R2—The Journey Begins
From San Francisco to Hong Kong, February 18-20
Somewhere over the rainbow
It’s a long way from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
Fifteen hours to be precise. But
it felt like an eternity. on
the non-stop Cathay Pacific flight carrying me on the first leg of
my journey around the
We left close to midnight. The lights dimmed, people drifted off to sleep,
peered into blackness from my porthole window
dreaming that I was drifting beyond
earth’s atmosphere and into
outer space, much like an
astronaut on a journey a million miles from earth.
Time seems to stop on such a long flight. You
doze in and out of sleep, disturbed only by an occasional
bell alerting you to turbulence .
At 3 a.m. a Cathay Pacific stewardess suddenly awakens you. for the
first round of breakfast--- a cup of ice cream. At 5 a.m. she appears again,
this time handing out chopsticks and a large cup containing a
mysterious mixture of thai noodles, rice, herbs and
sweet fruit. One taste
and I opted for orange juice to accompany the two breakfasts that arrived
Secured in the strait jacket of an economy class
seat, the flight is especially
exhausting and confusing because as you fly westward to the Orient, you
lose an entire day. But
finally, the 15 hour flight over the Bering Sea and
Japan is over, and the brilliant lights of Victoria Harbor appear
in the mist below.
I had always dreamed of visiting Hong Kong, but never
thought I’d make it. But Hong Kong would be the first stop on my cruise
on the R2, a 600 passenger ship of the Renaissance Cruise line.
My shipboard companion would be a friend I had met on my recent
around the world expedition. After that adventure, Vi Westphal and I had booked this
Southeast Asia cruise only after our planned excursion to circumnavigate
South America had fallen through. Secretly,
I was delighted at this last minute change in plans. I had always wanted
to explore many ports in Southeast
Asia, and this R2 trip was a bargain basement bonanza!
But exhausted as we were after the flight, we
couldn’t board the R2 yet. The Regal Hotel in the heart of Kowloon was our first
destination. There we checked in with the R2 staff and were served yet
another breakfast---our third in 15 hours!
Some people already began to complain, impatient about not
getting onto the ship. But
I was delighted at the delay. It
was just 7:30 a.m and this
meant we had a free morning
to explore the streets of
Kowloon. We opted to
walk along the promenade bordering Victoria Harbor since we could reach it
easily via one of the many nearby elevated walkways of Kowloon.
This promenade runs for miles along the beautiful
Victoria Harbor. Strolling
along in the early morning sunshine, we passed small groups of people, old
and young, who were starting
their day doing
tai chi in
synchronized patterns, Their serene exercises contrasted with the enormous
energy of the harbor. It was
alive with the noise and color of tug boats, sampams, junks, ferry boats, huge container ships, and
other seagoing vessels making their way through the wide waterway.
Finally, we reached our destination, the Star Ferry
terminal and hopped aboard for
a free ride over to Hong Kong island
This fleet of lozenge-shaped green-and-white striped boats has been
plying the harbor between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for a hundred
years, giving passengers an incredible view of the city’s spectacular
skyline, bridges and harbor. After the 15 minute
ride, we hopped the next ferry back to Kowloon joining
crowds of Chinese,
Japanese, Indian, Philippine and caucasian passengers who use the ferry as
their primary mode of
What a fascinating
city! Almost seven million
people live and work in Hong Kong, The
“handover” from the British to the Chinese took place in 1997, and
today there is a quota of just 150 people a day allowed in from mainland
China. Double decker
busses line the streets; honking horns blast away at every stop light, and
people dart in and out by motor scooter down the narrow streets.
Towering futuristic buildings
reach high into the sky, rising in gleaming clusters of
every architectural design, with some seeming to
perch precariously on Hong Kong’s many mountains.
Amazingly, bamboo scaffolding rising
a hundred stories high surrounds the shells of the many
buildings under construction.
And everywhere, workers labor
to create new retaining walls
and stairways that climb
straight up steep hillsides.
By now, our ship, the R2, was waiting for us, and
almost numb with fatigue, Vi and I made it to our stateroom. This would be our home for the next five weeks.
(More about that later.) We
were saving all our energies for the
next day when we would set out again to explore Hong Kong.
In the early morning, our bus took us up a winding
two-lane road on a long drive to the top of Victoria Peak. This is the must see, for all tourists new to the city.
The panoramic views were
breathtaking despite an early morning mist that shrouded the mountains and
harbor in pale tones of mauve,
celadon and soft grey.
But my favorite experience in Hong Kong was yet to come.
Back down at the harbor we hopped into sampams for a boat ride to
Aberdeen, the enormous floating boat
villages in the harbor. Our
sampam snaked its way slowly through a labyrinth of narrow passages
between miles of floating homes.
These colorful small boats are the sole living quarters for many of
the city’s fishermen and others.
Passing through the narrow waterways, we could almost touch the
laundry hanging out to dry, nod to people squatting down and preparing
meals, repairing fishing
lines, sleeping, or just dozing on the decks.
The boats have old tires mounted to the sides as barriers against
collision, and it took great skill not to bang up against these bumper
tires as we wove our way through Aberdeen.
The historic Man
Mo temple on Hollywood Road was our next stop.
But, after a short visit and inhaling too much of
the smoky incense burning in the temple, I was ready to escape and
stroll along the maze of
narrow streets. Hollywood
Road is an antique lovers’ dream street.
It is lined with tiny stalls and miles of stores housing marble
statues, handsome antiques, fine silk wear, and old shops selling herbal
Chinese medicines, incense, and everything else imaginable.
Finally, dead tired, we headed back to the R2.
Most of the passengers on the ship are veteran travelers and
have been to Hong Kong many times.
But for me, a first time visitor, this was a dream come true.
Hong Kong, with its brilliant
banners, handsome department
stores, tropical landscaping,
winding passageways and stairs climbing up the steep cliffs, and a
harbor called one of the three busiest in the world, was far more
exotic and fascinating than I ever expected.
But our trip was just getting underway.
The next stop, Viet Nam.