Just like every other visitor to China, I've been to the Great Wall. And just like every other visitor, I've taken loads photos. But unlike any other visitor I'm not going to show anybody - because they're laughable. Ridiculous. Pathetic. Trying to communicate the sight in photos is like trying to communicate Beethoven's Fifth symphony in morse code.
If you ever meet someone with a camera which can truly show you what the Great Wall is like, say "Thank you Mr Scott" because that's a transporter and it's just teleported you onto the damn thing. It’s the only way to get it.
Xin and I took a shortcut up the wall with a ticket to the “pull trolley” ride, which we assumed was a cable car. Assumptions are dangerous things in China, the sort of danger that sees you strapped into a screaming and squeaking adapted childrens ride carting thousands of people up a hill every day. When you’re held down in a plastic seat, part of a chain of fifty people being labored up a high-grade slope is when you remember all those “Illegal death trap collapses; purees forty” headlines. Which don’t help one bit.
Once you get up there the view is unbelievable. The horizon is a legendary scene as drawn by a genius five-year old - the peaks and mists are perfect but there are just far too damn many of them. There just can’t be that many mythic-looking mountains visible from one place – surely the Earth would be lopsided and start spinning off its axis. Epic, cragged peaks as far as the eye can see in some directions, you're on top of the epicest and some crazy bastards built a goddamn gigantic wall on the thing half a millennium ago.
You have to watch your step, when you're climbing into the sky. To call the steps "uneven" would be to miss your only chance to call architecture "murderous". Sloped, uneven (and in places concave) steps, steep hills; there are places you could start falling and never stop. You'd be liquid before you hit another level section and then just flow along the gulleys between the bricks. This leads to an unusual situation where you’re surrounded by three hundred and sixty degrees of one of the greatest views on the planet, and you’re scared to look up from your own feet. There’s a great comment on humanity just waiting to be made there, but if there’s anything that’ll blast petty sarkiness out of your skull it’s six megameters of massive wall.
We climbed to the “North Eighth Tower”, the highest point possible on the wall section we visited (in fact the highest point visible from where we were, and since we could see approximately forever from there that means it was pretty high.) Climbing towards the bricked up guard house everything else fell away – even the other mountains dipped below the walls as you strode up the path to a stone door in the middle of the blue sky. It looked like where God would live, but since nobody came out to scold me for giving my body a helping hand during puberty, we have to assume he wasn’t home that day.
We returned the way we came. We could have kept going along the wall and found another route, but since the Great Wall is the only building in the world where you can actually end up in Vladivostok if you take a wrong turn, we decided against it. The trolley ride down again proved to be a lot more fun – if the uphill battle was a Japanese movie of slowly building tension and dread, the ride down was a Western action movie. Specifically that bit from the “Temple of Doom”, screeching brakes, improbable turns over pits and all.