Today is my farewell day, after a fantastic month of plying back and forth in the South China Sea. Thanks so much for your company along the way.
I was considering one last route to round things off, and toyed for a while with the idea of a long, high-speed trip across to Macau or having one more go at reaching the fishing village of Tai O on Lantau Island by boat, but the weather has taken a turn for the worst this morning. The thought of packing up the bike and my cycle gear this evening (prior to flying home tomorrow) whilst it was all soaking wet and weighing far more really did not appeal to me. Then we got another protest alert and I decided to play it safe.
I thought I’d do a quick tally of stats for the whole Hong Kong Ferry Challenge, just to round things off nicely.
STATS TOTALS FOR AUGUST
- Total number of ferries journeys: 48
- Total distance (bike+ferry): 273 miles
- Time in saddle: 30h 20
- Time on ferries: 17h
- Max temp (in sun): 50° (my personal record)
- Climb (feet): 11,465
- Calories used: 15,276
- Beaches: 18
- Beach/cafe time: 28h
I vividly remember doing this at the end of my Canada trip, and the incredible amount of time it took, making my way through eighty-nine days worth of data, working out ‘Everest-equivalents’ for the climbing, and so on. This time I did it all over a coffee, using the New York Times for stationery.I do like the New York Times, by the way. It has such a balanced, intelligent tone to its journalism, with great feature pieces and in-depth interviews. It has kept Susie and me entertained all month, and I’ve even come to enjoy their crossword, despite never knowing the tv celebs’ names, or the Government-body acronyms (for crossword fans, the clues don’t give you a letter-count, the answer may include several words but they won’t tell you that, and the grids have very few blanked out squares, meaning you can get some answers by default anyway).
I was disappointed not to have reached a half-century of ferries today, but can’t really grumble. I’ve felt the sea moving even when on dry land for most of my time here, and on some days it felt like I saw more of the Star Ferry crew – lower deck, Wan Chai route – than I did of Susie (she really has had the most extraordinarily tough schedule of examining, with our alarm going off at 6.30am every morning. This is her summer holiday, for heaven’s sake!)
I posed a question right at the outset: if it’s true that every day on a bike involving a ferry journey is a good day, would it hold up if every day was a ferry day? The answer, I’m sure you be glad to hear, is an emphatic YES. The combination of travelling by bike, with the relaxed, uncomplicated character of ferry travel, remains my favourite (I think it could also be because a ferry rarely travels much faster than a bike, except for those catamaran, hydrofoil super-ferry-type vessels). The simple pleasure of boarding a boat as it rolls against the dock, bike in hand and a few minutes – or even hours – of rest and relaxation lying ahead, can’t be beaten for me by any bus, train or plane.
Next on the agenda today is to pass on a massive message of congratulations and lots of love to two very special people. Anyone who’s been following Incidents of Travel for a while (or ‘CrossingCanada’ as it was known back then) will remember that I was lucky enough to spend many days in the company of The Calgary Two, also known as Kaitlin & Naheer, as we both made our way ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’. We never planned any of it, but kept meeting up time after time, despite our very different schedules. The sound of Naheer calling out to me from a picnic table outside a gas station in the middle of nowhere, as I pulled up for a coffee: “Ben?! Ben?! No WAY!!”, was just one highlight of many such encounters. They were great company, and Naheer and I shared the burden of our chocolate-milk-dependency with each other, finding that a problem shared is a problem halved. We were also happy to defer to Kaitlin’s Tour Leadership skills at all times, which led to some great campsites. Anyway, the point is, they just got married! If we weren’t here in Hong Kong, Susie and I would love to have been there to share their wonderful day with them, but it sounds like it was an amazing occasion. I’m sure everyone will join me in wishing them both heartfelt good wishes for their future together (Naheer, in true adventure-junkie spirit, proposed to Kaitlin at the top of an enormous mountain in the heart of their climbing back garden, The Rocky Mountains. What style). If you’d like a taste of one of our typical Canadian encounters, come with me now back to June 2017, to the Prairies of Saskatchewan, when I was about to meet up for the second time with The Calgary Three, as they were then. All you have to do is click here.(In New Brunswick, camping beside the golf course together, and our last meeting if only we’d known it)
And since it’s an occasion that I’m often asked about, and I feel in the mood for a bit more retrospection, here’s another link to a fairly disastrous night on Black Sturgeon Lake in Ontario, with Trevor, Uncle Wayne and a ukulele. To visit that fateful evening, just click here
As I cleared out pockets and bags in our hotel room this morning, prior to repacking for the return journey, two things turned up. First was the superb Hong Kong map that I thought I’d lost en route from the UK somewhere. Very frustrating, as opening it out on the hotel room floor reminded me of what a great map it is, with incredible detail and clarity (often you don’t get both), but also waterproof without feeling at all plasticated. I do like a nice map (more on that later in this post).
