Water buffalo, pigs and oceans, oh my!
Trip Start Aug 24, 2007
42Trip End Jul 04, 2008
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After schlepping the tent, my backpack and various things all around the train station, ridiculously overpriced Shenzhen taxicabs, and Hong Kong-China customs, I was really thankful when Max and I were finally at the head of the Maclehose trail and ready to hike to Saiwan, the little village we would camp at for the next couple of nights. We had all the essentials: rice and bean dinners shipped to Max from Minnesota (Western food!), fresh fruit bought in tropical Hong Kong, Max's coveted chocolate and of course, an ample supply of red wine. So we set off and Max and I realized one thing right away - Hong Kong is definitely not China. We were envisioning these hiking trails being like other hiking trails we've run across while we're here - little dirt paths full of rocks and steep inclines.
Eventually, we hit the small village of Saiwan, a small gathering of maybe five to six houses, before we rounded the corner and fell upon the world's most serene, isolated and gorgeous bay. The only people on the bay's beach was an old man attending to five dogs laying out in the sand sunning themselves, us, and a water buffalo. We found our campsite up on the mountain on the other side of the bay, but decided that instead of camping in the little open alcove surrounded by bushes and plants on the cusp of the mountain, camping on the beach was the better choice. So, instead of bringing everything back down the mountain that we had just climbed up and back down to the beach, Max and I took only what was valuable and necessary for the night. Everything else we stashed in one his rain bags and hid it underneath some bushes. There are no raccoons, deer, or bears in Hong Kong, so we didn't really think anything of it.
Heading back down to the beach, which was now completely empty except for us, Max and I indulged in an awesome meal of Viggo's Rice and Beans underneath the rising moon and one of the best sunsets I've seen in China. Afterwards, Max left me to man our stuff while he went into the village to go wash our dishes. I was just sitting on the beach, totally relaxed and with thankful little toes that played in the sand after being in shoes for way too long, as I was starting to think that Max was taking a long time. Then I heard a rustling directly behind me. Slowly turning around, I was greeted by a giant pig directly behind me, sniffing around. I instantly started to run through my mind all the things one should do when there's wildlife in your campsite and then I realized...I know nothing about wildlife in my campsite. And then the pig kept getting closer until it was finally sniffing our stuff and I just sat really still, hoping I would blend into the darkness. But then I realized I didn't want the pig sniffing me. And because I was alone with only a pig on a dark beach in a tropical setting, I started to think about the Lord of the Flies and all of the horrible things that could go wrong and started to get really nervous. Finally, the pig scuttled away and Max came back, who was just as surprised as I was that there was a pig wandering around. "Wait, didn't we see all those dogs and that water buffalo when we first walked across the beach?" Max asked. And then we had to laugh because maybe Hong Kong is a bit more like China than we thought with its errant wildlife.
After the pig left and Max came back, we just spent the rest of the night (and the subsequent nights) sitting underneath the full moon that lit everything up on our deserted beach, drinking wine and playing in the South China Sea. It was relaxing and beautiful and everything that I needed to cleanse away the vestiges of the stress and problems from first semester. For the first time in a long long time, I felt completely relaxed and completely normal.
"Wait, so this is the sea...so that means there's a tide," said Max as we started to lay our sleeping bags out on the beach. "Do we know when it's low-tide and high-tide?"
"Um..." I thought as I realized the only thing that really stayed with me from fourth-grade science class was that the tide was controlled by the moon. "No?"
"Well, we'll feel the ocean at our feet if it gets too high and we'll be able to move in time," he said.
I just looked at him as he crawled into his sleeping bag.
"Hey, Emily," Max whispered, waking me up in the middle of the night.
"Does it sound really...loud behind us?" Max asked, with his eyes assuming their mock-worry-but-really-I-am-kind-of-worried deer in the headlight look.
And looking behind me, for the second time in one night, I turned around to see two water buffalo munching on the beach grass and bushes that were growing a short way away from us.
"They have horns, should we be worried about that?" I asked. I think it was then that Max and I both realized that camping in the Midwest and in the Rockies and camping in Hong Kong - two very different things.
"So, when was the last time you ever had to worry about water buffalo in your sleep?" Max asked jokingly, as we both tried to go back to bed.
