ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “beach

LEGACY OF A 400-YEAR COLONIAL FORT, Galle, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.16

Day 12 (1 of 3).

Known as Asia’s largest remaining colonial fortress and an UNESCO World Heritage site, Galle is a popular tourist destination in southwest Sri Lanka.  Galle has long been an important trading port of the island since ancient times.  Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC, and Galle was likely the main port of export.  Throughout history, Galle traded with the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, and Indians.  Sri Lanka’s colonial history began when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and built a fortified city in Galle.  Galle continued to serve as the main port for spices export.  In 1640, the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch East India Company.  After the takeover, the Dutch built the fort that we saw today with bastions and a solid granite wall.  In 1796, Galle and Sri Lanka changed hands again when the island became a British Crown colony named Ceylon.  The 400-year colonial rule came to an end in 1948 when independence was granted to establish Dominion of Ceylon in the Commonwealth.  Then 28 years later in 1972, Sri Lanka finally became a republic.  From four centuries as a colonial port of export for spices and coffee (then replaced by tea) to a tourist town based on commercialization of its colonial past, Galle’s fortune has always been tied with the outside world.

01We dropped off our backpacks at the baggage storage in Galle Railway Station, then found our way into the old fortified city.

02The first thing we saw inside the fortress was Galle Services Club (est. 1947) and the 1883 clock tower.

03Located on the highest point in the fortress, the Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk) was built by the Dutch in 1755. It was the third Dutch Reformed church in Galle and signified the rise of the Dutch after the Portuguese.

04Further down the road from the Dutch Reformed Church stands All Saints’ Church, Galle’s first Anglican Church (consecrated in 1871) and a powerful statement by the British.

06The former Dutch warehouse from the 17th century has become the National Maritime Archaeology Museum.

05In 1796, the British relocated the emblem of the Dutch East India Company from the outer gate to the inner, and put up the British Royal Emblem at the outer gate.

07The interior of the old gate is used for motorcycle parking.

08First built by the Portuguese, then renamed to Zwart Fort (Black Fort) by the Dutch.  We accessed the Black Fort via a police compound.  At Zwart Fort, a staff came out to show us around and told us about the history of the place.

09The Old Dutch Hospital was established by the Dutch to look after the staff of the Dutch East India Company. Then the British extended the building and converted it into a barracks. After independence, the building was used as the town hall. In 2014, the building was once again converted into a shopping and dining complex.

10Meeran Jumma Masjid looks more like a church than a mosque, but this Islamic prayer hall has been around for 300 years already.  More than half of the population inside the fort are Moor.  They are believed to be descendants of the Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka at around the 9th century.

11Galle Fort is built on a rock peninsula and there are a few small beaches near the lighthouse.

12The Galle Lighthouse is the oldest light station in the nation. The original was built by the British in 1848 but was destroyed by fire in 1936. The current 26.5m tall lighthouse was constructed in 1939.

19Strolling or cycling aimlessly within Galle Fort is a nice way to explore the town.

13In Galle Fort, Dairy King icecream has been recommended by a number of guidebooks and blogs.

14Dairy King is a great place to take a short break during a visit to Galle Fort.

15Many houses in Galle Fort have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants, or shops catered for tourists.

17The ambience of the colonial times is the top selling point for the tourist industry in Galle.

18Some old mansions are transformed into high end retail shops for fabrics, furniture, housewares, and other design items with a twist of Sri Lankan style.

16Established in 1892, Al Bahajathul Ibraheemiyyah Arabic College is one of the oldest Islamic Arabic institutions in Sri Lanka.

20On our way out of the fort, we passed by Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple, a Buddhist temple with a unique appearance.  The temple dated back to 1889.  The belfry of the building suggests that temple might be converted from an earlier church.

 


PARADISE BY THE INDIAN OCEAN, Mirissa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.14

Day 10 (2 of 2).

In 1995, world renounced photographer Steve McCurry immortalized the South Coast of Sri Lanka with his iconic photograph Stilt Fishermen, capturing four local fishermen sitting on wooden stilts and fishing at the shore of Weligama.  The mid-1990s also marked the beginning of tourism at the fishing town of Weligama and the adjacent Mirissa.  Mirissa, historically known as the south’s largest fishing port for tuna, mullet, snapper and butterfish, was soon developed into a paradise-like holiday destination.  Between Mirissa and Weligama, there are plenty of pristine beaches, decent seafood restaurants, accommodations of all sorts, good surfing spots, hidden coves for snorkeling with sea turtles, and the world famous whale watching waters.  The Sri Lankan South Coast has all the essentials of a tropical holiday destination except the large partying crowds like Full Moon parties at Koh Phangan in Thailand.  In fact, in Sri Lanka alcohol is prohibited during Uposatha, or the full moon days.  Despite the lack of vibrant nightlife and the destructions and loss of lives caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, tourism in Mirissa and the South Coast continues to thrive solely because of the area’s natural beauty.

Many travelers prefer to stay in the South Coast for days if not weeks, especially if one is interested in surfing.  We didn’t have such luxury in terms of time, but could only spare two days to chill out by the sea, including a 7-hour boat ride out in the rough waters to seek for marine mammals.

01Beautiful, laid back, and has plenty of space to just sit down to enjoy a fresh coconut drink, Mirissa Beach should meet most people’s expectations.

05The quality of both the sand and water at Mirissa Beach is top notch.

02Just months after the terrorist attacks in Colombo and Negombo, the number of foreign visitors might not match the previous year.  Nonetheless, the beach was filled with the laughter of local beachgoers.

06The Parrot Rock Bridge, a rock island accessible by a short walk in shallow water, is an iconic feature in Mirissa Beach.

03Climbing the Parrot Rock Bridge allowed us to have an overview of Mirissa Beach.

04The Mirissa Beach is one of the many resort beaches in the South Coast of Sri Lanka.  In fact, the entire South Coast of Sri Lanka has a series of fine beaches along the Indian Ocean.

07Two bays east of Mirissa Beach, we arrived at Coconut Tree Hill, a small peninsula topped with a grove of coconut trees that was made famous in recent years by Instagram users and online bloggers who post selfies taken from the hill.

08Despite the poor weather, the Coconut Tree Hill was nonetheless a lovely place for us to enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding beaches.

09All tourists chose to stand at the centre of Coconut Tree Hill to take selfies with the sea as the background.

10There is a local old man lingering around the Coconut Tree Hill.  He loves to interact with tourists and showed them good spots for photo shooting.

11In the evening, most tourists sat down at the outdoor restaurants along the beach, while the locals continued to have fun in the waves.

12The last moment of sunlight created a dramatic moment at Mirissa Beach.

13The locals refused to leave despite it was getting really dark.

14A group of locals requested us to take a photo of them.

