The month of June in Hong Kong was wet, and muggy. First impressions: It smelled like New York. It was a hot box like New York. And it was crowded like New York. So naturally, I felt at home. Jokes aside, my first two days in the sovereign state was a bummer. If I was out in the country side taking a nap on a hammock underneath an awning and listening to raindrops pitter patter, I would've felt differently. But I was stuck in the midst of the hustle and bustle. There was nothing I could do except wait it out and hope for the best. On my third day however, I got lucky. Not a cloud in sight, I was determined to go out and discover what Hong Kong had to offer...... aside from the similarities with my current home in the states. I decided to hike the Dragon's Back and get a bird's eye view of the island. I took Google’s advice and took the Metro island line to Chai Wan and then take the bus up to Lan Tai Wan.
The Dragon's Back can be located on the South East mountain section of Hong Kong island. Doing some research on it, I discovered that it was a very popular hiking trail. Over 284 meters high, it lends itself to amazing panoramic views of the city, the bay and the South China sea.
After recently experiencing Tokyo's extremely intricate train system, it was a breath of fresh air to hop on the Hong Kong railway system. It was so easy. I felt like a local almost immediately. The bus, on the other hand, was harder to tackle. The signs were so small. It took me awhile to find the one going up to the Dragon's back. Luckily, I was oozing with common sense and intuition that day;) I saw a couple of busses lined up and started asking questions. I was deterred at first. People on the outskirts of the island hardly spoke any English compared to the busier center section of Hong Kong. After a few minutes asking locals to no avail, I noticed a small congregation of expats. Within this group, an American family reassured me that I was in the right place and that they were getting off at the same stop. I was lucky enough to have $3.90 Hong Kong dollars exactly to the cent for the ride up. I couldn't have had a more perfect timing either. The bus was just about to leave.
While in a foreign place, I'm usually very aware of how many stops it takes and how many is left to get to my destination. I strive to always know where I am on the map. Trust the bus driver? Hell naw! So when I was nearing my stop according to Google maps, I walked down the stairs of this double decker bus and waved for the driver to let me off. The door opened and I jumped off. I noticed that the family I previously talked to were still on the bus when the door closed. I didn’t make anything of it at first. I just thought they were taking the pussy way out and ride the bus all the way to the top. So I went along my merry way. On the right side of the road, there was a small parking lot on a cliff that overlooked the south bay. Yachts lined the shore and speedboats painted the sea in brush strokes of white. On the other side of the street, where the bus dropped me off, was a flat grassy area. Immediately adjacent to it on the left were steps that led up the mountain. It looked promising, but my instincts stayed uneasy. Nevertheless, up the steps I went. Then it hit me. I’m hiking alone and didn't expect it to be so woodsy. It made me feel like I was in the tropical version of the Blair Witch Project. My wifi device’s battery life was at 50% and so was my iPhone. I checked my bag and thankfully, my backup battery was fully charged. I went 15 steps up and reached a flat bbq area with stone tables and benches. I was assessing the place and was still doubtful that this led to the Dragon’s back. It looked like there was a path at the back of the area. Come to find out, it was a dead end. I was perplexed. Where the crap is this hiking path to the Dragon's Back?
I went back downstairs and saw HongKongers looking across the street at me and talking in Cantonese. I’m usually ballsy and have no problems asking for directions. But I felt this negative energy being projected at me. And I'll say it time and time again, I’ve got good intuition; So I refrained from asking and waited at the bus stop for the next bus. I didn’t have exact change but I was willing to sacrifice 5 Hong Kong dollars just to get me back on the right track.
The bus never came.
I started getting worried. My legs slowly became the main course at an all you can eat buffet spread for the resident insects of the mountain. I had several shots of Jameson and a few beers the night before so I was definitely marinated accordingly to their tastebuds. I had to make an executive decision. I was so determined to hike the Dragon's back that I braved going up the road even when I noticed that there were no sidewalks.
In retrospect, that was one of the dumbest moves I've made in a while. Did I mention that on top of having really good intuition, I also have a lot of pride?..... gets me in trouble a lot.
