Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Tai Long (walk) Wan

The 1st of July is a public holiday in Hong Kong. It's the day they celebrate their independence from the UK, and 2012 was the 15th anniversary. The 1st of July is also James's birthday. He gets a gigantic government funded fireworks display over Victoria Harbour just for him - king of hong kong. Thanks Hong Kong!

To see in his 26th year, the two of us plus Ed and Anthony caught the two buses to Sai Kung. And that was more complicated than it sounds. Thankfully smart phones and their maps apps are pretty handy (apple I'm talking to you, if you want to send me a new iPhone that would be grand). Also, another Hong Kong navigational device we are occasionally able to benefit from is Ant as he speaks Cantonese (or at least he claims to, I have my suspicions as his enquiries never generally get us very far, but instead tend to anger locals. My theory is his accent is shit and they can smell that he was raised in the UK a mile away, therefor hold him in contempt for betraying his roots and being all Western and hanging around a bunch of lost looking round eyed tourists).

When we got to Sai Kung we had to catch another bus to Sai Kung Country Park but this bus hardly operates and being that it was already the afternoon we decided we should catch a taxi as far as it's possible for any vehicle to take you. By this time we were time wasting. It's difficult to walk past a McDonalds with these boys without one of them deciding they need a snack or second breakfast, and after already stocking up on Starbucks iced refreshments (both outlets never more than a stones throw away from one another in HK, or from anything in fact...no living soul will go without coffee or questionable burgers in this city EVER - and I say coffee, but it seemed these hideous looking iced green tea lattes were the 2012 Summer beverage of choice) we were running somewhat later than originally planned. It wasn't a short journey to our rural destination by any means and we hadn't even reached the end of the transportation changes yet.

We were headed for Tai Long Wan, otherwise known as Big Wave Bay. From where the taxi dropped us off we had about a forty minute downhill walk. It is the most beautiful place I've seen in Hong Kong by a million miles. On the walk, you look down the hillside at massive natural reservoirs filled with bright turquoise, untainted pure water. They're encased by gigantic, sloped, desert brown rock topped with a thicket of green so dense you get lost just staring at it. It is stunning.

The dirt path soon turns to steep tarmac lined with occasional street lights as the gradient increases towards the end of the trail, which feels most bizarre given the natural surrounding and remoteness of the area. You won't find a 7/11 or Circle K or Starbucks or McDonald's down there...yet - it's only a matter of time.

Out of nowhere I was surprised to see a few houses and even a street sign that read 'Sai Wan Village' (the Cantonese version will be so far removed it doesn't bare thinking about). A woman was sat in her garden near a plastic table which was by the path. On the table was a selection of drinks. Seeing as we hadn't hardly seen a sole the entire journey it did beg the question as to wether it was big business? Hight of summer, public holiday and sunny but not a biter in sight. Maybe it wouldn't be worth opening Maccy D's or Starbeezees down here after all?

Slightly further ahead from what I thought was the business tycoon of the village was a cafe on the beach front, which I wasn't expecting but was surprisingly pleased by. I wasn't hungry but it's always good to know there's food around. I get grumpy when I'm hungry. Also, a cafe normally has toilet facilities (which is more handy if you're a girl for the obvious physical anatomical reason that boys can pretty much pee anywhere without any bother and girls can struggle to be a discreet outdoor pee-er and retain any dignity - if caught). We didn't stop at the cafe but marched on to find the gold at the end of the rainbow...and it was looking as though we may well encounter a rainbow as the skies turned suddenly to grey as we continued on past the cafe.

Typical. After an entire morning of glorious uninterrupted sunshine, once we had eventually come within a matter of minutes from our ultimate destination, someone's rain dance has been answered. We were just a few minutes past the cafe when we felt the first few slight droplets begin to fall. Whilst we discussed the possibility of returning to cafe until it passed over, what can only be described as a torrential downpour opened above us, so heavy there wasn't even time to run back to the now glorious looking shack behind us. It was painful to be in it, every stinging drop felt cold and needle-like on my warm (probably some what sunburnt knowing me) skin. We dived under the nearest big tree and huddled like confused baby penguins wondering why our ice (in our case sun) has turned to water?

Not surprisingly, being that we weren't in the UK anymore, this rain miraculously stopped after a few minutes and the wondrous sunshine was restored to all its former glory. I believe this phenomenon of short blasts of heavy rain, appearing to wash out all colour of your surroundings, mixing a brown blur before your eyes, that is moments later replaced by clear dry blue skies and a refreshed healthy landscape, is something that probably only stumps British people. When it rains in Wales, it rains for a week, at least, if not a month, to be honest it's pretty much consistent rain all year round. Forever.

Drenched to the bone we traipsed on like wet rats. The bay itself is large and wraps around the sea in front of it, hugging minute ripples - so much for Big Wave. A river meanders to the ocean shore from a rocky valley on the north side of the beach and if you follow this river upstream, up and over everything in your path you will be greatly rewarded. However, the combination of wet rocks, wet flip flops and wet feet and wet hands does not make for adequate climbing equipment but we got there in the end. Finally we had made it to the long awaited WATERFALL we had all been dreaming of all day long. And it was more impressive than I had come to expect. A tall wall of brown black staggered rock and touches of green algae, more than 5 meters high, encroached on the lower flowing river. Two channels of water cascaded from above, the stronger dispersing into many more as it hit its shorter protruding solid chunks and diverted it in down below in all directions. The crashing water made a loud uninterrupted static noise, and you found yourself talking louder to compensate. But it was such a welcome change to the noise of the city. The biggest bonus of all, bearing in mind it was a public holiday in Hong Kong - a day you normally cant move for the number of people - it's chaos, there was only one other group of people there! It felt like a victory, especially after the rain, we had made this colossal epic journey and we were rewarded with only having to share our prize with a select few - a rare delight.