15In the evening, most tourists would sit down at a beach restaurant for a seafood dinner.

16We picked Zephyr Restaurant & Bar near Parrot Rock Bridge for dinner.

17The staff at Zephyr brought out a plate of catches of the day for us to choose.

18We sat down at a table on the beach.

19One of us picked lobster as the main dish.

20Another main dish we ordered was a grilled spangled emperor fish.  Fresh and great ambience.

 


ICEBEAR GUESTHOUSE, Negombo, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.06

Day 2 (1 of 5).

Many people dream of opening a guesthouse in an exotic country and lead a carefree life: mingle with the locals, tend to a lush green garden, raise a brood of poultry, walk the dog in the morning, and surf at the beach until sunset.  Not sure how Gerd Arthur Haisch from Switzerland ended up in Negombo 25 years ago.  But his two decades of effort to establish the Icebear Guesthouse has proven Gerd’s original decision was not a short-lived enthusiasm.  Though just an one night stay, Icebear Guesthouse offered us utmost comfort in a Sri Lankan setting.  Apart from serving travelers, Icebear has long been a prominent member in the community, engaging in local drug and suicide prevention works as well as tsunami relief works back in 2004.

Coconut trees, aloe vera, hammocks, beach chairs, timber veranda,  water features, bamboo furniture, colourful fabrics and exquisite handicrafts, the garden of Icebear Guesthouse is full of charm.  Throughout the night, rhythmic waves of the Laccadive Sea washed up the beach.  The thundering waves was a pleasant surprise for us when we first arrived at 1:30am.  After a sound sleep, we get up as the first light seeped through the window curtains and mosquito net.  By the window, the faint silhouette of wooden furniture and table lamp resembled a set coming straight out of a vintage movie.  We quickly headed out for a beach walk before returning for a hearty breakfast in the paradise-like garden of Icebear.  We felt that we could stay there for the entire day.  What a refreshing start for our Sri Lankan trip!

05Icebear Guesthouse offered us several hours of comfortable rest.

05aThe first thing we saw when we get up was the soft silhouette of the wood furniture and table lamp beyond the mosquito net.

01It wasn’t until the morning that we could appreciate the lovely setting of Icebear Guesthouse.

02Icebear is a seaside villa complex full of unique handicrafts.

03The reception veranda offer visitors a homey arrival.

04Vivid colours go well with the tropical atmosphere.

06The idyllic beachfront garden of Icebear Guesthouse is perfect for outdoor dining, leisure reading or even an afternoon nap.

07The garden is full of seaside breeze and tropical vegetation.  Ducks and birds roamed freely in the garden.

08We had our breakfast at the dining veranda.

09Our breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse: omelette, Ceylon tea, passion fruit juice, and bread.

1020 days to go for Christmas!

13Eye-catching statue on a mini column forms the centerpiece in the garden.

14Beautiful decoration hung from a tree.

15Traditional garden lamp decorated with seashells.

12Beyond the garden stands the exit to the beach.


TOUCH DOWN IN NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.05

Day 1 (1 of 1).

Almost all foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka would stop by Negombo, a seaside town less than 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport.  Since many incoming international flights arrive at night, staying the night in nearby Negombo before heading elsewhere is not uncommon.  That’s exactly what we have done, flying in just after midnight and staying the night at Icebear Guesthouse in Negombo.

Situated at the mouth of Negombo Lagoon, Negombo is an important commercial and fishing hub in the west coast of Sri Lanka.  In the 1500’s, Negombo became a Portuguese port for cinnamon trade.  Later came the Dutch who took over the town’s control, and then lastly the British arrived in the 19th century.  The majority of Negombo’s population had converted to Roman Catholic ever since the Portuguese era.  Today, two thirds of Negombo residents still consider themselves Roman Catholics.  With its high concentration of churches, Negombo is sometimes referred to as “Little Rome.”

Unfortunately, St. Sebastian Church in Negombo was under terrorist bombing during Easter service in 2019.  Innocent lives were lost and the town’s tourism was devastated. The negative impact on tourism and other related business could still be strongly felt when we visited in December.  The only souvenir vendor we met on Negombo beach expressed his discontent and anxiety when we politely rejected his offer.  Negombo’s deserted beach, vacant hotels and desperate souvenir vendor reminded me of Dahab in Sinai Peninsula back in 2006 when I visited the famous diving paradise two months after a terrorist bombing that killed 23 people.  Back then, rows after rows of empty beach chaise lounges lined up on the silky sand along the Gulf of Aqaba.  Desperate hotel and restaurant owners waited outside the bus station and approached any foreigner with dirt cheap deals.  Today, there are a whole lot of places around the world solely rely on tourism to generate jobs and sustain the local economy.  Any terrorist attack or natural disaster causing a sudden disruption to tourism would lead to terrible suffering for the locals.  This economic vulnerability may spell unpredictable trouble for any resort town, but can also cause a painful impact for any tourist city like Paris or New York.  Resilience, versatility, social unity and a persisted sense of hope would be vital for recovery and regeneration for any town or city after such mishap.  First came the 26-year civil war and then the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and now the Easter Bombing of 2019, Negombo is once again on its path of gradual recovery.

01All foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka have to fill out an arrival card upon landing.

02Our flight arrived at midnight.  The airport passenger concourse was surprisingly busy.  We went through customs, bought some Sri Lankan rupees, and purchased two local mobile SIM cards.

06We stayed our first night at the northern strip of Negombo where dozens of hotels and guesthouses dotted the shore of Laccadive Sea.

05Before breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse, we went for a short walk along the beach behind the guesthouse.

03On the wall of Icebear Guesthouse we could still see markings from the Boxing Day Tsunami 15 years ago.

04With the country’s largest concentration of Roman Catholic population, churches and Christian shrines can be seen all over Negombo .

07Looks like another new church is under construction by the beach.

08Not the most exotic beach in Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beach nonetheless provided us a place for a relaxing stroll before moving on to our Sri Lankan journey.

09The beach is popular with locals coming for morning exercises.

10Dogs also take the beach as their playground.

11After the Easter’s bombing, Negombo’s tourism has taken a heavy toll.  There were hardly any tourists on the beach except a few Western couples.

12A traditional fishing sailboat was the most eye-catching feature on the beach, though we had no idea how Tirol related to Sri Lanka.

13A local man stood by the boat waiting for any tourist interested to take a selfie on the boat by paying him a small tip.

14Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Central Negombo and any of its churches, maybe next time.


SHARP PEAK (蚺蛇尖), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation.  At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers.  The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong.  At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination.  During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak.  Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.

DSC_6774Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).

DSC_6776After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began.  A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.

DSC_6782Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.

DSC_6783Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.

DSC_6791The trail was exposed with hardly any shade.  Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.

DSC_6824It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.

DSC_6829Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.

DSC_6832There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.

DSC_6857After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak.  The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.

DSC_6835 From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.

DSC_6841Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).

DSC_6875Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣).  The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.

DSC_6850.JPGThe descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.

DSC_6892The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.

DSC_6894Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).

DSC_6895The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.

DSC_6912Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山),  a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.

DSC_6925After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.

DSC_6938The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.

DSC_6942Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.

DSC_6969There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.

DSC_6987Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.

DSC_6996The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.

DSC_6998Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).

DSC_6999At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.

DSC_7009Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.

DSC_7022Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most.  The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.

DSC_7040In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus.  We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.


BRIEF TASTE OF MOUNTAIN AND SEA, Pottinger Peak (砵甸乍山) to Shek O (石澳), Hong Kong

When we are short of time but still want to have a brief getaway from the city of Hong Kong, we often hop on a bus to Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a relatively new residential district at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island for a short hike over Pottinger Peak to the cozy surfing beach of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) and Shek O (石澳).  The hike takes a little over an hour, and is relatively simple, involving two sections of stepped path, one going up the Pottinger Peak and one descending down to the beach.  No matter how many times we have walked this route, it was always a pleasant surprise to reach the top of the Pottinger Peak and have the first glimpse of the turquoise water south of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2899The trail begins in Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a residential neighborhood at the eastern tip of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2917Looking north during the ascend to the Pottinger Peak, the Victoria Harbour outside of Junk Bay (將軍澳) is busy with cruise ships and boats of all sorts.

DSC_2919Looking down from the uphill trail, the residential area of Siu Sai Wan looks quite densely populated.

DSC_2924 croppedWatching beautiful butterflies hopping between flowers is a pure delight.

DSC_2931Looking south from Pottinger Peak, the peninsula of Shek O and Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) lie right ahead.

DSC_2933A ruined shelter on Pottinger Peak has been used as a temporary shrine.

DSC_2934It seems that the temporary shrine is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.

DSC_2936Walking ahead, one can clearly see that much of the seaside land between the Big Wave Bay and Big Wave Bay.

DSC_2944On the downhill route, there are several Camellia trees (茶花) by the trail. 

DSC_2947The stepped path continues to the hill adjacent to the Big Wave Bay.  The noise of the crowds and public announcement from speakers can be heard long before we reach the beach.

DSC_2948.JPGBig Wave Bay (大浪灣) is a decent little beach at the southeast of Hong Kong Island.

DSC_2949The natural rock formations around the area of Big Wave Bay are quite interesting.

DSC_2955Though the beach can get a little crowded during summer weekends.  For the rest of year, it’s popular for surfers.

DSC_2967Some prefer to stay away from the crowds on a rocky slope near a BBQ site.

DSC_2985For families, small streams out to the sea can be an interesting playground with small fish and seaside creatures.

DSC_7696About half an hour of walk south of Big Wave Bay, there is a Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲), a tied island linked to the mainland of Shek O Village by a tombolo.  On the tombolo, a narrow blue bridge is built for pedestrians who wish to visit Tai Tau Chau.  The area is popular for couples taking wedding photos.

DSC_8048At one side of the tombolo, a peaceful tidal pool acts like a perfect mirror.  The colours of the rocks around the pool reveal the varying water level from time to time.

DSC_7698The coastal granite of Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) are quite interesting after so many years of natural erosion and carving by the waves.

DSC_7740Despite the occasionally scary waves at this part of Hong Kong, many still brave the danger and climb onto the uneven coastal rocks for wedding photos.

DSC_7816The waves at Tai Tau Chau are beautiful but also terrifying sometimes.

DSC_7885Like the Geoparks in Sai Kung and Northeast New Territories, the coastal rocks at Tai Tau Chau are quite unique.

DSC_8856Just a stone throw from Tai Tau Chau lies the bigger beach of Shek O, a really popular outdoor destination for city dwellers of Hong Kong.

 


THE BYGONE SILVER COUNTRY, Mui Wo (梅窩), Lantau Island (大嶼山), Hong Kong

Prior to the opening of Tsing Ma Bridge in 1997 and the MTR Lantau Line in 1998, the busy ferry pier of Mui Wo (梅窩) was one of the only two gateways to Lantau Island (大嶼山) from the city centre.  Before the establishment of Disneyland, Tian Tan Buddha, and Ngong Ping tourist area on the island, the resort hotels and bike rental shops at Mui Wo’s Silvermine Beach (銀礦灣) offered one of the island’s most popular getaway experience during weekends.  Those days were long gone.  Today, the MTR brings most Lantau visitors to the new town of Tung Chung (東涌).  In comparison, Mui Wo is much more laid back and sparsely populated.  In fact, for hundreds of years Mui Wo had always been an isolated rural area until 1950 when the pier was established, receiving first boats from Cheung Chau (長洲) and then soon from Central (中環).  Today, Mui Wo has returned to its peaceful old self, and its charm lies exactly in its sleepy ambience.

Sandwiched between the foot of Sunset Peak (大東山) to the west and Silvermine Beach to the east, the area of Mui Wo hosts half a dozen or so rural villages.  Near the village of Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉), or White Silver Country, few tourists would venture this far inland from the beach and pier to visit the Silvermine Waterfalls and the nearby Silvermine Cave, where silver mining operated briefly from 1886 to 1898.  South of Mui Wo, a narrow seaside trail connects to another sleep rural area at Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣).  A short hike westwards from Chi Ma Wan would take visitors to the popular beach of Pui O (貝澳), where visitors of all ages come and dig into the wet sand in search of edible clams.  Seeing bucket after bucket of clams have been taken in one Saturday afternoon made me wonder if there would be any left for the next weekend.

DSC_0037From Mui Wo town centre, a footbridge leads visitors into the farming villages at the foot of Sunset Peak.  A small shrine dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is set up right by the bridge.

DSC_0047Organic farming in Mui Wo have been gaining popularity in recent years.

DSC_0048Many farms in the area, like this one in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), are small in scale and offer prearranged interpretative tours or family activities.

DSC_0056On our way into Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), a small cat greeted us at the village’s entrance.

DSC_0064Another delightful feature at the path leading to Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) was a row of vivid flags.

DSC_0068Back against the lush green slope of Sunset Peak (大東山), Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) is a quiet farming village with a dramatic setting.

DSC_0072Originally there were six guard towers in the area of Mui Wo.  Today only two remain intact and standing.  Built in the early 1940’s, the Luk Tei Tong Guard Tower (鹿地塘更樓) is one of them.  In the old days, these guard towers were used to defend against pirates.

DSC_0082Chinese New Year has just past.  Celebratory banners still remain on the doors and walls of village homes.

DSC_0073Despite prohibited by law, the loud noise of firecrackers can still be heard in some rural areas in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year.

