Sunset Peak and 2020 In Retrospect

49 comments
Asia, East, Hong Kong

The view of Hong Kong’s airport from Lantau’s main mountain pass

In December last year, my visit to Hong Kong was not much different from my previous trips to the territory: I spent those days eating a lot of good food (dim sum and Cantonese-style roast duck are always a must), checked out new and interesting cultural spots, and went hiking, for the city offers a lot of great trails that are easily accessible from the downtown area. Last year, for the hiking part of the trip we decided to go to Sunset Peak on Lantau Island, but little did I know that this would end up providing us with a glimpse of what kind of year 2020 would be with all its unexpected turn of events and quirkiness we all now know as the “new normal”.

One sunny yet hazy morning, we took the ferry from Central, Hong Kong’s financial district, to Mui Wo, a low-rise tranquil settlement on Lantau known to house a sizeable expat community. It’s not hard to see why they want to live here – the town is situated against a backdrop of lush forests, towering mountain peaks and calm beaches, while the reliable ferry service allows the local residents to reach the city in relative ease. For our hike, James had done quite a bit of research beforehand on the transport and the trail itself: as soon as we disembarked from the ferry, we hopped on bus 3M which would take us to the trailhead of Section 2 (a part of the Lantau Trail that traverses Sunset Peak, Hong Kong’s third-highest mountain).

In a little over 30 minutes, we arrived at the beginning of the trail. Moments later, after slathering on some sunscreen, we were ready to start the hike which at that time felt just like other hiking excursions I had done in Hong Kong. However, now looking back on that day, I couldn’t help but think of a few key things I saw along the trail which pretty much describe 2020.

Let’s start with the haze.

In wintertime, Hong Kong is often shrouded with air pollution blown in from mainland China by the northerly winds. This often results in the significant reduction of visibility, especially if seen from higher places across the territory. However, in my past hikes I often lucked out with this and was able to see clearly as far as the eye can see (except for my very first visit to Hong Kong in January 2012 when it was mostly foggy throughout my stay). But this time around, I couldn’t get away from the haze and had to accept it. 2020 might have started clear for many of us, but as the pandemic loomed large on the horizon, suddenly the future seemed more and more opaque each day, just like how the visibility was along the trail.

Then the wide expanse of dried silvergrass.

As soon as the path leveled out, the view also dramatically changed. Patches of green shrubs and trees along the ascending part of the trail gave way to an endless vista of silvergrass, their dried stems dancing gracefully as the wind gently blew, creating a desolate yet beautiful landscape like poetry written with ink on paper. Months earlier, this must have looked quite different when the grass was greener. And the metaphor has dawned on me: many places that were once bustling with energy before the pandemic are now a lot quieter – eerie to some, peaceful for others. But the grass will turn green again eventually. The end of these uncertain times will be the beginning, or rebirth, of those same places.

The empty picnic site at the trailhead

A part of Hong Kong many people are not aware of

A short break with a vista

One of many great hiking trails in Hong Kong

Lantau Peak, the territory’s second-highest mountain

The peak framed by hills covered in silvergrass

Bad visibility for a sunny day

Looking at uncertainties ahead

As we continued traversing Sunset Peak, a handful of solitary cabins came into view.

These are in fact the Lantau Mountain Camp, a collection of small rectangular cuboids made from basalt blocks that were originally built in the 1920s as places of retreat for British missionaries to escape the heat and humidity of the coast in the summer. There seemed to be no clear layout, but one thing for sure, they are arranged not too close to one another, something referred to as “social distancing”, another term all of us learned this year. Of course, a year ago this notion didn’t even cross my mind, but neither did the idea that the world we knew would drastically change in a matter of months.

Afterwards, the ferns.

We walked further on, past the highest point of the trail, into a shaded stretch where the rock and soil off the path to our right and left were covered in these prehistoric, non-flowering plants. Under normal circumstances, i.e. excellent visibility, they would have been completely overlooked by us. However, this time we decided to stop briefly under the low canopy of trees that provided an ample amount of dappled sunlight for the undergrowth. I squatted to see clearer and realized that there were in fact more than one species of ferns with different shapes of fronds. Not too far from this spot was a wall of seemingly dead leaves, except for a few signs of life shown by a handful of fiddleheads. I learned to appreciate the little things, which turned out to be a skill we all needed in order to stay sane this year.

When the hike was over, it was time for a meal.

You can read a more detailed account of the hike in James’s post, including the part when I started feeling weak towards the end of the trail, for we didn’t have anything to eat since the morning. After walking around Mui Wo to search for a place to eat, we resorted to a modest store that rents out bikes and serves drinks, snacks, as well as some hot meals. James ordered two bowls of spicy red vermicelli soup with meat which was surprisingly good given the unassuming appearance of the place. But maybe I was just so hungry any food that passed my lips would taste really good. In hindsight, this satisfying and very late lunch was like a thirst quencher after surviving the hike, like how my half-day trip to the ancient sites of Batujaya in September turned out to be an extremely refreshing break after months of not being able to go anywhere due to the social restrictions imposed by the government of Jakarta. On top of that, a month later in October, James and I decided to visit my parents in Semarang after not seeing them for around one and a half years. It turned out to be a trip that completely changed my perspective of my own hometown. More on that coming up in January.

For now, let us be grateful for surviving the annus horribilis, let us remember those who have fallen, and appreciate all medical workers across the globe who have tirelessly stood at the front lines of this battle against Covid-19. May 2021 be a better year for us all!

The Lantau Mountain Camp comes into view

Social distancing before the term became part of our daily conversation

A closer look at the basalt cabin

A solitary escape high up in the mountain

Tung Chung and the airport shrouded in seemingly thicker haze

Colors of winter

View from the descent

In the past I would normally have breezed down this shaded path without much thought

But this time I stopped to take a closer look at the undergrowth

Fiddleheads as a promise of new life

Polyspora longicarpa, native to parts of East and Southeast Asia

Melastoma malabatrichum without its blooms

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

49 thoughts on “Sunset Peak and 2020 In Retrospect”

  1. I always enjoy your writing about Hong Kong. It’s a place I would very much like to visit, and reading your posts always renews that feeling in me. I love the different Hong Kong that I see from your photos (that one of the solitary cabin with its bright blue wooden door and windows is lovely).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I. J. December is usually the time of the year for me to visit Hong Kong, but of course that is not possible this time around. Despite the current circumstances in the city, I’d always go back in a heartbeat. There’s something fascinating about Hong Kong that I can’t really explain with words. You should go as soon as the pandemic is over!

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  2. Beautiful travelogue !!

    I know how much effort is there behind each of these posts …

    Your posts on Hong Kong always give a totally different perspective of this wonderland.

    Thank you so much for sharing, Bama 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sreejith. It’s good to have you back here. 🙂 While I didn’t really do too much research for this one, it does usually take some time for me to write a single post for this blog. I’m glad through my stories you find Hong Kong a very interesting place, because it really is.

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      • I really appreciate your sincere comments, Bama, but what really amazes me is the consistency with which you blog and maintain the quality.

        I have been following you from the very beginning of my blogging journey and you are still sharing some great posts with lot of information, personal experience and wonderful images.

        I started the blog to share my travel stories with like minded people but over a period of time, my personal and professional life demanded much more time and I restricted most of my posts to just photos…

        Your work is really inspiring and I will get back on track soon, hopefully 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re too kind, Sreejith. But thank you!

        It’s really hard indeed to keep my blog running while taking care of other things at the same time. What happens to me is I usually prepare a blog post long before I publish it. First, I choose the photos, and look at them again at a later time to decide which ones I want to use. After that, I think of an angle to write the post, gather my own notes, do some research, then start making a skeleton containing the most important things I want to share. The writing itself only starts weeks later. But again, I do all this because I tend to be methodical in doing things, which will not necessarily work for everyone.

        I hope you’ll be able to find time to write more in the future! In the meantime, I’m happy with just enjoying your photos.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much, Bama , for sharing the whole thought process behind a post.
        Hats off to your commitment and no wonder why 60000+ are following you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Trip sebelum pandemi menyebar ke seluruh dunia. Tahun ini cuma bisa sharing cerita-cerita lama saja. 🙂

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  3. Mas Bama…
    Sore hari paling pas buat baca lagi karena tadi pagi cuma baca sekilas dan menikmati foto hihihi. Trailnya deket gak sih sama Big Buddha yang ada di Lantau? Aku sempet naik bus dan jalannya juga belok-belok juga meski gak terlalu tinggi. Dan aku kebayang kalau situasinya normal mungkin ramai juga yaa..
    Btw, kalo laper makanan tetep enak aja ya mas hihihi…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kalau dibilang deket, di peta sih deket mbak. Cuma karena medan yang berbukit-bukit dan bergunung-gunung, jadinya terkesan jauh. Ngomong-ngomong Big Buddha yang di Lantau jadi inget trip ke Hong Kong pertama kali. Waktu itu kabut tebal banget, dan pas sampai di kaki patung Buddha-nya bener-bener cuma keliatan 3 meter di depan mata. Pas lihat ke atas, badan apalagi kepala Buddha-nya tertutup kabut saking tebalnya. Soal makanan sore-sore setelah hiking itu, beneran deh waktu itu saya mikir wah nikmat banget ini makanan. Padahal kalau dipikir-pikir cuma semacam bihun pakai kuah. 😀

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  4. Great post, Bama – I really enjoyed how you linked different aspects of our Lantau hike to a crazy year that has truly turned our lives upside-down. The tough ascent at the beginning of the trail was torturous and indicative of how unfit I’ve become in the past two or three years. I’m sorry about the super-late meal by the way… in hindsight we should really have brought a packed lunch to eat somewhere on the ridgeline!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since this year going to Hong Kong is not possible, I wonder if at some point we should go hiking somewhere in Java — to compensate our even more sedentary lives due to the pandemic. No worries about not bringing anything to eat at all. That vermicelli soup turned out to be just what I needed after the long descent!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You capture such an important part of Hong Kong for me, as you say, a part of Hong Kong many people are not aware of, the islands and many different hiking trails and nature. Sunset Peak is one I have not hiked in such a long time, and now I long for the day to hike those trails again 🙂 The photos of your descent and undergrowth, the ferns especially, are those small pieces of the escape a hike brings. And of course, one of the great parts of hiking is knowing a good meal awaits ~ be it a nice restaurant with dim sum, or often better yet a hole-in-the-wall place with delicacies that just make you think you’re in a 5-star restaurant. While it has been almost a year since I’ve been back, I long for those simple little things to appreciate again ~ and hiking HK trails provide these things in abundance. Even with the haze the winter months bring in HK, it is special to get above it all (the chaos of HK city) and see what it out there. Cheers to the time we are free to roam again, take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I keep telling people about the hiking trails when they ask me what’s so interesting about Hong Kong, and why I always come back every year (except for 2020, of course). I love that the city is very diverse — you can go to a world-class art museum in the morning, go hiking after that, and still have time to explore some more interesting places when night falls. Hope we’ll be able to return to this fascinating place sooner than later! Stay healthy, Randall.

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    • You really should visit Hong Kong — I can’t recommend the place enough. Thank you for the blog recommendation. I will surely check it out.

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    • There are many to choose from, Jolandi. One has white sand beaches at the end of the trail that rivals those in Southeast Asia. Others give you a sweeping view of the city and the surrounding small islands. Quite a few will take you to historical places along the way. I can never get bored of hiking in Hong Kong.

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  6. What an introspective blog post, I was wondering, what was the last place you got to visit before the pandemic started? Was it Hong Kong? I’m glad you had the opportunity to travel this year, even if it was so much different than what you’re used to. This year I have also paid more attention to open spaces such as parks, mountain trails, and lakes. These are the places that have become my must-go-to’s nowadays.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The trip to Hong Kong in December 2019 was indeed my last travel abroad before the start of the pandemic. It was only in September this year did I finally get the chance to leave Jakarta to visit some ancient ruins in a tranquil village to the east of the city. If anything, 2020 is the year when many people appreciate the nature more, even a close friend of mine who’s not physically active started a new habit: walking around her leafy neighborhood in the morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That looks like a tough hike. I should keep these trails next time I visit HKG. I have relatives in Lantau Island. That haze – wow. It’s a shame. I think one of the reasons my relatives moved out to Lantau many years ago was to escape the air pollution in Kowloon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Surprisingly I didn’t find it too hard going up. The descent, however, was a completely different experience — James seemed to be doing better at this stage. I can see why your relatives moved to this part of Hong Kong. It’s so calm and idyllic, and when you need to go to the city, it’s just a (relatively) short ferry ride away.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Despite the haze this looks like a good hike. It’s one I think I’d love to do if I ever get back to Hong Kong. Very thoughtful post Bama. What a year it’s been, and how things have changed!
    Stay safe.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember the last time you were in Hong Kong you went hiking on Dragon’s Back. Should you ever return to this city, one or two hikes certainly won’t hurt. Stay safe and healthy to you too, Alison!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This looks like a great hike. Hong Kong’s landscapes are remarkable, and as you’ve noted, it’s relatively easy to escape one of the world’s most densest cities. Wishing you and James good health in the New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, no worries, Henry. I remember on my first trip to Hong Kong, one day I was standing across Victoria Harbor and thought that Hong Kong was much prettier than Singapore (it still is). This came from the fact that the latter often tries so hard to outcool the former. But one thing for sure, the Southeast Asian island nation doesn’t have great hiking trails like in Hong Kong. Wishing you good health in 2021!

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  10. Hi Bama! I remember your hike from last year and how surprised I was to see something like this in Hong Kong. Your comparisons are very astute. I particularly relate to your fern example. Although I’ve lived in my neighbourhood for 20 years, I feel that this year I’m seeing some things for the first time—noticing a trail, a beautiful coastal rock formation, different types of mushrooms and mosses…I’ve slowed down and taken the time to notice. I hope you can get out on some hikes in 2021. All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve read or heard that sometimes we need to slow down. But in this fast-paced world, it’s often easier if we join the rush. If there is a bright side of this pandemic it’s probably the fact that most of us learn to appreciate the little things we often overlooked, like the ones you’ve noticed around where you live. Fingers crossed we can travel again sooner than expected. Stay well, Caroline!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Fun and clever linkage of your hike with what 2020 turned out to be like! Your hike description and photos make me even sadder that we missed our own Hong Kong stay by mere days when we canceled right as the pandemic was beginning in Asia. Although our flights got messed up for the Hong Kong piece, now I kind of wish we had gotten stuck there or somewhere else in SE Asia instead of the U.S.!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of all countries, Taiwan seems to be the perfect place to stay during these crazy times — its response to the pandemic, at least from what has been reported in the media, appears very coordinated and efficient. Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are not doing too bad either. Reading the recent developments of the vaccines brings me a glimmer of hope, but I guess it’s better for us to remain cautious. Stay safe and healthy, Lex!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I was envious of James’ post as I’d stayed in Silvermine Beach and wasn’t aware of this amazing trail, but back the, there wasn’t Google maps. Did you know that people here (in Canada) eat fiddleheads? I tried them when they were seasonally available in the supermarkets. (There just okay).

    Let’s hope we all contribute, so our future isn’t the ‘new normal’ because we can’t expect a vaccine to solve every issue. Here the skies are bluer with less air traffic. One change I’d like to see is the way animals for our food supply are treated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Silvermine Beach really isn’t far from the trail to Sunset Peak. But often in life we know places across the sea better than those at our own backyard. I think a lot of people have, at one point, felt this way.

      I only learned that fiddleheads are actually edible on one of my trips to Bali when I stayed at this eco-lodge far from the main touristy areas — I think it was in early 2015. However, it’s not something you will find easily in Jakarta.

      It’s in our interest to see some fundamental changes in the way we live. The question is will we change fast enough before everything is too late? Time will tell.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This is one part of Hong Kong that seldom gets talked about. I grew up thinking Hong Kong was all steel and glass, perpetuated with images from movies like Chungking Express. This year has changed so much for all of us. I do hope 2021 will bring. More health, happiness and prosperity…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also for a long time had this notion that Hong Kong was one big city filled with skyscrapers. While that part is correct, I was completely unaware of its white sand beaches, mountains, villages and great hiking trails. Too bad I can’t go back to Hong Kong this year, but I hope we’ll see a glimmer of hope in 2021. Wish you health in the new year too!

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  14. Brilliant metaphors to reflect upon each aspect of this upside-down year Bama! Thank you for this beautifully crafted post that gently leads us into parts of Hong Kong few find the time to discover..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Madhu. I can’t wait to return to Hong Kong one day to try other hiking trails and visit some more islands — the former is something I wish Jakarta had.

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  15. That looks like an awesome hike. I had no idea there was such great hiking so close to Hong Kong. I love your insight into the metaphors you encountered along the trail. The symbolic is all-pervasive in our world, but it was even more noticeable this year, almost overwhelming at times. May 2021 bring you many new adventures, Bama, both near and far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christmas holiday is usually the time when I go to Hong Kong, but obviously that didn’t happen in December last year. May 2021 be kind to all of us, and while we’re all eagerly waiting for the pandemic to end, I hope we’ll get the chance to explore this world one way or another — safely, of course.

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