In 1977, I don’t recall the month, but it was in the late in the year, I went camping with a friend of mine from the YMCA. Manny (not his real name) and I devised a plan to spend four days hiking from the northern part of Lantau Island, over the ridges leading up to Sunset Peak and then along a contour path which would eventually take us onto a path up to the Ngong Ping Plateau.
The starting point would be a small farm house belonging to my father, located in the what was then a valley, just above the Trappist Monastery (the entire valley was filled in and is now the Discovery Bay Golf Club). We set off after work one evening with 60 lbs (27 kg) of canned food which the YMCA had donated to our venture, which we carried between the two of us. We were expecting to feast like kings for the next four days.
We spent that first night at my father’s house and set off the following day for a series of ridges that would take us up to the summit of Sunset Peak. We walked well into the afternoon and camped by a small stream, below one of the smaller hills adjoining Sunset Peak. After setting up the tent we lined up the tinned food we were going to gorge ourselves on that night only to find that the contents had gone off. Closer examination revealed that all of the tins were well past their sell-by date and it was then that Manny told me that it had all been donated to the YMCA by one of the supermarket chains some years before.
With the help of an entrenching tool we dug a hole in the ground big enough to bury all 60 lbs of the tins and dined on porridge and condensed milk. It was to be our staple diet for the next two days.
The following morning, after our breakfast of porridge and condensed milk, we set off for Sunset Peak. We traversed the ridge along the summit and continued on down into the saddle between Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak. There, in a shady area, we camped about fifty feet from the road and had dinner, which consisted of porridge and condensed milk.
The next morning we considered our possible routes. The most obvious, and by far the most difficult was the long hard slog up Lantau Peak and down the other side into Ngong Ping. However, there was an alternative that I had taken in the opposite direction a year earlier on a solo hike which followed a contour path around the mountain until it joined up with a well-travelled foot path that would take us up to Ngong Ping. We chose that option and after our breakfast of porridge and condensed milk, we set off.
(Note: When I was searching for route maps for this article I extracted this section from Hong Kong Government map and discovered that the trail we took is now known as the Tei Tong Tsai Country Trail. In 1977 in was simply known as ‘the foot path.’)
I have not done this trail since that day and have no idea what it is like now. Back then it was like stepping into Shangri la. We entered into a silent world, surrounded by trees and bushes that was home to birds and lizards. Towards the end of the section where the path meets the trail from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping we came across a small farm. I recalled passing it on my earlier trip but this time it was inhabited and the owner had three mongrel-like dogs that did not welcome visitors.
It was at this point that Manny, who, up until then had been leading every foot of the way, turned to me and said, “You go first.”
I remember thinking, ‘Thanks, Pal,’ and lead the way past the dogs that were snarling and preparing to spring at us. It was at that moment that Manny ran past me with a dog firmly attached to his bottom. He was running so fast that the dog’s hind legs were actually flapping in the wind. Without giving the matter much thought I took off after him and the dog soon let go. We kept on running until we were sure that the other dogs had given up the chase.
As soon as possible I examined Manny’s posterior, an old Sherlock Holmes joke sprang to mind but I quickly cast it away. It was neither the time, nor the place. However, I copy it here for posterity.
Holmes: (After examining the poison dart that has struck Watson in the bottom) “Watson! If this poison is not sucked out of your bottom in 20 seconds you are going to die!”
Watson: “Good Heavens, Holmes! What’s going to happen?”
Holmes: “Erm, Watson, you’re going to die!”
The bite was not serious and there was very little blood, but the dog had broken the skin. I mentioned to Manny that a series of rabies shots would probably be a good idea and was met with a stoney silence. In those days they were delivered in the stomach and were reported to have been most unpleasant.
(As a matter of interest, many years later I was bitten by a dog and had to have the full series of three shots. The doctor, a very pleasant man who had earned his degree in Scotland told me that while there were no recorded reports of rabies in Hong Kong at the present time, if the dog was infected, and I didn’t have the shots, I would die a horrible death. I remember thinking, don’t beat about the bush, tell it like it is. Whilst they made me feel quite ill, I recall that they were not as bad as they were made out to be).
After we had recovered from the shock (Manny from the bite and me from having to examine his posterior), we carried on until we met the Tung Chung Trail and continued up to the Ngong Ping Plateau where we camped in a field. We then went in search of the Lantau Tea Garden where I knew there was a tuck shop that sold FOOD that did not consist of porridge and condensed milk (which was just as well as the condensed milk was getting a bit rancid).
That night was blissful. With tummies full (mine benefitted from a few shots of rum which I had managed to find), we slept well into the following morning. Upon waking, and having breakfast at the tuck shop, we broke camp and took the Lantau Bus company vehicle down to Silver Mine Bay (now known as Mui Wo) where we took the ferry back to civilisation.
I’ve never eaten porridge and condensed milk again to this day.
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