What really makes the GREAT WALL of China so great?!

January 2018–Beijing, China


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“What really makes the Great Wall of China so great?”  The question that had been floating in my mind all the way back into September when I booked a trip to China, just to see the ever-so-famous GREAT WALL.  Of course, I remember learning about the Great Wall at some point in school, but lets be honest, it wasn’t a heavily covered subject, and my memory doesn’t always serve me so well.  It’s one of those topics that have been categorized and filed in the brain, but are completely covered in dust.

So like any other trip, I decided to go into China with the little knowledge I had, looking forward to picking the brains of the locals.  I said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is my favorite way to gain knowledge of the local culture!  As much as I enjoy reading, I do not want to read a book or watch a documentary to gain insight.  I much prefer to experience it for myself, speaking to the locals and hearing first hand what makes their country great.  And in this case, ‘great’ was the exact word in question.

So what really makes the Great Wall of China so great?!?  I must say, I had the best local guide to fill me in with the details of greatness.  And experiencing it for myself, first hand, as I climbed this World Wonder gave me the insight and understanding I needed to finally answer my burning question.

To start; the official length of the Great Wall has been measured at 13,171 miles or 21,196 kilometers!! BOOM!  That right there creates an elevated amount of greatness. Granted it’s not just one long wall from point A to B, this length includes all known sections of the wall, built during at least seven dynasties, including all of its trenches, walls, towers, and fortresses.  To put that distance into perspective; get in your car and drive from New York City to Los Angeles and back, TWICE, and then drive another 2,000 miles just for fun.  Only then will you have covered the 13,171 miles that is the Great Wall.  Talk about an impressive architectural feat!  Imagine, no cranes, tractors, or excavation equipment, just a lot of men full of determination.

Another level of greatness comes from the history behind the wall.  The construction began in 7th century B.C. and continued on into the 16th century.  That’s over two thousand years of construction!  Most of the wall we can visit today was built during Ming Dynasty, 13th-16th century.  Over two thousand years of rebuilding, modifying and extending this seemingly ‘Great Wall’ created the greatest military defense project in history.  For those still wondering WHY the Great Wall was built, well, it was simply to protect China at different periods throughout time.  Initially construction began as independent walls for different states, this evolved into protection from invasions from enemies in the North, especially nomadic tribes and Mongols.  It also held some value as to keep Chinese people from leaving China.

So what did it feel like to climb on the Great Wall??  I am so proud to be able to tell you first hand what an exhilarating experience this was.  In the back of my mind as I was climbing stair after stair and steep grades, I felt as though I was a part of history.  I reinvented in my mind what it must have felt like to climb those stairs daily, patrolling the area, climbing into the fortresses to see the 360 degree views of the mountain tops.

There are ten most famous sections of the wall to climb to catch these incredible diverse  scenic views.  I climbed a section called the Juyongguan Pass, which was first constructed in 770 BC, and was rebuilt during the time of the Ming Dynasty.  The Juyong Pass was filled with steep sloops and uneven steps, sometimes measuring three feet tall.  Making it to the top of this pass, all the way to Fortress #12, proved to be a exhilarating climb, requiring a strong level of fitness.   There were many times I stopped to take a breath, thinking, ‘OK, I’ve seen enough, I’ll stop here,’ only to put those thoughts into the back of my mind and push through all the way to the top.  Unfortunately most climbers succumbed to the challenge, only taking in 500 steps or less.  But I was determined and alive with energy!  1,768 long steps later (yes I counted, but on the way down, as I was too excited to stop and take pictures while climbing), not including all of the steep grades and walks through the fortresses, I was deeply rewarded with photographic opportunities.  It truly was a sight to take your breath away, if you had any left from the climb.  360 degree views of mountain scenery and miles of historical walls.  I felt accomplished, refreshed, alive and proud.

Simply stated, the Great Wall is a clear demonstration of wisdom and tenacity, and YES it is GREAT!

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Enter into the ‘Rose City’

July 2017–Petra, Jordan


I have to be honest, I wasn’t overly excited for my visit to Petra while in Jordan.  Since everyone claimed it was a must-see destination, and since I had previously put the goal into place to visit ALL of the new seven World Wonders, it also became a must-see for me.  So here I was on a trip to Jordan, being escorted and shown around by my Jordanian friend I knew from Abu Dhabi.  The timing was perfect, as he was currently visiting his homeland for a few weeks.  He truly was the perfect guide around Jordan, spending most of his life there, and having the same excitement as me to visit all of the spots he use to frequent as a child.