DSC_0074Other than traditional firecrackers, modern ornaments and lights are also used to decorate the small courtyard in front of a ancestral hall in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘).

DSC_0080Somehow these colourful incandescent bulbs in Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘) reveal a sense of nostalgia.

DSC_0084From Heading north from Luk Tei Tong (鹿地塘), we soon reached the Mui Wo Primary School.  Founded in 1939, the Mui Wo Primary School is located in the village of Tai Tei Tong (大地塘).  Throughout the years, the school had gone through a few phases of expansion.

DSC_0099Continued north from Tai Tei Tong (大地塘) would lead to Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉), or White Silver Country, the village close to the former silver mine.

DSC_0107 Just a few minutes walk from Pak Ngan Heung (白銀鄉) leads to Silvermine Waterfall (銀鑛瀑布), a natural feature popular with visitors.

DSC_0122The once busy Silvermine Bay Beach has became relatively quiet as visitors to Mui Wo declined significantly after the opening of Tsing Ma Bridge and MTR Lantau Line.

DSC_0130The Silvermine Bay Resort Hotel has became a collective memory for many.

DSC_0171Silver River (銀河) flows through the central area of Mui Wo and enters the sea at Silvermine Bay.

DSC_2081Walking along the coastal trail from Mui Wo Ferry Pier Road would bring one to Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣), a serene coastal area south of Mui Wo.

DSC_2085During the hike, I was the only visitor on the trail, except the flying crows.

DSC_2088Feral buffalo is a common sight on Lantau Island.

DSC_2098Walking inland westwards from Chi Ma Wan, one would arrive in the old village of Shap Long(十塱)

DSC_2104There is hardly any other visitos in Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣)

DSC_2113Before reaching Pui O (貝澳), the path wind along a series of curving slopes.

DSC_2116At the beach of Pui O (貝澳), some enjoy swimming in the sea, while others are busy digging the sand for clams.

DSC_2117Pui O Beach was shaped by the water of South China Sea and the river streams.

DSC_2122The persistent clam diggers dig the sand of Pui O till the last twilight fades.


280 MILLION-YEAR-OLD GEOLOGICAL PARADISE, Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), Hong Kong

Ma Shi Chau (馬屎洲), which literally means “horse excrement island”, is a tidal island off a traditional fishing village Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) at the northeastern New Territories near Tai Po (大埔).  Facing the Tolo Channel opposite from the dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖), Ma Shi Chau belongs to the UNESCO Geopark network in Hong Kong.  The remote tidal island is famous for its unique rock formation and outcropped strata dated back to the Permian Period (280 million years ago).

Ma Shi Chau is accessible via Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡).  A short hike on known as Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail will bring visitors to walk along the southeast coast of the island.  Along the coastal areas, unique and colourful rock formations are visible everywhere.  Millions of years ago, Ma Shi Chau was a basin in which surrounding waters continuously to deposit sediments such as sand and gravel.  Over the years as water level changed and so as the kinds of sediments accumulated.   Sedimentary rocks were formed after the process of lithification.  Vaults and folds are also visible on Ma Shi Chau as tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities transformed the rock surface.  Like many parts of Hong Kong, granite is also present at Ma Shi Chau as a result of magma intrusion during the Jurassic Period.  Other than rocks, views of the Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) to the north, and the new town of Ma On Shan to the southeast across the Tolo Harbour (吐露港) are equally impressive.

DSC_3191Sam Mun Tsai (三門仔) is a small fishing village inhabited mainly by former boat people (fishermen families who lived on their boats in typhoon shelter).

DSC_3195From Sam Mun Tsai, a short walk brought me up to a hill dotted with graves.  On the high point, fish farming nets in the waters of Plover Cove.

DSC_3197The trail continued to wind through the ridge of a hill dotted with graves.

DSC_3202The trail then went downhill to the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar (馬屎洲橫水渡), a natural sand bar that originally would be submerged in water during during high tide.  Over the years, villagers put boulders and sediments on the sand bar, so that it would be exposed above water even during high tide.

DSC_3205Today, the Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is a convenient venue for a leisure stroll and water activities such as sea kayaking.

DSC_3204The Ma Shi Chau Sand Bar is also the gateway to the Ma Shi Chau Special Area, part of the Hong Kong Geopark.

DSC_3247On Ma Shi Chau Island, there is a short trail called Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail (馬屎洲自然教育徑) bringing visitors to a number of coastal woods and rock beaches.  Giant Golden Orb Weaver, one of the largest kinds of spiders in the world, are quite common in the woods.  Some of these are about the size of a human palm.

DSC_3267Visitors are usually fascinated by the rock formations when arriving at the first open coastal area.

DSC_3295Vaults and folds are visible at Ma Shi Chau due to prehistoric tectonic movements caused by volcanic activities.

DSC_3299Many of the outcropped strata and rock formations are colourful and eye catching.

DSC_3310Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3319Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3331Details of interesting rock formation on Ma Shi Chau.

DSC_3347To the northeast of Ma Shi Chau across the Plover Cove (船灣海), the 2km dam of Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) is only a few hundred metres away.

DSC_3352To the southeast across Tolo Harbour (吐露港), the new residential developments below Ma On Shan (馬鞍山) look like a bunch of toy blocks.

DSC_3359Construction of the new town of Ma On Shan began in 1980s, including private residential developments and public housing estates.

DSC_3363

DSC_3366Fishermen may still test their luck in the Tolo Harbour.

DSC_3371In late afternoon, Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺) north of Ma Shi Chau looks gorgeous.

DSC_3374Under the shadow of Pa Sin Leng Mountain (八仙嶺), the tiny island of Yeung Chau and the fish farms in the Plover Cove (船灣海) look like a peaceful picture.


CLEAR WATER & FINE SAND, Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Just twenty minutes walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Long Ke Wan is one of the favorite beaches in Hong Kong for many.  Facing east to Mirs Bay (大鵬灣) along with the four beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣), Long Ke Wan’s (浪茄灣) hexagonal stone columns, white and powdery sand and unpolluted sea water make it a popular destination for beachgoers who make the effort to the eastern edge of Sai Kung Peninsula.  It is possible to reach Long Ke Wan from two different directions, both involve some degree of hiking.  The easiest is to hop on a taxi from Sai Kung town centre to the East Dam of High Island Reservoir, from there it is only a 20 minutes walk to the beach.  The other option is to take a village bus from Sai Kung town centre to Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).  From the pavilion, it is a two-hour scenic hike to Long Ke Wan.  This walk covers part of the Section 2 of MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), from Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) to Long Ke Wan.  Atop Sai Wan Shan, the picturesque beaches of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) down below with the mighty Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) as backdrop is truly one of the most iconic panoramas of Hong Kong’s natural beauty.

