Macau is the most densely populated place on earth but on that day in the heart of its winding alleys a picturesque dilapidated loneliness haunted. Since it was afternoon and perhaps siesta time, the stunning wall murals looked fantastically lonesome and gnarly banyan trees drooped over packed up street cafes. Tables, chairs, cooking gas and bundles of victuals lay piled and pushed in corners of cobbled streets and workmen napped on faded benches. Colourful colonial mansions with wrought iron balustrades, wooden shutters and Chinese calligraphy signboards looked empty as only drying laundry fluttered noiselessly in the humid breeze. A handful of shops were still open for business but these were occupied by the owner and his friends who gossiped, napped and stared at the world go by.
In spite of the Mediterranean colours and distinct European beauty, exotic Orient lurked in every corner of Macau. Lanes opened into hidden Oriental shrines and joss stick spirals burned in front of Chinese deities. I kept wandering past goldsmith shops, dentists’ clinics, obscure bakeries and lost a track of time. Peeling colours, decorated rolling shutters and baroque churches all rolled into one amazing movie set and it was in front of the lime yellow St Domingo’s Church that I realized that my Macau time had nearly run out.
To save money I had bought a return ticket to Hong Kong and had only 3 hours before my scheduled ferry back to the “Fragrant Harbour”. The Senado Square was insanely crowded and once again I drowned in cigarette smoke, jabbing elbows and blocked views. I had badly wanted to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Macau peninsula but the overwhelming crowd made me change my mind. Escaping to the adjoining Coloane and Taipa seemed to be a good idea and I hailed a taxi for 2 hours tour of the islands. It turned out to be a disastrous move because what followed was nothing short of a nightmare. The taxi driver, George seemed to be a nice enough guy who spoke good English, quoted a decent fare and seemed to be knowledgeable about the islands. It was in fact he, who informed me of Taipa’s recent past as a rustic island filled with ducks ponds and boat yards and that Coloane even until 1910 was a favourite hideout for pirates.
We started our drive, left the garish Cotai Strip behind and stopped in front of the Taipa Houses Museum. It was very pretty with rows of mint coloured colonial houses, drooping banyan trees, wetlands and bridal parties preening for photographs. The wetlands shimmered in the heat, birds nestled among waving reeds and I watched dragonfly hunters run after gauzy wings. A huge garish casino hotel reflected ostentatiously on the placid wetland and beautiful brides adjusted their gossamer gowns on the white balconies of the restored houses. Taipa Houses Museum was popular among newly weds for wedding photos and it was as idyllic as it could get. But since time was running out we left Taipa soon and started our drive towards Coloane.
Coloane or Freguesia de São Francisco Xavier as it was officially known, was smaller than Taipa and connected with it by the Isthmus Causeway. The drive became densely forested, hilly and something about George’s behaviour started giving me goose bumps. He drove maniacally around the bends, missed multiple head on collisions narrowly and asked me to sit next to him. The area got more and more isolated and when he finally screeched to a stop near the lovely Cheoc Van (bamboo bay) beach, he fished out his smartphone and started filming me. It was scarily unreal and shocking and unfortunately the beach seemed to be absolutely deserted. The sleepy tree lined village of Coloane was quite a popular destination and local photographers thronged there to capture the beauty of its pastel coloured houses and shops. The gentle Cheoc Van was also a swimmer’s haunt and Coloane’s forested hills were very popular with hikers and mountain bikers. However that day nobody seemed to be around and my worst travel nightmare came true as George’s behaviour got more and more scary.
In all my years of solo traveling apart from a handful of other incidents, that was the most scariest experience I had ever faced and frightful thoughts of rape, murder or both ran through my mind. I looked around frantically for signs of other people and suddenly a police check post caught my eye. I grabbed my things, dashed out of the car and sprinted towards it as fast as possible. Running uphill was not easy and George chased me in his car like a maniac. Somehow the police check post arrived without him catching up on me and I collapsed inside the safe environment. George disappeared round the bend, cursing me loudly and it took a lot of time efforts by the Macau police to calm me down. I was hysterical from fear, unable to reason and just wanted to get out of there. The kindly Macau police noted down my complaint, informed my embassy and escorted me back to the ferry. I was the last passenger to board the boat and did not even turn to look back at Macau as it disappeared in a blaze of lights. Needless to say I hated Macau.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE