How wonderful. A day off with nothing on my To-Do list offered an opportunity to do some exploring. I had a craving to escape the city with its hustle and bustle, so the outer islands beckoned.
My colleague, Yenni, had given me some maps of the islands, and my trusty tour book (Lonely Planet, I love you!) had write-ups, so there were choices to be made. I looked through the information and decided on Cheung Chau, a small island known for its windsurfing -- Hong Kong's only Olympic gold medallist hails from the island -- with temples galore, and the promise of scenic vistas.
The day was grey, but I was undaunted. After all, as a former B.C. (that’s British Columbia for the uninitiated) babe, I knew the virtues of Gore-tex and was unafraid. I threw some necessities into my day pack, including a towel to dry my feet if the desire to walk in the ocean grabbed me, and set off for the ferry piers.
Twenty minutes and a wrong turn later, I found myself racing along the seawall, hoping to reach Pier 5 in time for the fast ferry. In HK, of course, that involves dodging people left and right – perhaps a football career is on the horizon – but I made it there with five minutes to spare. Thanks to my trusty Octopus card, the card one swipes to pay fares on public transit, I was aboard seconds later. No fuss, no muss, no bother.
Within half an hour, we had entered the Cheung Chau harbour. It was a joyous sight. So much colour from the green, blue, white and black boats of all sizes bobbing inside the breakwater, while flowering bauhinia trees along the shore added a touch of pink to the palette and bright red and yellow beach umbrellas lined the beachfront promenade, protecting the array of vendors from the elements.
If only I’d had a smaller version of one of those umbrellas! But, who knew? I anticipated Hong Kong’s usual lame bit of fall rain that would be over quickly, so after a quick lunch I put up my hood and headed out for some sightseeing.
I walked along some residential streets first to visit the Pak Lai Temple, which sits smack in the middle of a crowded residential area. Even for temples, space is at a premium in the Hong Kong region.
Pak Lai is the local god who supposedly saved the islanders from the ravages of the black plague, so he is revered. His temple is a colourful delight. In addition to the traditional reds and golds, there are small side chapels decorated with reliefs in vivid sky blues, grass greens and other lively shades. Since it was a weekday and the middle of the day, I was almost alone to soak up the atmosphere.
Although it was raining steadily now, I wandered down to a small beach for a walk and some shell gathering. Clams, oysters, mussels, a few coral, bits of coloured glass smoothed by the water, and oddly enough, small square tiles. Leftovers from a building site nearby, perhaps?
I continued along the shore to what the island bills as the “Mini Great Wall.” It is a path paved with stones, carved out of the hillside and winding along the unprotected side of the island. I forged ahead despite the rain and enjoyed the solitude, the numerous birds, the lush tropical vegetation and vistas from the rocky outcroppings high above the water. The sea was calm and its rhythmic slapping against the rocks was a soothing sound.
When I came to the end of the wall, I had a choice: forge on to the south end of the island, or return the way I’d come. Since the water seemed to be making inroads on my Gore-tex, I opted for the sure thing and turned around. Along the path, I came upon a number of stands of fire-beaters for use in the summer, in case of a conflagration caused by the heat. Now, if they’d had stands of umbrellas instead... .
On my return trip, I stopped at the Kwa Tun temple, more than 100 years old, quite small and deserted, since it’s far from the residential cluster. I also came across an impromptu shrine along the back streets of town. Perhaps the gods, too, get tired of being cooped up indoors.
I spotted the beachfront promenade with relief, because by now I was quite chilly and damp. A quick stop in a cafe for a takeaway cup of tea, and it was off to the slow ferry. (Timing is everything at ferry terminals!)
Once on board, I removed my soggy jacket and had an inspiration. There was a towel in my backpack, ready to dry my feet after a walk in the ocean. Instead, it became a shawl that kept me from getting chilled during the ride home.
And, of course, as we pulled away from the ferry pier, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Is there a version of Murphy’s Law that says, “When you have a day off, it will only rain long enough to ensure that you’re soaked?” If not, there should be!