Sunday, October 25, 2015

Soko Islands: the last frontier

Of my checklist of must-visit outlying islands, only one item remained. It had been over five years ago that I checked off my second to last item, the Ninepin Islands, but for an array of different reasons, the Soko Islands eluded me.

There were so many activities every weekend, as is the busy-bee way of life here, and eventually I all but gave up. Our hiking buddy, cousin Shoils, began a family, then we got two dogs, and our island adventures came to a halt.

Last week Shoils suddenly messaged us to let us know that someone had posted on a geocaching group that she belongs to, and the organizer wanted to venture to the Soko Islands. Yesterday we joined three other people for a wonderful exploration.

I have heard that you may book a sampan from Lantau but we booked from Cheng Chau. This is an all-day booking because the sampan operator will wait for you to take you home due to the travel time and distance.

It takes around eighty minutes to travel each way from Cheng Chau; we spent three hours exploring Tai A Chau (大鴉洲) that housed the Vietnamese detention centre and then another hour at a neighboring island, Siu A Chau (小鴉洲), that had a very lovely beach..and a radioactive waste facility.

As a grateful tag-along to the geocaching group, as well as not knowing what to expect, I only packed my medium sized bag with water, food, one layer of extra clothing, and my first aid kit. I forgot my mosquito repellent, which was unfortunate since we spent a lot of time exploring forested pathways and ponds.

I already am formulating plans to return with my DLR camera, but the area was so picturesque that even my phone camera snaps were lovely and I had a hard time narrowing down my selection to share.

I had a personal reason for wanting to make the trip: during the two years of my childhood that my family lived in Hong Kong, my mother became involved with volunteering to assist with the refugees. We were able to organize occasional activities between Vietnamese girls and my girl scout troop. My mother sometimes went to the Soko Islands to work with the refugees but as a child, I was not permitted to go. I wondered about the detainment camp where the Vietnamese children lived. I still wonder what became of them, if they integrated into Hong Kong or if they were sent back.

While the camp was demolished, as an architect I was able to walk through the site and piece together the housing blocks, shower and kitchen facilities, and ancillary buildings. I imagined that the ground down steel tubes held up shading canopies between buildings.

Today, devoid of the thousands of refugees, the area is hauntingly beautiful. You can look across the expanse of foundation nestled in a valley, from seafront to seafront, and it is a commanding view. The paths and roads are overgrown in the best of ways with canopies of fragrantly blooming vines and greenery. It would be easy to forget the purpose of the site and imagine seafront holiday bungalows a la Santorini or Koh Samui. Or maybe a spectacle like Sea Ranch.

I am so glad that I finally made it.

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