human behavior

Hiking the Great Wall

Posted in Foreign Impressions, Travel by humanb on March 17, 2012

The Great Wall of China is 5,500 miles long.

We walked a portion of the Jinshanling Great Wall, first constructed in the 6th century, rebuilt in the 14th century (Ming Dynasty), and not repaired since 1570. Relatively remote and isolated, Jinshanling’s beginning suggests a relatively gentle walk along a wall in remarkable condition for its age (i.e., fully renovated).

On beginning our walk, we were immediately met by a local female farmer with smiles and gestures to follow her. We declined the offer of an escort – preferring to hike alone, at our own pace, and in silence.

But she didn’t leave us.

The woman looked at least 60 years old, and insisted on hiking up the Wall’s steep stairs and inclines under a hot sun, looking back to us periodically as if to hasten us. She followed us for a good twenty minutes before my husband insisted that she leave us. We didn’t want to tire her unnecessarily when we didn’t require her services.

We were a bit naïve.

And she persisted still.

At some point, my husband had to be more verbally forceful (unfortunately). In reply, she pulled out a very large and heavy picture book on the Great Wall. She wanted $50 for it.

Even if we weren’t about to walk for several hours, a giant tome on the Great Wall didn’t interest us. She got angry.

Apparently, the local farming women in the area expect tourists will do a short loop of a section of the Great Wall and then buy something from their stalls and shops back at the entrance. Seeing as we weren’t planning to do a loop and would see no shops at the end of our planned walk, she demanded cash.

So we paid her to let us walk in peace.

The woman put her book back into her bag and walked back towards the entrance of Jinshanling. As we pressed on, we saw a few more tourists unable to disengage their escorts.

But the farming women have my greater sympathy.

The longer we walked along that amazing structure with its spectacular backdrop, the more our path seemed to show its age.

The hiking became more arduous.

The inclines, steeper…

The supporting walls, more crumbly…

And the steps, more treacherous as they eroded under our feet…

We actually had to crawl on our hands and knees up one steep section towards the end of our hike, as the steps were so eroded. For a second we weren’t sure if we were supposed to continue. Surely this was too unsafe for tourists. The Simatai section next to Jinshanling had been permanently closed after the deaths of several tourists.

There were three labourers at the foot of that particular section, having a rest and a drink in the sun. They watched us crawl with unguarded amusement.

But once we’d made it to the top, and after we’d descended on wobbly legs the final stretch of our planned hike of Jinshanling

We had the last laugh.

What an exhilarating day.

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4 Responses

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  1. readytochangenow said, on March 17, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I just got my second destination after Peru – what a great post.

    • Anonymous said, on March 17, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Cool! Yeah, hiking the Great Wall was just a delight. I hope you get there too!

  2. ashleypaige4 said, on March 17, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    These photos are absolutely beautiful! I hope to hike the Great Wall someday, but you’re pictures helped me get my fix! Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous said, on March 17, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed them. 🙂


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