Climbing the Great Wall of China.

No blue skies for our highly awaited adventure at the Great Wall. Thank heavens. After all, a mist is an obligatory part of the imagination about the famous wall that had haunted me for years. Our tour takes us to the most popular part, Badaling. The climb takes you between 1,5 to 2 hours and requires you to have a minimum of physical fitness. This would cost us a high price. My husband leads the way and climbs the uneven and slippery steps much faster than I do. Cautious as ever, I climb in a slow and steady rhythm, like I always do in my runs.

I squint my eyes but I can’t see the top. I get excited anyway because I have always loved going up and the scenery couldn’t be more imposing. I stop to catch my breath and hydrate in every sentinel tower. Trying to entertain my mind away from the tourists, I make a conscious effort to imagine how things were there 500 years ago, during the Ming dynasty, the time when the wall was built. The Great Wall is in fact composed of many walls, built in different dynasties along 2 thousand years.

My husband wakes me from my revery. He tells me that he had a problem with his knee. I worry because he never complains. He says he won’t be able to climb with me and that I should go ahead by myself. I ask him to wait for me right there – I was going to try climbing quite quickly and then would help him on the way down. Fifteen minutes later, I reach another tower. I stopped and pondered whether or not to continue on my own, my heart split between my dream of climbing the Great Wall and leaving my husband in pain waiting. Unable to make up my mind, I stay there a couple of minutes and lo and behold here he comes, pain and all. No, he won’t give up, he says with determination. So we continue climbing in a slower pace.

Sometimes there wis a fine drizzle, sometimes the sun shines through the clouds. Sometimes the mist is quite thick, lending more mystical flair to that majestic place. We climb  slowly on, drinking iced green tea and taking turns resting his knee. Yet, his face never fools me. In one of the sentinel towers we stop to buy our I climbed the Great Wall tee-shirts. No, you cannot get away without shopping in China. Not even at the Great Wall. Towards the end, we have a calligraphist engrave our names on a golden plaque: “Cris and Bill climbed the Great Wall”. We are runners and runners do these things out of habit, we like to get their medals as a reward of their efforts at the end of a race. The calligraphist does an awful job engraving our names and they are barely recognizable. So much for our rewards.

One hour and a half later, at last we reach the top! We wait for our turn to take pictures without tourists in the background and start our descent. But who says going down is easier? In addition to the steps being totally uneven, they are also slippery. There is no other way except to go as slowly as we did on the way up. I am notoriously hopeless going down so I am thankful for the rails in the steeper parts. When we finally get to the end, we congratulate one another. After all, it is quite a feat. The dazzling views of the Great Wall, such an important historical and cultural icon in China had earned their merit. This was not, by any means, a mere “been there, done that” type of thing.

To my husband, however, the Great Wall brought him back his old problem with his knee ligament. His knee kept bothering him throughout our trip in China. But he still thinks it was totally worth it.


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