Jo in Taiwan (the very very long post) - part two
So, day five was:
Hualien - Now, the only reason I can think of to visit Hualien is to use it as a starting point to get to Taroko Gorge - or to surf, but as I'm not a surfer that doesn't count as a reason. To another grey and humid day, I took off for Hualian and after buying train ticket and going through to platfor realised there was nowhere to get food or drink, so I had great fun attempting to explain to ticket woman I needed to go out and back (did I mention my Chinese consists of 'hello' and 'thank you'?) - anyway, she either didn't understand me or couldn't be arsed to, but other passengers did understand my wonderful miming and told me to go it was okay. Next thing I know, one of them is racing after me, grabs my arm and marches me to the shop, around the shop and back again! Talk about snack pressure! The train journey was pretty nice, though not as chilled as it would have been if there hadn't been three young kids running up and down, noisily for the duration. I stayed in a hostel recommended by the little tourist office next to the station called 'Formosa'. Nice place. Spacious dorms, very clean, nice staff there.
I struggled to fill an afternoon though but headed off to Meilunshun Park via the Martyr's shrine. It was at this point in the trip I started using quite a lot of taxi's - but they were very cheap. The shrine was nice, colourful, bla, bla, bla and, well, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get into the park that was behind it. Lonely Planet says you can spend many hours in the park. It took me AGES to find anything to interest me there, so I don't really know what that writer was on about. And what was interesting? There were some nice palm trees there but it was SO muggy. Actually, I found somewhere to just sit and chill out for ages and cool down which was nice. There was a lovely damp wood smell there and lots of singing birds. There were people around but not too much people noise. After it had cooled I wandered on and found some old war bunkers and a fantastic view of the sea, and a lovely Taiwanese man who was a social studies lecturer at the local uni and who nattered to me for ages. I decided, limited as my options were, to go to another night market and then catch another movie. I had absolutely no idea which side of the park I came out on or which way I went but somehow managed to find myself standing back (eventually) in front of the Formosa, where I then found a taxi and got him to take me to the night market which I couldn't find. I asked people, I wandered around and looked, but could not find it. I did accidently find the cinema I was going to hunt down next though and saw 'Phantom of the Opera', after eating some sushi. The cinema was very old with 1960's seating and no food or drink available. And annoyingly, in this part of Hualien were a billion tailors (and I need new suits) but I was so hot and sweaty it wasn't an option!
Oh and the police here don't write down the number plates of cars they want to book. They whip out a digital camera and take a picture instead!
Day Six -
Taroko Gorge - I don't do tours. But for Taroko Gorge I, very sensibly, made an exception. I think it would be very hard to see by yourself and having a guide (lovely little trilingual Taiwanese guy who gave commentary in English, Chinese and Japanese) meant we got to see the best places and actually knew what we were looking at. It also meant I could do it as a one way trip and leave my pack in the coach. There were two other English teachers from Japan from my hostel, that I'd met the night before, that also went on the tour - along with a right hotch potch of people of all ages. We left at 7.30am and stopped off at a marble factory on the way to the gorge. Did you know the decent rock is used for marble and the crap stuff for cement? Neither did I. Anyway, we saw the marble process from the huge blocks of stone through to the shiny slabs, which was an interesting way to fill 15 minutes. The scenery was amazing at the gorge. Beyond beautiful and I finally saw just how mountainous Taiwan was and how my hitch was going to be a huge challenge. I'm not really sure what else I can say about the gorge as I can't put it's magnificence or beauty into words. I was glad we got to cover so much of it though. And it wasn't all on the coach; we did walk some bits. There were hills, waterfalls, grotto's, marble bridges, statues, memorials to people that had lost their lives building the road there, and so on. Because we had an early start, we had an early finish and that part of the tour ended just after 4pm. I had a buffet lunch in Tiansiang and then tried to figure out which direction I would need to hitchhike to get to -
Puli - where I planned to spend the night. If you look on a map, and I will put one up, you'll see it's a pretty long way and there are no means of getting there unless you have your own transport, or wish to approach it from a completely different direction (mainly because of damage done during earthquakes). Of course, I'm stubborn, so I was going to do it anyway. Armed with my 'hello', 'thank you', and a map of Taiwan that I'd got a Taiwanese to write 'Puli' in big Chinese characters, I expected the trip to be a challenge. I found my spot - ten metres from the visitors centre, stuck out my thumb and about three minutes later a car stopped and by pure luck the driver was going to Puli before going onto Taichung. It took me three minutes to get a three hour lift all the way to the hotel I was staying in. I felt VERY smug! The trip was wonderful. Lots of winding roads and sheer drops and so much green.... We passed through one town where it was so cold the car was enveloped in a huge white mist.
The hotel room had a double bed, aircon, TV (I don't have a TV in Tokyo) and en suite bathroom with a 'real' bath (not like the 3/4 size one I have here). Feeling so chuffed with myself I decided to go for a little walk, get some food and bring it back to my room, have a nice bath and watch TV. I went and looked at a couple of temples, including one shrouded in corrugated iron since being badly damaged in an earthquake.
Temples in Taiwan are so bright compared to those I've seen here in Tokyo.
Oh and Puli is the geographical centre of Taiwan. Just so you know!
School uniforms in Taiwan are interesting. All trip all I saw were either nylon tracksuits or black trouser/white shirt combos.