We woke up the next morning to the sand beating against our sleeping bags as wind ripped across the beach. I can't even remember how many times we ran to try and catch our belongings before they ended up in the ocean. While we were trying to pack up and run around, a man from Saiwan was walking along the beach, picking up trash with the five dogs that we saw the day before on the beach. Greeting us in English with an accent that sounds kind of like a Jamaican learned English from a French person, the man talked to us for a little bit before heading up to the mountain to pick up trash along the trail. Max headed up shortly after him to get some of our provisions from the stash bag so we could make breakfast. A few minutes later he came down, empty-handed. Telling me all of our stuff was gone, the entire rain bag and everything in it, we headed back up to the campsite to check to make sure Max just didn't look in the wrong spot, but no, everything was gone. After some confusion, a conversation with the village trashman we saw earlier and Max's ability to hop a fence into a trash pit, we recovered our stuff - that had been completely ravaged by what we found out later, was a wild boar. All of our food was eaten and some other things, like Max's soap, my rain poncho and Max's rain bag. The wild boar also made a valiant attempt on my China Lonely Planet (which was now covered in wild boar slobber and bits of half-eaten rice and bean packets), our gas canisters for cooking, and our various tubes of sunscreen, etc. But it didn't touch our much coveted wine. After rummaging around for awhile, keeping what could be saved and what needed to be thrown away, Max just stopped what he was doing and dropped everything with a gasp.
"What?" I asked, really concerned that he had maybe cut himself on something the boar had shredded up.
"Rabies! Can we get rabies from saliva? Do boars get rabies? Do you think it was domesticated? If it was, it wouldn't have rabies right? Dammit, we can't look at your Lonely Planet Health section about Rabies because you're book is covered in rabid-saliva!" And so began Max's 24-hour obsession with the transmission of rabies and a whole lot of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer using.
But despite the pigs, the water buffalo, the slight presence of dogs (Max's not-so-favorite animal) and the wild boar attack which left us for only enough food for one more day when we had planned on being there for a week, the rest of the week was spent camping. We ended up switching beaches and found a more deserted beach that luckily featured a restaurant in the nearby village that served up delicious American-diner style egg and bacon sandwiches.
"So, you're from the UK. It's an island, there's an ocean, there are tides. Can you explain to us when it's high-tide?" I asked.
He didn't stop laughing for a few minutes as Max and I looked at him in earnest, trying to figure out if our tent would be hit by the water (Max was still maintaining the philosophy that we'd feel the water at our feet and could move. I didn't buy that.) However, Mr. "I live on an Island with Tides" couldn't explain them to us either and only gave us a very vague description that the water level changes throughout the entire year. So night after night, we went to bed and nothing ever happened, luckily. On our last night, we went to bed early so we could wake up at day-break to make the 6k hike back to the main road so we could truck it in to the city in time to see Celeste and hit an all-you-can-eat Indian Lunch Buffet (Max's Mecca of the trip). In the middle of the night, I woke up to hear Max swearing as he jumped out of the tent.
"Oh shit oh shit!"
As I clambered out of the tent, I realized that the entire bottom half of the tent (where Max had been sleeping) was submerged in a giant lake created by one very powerful rogue wave that swept the entire distance of the beach. Nowhere else was the beach wet. In the giant lake surrounding the tent, floated Max's backpack, the gas canisters and a bag that had at one point earlier in the night contained Max's knife that we call the "Goblin Cleaver" because it looks like a tool J.R.R. Tolkein would devise for the Orcs. That was mysteriously missing from the bag, which posed a big problem with the sand and the darkness.
"I heard something and I thought it was monkeys hitting the tent, but no! It was water!" Max said. For very irrational reasons, Max and I had taken to obsessing about monkeys. Because clearly, obsessing about monkeys we hadn't seen nor heard was clearly what one should be worried about when you can't figure out the tide. We're awesome.
I quickly pulled the tent out of the water and onto dry ground while Max removed all of his sopping wet gear from the lake. The rest of the night was spent laying stuff out to dry, retrieving the Goblin Cleaver and eating ginger underneath the moon while we suspiciously eyed every wave breaking onto shore and laughing at our ridiculous luck. We finally fell back to sleep and woke up in time to see the sunrise on our morning hike that led us back to the city proper, showers, Celeste and food. But Max and I both felt sad at leaving behind the completely isolated paradise we had found ourselves in for the past couple of days. But there was Celeste to see, Hong Kong city proper to conquer, and Indian food to eat, oh yes.