May 1st was Buddha's birthday.
Mabel and I aren't Buddhists, but we still got the day off: public holiday.
We decided to spend the day on Lamma Island. We planned to take the ferry from Central to Sok Kwu Wan (Picnic Bay), then walk one of the trails to the beach at Tung O Wan. It appeared to remote on the map; we wanted to get away from the city and the crowds.
We wanted a place to rest and relax, and oh, we rested all right. That #!*@%^! beach took a lot longer to reach than I'd thought. Worse yet, the weather was evilly hot. The Heat Index for the day was equivalent to 45°C (about 110°F); any movement whatsoever resulted in copious perspiration. That kind of heat sucks energy from the body.
We arrived in Sok Kwu Wan, located in an inlet below the midpoint of the east side of Lamma Island. The quay exited to a concrete path cut into the slope of the hill. To the right was a short row of buildings. To the left, the path led into the jungle.
We went right first, toward large patios that seated the patrons of the restaurants lining the walkway. The patios had been constructed at the water's edge. Above the restaurants were residential flats. Between the larger restaurants a few smaller shops crouched, selling hats, beach toys, umbrellas, ice cream and ice-cold water. We were after the water, but couldn't resist ice cream to ward off the infernal heat.
At the end of the row was a small temple. Across from it was the poorly named Butterfly BBQ Garden, a family picnic area. We bailed on the village as it swarmed with people.
We headed toward the jungle. To get to Tung O Wan, we needed to walk a circuitous route that would take us around the outer edges of Ling Kok Shan, the hill that separated the two points. Part of that route bring us across the middle of the headland. The main drawback was the path included several steep climbs. They levelled out at short intervals, and wouldn't have been difficult, but the heat of the afternoon made climbing taxing.
We took our time and made frequent stops to allow our bodies a chance to cool down. A nice breeze helped, otherwise we might have been in danger of heat exhaustion. Other people on the path were conservative; no one ran, not even kids. To run through the jungle in extreme heat would have been dangerous and foolish.
The sun baked us along the open portions of the path, and despite wearing sunscreen, I donned my hat to ensure I wouldn't burn my bald head. Nothing screams leper as much as a bald man with a severe sunburn.
Each minute, we wiped our faces free of perspiration that dripped from our brows. The places where the path dipped out of sight of the sun and deeper into the jungle brought blessed shady relief.
The halfway point brought us up a steep rise to Mo Tat Wan, a small residential village in the hills above another small beach. We continued along the path, admiring the foliage: banana trees, canopies, bamboo and flowers. Butterflies flew everywhere. It was quiet and serene. Few people elected to trek as far as we had.
The path sloped downward, further separating us from the chaos of civilisation. We passed a row of four small, abandoned houses. All that remained were crumbling concrete shells. The jungle had reclaimed the interiors; trees and bushes grew up from the earthen floors.
The path wound down into a small valley, where we passed through a tiny village that had been built sometime in the 1950s or 60s. Most were one-storey dwellings built in the traditional Chinese style; for a few moments I felt as though I'd stepped back in time.
We'd been walking about 40 minutes, wondering if we'd ever reach the beach. Just then, we spotted a sign that announced Tung O was another 20 minutes away. Groaning, I looked at the map. I decided the sign was wrong and we forged ahead. I was right: five minutes later we hit the beach.
It was nothing to jump up and down about, but it was quiet. It wasn't sand, but man-made granulated stone laid atop the natural beach. I wasn't complaining. We trudged to a shady area, unfolded our beach mats and fell onto them. Neither of us wanted to move for at least an hour. The breeze and the shade were heavenly. We took off our shoes and socks, rested our feet in the cool sand, drank water and enjoyed the scenery.
For a while we sat without speaking and gazed at the South China Sea. A few other people were about: four people played in the water down the beach to our left; a family of six congregated up the beach to our right; and another couple sat near us.
I pulled out a novel and Mabel a magazine, and we read into the late afternoon, revelling in our isolation.
After 5.00 p.m. we packed up before we lost the light. We didn't feel like walking through the jungle at night and the mosquitoes were apt to be vicious.
On our way out we stopped by the public washrooms, which were, shall we say, horrendous. They didn't even have the usual Asian-style squat toilets. Instead, they had a hole in the floor that dropped down about three or four feet deep. Envision a wet floor. Envision losing your footing and having a leg slip into the hole. It made me glad I wasn't a woman, and that I didn't need to... you know.
After that moment of repulsiveness, we climbed back up to Mo Tat Wan. We took the ferry from there back to Sok Kwu Wan, rather than drain ourselves further. We reached the beachfront by way of a steep set of concrete steps. As luck would have it, the ferry arrived as we reached the quay. We congratulated ourselves on our good timing, but as the ferry got underway, we learned it wasn't going to Sok Kwu Wan, but Aberdeen, back on Hong Kong Island!
Oh well, mistakes happen, and it wasn't expensive. We enjoyed the ride and figured we'd catch a ferry back to Lamma. We changed our destination to the main pier at Yung Shue Wan. The ride back was fabulous: we sat on the open upper deck, letting the wind cool us as we watched the sun set. Perhaps we hadn't made a mistake after all.
We docked at dusk. Mission: Food! We were famished. We cruised through several of the popular restaurants that faced the bay, and settled for the Sampan Restaurant.
We ordered a large bottle of Heineken, sweet and sour chicken, spicy satay pork, and sauteed chili prawns. Over dinner we discussed important things that get lost in the daily rush of life. We treasured time alone together, she disconnected from her mobile phone and I unplugged from the Internet.
After dinner, we strolled hand-in-hand toward the ferry. We were sated and tired, but felt great. We boarded the ferry and closed our eyes, resting with our heads together, soothed by the gentle sway of the boat. Thirty minutes later we were enveloped in the rush and din that is Hong Kong Island. To avoid the brunt of it, we took a taxi straight home. As soon as we entered our flat we cranked all three air conditioners to high, as the flat had become a sauna while we were gone.
All we wanted was a cool shower and the comfort of our bed. Fatigue had set in; we needed sleep. The next day would be busy, and we knew we'd have little choice but to run through the jungle.
A different kind of jungle, to be sure, but a jungle all the same.
May 5, 2001
Next Tale: The Steps of Pain