01Much of coastal area from Long Ke Wan and High Island Reservoir East Dam all the way to the outlying islands south of the Sai Kung Peninsula are covered with polygonal stone columns.

02These surreal stone formations are evidences from an active volcanic era 140 million years ago.  The 20-minute walk from High Island Reservoir East Dam to Long Ke Wan offers great opportunity to see the coastal rock formations.

04Flanked both sides by lush green slopes and back against Tuk Ngu Shan (獨孤山), Long Ke Wan (浪茄灣) is a protected bay opened southeastwards to the South China Sea.

DSC_1369The beach of Long Ke Wan is decent in size, with fine sand and crystal clear water.

05Adjacent to Long Ke Wan, the coastal scenery of rock formations and sea caves are equally impressive.

03Many visitors come to the area by yachts or hired boats.

DSC_3162At the remote Long Ke Wan, there is no cafe or changing rooms.  All there is are natural scenery of a beautiful beach.

08Many visitors set up tents on the sand.  There is also a popular camp site at the back of the beach.

09Unlike the beaches of Big Wave Bay where the waves can become quite strong, Long Ke is usually calmer.

10During the summer months, the beach is very popular among young people.

11Tidal pools can be found at the rocky areas at the side of beach.

12A visitor comes to test his luck at the tidal pool.

13Walking north from Long Ke Wan to Sai Wan Shan (西灣山) along the MacLehose Trail (麥理浩徑), hikers can have another magnificent overview of Long Ke Wan from above.

14On Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the view of High Island Reservoir and the outlying islands south of Sai Kung Peninsula makes one forget this is Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated city in the world.

15Looking north from the top of Sai Wan Shan (西灣山), the scenery of Big Wave Bay beaches (大浪灣) and Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖) is the icon of Hong Kong’s wilderness.

16The trail then goes downhill from Sai Wan Shan to Chui Tung Au (吹筒坳), then winds along the north edge of High Island Reservoir towards Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭).

17From the trail, visitors can see the West Dam of High Island Reservoir from distance.

18The turquoise and green colours of High Island Reservoir always look refreshing.

19From Sai Wan Pavilion (西灣亭), there is infrequent village buses return to the pier of Sai Kung town.


NATURAL vs. MAN-MADE WONDER, High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong

Completed in 1978, High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) is the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of volume.  Situated at the southeastern end of Sai Kung Peninsula, High Island Reservoir is surrounded by some of the city’s most scenic country parks and pristine beaches.  Designated as an UNESCO geopark, the coastal areas near the East Dam (東壩) of the High Island Reservoir is filled with hexagonal volcanic columns unseen anywhere else in Hong Kong.  140 million years ago, catastrophic volcanic eruption covered much of the area in layers of tuff.  The tuff cooled throughout time and gradually solidified to form rock.  The hexagonal columns were formed from contraction during the cooling.  Today, remnants from the highly active volcanic era become one of the most spectacular natural sights in the city.  Equally impressive at the East Dam are the concrete dolosse blocks at one side of the Dam along the coast.  Each dolos block weights up to 20 tons.  They are used as wave breakers to protect the dam against the rough sea.  To complete the beautiful picture, there are also sea caves and stack islands dotted around the coast, and the azure sky and boundless South China Sea.

01From Sai Kung Town, the taxi ride to the East Dam, the furthest point of High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), takes about 45 minutes.

02The spectacular High Island Reservoir East Dam separates the buffer lake of the reservoir and the boundless South China Sea.  Known as Po Pin Chau (破邊洲), the magnificent stack island outside of the East Dam is famous for its tall volcanic columns on one side of its cliff.

03The concrete East Dam structure that separates the two sides of blue water is really photogenic.

04The dolosse blocks pile up on the seaward side of the East Dam, creating a chaotic yet beautiful barrier.  Walking on the dam, we could hear the waves but weren’t be able to find an open view of the sea unless we climbed on the dolosse blocks.

07Once we climbed on the dolosse blocks, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the powerful waves hitting against the coastal volcanic hexagonal columns.

05We climbed down the dam, sat on one of the step and had a quick picnic lunch.

06Looking inland, we could see the inner East Dam that separating the buffer pool with the main reservoir above.  The massive dam structure looked to us as if merged with the adjacent natural landscape.

08Sea caves are common features near the East Dam.

09At the East Dam, natural volcanic hexagonal columns appear side by side with the manmade dolosse blocks.

10To explore a bit of the surrounding coastal landscape, we decided to walk further into the trail heading to Fa Shan (花山) and Pak Lap (白臘).  The trail was not very well defined, but we managed to find our way in the hill of shrubs reaching waist height.

10aOur goal was to at least to have a closer look at the cliff of volcanic columns of the stack island of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

11The coastal landscape in the area was truly spectacular.  Some like to explore the area by sea kayaking.

12Passing by the stone beach of Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘), we saw a few hikers watching the powerful waves.

13Some visitors didn’t mind to get wet and chose to explore by boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, we reached the closest lookout overlooking the magnificent Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).

14The stone columns of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) appeared like a gigantic church organ.

16We then found our way down to the Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) to get a even closer look and even touch of the volcanic columns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll cliff sides at Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) were covered with stone columns.

17After the hike out to Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) and Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣), it was already late afternoon by the time we returned to the East Dam.

18.JPGInstead of calling a taxi, we decided to walk back out to the main road where we could take a public bus.  The route led us to go along a little over half the perimeter of High Island Reservoir and took about two hours.

19Beyond the haze we could see the Sharp Peak or Nam She Tsim (蚺蛇尖) in a distance, a popular challenge for hikers in Hong Kong.

20Soon the full moon was up over the tranquil water of High Island Reservoir.

21The scenery of High Island Reservoir was serene and calm.

22We enjoyed a few minutes of perfect sunset when we reached the West Dam (西壩).  Beyond the West Dam was Port Shelter Sea (牛尾海) and a series of islands.  The closest island was Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲).

23As the sun gradually set, we picked up our pace of walking.  Known as the Maclehose Trail Section 1, the trail surrounding High Island Reservoir was long but relative flat and easy.  By the time we reached the bus stop at Tai Mong Tsai Road it was almost dark.


HONG KONG’S SOUTHERNMOST POINT, Po Toi Island (蒲台島), Hong Kong

While remote Fan Lau (分流) is the westernmost village in Hong Kong, Po Toi Island (蒲台島) is its counterpart at the southernmost point of the territory.  From 2000 inhabitants in the 1950’s down to about 10 today, like many rural communities in the city, Po Toi Island has gone through a rapid decline in population in the modern era.  The remote island with a population of merely 10 would become lively during weekends when a few boat loads of visitors arrive at the dock.  Beautiful granite formations, ancient stone carving, a lone lighthouse, a few simple houses, several fishing boats and nets, and racks of drying seafood and seaweeds, Po Toi Island is a peaceful getaway less than an hour ferry from either Aberdeen (香港仔) or Stanley (赤柱).  A day before Chinese New Year in a fine Sunday morning, we decided to take the 8:15 ferry, the only scheduled departure of the day, from Aberdeen to Po Toi.