Petra was the underestimation of the century!  From the moment we entered the gates the red sandstone landscape was breathtaking! The way the sandstone had taken shape looked like a piece of creative art. As we were walking the path, my eyes gazed wide-eyed, taking in the colorful ‘art’ surrounding me.  At the end of the sandstone guided pathway, there it was, the most famous part of Petra, the Treasury Building.  Stunning, beautiful, grand, delightful; all words that could describe this carved landmark, but none that would do it justice!

Under the impression Petra mainly consisted of the Treasury Building and beautiful sandstone, I had no idea there was so much to discover!  Every way my eyes looked, I encountered a new piece of carved architecture and design. Petra, also known as the ‘Rose City,’ is actually 102 square miles, half built and half carved into the rocks.  It is filled with elaborate tombs and temples, beautifully carved into the pink/red sandstone cliffs.  This architecture is truly a must see!  There are so many times when people state, ‘you need to see it with your own eyes,’ and this is most definitely one of those times.

The Rose City dates all the way back to 300 B.C., as the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom.  It is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most richest and largest archaeological sites. It is surrounded by mountains filled with passages and gorges.

We walked, we climbed, we picked the highest peaks, for the best views.  We spent around seven hours taking it all in, and let me tell you, seven hours in 100 degree heat is no joke!  We managed to laugh, explore, chat with the locals, and not kill each other in our times of exhaustion. Throughout the course of the day, we rode on a horse, a donkey and a camel, in between all of our long treks around the Rose City.

We had a lot of fun walking into the ‘houses’ built into the stone.  Eyad and I gave each other proper tours around the houses, showing off the glamorous kitchens, powder rooms, and wall art.  We mastered the art of real estate convincing each to purchase a few carved one and two bedroom properties.


Go see it, experience it for yourself!  Enjoy chatting with the local Jordanians.  Some of who actually dress and wear black eyeliner like a pirate.  They are there own culture and embrace the true Bedouin lifestyle.

Chichen Iza: A Mayan Mystery

November 2017–Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula


After my tequila-filled, cultural tour of Mexico City for the Day of the Dead celebrations, I jetted over to Cancun, Mexico for the sole purpose of exploring the massive architectural complex of Mayan ruins that is Chichen Itza!

In my mind, Chichen Itza consisted of one major step pyramid, with a few other buildings surrounding it.  I was VERY wrong. To be honest, I LOVE to be wrong on my travels.  It always proves to be an enlightening experience and opens my mind to learning strictly from the locals. So do I research my travels?  Somewhat, but I much prefer to learn as I go along, directly from the people who know it best!

And this is exactly what I did at Chichen Itza.  I learned the history first hand from a local archaeologist who proudly shared knowledge of his culture. Chichen Itza is actually an area of land that was once known as one of the largest Mayan cities at around 740 acres.  It dates back to 600 AD-1200 AD, giving it the well earned title as a new seven world wonder.

First and foremost, I was fascinated by the acoustics!  I came to Chichen Itza knowing about the bird-like echos produced by clapping your hands at the base of the Step Pyramid, but I wasn’t aware there was more!

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Let’s start with the Step Pyramid, also known as El Castillo (the castle).  91 steps make up the layered echo sound you hear as you clap your hands while standing at the base of any one of the four staircases.  The locals call this the ‘singing of the bird,’ but it’s said to have warned the Mayans of intruders coming into the city.

Now if that sound wasn’t amazing enough, moving over to the Great Ball Court took the cake.  Imagine this: You are sitting at the end of a 500 foot long open stadium and you are holding an effective conversation with a Royal family at the other end of the court, 500 feet way!  I couldn’t believe this was even possible, so of course my curiosity got the best of me, and I had to try it. With a few of our group at one end, and some on the other end, we spoke messages back and forth.  Even though we couldn’t sneak into the raised royal seating where the Mayans spoke in a whisper to converse on the opposite end, we still maintained conversation.   And surprisingly, for the most part, IT WORKED!  These unexplainable acoustics brought me a lot of laughs and pleasure!

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Stone carvings to honor the winner

Another fun fact I learned while at the Great Ball Court, was the game the Mayans played and their ‘reward’ for winning.  Pitz, an ancient Mayan ball game, was a one and done sort of game. It consisted of one rubber ball being bounced into a stone hoop without using hands.  One basket was considered a game win.  The winning captain then brought himself and his precious head to the losing captain to be decapitated.  HUGE WIN!  Why would anyone win a game and then lose their head?!?  In the Mayan culture this was considered the highest honor.  Not only did they receive a stone carving memorializing them on the wall of the Great Ball Court, they also got a direct ticket to heaven.  Pretty steep stakes in that game!