Hong Kong used to be a British colony which explains why the cars drive on the left side of the street. I kept reminding myself of this tidbit. I made sure to be aware of oncoming traffic from both sides. One mistake could be my demise and that wouldn't be pretty. Luckily, it was quiet for awhile. It was just me, the road and the cliffs overlooking Hong Kong. Then I came upon a section where the road traversed a valley passing through two steep cliffs. My anxiety shot through the roof. There were no sidewalks. AGAIN!?! Just in case traffic became more active, I had nowhere to go. Without thinking about it, I powered through. I ran for my life. Thank God it was only 50 feet. As I neared the end of the pathway, a small car came from behind. But by then I had seen a small plot of soil on the side of the street for me to jump on and get out of the way. All the stealth maneuvers got me all cocky! "Catch me if you can suckaz!" I yelled!
Once again, it was just me, the road and the beautiful scenery of Hong Kong down below. I took a photo break here and there. The view of the bay was amazing. Then I heard a loud vehicle coming down the mountain. It was the same bus that dropped me of two stops down. The bus driver made eye contact with me. I saw the confusion fill the expression on his face. But then he quickly drove away not wanting to realize that he had a chance to help out. What an asshole?
I kept going. I was literally drenched in sweat and I’m so not a sweater. Hong Kong brought out the nasty in me. It was 95 degrees and I was beginning to overheat. Thankfully, I had a water bottle in my backpack to hydrate myself.
I felt multiple vehicles coming up fast through the vibrations on the asphalt road. This time, they were going both ways. An orchestra of loud sounds quickly approaching my direction caused my heart to beat like an EDM song. From the corner of my eye, I locked onto a cement platform which I bolted for. They passed me by going 40 miles an hour, a foot away from my shoulder with the winds aggressively trying to push me towards directions I didn't want to go. "What did I just get myself into?" I was at the point where I tried not to make a big deal of it when in reality, I was in a serious situation.
The road became quiet again. I thought I was safe from here on out. The road started swerving to the left. And when it revealed what was coming up, there were two walls of stone similar to the first one I encountered. "This is cake!" I tried to convince myself. "I overcame the first one. Why wouldn’t this be as easy?" In the middle of the pass, I quickly realized how wrong I was. I looked up and two cars started going down the mountain. Then I assessed what was behind me and another two were going up at the same time. I’m about to meet my maker I thought. I panicked. I yelled out "OH MY GOD!" But somehow, my brain went on survival mode. I ran to the left to avoid the first car coming down the mountain. When it was clear, I quickly ran to to the right to avoid the first car going up. I did the same thing for the third car going down and when the last car was about to pass me, I ran and hugged the semi-slanted stone mountain overlooking the bay with all my might, closed my eyes and screamed at the top of my register. "AAAAAAHHHHH!" But my vocal chords were no match for the aggressive honking around me. I stayed in that position for a good 30 seconds panting with my head down. The noise of diesel motors floated away. The roads underneath my feet became still. And the adrenaline in my body began to dissipate. I caught my breath and slowly opened my eyes. Right in front of me was a sign. It said the Dragon’s Back. “Oh.” I said nonchalantly under my breath. Wiped the dust off of my body and walked towards it like nothing happened.
This isn’t a regular hike. I was glad to have found the entrance to the Dragon's Back but once again, I had an icky feeling. There were vines hanging from exotic plants I’m not familiar with. The trees were tall and the pathway narrow and steep. Mosquitos came back for their second course and my hesitation returned. But I’m already here. I didn’t just literally sacrifice my life just to turn around. So up I went. One step. Two steps.Three steps. 50 steps. Fuck! I was really alone. It was quiet. Too quiet. What if I twisted my ankle and nobody could hear me? Would I really have twisted my ankle? Ok. Bad joke. But seriously, I didn’t know if there were violent wild pandas out here? Suddenly, a small vision of hope reassured my less than confident mind. This one yellow butterfly kept following me. In fact, it started leading me up the mountain. I took it as a positive sign so I kept on truckin. I was wearing my glasses and my peripheral vision wasn’t as sharp. I kept thinking there was some form of bigger animal following me on the sideline. At this point I know my mind is playing tricks on me. I thought I kept hearing rustling along the pathway. So I kept looking to check if there was anything or anyone following me. As I turned my head forward, my body jumped at the sight of this guy appearing 20 feet away from me. Does he have a knife? Could I feel any evil energy from him? Did he carry a flask with something good in it? Thankfully, he had a friendly demeanor. He was drenched, just like I was. He told me that there are some good views but I had a good two hours to go. Two hours? I contemplated turning around. I already did my cardio that morning. And I could feel my legs start to tighten up just entertaining the thought of persevering. We parted ways. He was on his way down. Not surprisingly, I decided to keep going up. At first I thought it was my pride driving me forward. In retrospect, it was my intuition that pulled me up..... and my yellow butterfly.
