WE WERE SEARCHING FOR a roundabout. The double-decker bus pulled around curves and cut farther up into the mountainside, and the roundabout would be our signal to disembark. But with every turn threatening to pitch the vehicle down the hill, hoofing it was sounding better.
Then the roundabout came. We punched the button, threw ourselves out the door and collected our wits on the sidewalk as the driver shot off down the road.
Here was Cape Collinson, the entrance to the Shek O Country Park and the trailhead for the Dragon’s Back, a route I’d wanted to hike since researching it three years ago. At 4.5km long, it’s hardly an epic climb. But the trail’s name and my own visions of trekking high above the South China Sea had fixed it in my imagination.
In the shade of trees, we at first caught only glimpses of the water: a sailboat, an apartment complex on the coast. But as we ascended onto the spine of the mountain it came into full view. Beach condos were perched along the edge of a wide bay to the west. Eastward, smaller islands sat out toward the horizon in a greenish-blue ocean. A breeze came over the ridge and I dropped my bag to cool off.
Then came an unexpected sound. Down below, at what looked like a university not far from a crop of waterside mansions, a marching band was drumming and tooting away. I imagined rows of students baking in their polyester outfits under the August sun. They were still going at it as we set off up the trail.
We got excited as the beach came into sight. Not white sand, but certainly light beige. No hordes of holiday-goers, just a handful of umbrellas and the slow lapping of waves. Another mile or so down the trail, another short bus ride and we were in the town of Shek O. Lunch was cold beer and green curry at an open-air restaurant. Fans whirred under the orange canopy. More men without shirts.
The ocean was like bathwater — warmer than I’d ever felt. We waded in and then I got up the courage to swim out to a floating platform where kids were diving and playing with a rubber ball. I used to swim miles in high school but now I hesitated as the water got deeper. What if I got a cramp? Would the lifeguard hear me?
When I hoisted myself up onto the platform, I sat down and looked back at the shore and the mountain, and the cloudless sky. Then I jumped, feet first, and swam back.