FERRY DAY 3 – CENTRAL PIER No.4: HONG KONG to SOK KWU WAN, LAMMA ISLAND

Today, some of the ‘challenge’ part of ‘Hong Kong Ferry Challenge’ came right at the start, inside Pier No.4…

  • Today’s Distance (cycling & ferry): 24 miles
  • Time in saddle/pushing bike: 3h 02
  • Time on Ferries: 1h 10
  • Max temp (°c): 45°
  • ‘Feels Like’: Could be anything! °
  • Climb (feet) : 1,504
  • Calories used: 1,561 (in this heat, it HAS to more than that!)
  • Beaches: 3
  • Beach / Cafe time: 4h 20

I made my now-familiar commute from the hotel over to Central and counted down the piers until I reached today’s: No.4, which we find takes us exclusively to Lamma Island, but with a choice of two routes, one to the southern end and the other to the northern.

I picked ‘South’, so today we’re going to the ferry pier on the eastern side at the top of the middle bit, if you follow.

(A slight issue with my new map – it doesn’t do the southern half of Lamma!)

I had half an hour until the next boat, so I topped up the modest room breakfast I’d had back at the hotel (whilst Susie was enjoying the endless options of her inclusive room/breakfast package…I’m not bitter)

…with a massive freshly-cooked syrup butter waffle and an apple juice.As I struggled with the drips of hot syrupy butter that we’re running off the bag and down my arm, the lad you can see in the picture came running over to say I needed a separate, cash-only bike ticket. At the kiosk the lady looked at my bike and said “No bikes to Sok Kwu Wan now. Small boat.” At first I thought that I would have to head north on the bigger boat instead, missing out Sok Kwu Wan entirely. Then a thought struck me. “How about if I fold up my bike?”, I asked. “Aaaaah”, she said, frowning, as she leant forward until just her nose was poking through the gap in the glass, trying to get a look at my bike. “Show me!”, she said. 12 seconds later (at least, that’s what the ad says, it may have been a bit longer) I presented my folded bike for her approval. “OK!$26 please”, she said with a smile, and I was waved aboard. Just to say it again, that’s about two quid. These ferry prices are crazy.Blurred because of the immense speed at which I folded it up

Lamma is actually the only Outlying Island that I’ve visited before (apart from going to the airport), but that was nearly thirty years ago and I must admit that I expected it to have changed. I envisaged developments such as the ones from the last two days, but was delighted to find that it is firmly stuck in a time warp, and all the better for it. The bay was still full of fishing boats, known as the Lamma Fisher Folk, whom I watched working as I got my bike back into shape.To the right of Sok Kwu Wan pier are all of the buildings that give this island it’s worldwide reputation: the seafood restaurants. Lined up in a sequence of shady open dining areas, with aquariums bubbling away, full of exotic marine life ready for the boiler, the establishments are incredibly busy at weekends but at mid-morning on a quiet Thursday they looked tempting and peaceful.I resisted, and turned left instead, to once again make the biggest effort first thing off the boat. I followed the Family Walk, an endless succession of rolling climbs and descents, in and out of valleys and coves, along a deserted concrete path. I was immersed in the sound of unfamiliar birdsong and bird chatter, butterflies of every colour and size, and a heady, ever-changing scent that wafted through the shady surrounding trees and foliage.

After a while I came upon a view that made all of the effort in the steaming heat worthwhile on it’s own:

If this path went down there, I thought (and my map seemed that say that it did), then I’d be cooling off in the sea in about ten minutes. It took a little longer, since the path down to this tempting bay was stepped, which meant locking up the bike at the top and staggering down with my panniers. Once there, I left everything on a stone bench and finally managed to get my first swimming clip of this trip:

Then I ordered a drink at The Bay cafe, which entitled me to the free use of their showers around the side:

With all of my cycling gear cool and dripping wet, which actually felt great, I cycled on as far as I could, to a place in a further bay by the sea called Mo Tat Village. The hills down to it were very steep, and I was starting to hope that it wouldn’t continue this way all day. The village seemed utterly deserted, save for one old chap in just his trousers, curled up in the shade on the concrete floor of his open cafe, and using both of his hands as a pillow. The path wound its way in and out of the rough buildings and gardens, eventually taking me to the seafront. I cycled along a kind of prom that was being repaired – a woman I spoke with later in the day told me that they were mending the damage caused during last year’s spectacular Typhoon Mangkhut – and that’s where Stage One of my expedition ground to a halt:

I couldn’t face lugging everything through sand with no idea when the path restarted, so turned around steeled myself for the climbs on the return leg. As I left Mo Tat, my bike computer registered an incline of 27%, which coincided with me starting to push.

