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4:15 pm | Cheung Chau Island

Hunting for pirate treasure

The bay is calm today, and given the recent rains, we’re grateful. Boarding a small boat in rough water is no fun. On this day, we’re setting sail by way of a ferry from Lantau Island to Cheung Chau Island. The entire trip takes about 45 minutes, but we’re in no hurry. This is the island locals from Hong Kong visit to relax and enjoy long weekends on. Traditionally a fishing-based island, the overcast skies create a dramatic background to the army of brightly colored fishing boats that line our path as we

sail into the cove. The ferryman carefully weaves between the boats as we approach, making us feel not unlike like the schools of fish that have made this place famous. There are no cars allowed on the island save for the occasional ambulance, so everyone rides bicycles. We disembark the ferry and begin walking down a promenade that follows the main strip. Along the way we pass dim sum stands snugly mingled in with fishermen selling fresh seafood and stop to sample local epicurean delights. A diversion from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, the pace of life here is slow. Because this is where so many come for long weekends, there are tons of rental homes. You can easily imagine them all being booked to capacity when the sun comes out and the weather allows. But we didn’t come here today to stroll the beach. We came to look for pirate treasure. On the way over, our guide casually mentions that over 200 years ago, one of the most infamous pirates in what was then the Qin Dynasty was rumored to have buried his plunder on the island. Often portrayed as a Robin Hood–type figure, Cheung Po Tsai was a notorious pirate who patrolled the South China Sea. At the height of his marauding empire, he commanded a fleet of over 600 ships. After many years of successful swashbuckling, he surrendered to the king and was given an officer’s position in the Chinese Navy. Yet his treasure was never found. Our guide suggests there’s a place called the Cheung Po Tsai Cave where legend says he hid his loot. Our hearts racing, we head over ready to find lost treasure posthaste. Yet there is one little detail the guide fails to mention that becomes abundantly clear when we reach the cave: Exploring it is going to be harder work than we thought. Climbing over boulders, a decayed and ancient metal ladder emerges from a darkened hole. Grabbing hold, we then descend into a crevice that’s scarcely wider than us. In retrospect, a little less dim sum at lunch might have been a better plan. Walking sideways through the pass, it’s easy to imagine a desperate outlaw hastily trying to conceal his booty under the light of a full moon. The narrow cave leads out to an exit right on the bay, handy for harboring a waiting ship when the time is right to move your prize. The mind lingers a bit on a more romantic age long ago, but it’s late in the day now and the last embers of sunlight are starting to fade. Reality hits, and we realize we need to find a way back to Hong Kong Island. Fortunately, our ferryman has taken the trouble to spray paint his number on multiple rocks lining the cove, so we give him a ring. In a short while he reappears in his small boat, and we’re off. Sadly, we don’t find any pirate treasure today, but we do have the wonderful reward of discovering a beautiful new place. To any good traveler, that’s the ultimate prize.

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