It took me a while before delving into the making of this particular narrative.
Many months have passed, revealing a reluctance to experience nostalgia which in turn cast my mind into a state of inertia when requested to bring up memories. Nevertheless, the intensity of the images and sense of wonderment are very much alive and now begging to be expressed. Add to that the prospect of doing it all over again – and more – before the year ends, and this all falls together into another exciting venture 😉
Our holiday, remarkable and significant in many ways, has prompted me to split this account into two pieces, each of which will focus on different aspects of our stay.
Off to the ‘Fragrant Harbour’
Three months into our training period for our first (and so far only) marathon and with one more left to go, Oli and I travelled to Hong Kong with the understanding that our race preparation would undergo a certain shift and adjustments during a 10-day period. Other than dealing with obvious jet lag, altered eating and living habits, and a complete change of scenery, the new environment would also include several challenging ‘H’’s, such as hills, heat, humidity and hordes of people.
I should point out that we had little doubt as to the enjoyments we would experience and unusual places awaiting us. Yet, the primary purpose of this journey was to visit my younger sister who has been living in Hong Kong for some years.
It so happens that we would end up enjoying much more than we had bargained for 🙂
Lantau Two Peaks
Set on Lantau Island, the Two Peaks trail runs across some 20 km of abrupt, rocky, uneven terrain through winding, luxuriant paths that offer incredible panoramas.
We set forward up the steep and huge steps, making our way slowly but steadily from sea level up. With a brief stop here and there for a quick bite, a swig of Adam’s ale or simply to admire the view, we carried on what seemed like a never-ending ascent.
The barely 6 km climb, conquered within 1h15 and almost 800 metres of elevation gain, took us to top of the first peak only to have us descend all the way back down the mountain.
There is a reason why there is a mention of two peaks!
So after scrambling down the rough hillside, we gazed up at the outlines of stage 2 of our challenge.
We must have covered about 8-9 km when supplies of fluids hastily began to dwindle and, with the sun beating down our heads and mineral salts evaporating into the sultry atmosphere, we soon realised that completing the itinerary in time for the dinner invitation we had eagerly, and admittedly a little unwisely, accepted in Central Hong Kong was taking the shape of a daunting task. As we scuttled along, weighed down with sweat, a ‘profound’ recognition dawned on us: there was no way we could bring the planned out circuit to a close within the expected time-limit. This relevation made our spirits sink on the one hand, and on the other, urged us to get our skates on.
At this point, the Universe addressed our needs of the moment by presenting a miraculous solution in the form of Tian Tan Buddha. Seated on a three-level lotus-shaped structure, the top of the Big Buddha’s head greeted us from above the treetops with inspiring composure. Comforted by this godsend, we branched off from what would have been our point of descent and scurried towards Po Lin Monastery. From there, we were able to catch a bus that would take us back to the station and make it possible for us to keep our gastronomic rendezvous.
The wilds of Lamma
Lamma is the third largest island outlying Hong Kong, a place where East and West connect. Ideal for hiking (though running is said to occur too ;)) and family outings; popular for its beaches and coastal scenery; and only a 25-minute crossing from the main island, it attracts tourists and residents alike as an escape for those who wish to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the rat race.
It also happens to be the place of birth of actor Chow Yun-Fat 😉
The absence of motor vehicles confers a sense of serenity and safety but also evidently contributes to the preservation of the island. As ecological ventures go, the ‘Lamma Winds’ turbine is a good example of green energy initiative.
Socialising with the local wildlife
What struck me at first on Lamma was the lush and jungle-like setting, very much in stark contrast with Hong Kong island itself.
With all its grass, leaf and bush, it is no wonder that it bristles with the funniest animal species.
During the monsoon season, what I pictured as endless rows of frogs would ceaselessly croak in unison and with incredible solemnity. This funny racket would usually take place at nightfall. When walking to and from our temporary accommodation, we would come across tiny frogs, moving in bunches, some of them piled up one on top of the other, presumably females carrying their offspring.
Due to the poor lighting we had to be extra careful not to trample on them as they forged ahead with a spring in their step. Judging by the sticky matter smeared around, many of them had apparently… croaked… under a foot or bicycle tyre.
As well as taking us through colourful streets bordered by seafood stalls, restaurants and souvenir shops, our hikes mostly stretched out through natural hilly landscapes.
On one occasion, our stride was broken by a snake winding its way across the path only a few feet ahead of us. I know very little about these creatures but its size as well as its confident air made us feel like we could do little else than remain rooted to the spot.
By all accounts, and more often than she cares for, my sister occasionally stumbles on the odd serpent artfully coiled up on her doorstep!
A personal favourite
I am also told that spiders the size of one’s hand are not an uncommon sight. With their webs resting in between the overhead branches, it is possible to pass them by with neither party being bothered by the other.
Mercifully, this was not the right time of year for us to appreciate those specimens!