Back at the pier I cycled slowly through all of the restaurants, getting cheerful waves and offers of a table as I went – “Don’t cycle, have a beer! Ha ha!” – and came out at the Tin Hau Temple by the sea. Tin Hau is the Goddess of the sea and fishermen.They ask you not to photograph inside, so you’ll just have to imagine the smell of incense, offerings of food and drink to the gods, and an extraordinary case on the wall, about eight feet long, containing a gigantic and rare albino-white Oar Fish caught in the bay in 2001, then given to the Rainbow Restaurant as an offer of friendship, who then donated it to the Temple. Since the Rainbow Restaurant was so at the heart of the community, I chose it for lunch, ordering a coconut water, a pot of tea and a big bowl of seaweed and seafood soup. I know gelatinous Chinese soups aren’t everyone’s favourite dish, but this tasted as beautifully of the sea as a plate of iced oysters in the finest restaurant. I thought it was too much for one, but in the end I could have eaten another bowlful, looking out at the fishermen who supplied it.

I coudn’t understand why the waiter kept telling me that there was a ferry leaving at 2.35pm. I said thanks, but I was planning to stay a little longer. It was only later that I realised that customers of the Rainbow Restaurant have a complimentary ferry-ride back to HK included.

My last effort in the heat was to follow the path in the oposite direction, past the temple again and up to the Lookout Pavillion. On the route was a grotto I’d heard about and hoped to see, known as the Kamikaze Cave. During the Second World War, Japanese soldiers filled these caves with barges laden with high explosives, and the idea was that if the Allies attacked, they would use the barges in a suicidal last stand by ramming the ships. In the end, it was never used, which must have been a great relief to everybody.

After reaching the nice Pavillion at the top of the hill, I called it a day and made my way back to the pier, with my brakes squeezed on tight the whole way and only just keeping the bike from running away (brakes are another less-than-perfect part of the Dahon). I have no idea how much water your body loses through sweat in this climate, but I think I may have broken a personal record today, probably set during my last visit here.

As the ferry headed home I wrote, people-watched, and recalled that last visit to Lamma in the early 1990s. I was with a small string orchestra (hello Guildhall Strings, if anyone’s following at the moment!), and we had just finished a long tour of the US, ending up in California. We flew to HK, losing a day as we crossed the dateline, landed, got a minibus to the city and gave lunchtime concert. I have almost no memory of it, except that it happened and the pieces we played. First thing the next morning we were taken by our host to Lamma by a charter boat, dropped on one side, walked to the other in the intense midday heat, and had a meal laid on at one of the restaurants I was at today (maybe even The Rainbow??). There were ice cold beers on the table waiting, we all drank one in seconds, and within a few minutes we were either fast asleep or barely conscious, to the intense discomfort of our kind hosts.

My daily culture shock of returning to the city was particularly marked today. The low-rise peace and quiet of Lamma really gets under your skin and makes you look afresh at the mind-boggling scale of what humans can achieve with enough concrete, steel and glass at their disposal, as the ferry churned up the water in Victoria Harbour.

I’m now back in the air conditioned luxury of the Intercontinental, trying our new invention of Gin-ger Tonic, because we have ginger but no lemons, and wondering if I can do another day of heat like today. I usually find that when the new day dawns, however, the next Pier starts calling…

And to finish off Ferry Day 3, the hottest so far, just a couple of Signs That Were Funny:

Worth thinking carefully before saying this one.

I’m not going to argue with that. Back soon!

4 thoughts on “FERRY DAY 3 – CENTRAL PIER No.4: HONG KONG to SOK KWU WAN, LAMMA ISLAND

  1. Hi Ben,
    It has been so much fun – and educational to boot! – to follow your delightful descriptions of HK and outplaying islands!

    I’m already looking forward to your next instalment. Stay clear of those protesters!!
    With appreciation,
    Virginia

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m getting quite attached to the bike – like an obliging(not?) little animal- shades of Travels with a Donkey! especially like the pic of it on the pier, holding its paw up, and the blur obviously means it’s a LIVING CREATURE

    Like

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