If you’re new to Hong Kong and look out of the window of your plane while you’re landing here (if the air is clear, that is, which sadly nowadays is no longer so common) you will be amazed to see that this hive of a metropolis with all its seven million people is actually a ribbon of high rise development clinging to a much larger area of green, wooded hills, around which on all sides lie a multitude of islands with sandy beaches and rocky coves. For as there are many things that are unique about Hong Kong, one of the nicest of them is that wherever you live here you are within fifteen minutes of a country park. Behind all the buildings are green havens into which you can escape the rat race and take to hills where in many cases you can lose sight of any other human being. So it isn’t surprising that the healthier part of Hong Kong’s gay community has begun to enjoy not just the night life in the city but also the great opportunity the place offers to keep fit while enjoying some staggeringly beautiful trails.
I’d long ago heard of Hiketilla, as the gay hiking fraternity has named itself, but despite being a military man who spent seven very happy years of my Army service walking the trails of the New Territories, I had never gone walking with them until, in early January this year, I joined the group of twenty or so guys that assembled one Sunday at Starbucks in Alexandra House in Central and walked the day with them over the trails inside Hong Kong Island. I’ve been in Hong Kong on and off for nearly eighteen years and yet that day was amazed at finding a whole landscape in the interior behind North Point I’d never seen, in the company, too, of a lot of friends. A great day out, which I shall repeat. Converted now entirely as to just how enjoyable the whole experience is, I tracked down two of Hiketilla’s three organisers at lunch at Song Vietnamese restaurant on Hollywood Road to find out more about the group and its activities.
Michael Wong at Sharp Peak
As befits a really mixed local and expat organisation, lunching with me that day were Michael Wong Kam Tak, Hong Kong born, bred and banker, and David Concorde, a Frenchman who, five years back, gave up his accountancy firm in Dijon and moved to settle in Hong Kong in 2006.
I asked them how Hiketilla had started. “I’d been in Hong Kong a year when I found a Hong Kong Government leaflet on walking in the country parks,” said David, “so I started going out on my own, then found some others, who were at that stage mostly straight, I went out with occasionally. It was through them that I was introduced to Michael.”
“And to my partner, Edowan,” added Michael. “We’d been walking together since 2004 with a few friends, then we spotted an email message from a guy called Colman McGrath organising a walk on Lantau. We joined that, and followed up with a walk in Saikung in 2008, where we first met David. We got talking and decided we should keep together the group that had already formed, and began to collect an email list and organise hikes. The name ‘hiketilla’ emerged as late 2009, a kind of land equivalent of Hong Kong’s annual gay maritime day out, Floatilla.” The derivation is not surprising given that both David and Michael are regular helpers for Floatilla, and that Michael’s partner, Edowan Bersma, is on the Floatilla organising committee (as well as being one of the key figures in the Lan Kwai Fong gay scene).
You’ll nowadays find Hiketilla out in the hills every Sunday except in the hot and humid months from May to September. Its Google group has 130 names and the Facebook group about seventy-five members so far, of whom anything up to thirty will turn up on any given walking Sunday, usually at an RV close to an MTR station, usually in IFC, Pacific Place or Alexandra House (there’s an email notice with the time and place of the RV, the route and the estimated length of the hike sent out at the start of each week).
David, Michael and the third organiser, Stevie Choi, chat about routes before the week begins and let everyone know. “We’ve covered about forty different routes since we started, some several times,” David told me, “and usually they’re about three to four hours walking, which means there’s time for a drink or food afterwards for those who can stay on.”
“A lot of the routes are on Hong Kong Island,” confirmed Michael, “with about four or five on Lantau and others in the New Territories starting from Saikung, Tai Po and Tsuen Wan. We’ve also walked on some of the outlying islands.”
I asked them about the level of difficulty of the routes they walk. “A good number of the routes are easy walking,” replied Michael, “and can be covered wearing running shoes, but some are not for the unfit or faint hearted; Sharp Peak north of Saikung or Lantau Peak can be a bit harder walking and need hiking boots. We always advise people to take water and a towel, sometimes even a change of clothes if we’re going to eat somewhere later.”
The group is marked by informality and friendship. Many of those who walk know each other and, as I found out the day I went out with them, Hiketilla is a great way to meet new friends. David intends to stay in Hong Kong, although he’s in a long-distance relationship with a partner in Paris, which makes life difficult at times.
“I love Hong Kong, its buzz even its noise and dirt!” he jokes. “Everything here’s within walking distance and where else in the world can you walk out of your office or flat in the middle of the city and straight into the countryside?”
He’s becoming a figure in the gay community in his own right now; last November he organised the Gay Day at Disney. Surprisingly, Disney doesn’t actually do anything except tell the community that a certain day is ours every year. David does the rest.
Hiketilla has no women so far, I had noticed.
“So far it doesn’t seem like the lesbian community is into hiking,” Michael thought. The lack of female company is not for want of trying. David was given a slot at Les Peches one evening to stump up support, but no girls took the bait. “Maybe it’s something that’ll happen eventually when the word gets round.”
As, appropriately enough, John Gay put it in The Beggars Opera,
If with me you’d fondly stray
Over the hills and far away
then why not join the guys of Hiketilla some Sunday as they explore Hong Kong’s secret spaces? They’d be glad to see you.
If you want to join Hiketilla, get on the distribution lists by contacting either David Concorde at email@example.com or Michael Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Hiketilla on Facebook for updates on new events.