DSC_9237There are either one to two ferries on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from Aberdeen going to Po Toi Island.  On Sunday, there are more Po Toi bound ferries departing from Stanley.  For us, we opted for Aberdeen because of the unique scenery of its famous typhoon shelter, the home of Aberdeen Floating Village (香港仔水上人家).  There were once over 6000 inhabitants living on the boats in Aberdeen, one of the most significant port in Hong Kong since the 19th century.

DSC_9268Today there are still a number of boat villagers staying, and so as their fleet of fishing boats, seafood stalls, floating restaurants, and the seafood wholesale business, etc.  At 7:30am on a Chinese New Year’s Eve, local residents were busy shopping for seafood from the fishermen at Aberdeen Waterfront Promenade.  On such an important day of the year, their seafood would be sold out in less than an hour.

DSC_9296Decorations for the Chinese New Year could be seen at piers and boats along the promenade.

DSC_9329Under the soft morning sun, colourful boats of all sizes crisscrossed the waterways among the boats parked between Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau Island.  The Ap Lei Chau Island sheltered Aberdeen from the wind and waves of the open sea, making Aberdeen Channel one of the best typhoon shelter in Hong Kong.

DSC_9346Despite most fishermen have moved onto apartments in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau, the scenery of Aberdeen is still dominated the channel and typhoon shelter.

DSC_9397The open waterway in the middle of Aberdeen Channel was like a water highway to us.

DSC_9404Our ferry also passed by one of the famous floating seafood restaurants in Aberdeen.

DSC_9433And we also passed by the Ocean Park, the iconic ocean-themed amusement park and aquarium.

DSC_9435From a distance, we also recognized the beautiful Repulse Bay.

DSC_9453Our ferry finally docked at Po Toi’s pier at Tai Wan (大灣).  There weren’t that many visitors around.  We only shared the island with a handful of tourists and the remaining Po Toi inhabitants.

DSC_9473Po Toi remains as a remote, sleepy and simple fishing village.  From the pier, we walked for a few minutes to reach the main beach in the middle of Tai Wan (大灣).  There was a seafood restaurant called Ming Kee, probably the only seafood restaurant on the island.

DSC_9480Dried seafood (fish, squid, and even octopus) were common sights.

DSC_9481There were racks on the main beach Tai Wan (大灣) where villagers dried their fishing nets and other fishing equipment.

DSC_9490Some houses on Po Toi were colourfully painted, presenting a great match to the bright blue sky.

DSC_9518On the other end of Tai Wan (大灣) stood an old Tin Hau Temple, dedicated to the sea goddess of Tin Hau for protecting the fishermen at the sea.

DSC_9506Inside the temple, we saw a number of decorations related to the fishing culture of Po Toi, such as the wooden model of a dragon boat.

DSC_9578Adjacent to the Tin Hau Temple, we followed the metal chain up the granite hill to start our day hike.

DSC_9575On two thirds the way up we could clearly see the magnificent scenery of Tai Wan (大灣) and the public pier below.

DSC_9690Looking south we saw Lighthouse no. 126 and the southern tip of the island.

DSC_9724We leisurely walked down the hill in the direction of the lighthouse.

DSC_9741On our way we passed by some graves facing the sea, quite a scenic resting place for the departed.

DSC_9755Atop another hill we encountered a well known attraction on Po Toi.  Known as the Monk Rock, this rock formation resembled a Buddhist monk when viewed from afar.

DSC_9758A few tents were set up near Lighthouse No. 126.  Po Toi is a popular spot for camping.  Far from the city’s light pollution, those who brave for the night here get a chance to admire and photographing the starry night sky.

DSC_9778We finally reached the No. 126 Lighthouse, a simple white washed structure perched on top of granite rocks, overlooking the southern shore and the vast South China Sea.

DSC_9786Reaching the No. 126 Lighthouse at the southernmost point of Hong Kong overlooking the boundless water in a day of very fine weather was emotional and satisfying.

DSC_9814We then moved on to the real southern tip of the island.  The South China Sea looked surprisingly busy with cargo ships.

DSC_9863Heading back towards the pier, we reached another attraction of Po Toi, the interesting rock formation with large vertical stone strips known as the Buddhist Palm.

DSC_9866More graves appeared as we walked closer to the village.  Like grey boulders, the tombstones looked quite blended in with the overall natural setting.

DSC_9889There are a number of ancient stone carvings in Hong Kong and its outlying islands.  There is a mysterious one on Po Toi, simply known as Po Toi Island Stone Carvings (蒲台島石刻).

DSC_9903Back to the village, we decided to sit down at Ming Kee (明記海鮮酒家), the only seafood restaurant on the island.

DSC_9906We just ordered their set lunch with shrimps, squid, small abalone, sweet and sour pork and stir fry vegetables.

DSC_9925After lunch, we wandered along the beach at Tai Wan (大灣).

DSC_9960Po Toi is the most famous spot in Hong Kong for seaweed and kelp.  We could clearly see the seaweed above the water.

DSC_0001There were drying kelp and seaweed allover the tiny village.  We couldn’t resist but bought a few packs.

DSC_0007A dog lying beside the rack as if guarding the drying kelp.

DSC_0018Before leaving the island, we sat down at one of the simple snack shops and ordered the kelp and green bean soup (海帶綠豆沙), a sweet delight full of aroma of seaweed and herbs that every visitor should try a bowl.

 


MORNING ON TAQUILE, Titicaca, Peru

We got up at around 7 in the morning.  The air was cold and refreshing.  We walked down to the courtyard to brush our teeth and then into the dining room for breakfast.  After breakfast, our host suggested us to take a morning walk to the “beach”.  He gave us simple instructions and we ventured off onto the rural paths of Taquile again.  We walked to a part of the island where we had not been to before, following a winding path with a low stone wall along both sides of the path that stretched all the way to as far as we could see.  The beach was at the far end of the island. We could get a glimpse of it from the village centre. Without signage for direction and a clear path leading to the beach, we could only trust our gut to find a way to descend to the beach at the foot of the hill.

The lake water was freezing cold. Two cows were wandering on the sandy beach while we chilled out in the cool breeze.  We stayed on the beach for about 20 minutes until we decided to walk back to the village to check out the handcraft centre.  We climbed back up the hill to the main path.  The handcraft centre had a huge collection of exquisite textiles and wearable pieces handmade by the villagers, such as knitted belts and hats.  The colourful pieces are often decorated with traditional patterns unique to Taquile.  In 2005, the textile arts of Taquile was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.  Taquile is often considered a successful example of community-based tourism.  Many islanders participate on making handcrafts for sell at the handcraft centre, or take turns to become hosts for visiting tourists.

