Ginger and the Great Wall

There were two places on my must see list on this journey to China and this past weekend in an Olympic sightseeing marathon I visited both.  On Saturday friends and I flew to Xian for a whirlwind day trip to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and on Sunday three of us visited the Great Wall of China.  The Terra Cotta Warriors are amazing to ponder.  What compelled some Chinese royal to create such an army in the first place?  Did he really believe the soldiers, generals, archers and horses could help him rule in the afterlife?  And what would drive an invading army to pillage and burn such a spectacular treasure?  Were they not in awe like I was?  Archaeologists have done a brilliant job restoring the ancient warriors, and continue their work to this day, but answers to these questions still escape me.



As incredible as they are I’m not writing about the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I’m writing about the Great Wall.  We chose to visit a fairly remote section between Jingshanling and Sumatai after it was recommended by intrepid colleagues.  They said it was the most spectacular section and far less crowded than the areas at Badaling and Mutainyu that are packed with tourists and closer to Beijing.  They warned us though that it was a difficult hike with lots of steep sections going up and many areas where the wall is crumbling and difficult to descend.  It was an understatement.



It’s a two hour drive from Beijing to the spot in Inner Mongolia where we would embark on our ten kilometer hike.  As we entered Hebei province and the wall started to reveal itself in the distance a hush fell over the car.  The wall snaked its way up and down high green mountains and we all were quietly thinking this might be more than we could handle.  I suppose there are hundreds of reasons to talk yourself out of making this trip but if you muster the courage it will be one of the most memorable things you do in China.  Our driver left for Sumatai.  We had no choice but to proceed.



As we set off on the rugged wall in Jingshanling, a group of Mongolian farm women fell in step with us.  They had tsotchkes for sale and as we hiked they engaged us in conversation.  “Where are you from?  How long have you been in China?  Are you family?  Do you have children?” We really didn’t want them along.  It was an uneasy arrangement.  You don’t come to a place this remote to be hustled but as I struggled with one of the most challenging physical feats I’ve ever attempted, Ginger was by my side.  She coached me, told me to watch my step and walk slowly.  After 103 huge steps straight up, when I could hear my heart pound in my head and could barely breathe, she offered me a hand to help me up.  When she sensed I needed a break she would wait, and when she thought I could go on she would move again.  When I finally got up to the tower she would fan me in the shade.  “You are almost at the top,” Ginger would say.  “Keep going.”


At the halfway point as we crossed back into Beijing province Ginger had to leave.  I bought a t-shirt, some bookmarks and a bottle of water.  Another woman picked up where Ginger left off and walked towards Sumatai with me.  “Where are you from?  How old are you?  Do you have children?  I have twins.”  Before she headed down a trail to her farm I bought some bracelets from her.  Somewhere on the border of Hebei and Beijing provinces I pushed through the pain and found myself in a state of grace.  It occurred to me that we are all walking alongside each other on this journey.  You support me, I support you and we both come away feeling whole.  A short while later I made the final push to the top in Sumatai and rode a zip line down to the parking lot.  I felt powerful like a warrior.            

For more information about Vicky Collins visit


3 thoughts on “Ginger and the Great Wall

  1. Vicky – I am so impressed by your openness on this journey. It sounds like you are learning some incredible lessons. Thank you for sharing your experiences! Amy

  2. Incredible. This is one of my goals too, but the hike sounds like much. Did the zip line go from the great wall? Jealous is not the word, although your mystic statement about us all walking together should make me feel better. Not stuff that a nuclear engineer relates to easily. Your blog is great, and does make one feel we are with you. Hope to see you soon on another manatee story (maybe turtles this time?).

  3. Vicky,
    Love your blog! I am dogsitting near Brandon’s (your nephew) house, so he gave me your blog address. My sister, also a Vicki, and I will be watching all the Olympic coverage in a week, and will be very excited to hear what your thoughts are. Hope you’re having a great stay! Suzie Fowler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s