I stepped out of the cab and was immediately assailed by a blast of hot, sticky Hong Kong air. The Sai Wan pavilion is nestled in a bend in the road and marks the starting point for several treks through Sai Kung East Country Park; I was there on a friend’s recommendation to escape the bustling madness of the city, to see a side of Hong Kong I’d never seen.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief… For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” – Wendell Berry
The trail forked, and I veered left. The route looked to be shorter, and it was — as the crow flies. In reality, the packed clay path took me up the side of a mountain, up to the summit where I collapsed gasping for breath. Going from the beginnings of a chilly New Zealand spring to the smothering heat and 80%+ humidity of Hong Kong in the wet season had been a rough enough transition. Hiking with almost 20 kg of baggage was doing me no favors.
I fell twice on the descent. The clay was slick from rains the day before, and when I fell, I fell hard. The second time was within spitting distance of Sai Wan village, and I sliced my calf on a rock.
I gathered myself at a small cafe in the village, helped by a plate piled high with rice, pork, and vegetables and helped even further by several bottles of Gatorade.
The next bit of trail was easier. In fact, it was paved. It was narrow and hugged the coast, rolling with the ups and downs of the terrain, and it wasn’t long before I rounded the shoulder of the hillside and saw my destination stretched before me in all of its golden beauty. Ham Tin Wan, or Ham Tin Beach.
Unfortunate name aside, it looked to be a magical spot, and I found a sheltered nook on the beach to pitch my tent. There were thunderstorms forecast for every day of my trip, so I aimed to minimize the amount of punishment my tent would have to withstand and hopefully reduce the likelihood of soggy gear.
It didn’t take long for me to get into the sea. It beckoned, blue and glittering as the sweat stung my eyes. The coolness of it was magical, and I soaked for as long as I could manage.
The next day was for exploration and relaxation, and I set off for Tai Wan (the beach, not the country). As I descended along a cattle trail, I saw a menacing line of clouds roll in. Pitch black, they shrouded the interior of the peninsula, and I saw forks of lightning split the blackness. I watched for a few minutes, and the storm seemed to be moving away.
The walk back to Ham Tin was a soggy one, and I stopped at a food shack for a steaming cup of tea. By the time I made it back, the rain had all but stopped, and patches of blue were peeking out from the cloud cover.
On a whim, I took out my phone and turned it on. After some fiddling, I managed to get a connection using my New Zealand SIM card. Messages began to come through, and I felt a bit guilty. This was supposed to be my time off the grid. But no matter. I pulled down the notifications bar and my brain registered three words…
“Grandpa passed away…”
I stared at the message from my mom for a few minutes, letting it sink in. We’d expected it. The last time I’d spoken with him had an air of finality to it, and I’d cried after. But some part of me had always thought I’d see him this Christmas, that we’d get one more lunch together…. I just thought we’d have more time.
I typed out a message to my mom, pushed ‘send’. But it didn’t go through, and a text informed me I’d used the last of my credit. I knew the bad news, but had no way to contact my family, no way to offer support. Nothing.
I dug my toes into the sand, put my face in my hands, and sobbed until the tears stopped coming. I sat there for a while, letting the breeze and the sound of the waves sooth me. As sad as I felt, the serenity was a balm, and I needed anything I could get. I closed my eyes and let the grace of the world wash over me and dampen the pain ever so slightly.
How about you? Ever received bad news from home while traveling? How did you deal with it? Share your stories in the comments below, and thanks for reading <3
Special thanks to Ankita for the recommendation and for the useful info on getting to Sai Kung! Check out her post HERE.