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Don’t worry — you’ll have a chance to buy more on the way down. These stalls are full of stuff you don’t need, but where else are you going to get an authentic, made-in-China Great Wall magnet or T-shirt?

Don’t worry — you’ll have a chance to buy more on the way down. These stalls are full of stuff you don’t need, but where else are you going to get an authentic, made-in-China Great Wall magnet or T-shirt? (Karen Hauser/Special to Stars and Stripes)

Don’t worry — you’ll have a chance to buy more on the way down. These stalls are full of stuff you don’t need, but where else are you going to get an authentic, made-in-China Great Wall magnet or T-shirt?

Don’t worry — you’ll have a chance to buy more on the way down. These stalls are full of stuff you don’t need, but where else are you going to get an authentic, made-in-China Great Wall magnet or T-shirt? (Karen Hauser/Special to Stars and Stripes)

The author takes a break along the wall.

The author takes a break along the wall. (courtesy Karen Hauser/Special to Stars and Stripes)

The stunning view of the Great Wall of China stretches as far as the eye can see. The restored section, Mutianyu, is about 1.5 miles long.  Its name means “Admire Fields Valley” and has more towers than the other sections open to the public.

The stunning view of the Great Wall of China stretches as far as the eye can see. The restored section, Mutianyu, is about 1.5 miles long. Its name means “Admire Fields Valley” and has more towers than the other sections open to the public. (Karen Hauser/Special to Stars and Stripes)

What do two 85-year-olds, five 60-pluses and a 30-something have in common? We signed up for the same 20-day tour of China.

Although if you disregard the 14-and-then-some hours in flight from the U.S., plus five internal flights, the time touring is whittled down to about 14 days. Barely enough time to hit the highlights, although I can’t imagine doing it in less.

Since my return, I’ve been trying to decide the best adjectives to describe this experience. And it was that — an experience, an educational journey. Not a vacation. It was awesome, amazing, inspiring, intriguing. But none of those words really captured the miracle of aviation that let me travel 8,400 miles in less than a day to stand on an estimated 5,500-mile wall built more than 2,700 years ago.

The Great Wall can be approached from a number of places. Our tour took us to the Mutianyu Section.

Our bus dropped us at the bottom of a hill, and the Wall was visible in the distance. The cliche fits — so close and yet so far. Our group walked up the slope. It was lined with vendors, each one selling the same souvenir assortment of t-shirts, postcards and magnets. They called to us, and as we walk away, we can hear one last plea: “See you on the way down.”

Next we took a short cable car ride to bring us closer to the Wall. The views improved, and the wow factor increased as we approached. And then, we were there — staring at this incredible structure, a serpentine line stretching east and west to the ridgetops. The Chinese intentionally built the steps up onto the Wall with high and higher risers to deter Mongol attackers, so no fast sprint for us up the stairs. But we made it, with some assistance. And then we were on the Wall! Breathtaking, amazing, humbling and a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand- words moment.

Karen Hauser is an avid traveler living near D.C. She has traveled throughout Europe, been to Nigeria and around Cape Horn. Next up: Cruising the Elbe. karenhauser@cox.net

For more on the Great Wall, including a map and tips, visit visit www.chinahighlights.com/greatwall/section/mutianyu-greatwall.htm


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