Sunday, 1 February 2009

(Nearly) the worst experience of my life

There were hundreds of people waiting to get on to the Peak Tram. It was a fairly orderly queue until the ticket office came in sight and then it was a rabble. I was surprised that I was the only westerner. Most of those there with me were also tourists - the camera's are a bit of a giveaway - but the vast majority were young chinese and japanese folk. Whatever the age none of them had any manners and it was a complete free for all to get on the tram. Which is not a tram at all but a funicular railway that climbs just about vertically up the peak. I knew I'd made a mistake when the thing went past a masonic lodge and other buildings started to look like they were growing out of the hill at a 40 degree angle!

We all spilled out at the top and I found myself in yet another shopping mall. I'd had this mad notion that the peak would be just that - a mountain with some space and maybe a few bushes and trees. How daft can you get? Surely I should have realised by now that Hong Kong has shops everywhere?

There is a walk around the peak that is not to Gucci by way of Harrods and Matalan but it was pitch black by now and it didn't seem very sensible to head off in the dark not knowing where I was. So I did something stupid instead............

I was beginning to get blase about my fear of heights - I'd climbed a mountain (ok steep hill) in a pair of crocs, I'd stayed in rooms on the 14th & 18th floors, I'd scaled the viewing point over Hong Kong harbour.......... So going up escalators for a couple of floors in the Peak Tower would be no problem.

On the first level I found a viewing spot outside Burger King which gave me some clear views but not a lot of romance and I was still feeling ok. And there was a sign saying cash machine on level 2 so on I went. After two more escalators I realised three things. Firstly that the gap between level 1 and level 2 was several hundred feet and lots of escalators. Secondly that the escalators were suspended in space. Thirdly that I was terrified!

It had been a long time since I had a full blown attack of vertigo and I wasn't wanting one then. I gave myself a stern talking to as I came near the top of the next escalator saying firmly that I'd soon be on my way back down. Except when I got to the top, there was only a small landing to the next up escalator and no way down.

More than a month later as I write this I can feel my stomach starting to churn!

I can't have spent a long time thinking about it but I do know that I considered my choices as I stepped off that escalator. One - just fling myself over the side of the escalator and put an end to the doubt and misery as quickly as possible. Two - curl up in a foetal ball and howl. Three - eyes down, best foot forward on to the escalator up which would take me to a bigger landing and the way down.

Obviously I didn't fling myself over the side and neither did I curl up and howl though the eyes were suspiciously wet as I concentrated on not seeing anything but my feet. Coming down seemed to take forever. As I got closer to the ground I began to notice other people - adults and children travelling up and down, laughing and joking and enjoying it - you pay extra to go to the very top. I felt thoroughly sick and my knees were shaking as I finally got back to solid ground. I found a bench and sat for ages until the shakes had gone. I might be on solid ground but I was still at the top of the Peak and I really needed to be at sea level. The seething mass at the tram was even bigger than on the way up and I knew I couldn't cope with that so I got in a taxi and said take me home.

It was a spectacular drive - far too fast round sharp bends coming down the peak but some great views there and coming across from Hong Kong to Kowloon.

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