I have visited the Great Wall of China and it makes me feel incredibly proud & achieved, although in reality of course this is just another tourist attraction and the way locals explore curious western visitors for monetary reasons - in any case, I actually don't know anybody outside of my profession who has been here, so there you go, it is a wonderful thrill. After all, I have seen Table mountain in Capetown, Nordkapp on the top of Norway, sailed trough Caribbean, Indian, Red and Black sea (now I am in Pacific) so it all counts as interesting, rich life and occasionally I even feel very blessed with all this.
The place my ship docked was Tianjin from where its possible to take a fast train to Beijing - I would have loved to had a chance to see Forbidden City but time restrains means one has to chose and naturally, I would rather see Great Wall of China than anything else. So off we went, the whole crew excursion (everybody terribly excited even though we had to bleed to pay the price, even discounted this was still a substantial sum when one is earning peanuts) trough three hours bus ride, where we witnessed absolutely apocalyptic nature and how much the industry completely damaged the land. Everything was grey and dead, covered with polluted air and soot, it seems Chinese are now trying to grow lots of young trees in order to somehow create some Oxygen but honestly, it all seems pretty scary and lifeless. It struck me how Chinese are usually first in many things and now they are first to destroy their land with industry - I don't recall ever seeing such a huge territory feeling and looking like a wasteland, for hours all we saw was just greyness, soot and people with masks on their faces.
After a short stop to some ancient temple (that nobody genuinely cared about, since we were all so primed for the main course) we eventually arrived at Huangyaguan which of course is just one of the many famous stops along the Great Wall (after all, it goes on forever). Later I found out that our elderly and overweight guests were taken elsewhere, on easier place while crew was brought here, since we are supposed to be younger and will not complain about conditions. Well, nobody even thought about complaining - at least initially - as we were all too excited to be here. The tour guide tried to swindle us and sell us some official certificates that we visited the Great Wall, but we didn't go for that, after all, it is just a piece of paper and why paying extra for something that can be lost and damaged, after all I know that I was there and that's all that matters.
First impression: wonderful. And very mountainous terrain, spiky mountains everywhere, it must have been a nightmare to built anything here. The walls we walked on were completely reconstructed in 1984 so it didn't really feel ancient, but it looked right so who cares. One starts to walk nicely but very soon it becomes clear that casual stroll is out of the question because before you know it, the stairs get extremely steep and climb really becomes a strenuous effort. At no time everybody was puffing and panting on all four because it became impossible to actually walk, you need to support every step with hands like chimpanzee and it somehow wasn't really a pleasant experience + the air was very polluted so it made it even worse. Since people continue to climb further and further and one is aware of this once-in-a-lifetime-chance nobody wanted to stop so we all continued "just one more tower" but it wasn't a joy at all, in fact I sweated and cursed and wondered is this actually worth all the effort, after all what if I die from heart attack in the middle of Great Wall, well I guess it would have been a sensational end of such life full of travels. Up and up you climb, with slippery steps and extremely thin air, people in front of me pausing for a cigarette break, those behind me for a beer. Everybody quite shocked how difficult all of this is. And than suddenly realisation than in 30 minutes our bus goes back so quick, quick, run down - impossible to say is it worse to climb up or to go down, since this time the pressure is on your knees - again hold yourself for the walls, colleague laughing behind you "you are old man" and I do feel old for the first time ever, since its not possible to simply stroll down, again it is a tense and slow effort (unless one simply tumbles down and breaks the neck). Honestly, I was relieved when I finally reached the bus, in fact I might have been the very first person to return to that darn bus. Excited and exhilarated but this is definitely once-in-a-lifetime experience, I would never do this again.