After we visited the handcraft centre, we walked by a teenage girl sitting by the road, quietly knitting wool bracelets.  She lined up her colourful bracelets nicely on a piece of fabric for display.  The colourful bracelets had several different patterns knitted on both sides, and they all looked lovely to us.  While we were appreciating the works, a local islander waved at us from afar and he looked anxious.  He tried to tell us something important but we had trouble understanding.  After moments of confusion, we finally understood that he had been looking for us for quite sometime.  A friend of our host, he wanted to let us know that the boat leaving for Puno had changed its departure time earlier than scheduled.  Our host, on the other hand, had gone to the pier to urge the boat captain to wait for us.  By the time we were informed, we had less than half an hour to rush to the pier.  We followed the messenger’s lead to the exit archway of Taquile, where a long flight of stone steps led to the community pier by the lake.  We hurried down the stone steps in a single breath and finally jumped onto community boat leaving for Puno.  The community boat was much slower than the tourist boats, and the ride took over two hours.

After docking at Puno,  we went into a local restaurant at town centre for a big glass of warm chicha morada.  Chicha is a Peruvian drink made of purple maize with a variety of spices or fruits.  Fermented or non-fermented, chicha drinks have been popular with people on the Andes for centuries.  A glass of purple chicha morada (with spices of some sort) became the perfect conclusion for our visit to Lake Titicaca.  The next morning, we would head northwest to the historical heartland of the Inca Empire, Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

7The boy of the host family was shy but curious. He invited us to play football with him at the forecourt of his house.

6Our host’s home had a big foreground surrounded by adobe houses on three sides and a wall at the front. The forecourt is a perfect place for the kids of the family to play football.

1The rural scenery of Taquile in early morning.

2A woman with her sheep for a morning walk.

3The beach that our host recommended was down the hill from the main path.

4The beach is right at the foot of the terraced farmlands.

5We finally reached the beach. We were greeted by a cow and its calf there. The water was too cold for a comfortable swim but the sun was warm and the sand was fine.

10PE05-29At the Handcraft Centre, we found many finely made textile items and knitwears.  Examples of Taquile’s famous knitting could easily be seen everything on the island, including the traditional headwears of the villagers.

8We passed by a number new buildings under construction when we rushed to the pier.  Many buildings were left unfinished until villagers saved up enough money to complete the second level.

9After passing this arch, we would bid farewell to Taquile island.

10Following the messenger, we hurried down the stone steps to catch the community boat.  The stepped path was long with uneven stone risers.

11We finally made it to the pier and were amazed by the speed at which we descended the uneven steps.

12There were a few boats at the dock. The community boat left from a different pier than where we arrived a day ago.

13At last, the farming terraces of Taquile Island was behind us.

14As the boat moved out to the lake, Taquile Island appeared smaller and smaller until it disappeared completely.

15Our boat passed by some fish nets in the lake.

16During the boat ride, we passed by a number villages along the coast of the mainland.

17Close up of a coastal village by the Lake Titicaca.

18We were sitting out on the boat deck.  After the gate marked by the light towers, we knew Puno would soon be in sight.

19We arrived at Puno at late afternoon. We strolled around the market near the town centre and went into a small local restaurant for a warm chicha moranda.

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Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


SHEK O (石澳) – Walking on the Dragon’s Back (龍脊), Hong Kong

For a city known for long working hours and bustling nightlife, hiking in one of its 24 country parks has quietly emerged as a popular alternative to shopping, karaoke, or watching a movie as a local weekend activity.

On a fine day in early April, I set out on a half day journey to hike in the southern part of Hong Kong Island.  Compared to the northern shoreline of Hong Kong Island where the downtown is located, the south is dotted with sandy beaches and hill forests.  I had a few hours’ time before sunset to do the hike, and I picked the Dragon’s Back hike in Shek O Country Park.  Recognized by some magazines as one of the best urban hikes in Asia, the Dragon’s Back Hike has become really popular among locals and tourists.  Just like many other hikes in Hong Kong, the trailhead of Dragon’s Back Hike can be easily accessed by public transportation.  In this case, the trailhead at To Tei Wan can be reached by frequent public buses from Shau Kei Wan MTR Station.

It took me less than three hours to hike from To Tei Wan to Big Wave Bay, and then another half an hour to walk from Big Wave Bay to Shek O Village.  After reaching the highest point of Dragon’s Back at 284m, the magnificent panoramic view of Shek O and the South China Sea was rewarding.  The descend journey to Bay Wave Bay was largely done in shaded paths.  By the time I reached the renounced surfing beach, the sun was about to set.  I stayed at Big Wave Bay and continued on to finish my journey at Shek O, a mere 20-minute walk from Big Wave Bay.  At Shek O, I climbed onto a rock hill adjacent to the beach to take in the scenery and watched the people enjoying themselves on the beach under the setting sun.

Image龍脊 – Dragon’s Back is a scenic trail along the ridges of folding mountainsImageNo wonder why the undulating hike along the Dragon’s Back ridge has been recognized by guidebooks and magazines as one of the best urban hikes in Asia.  The view toward Shek O Village and Beach, and the rocky islands of Tai Tau Chau and Ng Fan Chau is the biggest reward for climbing up to the Dragon’s Back.ImageImageImage
Paragliding in mid-air or surfing along the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan) – people choose different ways to enjoy themselves outside the city centre.ImageAerial view to the Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan), a popular surfing spot in HK.ImageImageImageImageImage


DAY 57 (2 OF 2) – CHANQUIN AND PLAYA CUCAO, CHILOE, CHILE

From the park entrance, we walked on the main road to the village of Chanquin, passed by peaceful farmhouses and small ranches.  At the end of Chanquin where the boat-shaped bridge headed north towards Cole Cole, we made a turn to walk along a river heading towards the ocean.  The wind was strong with occasional cold rain. There was no one on the trail except us. We crossed a number of grassy areas and sand dunes. At last, we reached the point where the river met the ocean. It was at Playa Cucao, a sandy beach with rumbling waves, where we finally felt the full force of the Pacific. The beach was full of clusters of seashells. We stayed at the beach for a while and slowly found our way back to another trail heading away from the beach towards the main road. When we reached the park entrance, we dropped by a local coffee shop and deservedly had a hot drink before hopping onto the return bus for Castro.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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Read more on Chiloe and Puerto Varas  in 2013 South America
Day 55.1 – Water Finally, Chiloe
Day 55.2 – Chacao Channel, Chiloe
Day 55.3 – Tide, Castro, Chiloe
Day 55.4 – Iglesia San Francisco, Castro, Chiloe
Day 56.1 – Palfitos, Castro, Chiloe
Day 56.2 – Wooden Tequilas Houses, Chiloe
Day 56.3 – Achao, Isla Quinchao
Day 57.1 – Parque Nacional Chiloe
Day 57.2 – Chanquin and Playa Cucao, Chiloe
Day 58.1 – Isla Aucar, Colo, Tenaun San Juan, Chiloe
Day 58.2 – Boat Building, San Juan, Chiloe
Day 58.3 – Seafood, Chiloe
Day 59.1 – Palafito 1326, Castro, Chiloe
Day 59.2 – Chacao Channel Again, Chiloe
Day 59.3 – City, Lago Llanquihue & Volcan Osorno, Puerto Varas
Day 60 – Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales, Petrohue
Day 61.1 – Latitude 51-41’28”, Puerto Natales
Day 61.2 – Afrigonia, Puerto Natales

