Odyssey in the Great Wall of China
My legs were shaking with fatigue. The Great Wall of China melted into an unintelligible embrace with the mountain on which it had lain for millennia. We climbed with the conviction that the only way to finish what we had started was to keep pushing. We have to keep moving despite the fear that it lodged in our throats and from the fatigue that burned us in the body.
Our greatest adventure in the most wonderful Wall of all time began that warm spring morning in Beijing. We never would have imagined to what extent we could prove ourselves, nor the danger in which we were about to lay down our lives.
The Wall has more than 5000 kilometers, the great majority of which are not reconstructed, nor subject to control. This and an article that we read on the Internet pushed us to search for an adventure in the Great Wall of China. It was one that unknowingly, would take us to the limit of our will and would put us face to face with our worst fears in more than an occasion.
We arrived at the village from which we would begin our ascent without setbacks. The weather was unbeatable, and after buying some fruit in a street stall, we began without delay to advance along the road marked with red ribbons tied to the branches of the trees.
We advanced at a leisurely pace with the dirt path that ran between the trees and went into the mountainside. From there we could see, on the distant top of the mountain, the Great Wall of China. Gradually, the road became more and more inclined. The dirt track became more treacherous as we advanced. After crossing with a group of people going in another direction to start the journey, we did not see another soul in the mountain.
Without realizing it, we find ourselves using not only the feet but also the hands to move forward. The handles were those arranged by nature of branches, trunks, roots, rocks, and ledges. Each step had to be calculated, each branch, each root, had to be tested for its resistance.
Suddenly I stayed on boards with the mountain. We collided with a smooth rock surface in an ascending plane, with the only help of a small ledge on the side of the mountain. One by one we climbed slowly, stuck to the face of the stone, standing firm, swallowing the scare.
We passed that test and laughing we assured each other that the worst had happened. But the road, from there, did nothing but get worse.
The difficult road
One hour. We stop to rest and drink water. Two hours. We should continue, we should be close. Three hours. Silence, nobody wants to say what we all think. Weariness took over each one of us. We found ourselves climbing the same stones, crawling through the earth, putting all the weight of our body on a root, on a branch.
The sun, pressing us, was already hidden by the West behind one of the walls of the valley through which we ascended. We were afraid to drink water. Something already told us that the day would not go according to plan, and we were terrified to be stranded and without water in that remote mountainous wasteland.
When we approached the 4 hours of climbing, we found the road more difficult. An ascent to 45 degrees as far as the eye could see where the options were loose stones or slippery ground. We faced it with the conviction that that had to be the end, the top of the mountain was not seen in front anymore.
Between screams, directions and a growing desperation to get there, we advance to the top. Now it was safe, there was only one obstacle left to get to the Great Wall of China, which although we could not see it, we could feel it.
A gigantic stone blocked our view and the ascent. It was too big to skip, too smooth to climb. I was just below the rock, with my feet still on an incline. A couple of Chinese appeared from where we came and with a speed worthy of envy went up to where I was. Seeing them, I decided to wait to see what they did with the obstacle that stopped us.
But they also had no idea of what to do, so they stopped on a path that went away on the side of the mountain to see what I was doing. The whole situation must not have lasted more than a second, but it seemed like a lifetime. First listen to what no one wants to hear on the mountain: falling stones.
Fear paralyzed me for a fraction of a second. The Chinese shouted maybe one of the few words they knew from English, careful! Careful! Instinct took the reins of my body and leaped headfirst under the great stone that happened to be an obstacle to my salvation.
Where my head had been a second before, passed one, two, three rocks the size of a watermelon at high speed. I felt them bounce against the great rock that had become my protection, and the fear of not being able to turn around filled me.
Even before the noise of falling stones disappears, I was already screaming like crazy, until I heard her telling me that everything was fine. I decided that we had to put ourselves in a more secure position and moved to where the Chinese were. We heard the falling rocks again.
I was paralyzed by fear. The stones passed us by as if they did not want to touch us. While at last, he was approaching me, the Chinese and I started shouting so that, whoever was going down the side of the mountain, be more careful. Then we saw two girls.
They were Uruguayan, and they quickly told us that they were coming from the Wall, that we were indeed there, but that it was so destroyed that there was no way forward. That it was best to go back where we had come from. Impossible, we said. We had not gone through everything to leave without touching the Great Wall of China. After I exchanged information with the Uruguayans, we discreetly went by the road on the side of the mountain.
We all ran. There it was. What a vision, what an emotion. We reach those walls erected at the dawn of time, millennia ago, and we touch them. We smell them. We feel it with the touch, we walk it, and we caress it with our eyes. We hug, we sit, we breathe. We drink water and smile. But I, aware of the time it was and how much light we had left, I was inflexible. We have to continue, I said.
Odyssey in the Great Wall of China
We started to move towards the East, in the direction of a tourist stretch of the Wall from where we could take a group back to Beijing. We do not get very far. Soon we were face to face with a wall of rock and bricks about 20 meters high that was erected there where the passage of centuries had destroyed the Wall. We did not know what to do and time was pressing.
