15.03.2014 - 16.03.2014 16 °C
Four years ago we had visited the highlights of Hong Kong, and we saw no reason to take an expensive accessible tour to return to those places, interesting as they were during our one day there on this cruise. We spotted a wetland park that we sounded worth a visit, but it was far from where the cruise ship would be docking. Finally, at the last minute, Hugh found someone at Tours by Locals who would take us there. The guide and I had a quick exchange of e-mails about our abilities and interests, and when he met us at nine in the morning, after we had docked at Hong Kong, he had an excellent itinerary worked out. Wouter was originally from the Netherlands, and during the twelve years he had lived in Hong Kong, he had developed an extensive knowledge of that place. We used taxis and the light rail system efficiently and saw things that we would never have visited on a standard group tour.
The city has grown up around a number of walled villages that have retained their traditional character despite their surroundings, and we visited two of them. Houses line streets that sometimes are sometimes barely wide enough for my little red wheelchair. A few of the buildings are of the same kind of green brick that was used for the village walls; others have more colourful exteriors, sometimes with bright tiles and often with a small red ancestral shrine near the door. Particularly interesting are the small neighbourhood temples. We visited several and felt welcomed by the individual or the small group (mainly women) inside the outer doorway. We then proceeded to the inner area with its highly decorated shrines and statues and burning sticks of incense. And yes, it is a small world. At one temple, someone asked our guide where we were from. When he told her Canada, one woman asked in English what part of Canada. She was excited by our reply, "Near Toronto": she has a daughter living in Toronto though she herself has never visited!
We had a traditional lunch at a noodle shop in a small shopping mall, and then we went on to the Hong Kong Wetland Park, a 150-acre conservation and education area. We saw first the visitors' centre with its exhibits on wetlands. Then we explored the extensive network of paths and boardwalks that lets visitors observe various aspects of the wetlands. There are blinds for the birdwatchers who flock here (pardon the pun) to see the year-round residents, some migratory birds, and some species that winter here. Particularly popular in the latter category is the endangered black face spoonbill, which will soon be leaving for its breeding grounds. We saw the birds, and we also saw people with huge telephoto lenses. (The spoonbills didn't pose well for my mere 300mm lens, so I am posting a photo of a lotus instead.)
Remembering Bangkok traffic, I had wondered whether our return trip to the cruise ship might be slow at the end of the afternoon, but Hong Kong has a very efficient road system, and we were soon back on board, ready to eat dinner and then pack and set our suitcases outside our stateroom well before the 11:00 p.m. deadline.
After breakfast the next morning, we disembarked and took a taxi to the downtown airline terminal. There we got our boarding passes and checked our bags. It was earlier than we needed to go to the airport, so we checked our carry-on bags at the "Left Luggage" area, bought tickets, and went up to the 100th storey observation floor, yawning or swallowing several times during the elevator's swift ascent. The air was hazy, but the views were interesting and dramatic anyway.
We returned to the main floor, retrieved our carry-on bags, and took the light rail train to the airport. There we considered having lunch at a fast food restaurant, but we decided that a busy morning and a 15-hour flight ahead of us warranted something more relaxing, so we enjoyed a tandoori meal with regular restaurant service. Then we went to our gate and, at the appropriated time, boarded our plane. Again as on our westbound trip, flight attendants served three meals during the trip, the final one being breakfast. Window shades were pulled down and cabin lights were dimmed between the meals, and we managed to get some sleep. Landing in Toronto, we discovered that we were to experience what may be the last really cold night of the winter, a real shock to our systems. But the Red Car trip was comfortable, and we found things in good order at home.
On "sea days" aboard the ship, we had attended a series of lectures on Buddhism. In one of them, the lecturer stressed the goal of "Acceptance." When I reflect on my feelings about the ending of our trip, I think that describes them. I can remember hating to have a holiday end, and I know that some people are eager and relieved to get back home. I feel "Acceptance." This was a wonderful adventure that worked out well, and it was a good length. Now I am ready to get back to the "real world." Well, almost ready, since I will spend much of the next few days culling and then editing some of my 955 photos! That will give me ample opportunity to process the amazing experiences - the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes - of our Southeast Asia exploration.