too. Can you imagine the death certificate? “Fell off Great Wall of China.” No thanks.
At tower 15 – halfway there – we stop for a picnic. I rest myself on the ground. My Mongolian friend is now begging for money, which I do not have – glorious views, but no ATMs on the wall. All I can do is thank her for dragging me up. I dine on my vitality nuts and a banana, and take in the magnificent view.
We continue our trek, and now that I am without the assistance of my Mongolian lady friend, I can say I will conquer the rest on my own. Where parts of the wall are ruined, we bypass it through the grasslands alongside. For some reason, by tower 28 the group starts humming Abba. Personally, I think it’s more of a Paravorotti moment. I hum that instead.
Tower 30 is 106 of the steepest steps. I don’t know how I climbed them but I live to tell the tale and that’s all that matters. I stood at the top in sheer disbelief, took it all in, and pondered the words of Mao Zedong: “He who has not climbed the wall is not a true man.”
Man or woman, this is a trek well worthy of the challenge. You may not be able to see it from the moon, but wait till you see the moon from here!”
* photo by Rachel Wasser – Intrepid Photography Competition