Suddenly we saw, as if from an apparition, a couple coming down the same wall that we had called impossible. Once they reached us, we attacked them with questions. They came from the East, they told us that we had a very difficult hour, two more walls like this one, and then we arrived at the reconstructed tourist section, from where we had about two hours until the exit.
The other option was, once again, to return. We doubt it, of course. We were tired and the mathematics did not give. We were going to end up in the dark. But we decided to move forward, partly because of stubbornness, partly because the other option was to spend the night in a hotel in the village on the other side of the Wall. The couple gave us one piece of advice to follow the red ribbons. So we keep moving forward, we keep pushing.
The Great Wall of China, in its time, was built on the sinuous line formed by the tops of the mountains of the north of the country to defend against the constant foreign invasions. At present, a large part of the more than 5000 kilometers of it is practically destroyed due to lack of maintenance.
The road alternated steep rises almost vertically by segments destroyed walls that seemed more like walls than stairs (and often that was the case) and even steeper descents in which we had to descend with the tail stuck to the ground to maintain the center of gravity as stable as possible.
How beautiful is the Great Wall of China? Like a celestial viper, it extends through the mountains of the North to beyond the horizon. It is a symbol that hides in its sinister dichotomy different meanings. On the one hand, it is one of the greatest monuments to the will of man, to the infinite capacity to create and build humanity. On the other, it symbolizes the obsession that has always marked the civilizations of wanting to separate themselves from the different, to keep the "others" out.
In a world that increasingly builds more walls and fewer bridges, the Great Wall of China, which did not stop to stop foreign invasions, stands triumphantly as a reminder that divisions are never, but never, a solution. And we had it for ourselves. We looked for that, that I dreamed since I was a boy. The Great Wall of China unfolding to the horizon, bathed in the light of the setting sun, lashed by the wind, desolate in all its magnificence. In the midst of exhaustion, nerves, and fear, the smiles managed to surface on our faces.
But the view to the East was very different because it marked the way forward. And there, where the Wall ends and the mountain ascends. How we do? When we arrived, we saw that indeed the Great Wall of China had disappeared and we had only one option: to climb the mountainside. The red ribbons guided us to the base.
I went first to find the best way. From the accumulated fatigue my legs trembled and threatened not to push me up enough to reach with my hand the next hold. With the instinct as a guide, I moved slowly, with the strong wind tugging at my shirt, through a narrow space that sank into the rocky wall until it reaches the root of a tree, from which it pushes me up.
But there was still one last test. I only saw the emptiness. At that point, the wall was cut and reappeared by passing a rocky point, but the union of the other side of the rock was the wall. My fear of heights, which until now had helped me to hold on to the stones, beat me. Fear overtook me. I could not move a millimeter of the body. I felt my heart pumping hard as if trying to make the most of its last beats, I saw the abyss as a hole and felt, as I had felt on another occasion in the Himalayas, that the abyss wanted to swallow me.
Slowly, sitting on the stone, with my legs almost hanging in the air, I used my arms to move laterally the meters that separated me from the wall of the wall on the other side. The most difficult part was getting off one foot because I could not see where I was walking. Millimeter by millimeter I was lowering it with every molecule of my body in tension until I touched a brick. I breathed and tried to put some weight on it.
I was loose. The typical swaying of a tile that does not fit shook me with a new wave of fear that terrified me, but I was on my way. Without letting go of the stone with my hands behind my back, I supported the other foot and looked up. I quickly found the way to go down to a safer place, from within the other stretch of Wall.
How sweet is the air that is breathed after fear? The euphoria was taking over us as we approached. There was no doubt, that tower was rebuilt, and from his window, someone was seen taking pictures. We accelerate the pace with anticipation.
We arrived, and once again we shouted, we embraced, we celebrated. Once again, we caressed the Great Wall of China with its sight in its infinite extension towards the sunset. It took us a total of 6 hours, but the worst was over.
We walked along the reconstructed part of the wall, always towards the East, for almost two hours. The road was, then, easier and easier. Some sections were reconstructed in cement, and others in wood. There were fences where the wall had collapsed, and we even saw tea stalls, now abandoned by the late hour in which we were.
Our mood became euphoric. Now the smile did not escape from our faces. How thirsty I am! I shouted at the wall. And on the next step, I found a bottle of mineral water almost full and closed. We found a path that left the Wall and went in the direction of a village, and we followed it. The descent was hard, it always is. That is when the knees are punished, but the spirit (and gravity) was responsible for pushing us.
We caught the night halfway to the village, but we continued, already on a relatively firm road, with cell phone flashlights. An hour later we arrived at the route. We followed her to the blessed village, where a family of tourists, with wide eyes as they listened to a very limited version of our story, told us how to get to their hotel, where they could help us.
A taxi to a subway station, and a couple of stations later we arrived at the house of our hostess. We collapsed in her living room, even trying to process, while she warmed us some hot dumplings, after everything we had lived.d.