China is a land of great contrasts. I love the Orient and China is unlike any other place there. Japan is rich and has a history of imperial grace. Korea and Vietnam have been battlegrounds for decades but are peaceful today. But China is the oldest sovereign nation on Earth. China has deserts, mountains, beaches and lowlands. It has dragons, monkeys, Feng Shui and nuclear weapons. The Chinese have the fastest growing economy on the planet, and the largest population.
Needless to say China’s great wall is an attraction that few tourists can turn down. But there is a unique catch to visiting it. Our tourist photos make the wall appear to be uniform and easy to navigate, like stairs. The Great Wall of China is anything but simple. We visited the wall section at Mutianyu. Some days the wall is wet and slippery. The stones are all different sizes so you have to walk with care. The trip to the wall is definitely worth it because the wall is famed the world over, but it is best to visit the wall while you are physically strong enough to endure the grueling climb. The Chinese expression is “climb the Great Wall”. This expression is entirely accurate. The Great Wall is frighteningly steep at times requiring the use of the handrail from healthy and athletic people. So the elderly visitor might have a very tough time with the wall.
The Chinese on the other hand had no problems with the wall. Young Chinese ladies passed us with high heels on while climbing the wall. The wall has steep grades that exceed 30 degrees at times. The grades are sometimes wet and slippery. Some young Chinese ladies climbed these grades carrying children and walking in high heels. I was amazed. Difficulty in climbing the wall centered on what kind of shoes you wore and your physical condition. Falling onto the hard stone of the wall could mean that you could tumble down it all the way to bottom of a steep grade. In certain places on the wall, this could be a distance of more than 200 feet. In that distance, your arms, legs and face would take a very serious beating. Remarkably, I only saw one elderly lady fall. She fell backwards and rolled down the wall. Luckily, she fell only a few feet from the beginning of a steep grade. The end result was that she only rolled a few feet and was unhurt. If she had fallen at the top of the grade, she could have rolled 200 feet or more.
When you visit the Great Wall, make sure you respect the Chinese culture. It is sometimes easy to forget that respect is something required that doesn’t cost us a thing. Make sure that you wear comfortable walking shoes with gripping soles, and clothes that you can wash easily should you fall.