Timeout from sports, we scaled the Great Wall

BEIJING-Out of the eight days and nights that we’ve camped out here in this Olympic city, the weather has been erratic: When we arrived on 08/08/08, the smog was as thick as smoke. The day after, the sun arose and the sky’s ceiling was painted blue.

The next morning, it rained. The following afternoon, the sky was blurry. And all throughout our stay, it’s been the same two words: unpredictable weather.

Last Wednesday, we booked an excursion to one of the must-see destinations of Beijing (there are three: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and)… The Great Wall of China. On that mid-week day, the sun beamed. It will be clear skies on our Friday expedition, we thought.

On Thursday, it showered. Like a storm invaded Beijing, it poured and thunder roared the entire day. Oh no, we thought, tomorrow will be bad…

Well, guess what, as I opened the curtains before 7 a.m. two days ago, the sun was yellow bright and the sky as light blue as a baby’s room.

We were blessed.

Our half-day pilgrimage started at 10:15 a.m. We boarded a bus that our tour guide called was filled with a group from the United Nations. True enough, we were a concoction of nationalities: Our tour guide, an eloquent and funny man named Jamie (and his driver, Mr. Moo) were, of course, from China. Our companions included two Italians, a couple from New York, two from Great Britain, a mother and son who lived in Singapore but relocated to Sydney, and a few more from Australia. Add the Cebuano mixture of Jasmin and myself and we were 14 United Nations vacationers.

Our destination: Mutianyu. While most tourists visited Badaling, the more commonly-visited stop, it was closed at that time due to the cycling competition near that area.

Before 1 p.m., we landed at the foot of Mutianyu. Given two hours by our guide to roam by ourselves freely, our trek began; we climbed a few steps then boarded the cable car that lifted us all the way to the top of a mountain. There, with a 360-degree view, we treaded on this defense barrier made of rocks and bricks, built by hundreds of thousands of workers from 221 to 207 B.C. Spanning over 6,600 kms., it is, without argument, one of mankind’s greatest-ever achievements.

Jasmin and I snapped photo after photo-145 in all. She clicked while I posed; I held the camera while she modeled. With the picturesque mountains as background, we asked nearby tourists to “shoot” us. On one occasion, I invited two guards who smilingly posed to my left and right. On another, Jasmin climbed the tallest tower then cat-walked like Cindy Crawford.

Standing on these brick walls parlayed by soldiers over 2,000 years ago, we could hardly believe we were there-staring at this endless stretch that snaked through the forest.

We walked, limped, hiked. Scaling the second level of the watchtowers, we gazed below at God’s creation called nature. We hid under the sweltering sun and lunched on Zinger burgers that we packed from KFC.

Was The Wall crammed with millions of tourists?

To our surprise, no. We expected to find the alleys and towers and steps jammed-it was, of course, the Olympics and, with hundreds of thousands of visitors in town, they’d all find time to journey to The Wall, right?

Well, lucky us, because it wasn’t crowded. We moved freely; at times, marching on a full stretch of bricks with no person in sight. It might have been the weather the day before that scared the tourists. Remember the torrential rains? The thunder? It turns out that, as we reached the left tip-most part of the Wall, we couldn’t go further up. The day before, lightning struck a portion of the wall and four people were hurt.

Not last Friday, thank God.

To end, I quote US President Richard Nixon after he visited in 1972: “This is a Great Wall and only a great people with a great past could have a great wall and such a great people with such a great wall will surely have a great future.”

How many “greats” was that?

Never mind. For, indeed, it was a great Great Wall.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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