 

As I walked around Chichen Itza another stone temple that really attracted me was the Temple of a Thousand Warriors.  On the top of this temple sits the Mayan Rain God, Chacmool.  Chacmool is a male, life-size figure who sits in a reclined position with his stomach horizontal and his head up and turned 90 degrees. The Chacmool’s didn’t appear to be worshiped by the Mayans, but instead they used his stomach to hold sacrificial offerings to the Maize or Corn God. There were many Chacmool statues in Chichen Itza, but this one really stood out due to its placement on the top of the temple. The Temple of a Thousand Warriors also was surrounded by hundreds of columns that continued well into the jungle.  Shaped tall and massive, much like a warrior stance, from a distanced eye you may mistake them for warriors surrounding and guarding the temple.

One of my last fascinations while discovering Chichen Itza was the Wall of Skulls.  Most of you know, I have a passion for Halloween and all that it entails, so I really peaked an interest in the Wall of Skulls.  This wall had an eerie, but intriguing look to it, and  I couldn’t help but to take loads of photos and spend my time wondering why it was carved. Unfortunately is not much known behind the meaning of the wall, but because it is located right outside the Great Ball Court, it is believed that humans were sacrificed on the wall, and their heads were left to be displayed.

Chichen Itza checked off my third visit to a world wonder from my discover journey in began in June.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend an entire day to explore the ruins, and learn about the history that is this phenomenon!

Journey to the New Seven World Wonders

June 2017–Agra, India


It all started with a quick 36 hour escape to Delhi to visit a few temples, with a day in Agra to experience the Taj Mahal.  I needed to cash in some Etihad flight miles… So what better way than to see a World Wonder?

In all honesty, I didn’t have a strong desire to visit India.  I had a vision in my mind of crowded, loud, intense streets filled with people shoulder to shoulder, barely able to move. I blame it on movies…they always manage to put an unrealistic image into our heads. But even with these crowd-frightening thoughts, I wanted to experience India for myself and make my own conclusions.  Plus, I’m a sucker for romance, so seeing this “Labor of Love” was right up my alley.

36 hours later, I was hooked.  The Taj Mahal exceeded my expectations; the inspiration, the architecture, the reflecting pool, the outlying buildings, all were a vision of pure beauty.

It was on my plane ride back to Abu Dhabi, that Saturday night, I made the decision to experience ALL seven of the New World Wonders. I wanted to start jetting around the world at that very moment, and forget about work. But realistically, I only had a few more weeks until summer break, so I managed to suck it up and finish off the year.

If you’re not familiar with the New Seven World Wonders, let me lay it out for you.  In 2000 a campaign was started to choose new world wonders from a list of 200 existing monuments. It was somewhat of a popularity pole with people voting by internet or telephone. Seven years later, how fitting, the winners were selected and publicly announced.

So here I am, ten years after the big announcement, making it my personal mission to visit each of the new wonders withing a twelve month span.

Just for clarification, because this was more of a private initiative, UNESCO has not jumped on board with affirming the list as scientific.

So here they are, the official, or unofficial, who knows…list of the NEW SEVEN WORLD WONDERS!

Great Wall of China (China)

Christ the Redeemer Statue (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Machu Picchu (Cuzco, Peru)

Chichen Itza (Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico)

Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

Petra (Jordan)

The Roman Colosseum (Rome, Italy)

I’ve had in my mind all this time that The Pyramid of Giza was a part of this list, but after a bit of research it turns out the pyramid received honorary status due to being the oldest and only surviving original Seven Wonders of The Ancient World. Since I’ve already visited Egypt and the Pyramids, I may try to go again, but it’s not at the top of my list.

Starting in June, on that exciting 36 hour visit to India, I’ve made it to the Taj Mahal, Petra, and Chichen Itza.  I’m off to the Great Wall of China in January, and am working on plans for Christ the Redeemer Statue and Machu Picchu for February.  That only leaves planning a trip to Rome for the Roman Colosseum, in April or May.

As I’ve made my way to each wonder, the history and story behind them is what has drawn me in and given me the desire to experience them entirely first hand.

Are you still curious about that 36 hour stint in June??  Stay tuned, I have plenty to share.  It was an eye-opener to say the least, full of adventure, enlightenment, and forgetfulness.