Nothing prepared me for my first sight of the Great Wall of China. It is included on almost every list of must-see sights around the world and although the claim that the Great Wall is visible from the moon is a myth, it is clearly visible in radar images from the Jet Propulsion Lab, offering indisputable proof of its immensity. Yet when the Great Wall first came into view through the windshield of our van the monolithic barrier defied comprehension. Up, down, around it snaked, following exposed rocky peaks, pierced every so often by crenelated watchtowers. I had not expected it to zig-zag along the razor-edge ridges of mountaintops, dominating the skyline for as far as the eye could see. The view of this wonder banished my frustrations with traveling in China over the past week; whatever I had had to endure, it was worth it to see this wonder of the world.

First close up look at the wall as we climb up to a watchtower to view the sunset

Our guide explained that at the height of its construction in the Qin (pronounced Chin) Dynasty in 221 B.C., one fifth of the entire population had worked on its ramparts and towers, and that many thousands died in its construction. Craning up, I could not imagine how it was built at all, regardless of the amount of human power thrown at it. The Great Wall was meant to provide protection from invasion by the northern Huns, but how did the ancient Chinese know where to build it? They had no accurate maps and couldn’t see the geography from the air; how did they know they weren’t building in circles? For that matter, how did they determine that these barren mountaintops could even support the wall’s massive weight? That it has not crumbled or slid down the barren rock is nothing short of amazing.

Coming into the small village of Jinshanling beneath a remote section of the Great Wall

I was still in a state of astonishment as we arrived in the village of Jinshanling, which was our base for the next 24 hours. My cousin, Loretta, was celebrating her 60th birthday, and I met up with her and her son, Len, to celebrate by sleeping on the Great Wall of China. After a brief stop for tea with the local family who feeds and outfits overnight hikers, we began the long climb to the tower where we would watch the sunset. From the road the massive wall loomed overhead, an ominous, unbroken fortification. We turned off onto a narrow stone staircase leading up to a plaza that was the stepping-off point for access to the upper ramparts and began the long trek up.

Xiao Hong, wife of Mr. Wang, one of two families that hosted us for dinner prior to sleeping on the Great Wall of China

Young boy, who has learned a bit of English from tourists, said “hello” to me

Compared with the most well-preserved section of the Great Wall at Badaling, the unrestored portion of the wall in Jinshanling is rough, requiring negotiating steep staircases with loose stones and missing steps, but the benefit of trekking in Jinshanling is the absolute lack of tourists; we had the wall all to ourselves. There are no carnival rides on this part of the wall, no movie theater, and no museum. Our tour company had even forewarned us about the lack of a bathroom; during the night a bucket was available if we had to “do number one” and if we had to “do number two” we would have to “commune with nature.” There would be time enough to worry about the call of nature later; for the moment I focused on reaching the summit and seeing the sunset.

Yes, Loretta, we’re headed all the way up there to sleep for the night

To be continued…… graciously offered me a media discount for their Sleep on the Great Wall of China Tour, however the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items/services received will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog.