Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 3. The trip to Macau

We woke very early in the morning, consolidated our packs (16 kg mine and 17 kg Luke’s), had breakfast, and said good-bye to Klaus. I am sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to Yin Ru, but as I told her in a note good friends meet again sooner or later, so I look forward to our meeting again in Asia, Europe, or America!

The first metro past at 5:54 am, and the airport express metro passed at 6:15 am, so without problem we made it to the airport by 6:45 am. Check in was a breeze, and we finally boarded the Air China flight to Guangzhou at about 7:30 am. Once again I managed to fall asleep as soon as I sat down, woke up to have breakfast, and fell asleep again until the bump of the landing woke me up. Alas, poor Luke is not as lucky and had to hear me snore all the way.

Once in Guangzhou airport it was a matter of just a few minutes before we found the express bus to the China Hotel, from where the bus to Macau departed. As we approached the city it became clear to me that Guangzhou is an enormous city, and that we might have a bit of trouble jumping from one bus to the next. The bus left us half a block from the China Hotel, and from the distance it looked a bit too posh to serve as bus station (in fact, it is so posh that in the back it has a small but very well appointed bus station). The first couple of people we asked just shrugged their shoulders, and I was distractedly looking around while crossing the street. In a matter of a second my ankle gave way and I fell rather dramatically by the curb of a major street. Luke picked me up in a flash, but my ankle was badly twisted and I was hurting. A compassionate bystander came to our help, and directed us to the small bus station in the back of the hotel. By 1 pm we were comfortably installed in a luxury bus, two of five passengers, on the way to Macau.

The ride lasted something like two and a half hours, through very pretty agricultural country. A few quarries showed deeply weathered intrusive rocks, but in general the land was decked in the green of banana trees and other tropical crops.

The bus dropped us at the depot on the China side of the border, so it was very easy to walk into the Chinese immigration office, cross the courtyard, and walk into the Macau immigration office. It took us a few minutes filling forms and being scrutinized by immigration officials, but at the end we made our triumphal entrance into downtown Macau to exchange a few dollars into patacas, the currency of Macau.

Luke was a little worried I would want to walk all the way to our hostel, so to be compassionate I agreed on taking a bus. We would have gotten there faster walking, but the bus took us in a circuitous tour of the city, so we were able to look at the fancy casinos (Macau has been called the Vegas of the west, although on an income basis Vegas should be called the Macau of the east. Our lodgings (Augustus Lodge) turned out to be a small apartment on the third floor of an ancient building in downtown. It had been described as a charming small hostel, but there is very little charm in it. Still, it is in downtown, and the old city center of Macau has all the charm one would want.

By this time we were starving, so we walked a couple of blocks and entered a little eatery that was packed to the gills. We ordered a dish of ox tails on rice in a black been sauce, Portuguese rice with eel and crab eggs, and a broccoli stir-fry, and we ate like kings for under 10 dollars.

Happy and satisfied we went to walk through the old center, and visited the old house of a Chinese merchant, the Catholic cathedral (with mass being said in Portuguese), the ruins of the old Jesuite school and temple, and the fort that protected the city in colonial times. The small peninsula of Macau had been under Portuguese rule since the 16th century, and only got turned in to China in 1999, so the cultural mix between Portuguese and Chinese is pervasive, as shown in its cuisine, its bilingual character, and its boisterous population (the decibels are much larger in Macau than in Beijing!).

Tomorrow we have the whole day to explore the city, but for now a shower beckons.

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