I don't know how it could've gotten any hotter, but it did. Oh right, I was high up on a mountain exposed to the glaring beams of the sun. I guess common sense was the first thing to go in that weather. The second thing to go was my sanity. I started talking to myself 15 minutes after I passed the stranger going down the mountain. I kept saying how jealous I was that he was done with his trek. I also had a debate with myself about getting to the top and how doing it would be a reflection on the good habits of a person I want maintain. Then I would make excuses like, nobody is going to know if I reached the top or not. I could lie about it and say that I got to the top. Or I could elude the whole conversation altogether. I didn't have to write a blog post about it. All of this was going on in my brain and I didn't realize I was vocalizing my thoughts until another human being abruptly appeared out of the bushes as if to scare the living daylights out of me. I practically jumped out of my skin not because I thought I was in danger, but because I got caught talking to myself. Of course I brushed it off like nothing peculiar was going on. I was merely singing along to the words from my playlist;)
He said hi. I said hi. We initially started talking about the Dragon's back. How long would it take for me to hike the Dragon's back? He said another two hours. Unbelievable! I was walking for about an hour already and I haven't even cracked half of it. I felt defeated and hopeless. I was running low on water... and energy for that matter. Then he started asking questions about where I was from, what brought me to Hong Kong, how do I like the food and where I've been so far. He told me he has been living in Hong Kong for 8 years and that he knew the city in and out. Is this guy about to ask me out on a date? high up on the mountain? with no one around? I got weirded out. I started thinking about all the different circumstances that could happen at that moment. I started making body language hints that I was ready to cut the conversation. He got it but asked me first if I had enough water. He saw that I only had half a small bottle left and offered his full bottle twice as big as mine. I declined. I joked around and said "I'm an alcoholic. We don't drink water!" He got a kick out of that one as I stepped through the boulders moving away from him. I looked sideways to my left and caught his image still standing there staring at me while I walked away. "Alright! See ya!" I said hoping he notices I'm moving on. He finally turned and started going down the mountain. Ugh! Creepster Mcreep! I found myself looking back every now and then just to be sure he wasn't following me. Daddy don't play that. He is not about to be a casualty on an isolated mountain in a foreign country.
It's been twenty minutes since I talked to that guy. My motivation to move forward was to get away from him at first. But now I'm second guessing myself if I could go through this whole thing. Who invented hiking anyway? I was alone and have never done anything like this before. To make matters worse, I came across a fork in the road. Do I go high or low? Then I noticed that the street signs were in English and the one pointing up to the right said Dragon's Back. I was ecstatic and confused. I thought I still had an hour and a half to go. Who cares? I ran up the hundred-ish uneven stone stairs to get to the top. I felt good about this. I couldn't see anymore of the mountain going up. But I ran too fast that when I got to the top, I bent over and almost threw up. My body was exhausted. This hike turned out to be more than a light walk. But when I caught my breathe, I straightened up and looked out. I was in awe! The view was beautiful. It was just me, the Dragon's back and the picturesque backdrop of Hong Kongs shores. I started taking pictures; selfies included of course. Two guys came up after me. I asked about the Dragon's back. They said this is it. This is the top. To hike the whole dragon's back down to the bottom would take another two hours. Aah! I got confused. The top was close but to hike the whole length would take another two hours. I get it.
It was so rewarding to hike to the top of the Dragon's Back.` Without anybody around for support, and without listening to the doubts in my head, I accomplished what I set out to do all by myself. I saw similarities with this hike and my current two month backpacking trip through Asia. Two and a half weeks into my trip, which was my longest trip to date, I started feeling a bit of loneliness and doubt. I was missing my bed, my family and Game of Thrones. But being able to conquer the Dragon's back drew parallels into what I was there for in the first place. It was to learn about myself, others and enjoy myself doing it. Life is too short for doubts. Sometimes I just have to stop thinking and just do it. I did it. And right then and there, I became more amped and excited to power through what the rest of my trip through Asia was about to share with me. But first, an air conditioned taxi cab back down to Hong Kong proper. Daddy had enough adventures to last him for the next couple of days.
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