The other thing was a tiny, shiny coin, a Hong Kong ten-cent-er. It reminded me of a fact that I meant to include when talking about the Star Ferry: this 10c coin was the original fare for travelling on the lower deck when the service started, back in 1906. The really remarkable thing is how long they pegged the fare at this amount for: sixty-nine years. It went up to 15c in 1975, and the current fare today is still only HK$2.20c (about 25p). The incredible value of ferry travel in Hong Kong, which is an expensive place to live by any standards, has meant that my forty-eight ferry trips cost me well under £100 in total.
Despite Susie getting some last-minute dire warnings of travel disruption last night (in the end it was quiet, thank goodness), we set off from our local MTR station at Tsim Sha Tsui to visit my cousin Robert and his wife Helen for supper over in Admiralty on HK island. I should add that we did not take any ferry on this occasion, sadly. Robert has been living and working here for over five years (his father was born in HK), and Helen had just arrived back that afternoon from her heat-escaping annual trip back to the UK which ironically coincided with the heatwave that many of you have recently been ‘enjoying’. Her liveliness after cooking a delicious meal through the effects of jet-lag was an example to us all. Our last evening together was a great way to wind down at the end of our trip, chatting over a gin and tonic in their lovely apartment (parquet floors, leather sofas that are so comfy that they are impossible to leave, and a fireplace!), about their life here, as well as Susie’s experiences examining at studios all over the territory. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that I completely forgot to take any pictures. Any? Well, I took one downstairs in the street, looking up at their building in the twighlight……and just one more, of the excellent 1960s map of Central, Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, that takes pride of place beside the roaring fire (oh, alright, it wasn’t roaring. The aircon was very quiet, too):Susie and I are flying separately again for the journey home, but will meet up at Heathrow on Sunday morning sometime to get a cab together, all being well. As a last thorn in the side, the island of Lantau (where the airport is and also where I’ve spent many hours on this trip) is the likely location for more disruptions over the weekend. We have everything crossed that both of our flights get airborne without too much delay. I have precisely 40 minutes to make my connection in Copenhagen!
I’m sure that there are many other things I meant to say, but they will have to wait. I wish everybody a great September, and will be in touch again fairly soon (i.e. I’ve no idea when!) about a couple of possible projects…
RIP The bike flagpole – lost during the ride to the Tolo Channel, quite probably when I hit that speed bump on the reservoir dam. I didn’t notice it had gone until I got back to the train station, and then failed to mention it on the blog as well. Probably because I’m too emotionally scarred. Every since it got broken by that twit at Bauhinia Square it has been very prone to falling off on impacts, but until now either I’ve heard it fall or someone has seen it and shouted out to me. So, goodbye Maple Leaf, SOS Children’s Villages, Beechwood Park School, Random Artistic Design Of Hearts, and Maple Leaf plus Union Jack (Newfoundland survives, being still at home, as do my two new flags, China and Hong Kong). Thanks for all of the great conversations you started for me, and I hope you’ve found a happy new home somewhere.
Goodbye to all of you for now, and thanks again for following this Hong Kong Ferry Challenge. See you soon! Bxx