Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 4. Exploring Macau

Only Day 4? Really? It seems we have been seeing so much that by now we should be in Day 10. Anyway, the day started very early. I woke shortly before 5 am to have the bathroom to myself (one bathroom for at least 16 lodgers), but shortly there after many of the other lodgers woke up so the place became a zoo. It turns out there is a rowing competition going on, and some of the rowers are staying here. Luke managed to get ready pretty early too, so by 6:30 am we were on the road.

First we took a walk around one of the fresh water “lakes”. Since this is a small island with no place to build a reservoir, the clever authorities simply built dikes in the harbor, pumped the salt water out, and filled the space with fresh water. This is now the freshwater supply of Macau, so they are very strict about not bathing, fishing, or other activities that could contaminate the water.

Walking, walking we ended in the temple of A-Ma, which is probably the oldest structure in the island. According to legend, a young woman dreamed that her two brothers and her father were in grave danger at sea, and in spirit went to help them. She managed to help her brothers, but was awaken before she could rescue her father and died of grief. For more than a thousand years the fishermen of the island have been praying to her for good luck, and thus the sanctuary has slowly grown bit by bit. Luke was quite fascinated by all the people praying, and by the incredible variety of offerings they bring (the most colorful are handfuls of ghost money, which are burnt in special furnaces to propitiate goo fortune.

We also found the Maritime Museum, but at 7:30 am was too early to visit it. So instead we had breakfast in a traditional eatery, with café con leche, tea, and noodles. Luke also ordered a small bottle of milk, which he judged “to sweet and rich” but happily chugged down.

We then decided to start using the bus system, at 50 cents of a dollar each ride, partly to save us from walking in the heat and partly as cheap sightseeing. By the end of the day we were quite adept at it.

Next stop was the façade of the Church of St. Paul, destroyed by a fire 100 years ago, and a delightful visit to the air-conditioned Macau Museum of history. A great little museum, housed in the Fortress on the Mountain. I was a bit baffled by the fact that this fortress, which was the main protection of Macau against pirates and invading fleets, is so far from the ocean (later, in the Maritime Museum, I learned that when the fortress was in use the beach was a lot closer than it is today, since the island has almost doubled in size by landfill). The Macau Museum had great displays on the history of the city, showing the parallel development as a Chinese city and a Portuguese city.

Another bus ride brought us back to the Maritime Museum, this time at a more civilized time. The displays included wonderful ship models, maps and models depicting the growth of the city, and all sorts of marine memorabilia. I was in heaven, since you may remember that one of my traveling quirks is a fascination with zoos and maritime collections.

Lunch was a very yummy plate of rice with black pepper duck. Sigh!

For the afternoon we visited the Grand Lisbon Hotel, with its remarkable display of art treasures, and tried to walk a bit through downtown, but it was just too hot. So instead we took yet another bus ride to the far end of the neighboring islands of Taipa and Coloane (which together with the “big” island form the Special Economic Zone of Macau). The end of the line is the beach of Hac Sa, where not only did we get our feet wet in the South China Sea, but where we found a super modern, super comfortable youth hostel. My Lonely Planet really screwed us up this time. They should have advised us to take bus 26A direct from the border crossing to the Hac Sa beach, for all of one dollar, book in this marvel of youth hostel, and then pay another dollar everytime we wanted to come to downtown Macau. I am definitely writing to the editors of Lonely Planet!

No comments: