A great walk along the Great Wall

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In a poem, frenchwoman Sylvia Berjas-Morales, 69, calls her journey along China's Great Wall "a great walk... in heaven and a little hell".

She has traveled over 3,000 km along the Great Wall from west to the east, walking alone since 2008, the year of Beijing Olympics.

"By walking along it, I can learn not only about the Great Wall itself, but about the real China," she said.

Farmers fetch water from wells, plow field with cattle and cook on wood fires, things that are never seen in Beijing or Shanghai, she said. "This is the very root of China. I hope more people can see this."

The idea of walking along the Great Wall came to Berjas-Morales in 1999, when she was a nurse caring for an Alzheimer's patient in Australia.

"The patient had been to China and kept telling me about the country," she recalled, adding he was so depressed when he realized he was going to lose his memory that he could not stop crying until Berjas-Morales mentioned "something very big and very important" -- the Great Wall.

"I said to him, 'Max, if you stop crying, I will walk the Great Wall of China'," she recalled.

Berjas-Morales had kept the promise in mind, but it didn't come true easily. In 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It took much of her energy and savings to fight the disease.

She finally left for China in 2007. In walking the Great Wall, she is raising funds for a cancer charity. The journey started at Yumenguan, northwestern Gansu Province, where the Wall dates from the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).

"It was amazing. It's incredible that's still there after all these years," she said, adding that was the first section of the Great Wall she had seen.

On her journey, she carried little candles with her and lit one every hundred kilometers to acknowledge the people who built the wall. "It was such achievement. It deserves a little bit of respect."

Dating back to around 200 B.C. when the first emperor of Qin had fortifications built to stop invasions by northern tribes, the Great Wall has been rebuilt many times. As most of the wall sections were built in remote areas, walking alone is anything but safe.

Near Gansu's Anxi County, she woke up finding her tent surrounded by footprints of wolves. In the Gobi desert with a daily temperature difference up to 40 degrees Celsius, she did not dare sleep at night. There was one time when she ran out of water and got lost on her way to find more: "Luckily, a truck driver found me and helped me call the police," she said.

She plans to finish the trip next November by walking around the Bird's Nest, the main venue of the Beijing Olympic Games, as a symbol of the Olympic spirit on her 70th birthday.

She has written poems on what she saw and how she felt along the journey, and plans a book.

"China is very big. It is not just Beijing, and it deserves to be known and to be seen," she said.

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