Also, parking is 'interesting' as vehicles don't really seem to bothered how far out into the road they park - walking around them, ie into the middle of the road, is quite 'interesting' too!
Day Seven -
Sun Moon Lake - So, my pin cushion/mozzie look was really getting on some by this point and starting to itch too. Getting to Sun Moon Lake was pretty easy and I didn't have to wait long for the bus which was very rickety and shaky and gave me a big bruise on my bum! Once I got to the Lake I realised what a nightmare getting from place to place would be there and, for the first time in nearly 17 years I actually considered hiring a scooter (the idea of which scares me, but that's another story) - but couldn't find any hire places. I took a nice little boat trip across the lake to a teeny tiny little island and then over to an aborginal village (touristy but still interesting). The places I really wanted to visit around the lake just weren't realistic and a taxi would have cost a lot to get there. The boat people let me leave my bag in their office which was kind, and armed with my new Huck Finn hat, I decided to take a 3km stroll to a different temple. Too late I realised this was a HUGE and stupid error. I did try to hitch but nothing was stopping so I gave up trying. There were a couple of bits of the walk that were on a specially constructed path and that was peaceful, pleasant, sheltered and laced with the lapping lake sounds around me. The long, very windy road hugs the lake but at a height and whilst I'm not always the most sensible of people, walking along the edge of this road was a pretty stupid and potentially very dangerous thing to do. Even by my standards. And naturally, my shoulders were bare and without sunblock and the weather was a lot hotter than it had been. The temple was nice. The view was nice. I got a taxi back to the town afterwards and it was only much later I realised just how burned I was. I'm not talking bright red burned, I'm talking bright red and very very blistered burned - how could I have been so stupid? I deserved that pain frankly.
There is accommodation at the lake but I couldn't think of any reason to stay there so headed out to Taichung on the final bus. That was the plan anyway. After waiting ages on the wrong side of the road (and there's only two buses to Taichung from the Lake every day anyway) I crossed to the right side. Half an hour after it was due it still hadn't arrived and there were a couple of other people also waiting for it. We got into a taxi-bus to go to Puli to take the Taichung bus from there and, as we got in and pulled away, the sodding bus passed us. Oh well. It was another uncomfortable journey and my shoulders were starting to really hurt by the time I finally got to Taichung.
Taichung - Found the hotel I wanted to spend the next couple of nights in - Fuh Chun Hotel - double bed, en suite bathroom with shower, television, etc, and chilled out for a bit before going to another night market where I really struggled to find something I fancied eating. Now, I'll eat pretty much anything (liver and other inside bits aside) as long as it looks nice and smells nice. While a lot of the food in Taiwan fell into both these categories, a lot of it didn't and nothing could have tempted me to try some of the things I saw/smelled there. I couldn't even begin to imagine what some of the things were - which is possibly a good thing. I ended up with octopus balls and a freshly crushed carrot and pineapple juice that I smuggled into a cinema that just happened to be opposite me and saw 'Guess Who?'
The Family Mart (convenience store) near the hotel had MALTESERS!! - they didn't taste as I remembered them though. Actually, there were a lot of brands I saw in Taiwan that I knew, but that aren't available in Tokyo. I also had Papaya Milk which was really yummy.
On my final day in Taichung, I was extremely careful about avoiding the sun as much as humanly possible and took taxis between places until it cooled down. I liked Taichung, but 1 and a half days were enough to do what I wanted there. I started off with the Taiwan Museum of Fine Art which is in a wonderfully spacious building and has a great cafe! Some of the exhibits really grabbed me (wonderful colours, textures, subjects), others took me 10 seconds to whizz around the whole lot. Oh, and it was free! I was very disappointed with the shop though. I'd have loved to have bought some postcards but very little in the shop bore any relation to what was in the museum. From there I went to the Science Museum, via another temple. The museum was massive and had a wonderful bat exhibition. It was one of the few there though that had English explanations, though most didn't need it. There were also lots of things to play with there! Before leaving, I have to admit to popping into the MacD's in the museum and had a chicken burger in a RICE bun. I won a corn chowder soup too! Next stop was the botanical gardens opposite, with a huge greenhouse and big aquarium which I sat and stared at for ages.
Left to go and meet up with a lovely Taiwanese medical student called Branch, and a couple of her friends. I'd planned to go via a couple of temples but managed to take a wrong turning somewhere which meant I did see a Mormon church next to a Marijuana cafe, which amused me. The one temple I did find had a 31 foot Buddha. Big guy and pretty amazing to see. Met up with the girls and went for a wander around another market, where I had a pancake thing and where they treated me to a Pearl Milk Tea - a Taiwanese speciality where you get a huge straw to suck up the pearl barley - and then had a wander around one of the large department stores looking at cute things!
And that's pretty much it apart from the Trip back to Tokyo. Once I managed to find where the bus to Taipei airport left from, settled down for a 2.5 hour trip and went to check in. A 50+ year old Taiwanese woman in the check in queue asked me if I'd check in with her as she had so much baggage. As I'm so nice, I agreed and then wondered if I'd been stupid to do so and if she had any dodgy things they'd be linked to me, etc..... It also meant she got seated with me (bulk head aisle seat this time) and she was a total fidgetter and natterer. GAH! I hate that. And it then took forever to get back home from the airport.
In all then, a fantastic trip to a beautiful, interesting and diverse country full of lovely people, horrible mosquitos and some weird foods!