Now I'm not one for jumping off things into water, I don't know why...it's irrational, I discovered I was a great big scaredy cat rock jumping in Croatia. And in Croatia the water was clearest I've known and I could see every inch of pristine coral and each individual little fish below me and I felt that this was a huge comfort as I detest swimming in dark water. To this day I think a sea monster (they don't even have to be real life aquatic beasts, some of them I just create in my head with huge jaws and teeth and tentacles, the kind Attenborough has never seen the likes of) is going to grab me and drag me to the depths below where before I drown he will slowly kill me and eat me - misogynistic bastard. Needless to say then, the water in the pool below the waterfall was black, full of imaginary demons and to top it off a thick slime squelched between your toes as you stood on the rocks below the water's surface. I attempted a measly flailing swim before my fear got the better of me and I clambered out defeated.

Not only did the boys swim in it but they climbed up the waterfall and jumped off the top like the big balls they are. And no amount of bullying or teasing got me anywhere near it. Instead I watched as their testosterone fuelled attempts to better one another's jumps descended into children's poolside balls games and it became easy to forget James was now 26 not 6. Upon remembering it was actually his birthday and we had a huge waterfront fireworks show to get back for we commenced the even longer journey home. But it had in fairness been totally worth it, or so I thought until started off back UP the trail.

What was a pleasant amble downhill earlier that day was reversed into an intense uphill hike, and this time there was no waterfall at the end of it...just a long long 3 bus journeys home. We emerged from the path sweaty, out of breath and greeted by a big bus queue. The deserted spot our taxi had dropped us off at was now engulfed with hoards of day trippers. Knowing these busses are so infrequent we did something I do not condone: almost as soon as we clasped eyes on the situation a solitary bus crawled up the hill towards us and as everyone was deeply involved in their conversation we discreetly (in my mind at least) jumped the queue and boarded the bus first. An unnerving realisation overcame us as it dawned that if this remote bus stop was busy, a world of chaotic queuing hell awaited us at Sai Kung bus depot.

And we weren't wrong. We queued and queued and queued for a bus, even changing our route home in the hope of cutting our journey. We opted for the bus to the closest MTR station but even once we boarded we sat in bottled necked traffic jams for so long that Ed taught me how to count from one to ten in Cantonese. In doing, so we all realised that when Ed attempts to speak Cantonese he jerks his head with every syllable he utters, like a a chicken nodding as it walks. Yat! Yee! Sam! Say! Mmm! Luk! Chat! Bat! Gao! Sap!

Eventually we caught the MTR. James and I got off as close to Hung Hom as the line went and rather than changing for the line home we jumped in a taxi - the birthday boys favourite mode of transportation. Time was against us now and we both needed to shower and get ready and be at the water front in 30 minutes - I take at least that just to get ready. Ant and Ed still needed to get island side, an even further journey. Shockingly, despite our best efforts, we left our flat 2 minutes after they had started - however, I consider the speed and efficient precision I got ready with was a personal best and I took it as a triumph, regardless of the clear annoyance James experienced at my tardiness. Running, we could hear huge roaring bangs, and the large paranoid part of my brain worried that Hong Kong was under attack and some terrorist group had waited for every inhabitant to line the harbour side before detonating explosives. I was of course wrong. It was the gigantic fireworks booming just behind the building between us and the ocean. They made gigantic echoes that bounced off the towering blocks and rushed down the streets.

We were there within 5 minutes and the show lasted non stop for half an hour. Without a doubt the biggest and best fireworks I've ever witnessed. If anything, and I never thought I'd say this, I was almost kind of over fireworks by the end...but I wouldn't have left before they finished. They illuminated the silhouettes of big rigs and docked ships in the foreground whilst lighting up the backdrop of skyscrapers and dense city behind. We were worried we would have a shitty view this far East but in actual fact, there were hardly any people (in comparison) where we were stood and the view was great, even with the added nautical floating features...I wouldn't have wanted to have been anywhere else, crammed in between millions of people and outsized buildings, being bustled and jostled. We had space to breath where we were. There was a dad holding his baby standing in front of me, and the baby was cute, it wouldn't stop staring at me even though everything else going on behind it was a lot more interesting. The dad turned around, saw me and laughingly started saying to the baby "Gwailo!" which I believe translates into something along the lines of ghost face. It's not used as an insult anymore, it's just what westerners get called there now, but it still amused me. I smiled and waved, I took it as a great compliment that this kid thought I was a more appealing to stare at than the hundreds of beautiful bright bangs in the sky. Either that or I had something on my face.

Ed never made it in time. Ant watched them on the roof his flat - you can't see the sea from up there and the photos he took makes it look as though the roof tops of the buildings in front of him are ablaze with the flaming explosions. Hong Kong is burning.

We went to meet the boys after for drinks, wound up in Senses where me and Ant found an accordion lying around and serenaded James with a duo rendition of 'Pop Goes The Weasel' - me on the keys (a tune I taught myself from a cartoon learn piano book featuring a frog named Chester) and Ant...pumping the air? Both self taught accordionists, it was beautiful.

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