* * *

South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 23 (1 OF 3) – SEA, PARATY, BRAZIL

On our way to Sao Paulo from Rio de Janeiro, we stopped by the seaside town of Paraty. Famous for its colonial buildings, pirates, beaches, and rainforests, Paraty was a significant colonial town in the 18th century as an export port for gold from the mines of Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro. A Gold Trail was established from the towns of Minas Gerais to Paraty to transport gold, supplies and slaves. In late 18th century, as the gold mines began to dry up, many cities in Minas Gerais such as Ouro Preto underwent a gradual decline, so as Paraty. Today Paraty contains one of the best-preserved colonial town centre in Brazil.
We came to Paraty for its beaches, colonial buildings, and its layback atmosphere. It was cool and cloudy when we arrived in Paraty. At the dock, several people were fishing while the boat owners were cleaning their colourful tourist boats. We took a stroll along Rio Pereque Acu to Praia do Pontal, a beach stretching out into Bahia de Paraty north of the historic town centre. The beach was quiet with only a few beachgoers chilling out at the seating area where barracas (stalls) were serving snacks, drinks and seafood.
Back in the old town, we walked passed a local restaurant near Igreja Santa Rita which had their catches-of-the-day displayed in front of the store. We decided to give it a try and had our first seafood meal in Paraty.
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Previous Destination: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, reading from post Day 20.1

Read other posts on Paraty, Brazil
Day 23.1 – Sea, Paraty
Day 23.2 – Town, Paraty
Day 23.3 – Night, Paraty
Day 24.1 – Rain, Paraty
Day 24.2 – Thai, Paraty
Day 24.3 – Reflection, Paraty

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 21 (5 OF 5) – BOTAFOGO AND LEBLON, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

After Santa Teresa, we took the metro to Botafogo.  We walked out to Praia do Botagofo (Botafogo Beach), which offered a good view of Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), especially during sunset when the golden sunlight shone on the iconic mountain.
We then took a bus to Leblon.  In contrast to the bohemian and sometimes seedy Lapa and Santa Teresa, Leblon (and the adjacent Ipanema), as the most affluent neighbourhood in Rio, seemed to us like belong to an entirely different city, despite the existence of favelas on nearby hills.  At dusk, we stopped by the peaceful Praia de Leblon (Leblon Beach), which shares the same Atlantic waterfront with Praia de Ipanema (Ipanema Beach).

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSC_8078Praia do Botafogo (above 3 images)

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DSC_8121Praia de Leblon (above 2 images)

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Read other posts on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Day 20.1 – Ipanema
Day 20.2 – Urca
Day 20.3 – Pao de Acucar
Day 21.1 – Ipanema Beach
Day 21.2 – Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura (Portuguese Reading Room)
Day 21.3 – Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
Day 21.4 – Lapa and Santa Teresa
Day 21.5 – Botafogo and Leblon
Day 22.1 – Museu de Arte do Rio
Day 22.2 – Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 21 (1 OF 5) – IPANEMA BEACH, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

We started the day with a morning stroll along the Ipanema beach. This sunny Monday was much quieter than the bustling Sunday.  Only a few joggers and surfers could be seen against the iconic mountainous backdrop, a truly postcard moment of Rio de Janeiro.
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Read other posts on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Day 20.1 – Ipanema
Day 20.2 – Urca
Day 20.3 – Pao de Acucar
Day 21.1 – Ipanema Beach
Day 21.2 – Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura (Portuguese Reading Room)
Day 21.3 – Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
Day 21.4 – Lapa and Santa Teresa
Day 21.5 – Botafogo and Leblon
Day 22.1 – Museu de Arte do Rio
Day 22.2 – Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 20 (2 OF 3) – URCA, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

We took a bus to Urca, the small residential neighbourhood in the shadow of Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain).  Comparing to the tour groups and long queue at the cable car station for Pao de Acucar, the streets and beaches at Urca were extremely peaceful.  The beaches were not the cleanest, but we could get a good view of Baia de Guanabara, Cristo Redentor and Pao de Acucar in a distance. There was a short period of sun break while we were at Urca.  We were hoping that the sun would stay when we reached the peak of Pao de Acucar in the afternoon.  We stopped by Garota Urca, a local restaurant for sandwiches before we joined the Sunday tourist crowd for the famous Pao de Acucar.
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Read other posts on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Day 20.1 – Ipanema
Day 20.2 – Urca
Day 20.3 – Pao de Acucar
Day 21.1 – Ipanema Beach
Day 21.2 – Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura (Portuguese Reading Room)
Day 21.3 – Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
Day 21.4 – Lapa and Santa Teresa
Day 21.5 – Botafogo and Leblon
Day 22.1 – Museu de Arte do Rio
Day 22.2 – Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 20 (1 OF 3) – IPANEMA, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Today was a cloudy and humid Sunday.  Rain seemed coming anytime.  It only took us 5 minutes to walk from our hostel to the famous Ipanema Beach.  On our way to the beach, we dropped by Polis Suco for a quick drink of acai smoothie, a tasty and healthy morning treat. The entire beach was packed with all kinds of beach goers, from surfers, sunbathers, to beach tennis players.  The automobile traffic on Ave. Vieira Souto was replaced with bikers, runners, and joggers, etc.  In the distant west, the Dois Irmaos mountains provided a dramatic backdrop to the beach scenery.
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Previous Destination: Minas Gerais, Brazil, reading from post Day 15.2

Read other posts on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Day 20.1 – Ipanema
Day 20.2 – Urca
Day 20.3 – Pao de Acucar
Day 21.1 – Ipanema Beach
Day 21.2 – Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura (Portuguese Reading Room)
Day 21.3 – Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil
Day 21.4 – Lapa and Santa Teresa
Day 21.5 – Botafogo and Leblon
Day 22.1 – Museu de Arte do Rio
Day 22.2 – Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

* * *

South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought