Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Hong Kong

May 17-20, 2012

The flight here (Vancouver to Hong Kong direct, 13 hours) was surprisingly enjoyable. We left at 1:30PM after a lovely Champagne breakfast with Nancy and her boyfriend Tim then took off to the airport and flew with Air Canada. In flight entertainment is great these days and I found myself caught up in the "Children" film category which had many old disney films I had not seen in years.
By the time we got to Hong Kong I was feeling pretty knackered though. Thankfully we had excellent directions to our accommodation. 
I have come across source for very cheap accommodation. Its called AirBnB. I HIGHLY recommend it. Google it and check it out for prices WAY cheaper than hotels and even cheaper than the hostels I have looked at. 
Our host Joe met us once we got off the bus and showed us to our room - a private apartment on the 28th floor of a high-rise building. I think we paid like $17 per night or something ridiculous cheap. (Serioulsy, check out AirBnB for accommodation next time you travel - so good). Joe has lived in Hong Kong his entire life and offered to spend the following day with us. 
That night before going to bed we decided to seek a meal. We walked around the local neighbourhood which is in the outskirts of the main centre of Hong Kong which resulted in no english what so ever. It was dark, crowded, the air was hot and humid and foreign smells lingered in the air. All the glowing signs in Chinese characters. Carcasses of cooked birds hung in the windows, soup stalls with pictures of snakes, tiny restaurants with people on outdoor stools eating things I didn't recognize. At this time we had made a incorrect guess at the value of a Hong Kong dollar and everything appeared to be ridiculously expensive with bowls of soup costing over $50cnd apparently. Confused, jet lagged, hungry and now irritated we getting a bit frustrated. We attempted to purchase 2 pears from a fruit stall and the lady insisted we pay her $32 which was definitely not happening. We found a grocery store and bought some eggs, smoked salmon, yogurt, bananas, milk and bread which came to about $150HK. Shaking our heads and wiping our brow we retreated to the comfort of our tiny apartment (which was about 30 degrees) on the 28th floor, ate a banana and crashed. 
The next morning I woke at 5:30 am to an empty apartment.  I pulled open the curtains to find the famous skyline of Hong Kong a grey silhouette in the light of dawn, a cloud of heat hugging the land. The sun had not yet risen and a mountains rose up from the sea. Absolutely one of the most incredible city views I have ever seen. I got out my yoga mat going through the sun salutations as the sun rose from behind the mountain bathing its light upon me which was almost too much to bare as the air was hot enough already. Julian came into the apartment then after having had his sunrise walk around the neighbourhood. 
We called Joe around 830am who came out to meet us to take us into the city. We got onto the public transport which took us into the city. 
He walked us through the streets and to an area with many market stalls selling fresh fruit and veggies. He introduced us to the foreign produce, purchasing and tasting many different things, telling us what they are and how to eat them. He then took us into a covered market space housing a plethora of live and dead seafood. From gutted fish on ice to live fish in buckets which stall keepers were butchering on site when ordered. A net of live frogs. A bucket of eels. I did not see one western person the entire time we were in this area. Down an alley with the smell of freshly baked sweet things. We ate a white pastry with flavours of white pepper, water chestnut, leeks and pork. He introduced us to fabulous cold beverages. Chilled coconut and pear tea. Chilled sweet plum tea. Delicious. And so Cheap!!! I didn't see a can of coke or potato chips once around there parts. 
A Taoist temple with a red roof. Incense. Everywhere. Hundreds of spirals of it hung from the ceiling, burning. 4 different altars dedicated to different gods. Lots of gold and red. 
Botanical Gardens - exotic plants and birds. History of Hong Kong museum. 
A walk down Temple Street - the busiest street in Hong Kong with the largest flee market in the Territory. Very cheap merchandise and food; absolutely crowded with people. 
A walk around Time Square with the largest shops of brand names I have ever seen (far larger than London). Chanel, Armani, Louis Vutton etc etc etc. 
Took the Ferry over to Hong Kong Island with gorgeous views of the Harbour. Such a beautiful city to look at. Hong Kong Island is much more modern than much of the mainland. More brand name shops and massive shopping malls. Joe took us down some back alley ways to a tiny restaurant where we had Beef Noodle soup for dinner which cost about $3.50cnd each. So good! 
We took the ferry back over around dusk just as the night was coming alive - the harbour lit beautifully. 

Whistler to Vancouver - A Post Arctic Recovery

May 05-20, 2012

Spent just over 2 weeks skiing Whister Blackcomb which was SO good. The perfect antidote to a winter in the (sub) arctic. Thankfully, we had a friend who lives there who Julian climbed with in New Zealands. Chris and his flatmate Paul let us stay with them which was the deciding factor on choosing to spend this time in Whistler. Chris is a pretty good skier and helped me break out of my plateau and helped take my skiing to the next level. It took a while though; like learning all over again. He taught me the technique needed for skiiing powder and got me on skiis much larger than I am used to. He is a backcountry skier and I find myself inspired. He takes his skies off piste and into the backcountry - hiking mountains with skins on then skiing them spending an entire day in remote areas away from the 33,000 people who come to ski Whister Blackcomb each day at peak season. Definitely something I would like to get into in the future. Some days we skied and climbed in the same day which is pretty much paradise in my opinion. 

 For the first 2 weeks it rained almost every day which has its pros and cons. The quality of the snow was as good as spring skiing can get as we were getting some fresh snow every day. On the down side though visibility was severely limited as we skied through thick clouds. Could not see neighbouring mountains and sometimes could not even see where the trails started or finished. At one point I had to stop all together at the top of the mountain because I could barely see past the tips of my skiis. These conditions resulted in me skiing quite conservatively and I must admit, it makes me somewhat nervous at times not being able to see anything. 
Finally, one our last few days on the mountain the skies cleared to reveal blue skies, brilliant sunshine, mild weather and great snow conditions. We spent that entire days skiing Horseman Glacier which is pretty much a giant bowl. It was an amazing day - we could see all the mountain peaks for miles and for the first time we were able to see our surroundings. Finally, I felt like I was in the mountains again. My confidence soared with the clear skies and the energy of the mountains around me made me feel like I was flying. At the end of the day I went home to find a bit of a sunburn on my face. By early evening the burn had further developed and that night it hit me full force. 
 I have never seen a sunburn that bad before. The pain was remarkable and my body reacted in quite interesting ways. I bathed my face with a soaking wet cold towel periodically dipped in ice water. A delirious euphoric feeling overcame me and I felt like I was on some kind of odd high. My vision was clouded and I was giggling at just about everything. That night as I got ready for bed I walked down the hallway to the ice machine and as I returned the hallway appeared to twist and lengthen before my eyes. Confused, I felt lost in that hallway until I found our door which had been propped open - quite possibly the only reason I was able to recognize it apart from all the others. I am quite certain I experienced effects of sun stroke. The following day was not much better. I didn't sleep and the pain was much worse. I didn't leave the house and seeked every home remedy I could find to relieve myself. 

The time in Vancouver was mostly spent taking care of the final touches of this trip. The trip has turned into a much larger undertaking than I initially expected both emotionally and financially to the point where I didn't even have time to really get excited about it. Not feeling that excitement one usually experiences before going to a foreign place was very strange and somewhat alienating. I have done much reading about traveling through Asia and the more I read the more I realized I had to do especially considering the length of this journey - potentially 2 years. I have read up on the cultural differences, religion, language and customs. Along with sorting flights and accommodation I have also had to prepare visas and look into health issues. These health issues include preparing a first aid kit which I had to put much more though into. I had had to get things like yeast infection and bladder infection medication because some of the places I will be traveling do not have these modern medicines. Plus, if some of these things happen while trekking in remote places I need to be able to recognize and treat them myself. Other things include the diseases and infections once there which I have had to safe guard myself agains by getting multiple immunizations (which cost a small fortune). We have to carry around a years supply of malaria pills which alone cost over $1,000cnd - one to be taken every day.
Preparing for this has certainly been a stressful, but interesting undertaking. 

We did take some time to do the tourist side of things in Van. My friend Nancy, whom we stayed with in Van, is a vacations
consultant for the Rocky Mountaineer. She has been presented with a "Tourism Challenge" which requires her to go out and experience the tourist experiences. She was given a booklet which entitled her to free entry to almost all the tourist attractions you can think of in Vancouver. Unfortunately she did not have time to do these things herself and asked us to help her complete her challenge. This resulted in us taking her book and getting free entry into all these places which was so great!  
A champagne breakfast with Tim and Nancy ended our time in Vancouver nicely.  Massive thanks to you guys!!