TRAVEL: DESTINATION CHINA
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA IS AN UNFORGETTABLE JOURNEY
The top-rated CBS reality show Survivor: China is giving audiences a glimpse at that fascinating country. It is a wonderful chance to learn about China’s history and culture as all the contestants go through their challenges on the exotic location.
But even better than seeing the sights on TV is taking an unforgettable journey to one of the seven wonders of the world– the Great Wall of China.
There’s a dynamo lady I know who did just that. Allison Easton, a top executive with Flight Centre, a fabulous travel firm that allows her to go anywhere in the world. So it wasn’t a surprise when she told me that took a trip to China.
Allison’s story reads like a Rudyard Kipling tale, if he ever wrote about a great explorer discovering the Great Wall.
What did she discover about the iconic tourist attraction? Well, she expected to see a lot of bricks at the wall, “but dead horses? And how about the skeletal remains of a slave workforce made up of hundreds of thousands who built it.” She said some stretches are just barriers of earth, other parts of the wall are simply made up of sand. But it is all part of the 6,000 or so kilometers of wall described as “Great.”
Instead of calling the wall “Great,” she said that “awe inspiring and majestic” would have been more appropriate.
The intrepid lady was part of an international group that traveled to Beijing, which she described as a frontier town, settled by about 16 million people.
From Beijing there are several areas of the Great Wall that can be visited within a comfortable day trip. But Allison and her friends didn’t travel more than 6,000 miles to do things the easy way.
At Badaling (the section closest to Beijing) hordes of Chinese tourists flock to visit their national symbol. Seeing the non-Chinese faces of Western tourists is still a novelty there, and the locals photographed Allison and her group as if they were the main attraction.
In order to walk the wall at a leisurely pace, the group decided on an overnight stay in the tiny town of Simatai as part of a Peregrine tour. After dropping off their gear, they took a short, steep hike, emerging onto an almost vertical incline of the wall.
Allison said, “My eyes wandered down into the area where the crumbling former border with Mongolia dropped into a ravine far below. It was an idyllic spot for an evening picnic, and a perfect place to be given a surprise birthday party I’ll never forget, complete with a cake, wine, and a Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon, cheese and crackers. We sat chatting and sipping on wine as the sun slowly sank behind the hills, reflecting on the incredible feeling we all had being there.”
They were up and hiking at dawn, making a hefty four-hour walk along the wall, which climbed and dipped along ridge-lines, cutting across the hills north of Beijing. She remembers the sky was clear and the breathtaking view went for miles.
“Our group strolled along one of the most incredible feats of engineering ever constructed, and we soon encountered ‘the Wall people.’” Meeting the Wall people was a highlight she loves to talk about. They are sort of guides who live near the Great Wall and offer to help walkers with steep bits, and eventually try and sell a few trinkets.
The Great ‘Walk’ finished in Jingshanling, where the group had a celebratory lunch in the village. Over a few local beers and delicious exotic Chinese food, Allison said at the end of her journey she concluded, "Yes, the Wall was Great."
Although she had a few challenges on her trip, like the contestants on Survivor: China, Allison had a million dollar experience and memories that will last a lifetime.