Monday, March 24, 2008

The Tracy/Mayra Spiritual Hike

The Tracy/Mayra spiritual hike began on a beautiful Sunday morning. Not knowing what to expect, I put on some comfy jeans, my running shoes, and a light long-sleeved shirt (from the LA Marathon). Put some water, money and my hiking book in my backpack, and I was off.

I took the MTR to Tung Chung which is an approximate 45 minute train ride and found a mini-bus to take me to Shek Mun Kap village, which was the start of the hiking trail. Very quaint little village (if you could call it that), which had an outdoor "shop" for provisions for hikers - I guess it was the last stop before the climb.

Here's a picture of a map of my journey up.

The red dots indicate where I started (on the right) and where I ended (on the left)

I started to follow the trail, which began with a steep incline and proceeded with steep, winding inclines and . . . wait for it . . . STEPS!  I have never seen as many steps in one city as I've encountered in Hong Kong.  This is good for me, and will hopefully firm my big butt (that was for you, Boyd!).  There were certain parts along the trail which gave me a choice - climb steps or climb without steps (of course, I chose the steps every time).

"Ancient" steps along the trail

After climbing for about 20 minutes, I started to notice the humidity and the sweat forming on my skin. Ugh - I did not dress properly for this! Took a swig of water and climbed on...

What I found to be amusing was that no one else was walking up!  Everyone I passed was walking down. I guess most people take a bus or cab up and hike down (which was suggested in the book) -- wimps!

Approximately 3 miles into the hike, I noticed there were a lot of very old Buddhist retreats and monasteries either in plain sight or hidden behind the trees. I could actually hear chanting. It was so cool -- Tracy would've LOVED it. I also saw some monks and nuns outside tending the garden at one of the monasteries. They nodded to me and I said, "hello" - as much as I wanted to take their picture, I respected their privacy. Then, after about another 20 minutes, I saw my destination up ahead!

Big Buddha looking at me sweating on the trail

A little farther down, I came to a crossroads -- I could either turn left and continue with a hike up Lantau Peak or proceed straight to the Buddha. Had I been dressed for hiking, I probably would've turned left, but I decided I would definitely do that hike another day (it looks AWESOME!). I walked past the Tea Garden Restaurant and lots of tea plants.

Tea Garden Restaurant

About a quarter of a mile past the restaurant, I finally made it to the Po Lin Monastery! The first thing to greet me was this sign.

Yeah! No worries about meat in my lunch!

By this time, I was hungry and looking forward to a fine vegetarian meal served by monks. But first, I thought I would check out the monastery.

Po Lin Monastery from the outside

As with all monasteries and temples that I visit or pass by, the smell of incense was very thick. The grounds were immaculate and the gardens were beautiful. There is a lot of love and care here, and Big Buddha looks over it all.

Big Buddha on the hill overlooking the Po Lin Monastery

After going into the monastery and walking around the grounds, I decided to get a bite to eat. They had a sit down lunch that was served by the monks - a set menu (which is common here in Hong Kong). I figured I would be adventurous and check it out, especially since there was a promise of no meat. I was seated at a table and joined a few seconds later by another single person. He was Chinese, but understood English, so I was happy about that. They brought us out some soup. It was very bland and I was not familiar with any of the vegetables inside of it except for mushrooms. I ate a bowl, but there was a lot left!  Then I was served the main course which was tofu with vegetables.  I love tofu and mushrooms, but the other vegetables on the plate were the two I hate the most -- celery and peppers!  So I picked out the tofu and mushrooms and left the celery and peppers on the plate.  Then the "spring rolls" came out.  I have no idea what was in them other than carrots and some strange looking veggies -- there were four and I ate two.  By that time, I was kinda full and I asked my new friend if it was rude to leave food on the plate. He had no clue -- so I made a run for it!  Didn't want to be rude, but didn't want to eat that stuff either.  Now it was time to burn it off by climbing up to the Big Buddha.
268 steps up to Buddha - I ran most of them

Wow! There was an awesome view of the monastery and Lantau Peak from the top of the steps. Buddha has some "Gods" surrounding him.  Here's a picture of two of them taken from the Buddha's seat.

Gods at Buddha's base

I wandered around the Buddha, taking it all in - awesome views, beautiful art, and hundreds of people.  One person was nice enough to take a picture of me.

Not his belly, but close enough - me rubbing the lotus leaf that Buddha sits on (for good luck!)

By this time, it was getting late and I thought I should head back.  I decided not to hike down (too afraid at this point of hurting my knees - I have a marathon coming up), so I got on the bus for a WILD ride down the mountain on a one-lane road!  Very cool!  Got to the bottom and made my way back to the train station.  Notice a huge outlet mall near the station and figured I would go in and take a look around.  Guess what I walked out with?  Hiking boots!

Oh, now for the Mayra part of the story.  I was on the train heading back to Causeway Bay, and sitting directly across from me was this family -- mom, dad, little girl and her younger brother. Mom was Chinese, dad was American, and kids were beautiful.  The kids were asleep and the parents were kinda falling asleep.  Just looking at them reminded me of Mayra, Jeff, Brooke and Zack.

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