The final day: Hualien to Taipei

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Today was going to be a trek. Heading 168km north back to my flat in Taipei isn’t exactly a short distance, but fortunately it is incredibly scenic. To quote myself from the prelude of this diary:

“Imagine a day’s drive of winding paths through hilly green tea plantations and quaint villages, a flat cruise through scores of utterly still fishery ponds reflecting the surrounding mountainous landscape and warm rays of the sun. Lastly, a coastal finale providing all the good stuff; hairpin bends, clear blue ocean, and practically vertical towering cliffs with house sized waves regularly and spectacularly crashing into them, producing an astounding natural water display”.

Just put the order of that description back-to-front and you have my journey for day sixteen. The weather looked good, I felt good, I found a nearby breakfast joint for a bacon bagel and hash brown pancake, and was ready to rock and – even more so – roll. Except I needed to get my bike serviced before the long drive home, and didn’t fancy my chances of locating an English speaking mechanic. Time to give the old Mandarin a run out.

After filling up with petrol I saw a couple of mechanics on the opposite side of the road, and aimed for the one with the Kymco sign outside (I’m loyal). A gaunt old gent in a faded vest which looked older than me stood up from his tiny plastic stool to greet and wave me inside. His mostly toothless, betel-nut stained grin seemed much more friendly than alarming as he looked at me curiously for my request.
“Wo… xiang yao… huan yo” (I’d like an oil change)
“Huan yo! Hao…” (Oil change! Alright…)
“Huan yo ma??” *uses both hands to demonstrate a mechanical rolling motion, an ‘exchange’ action*
“Er… dui” (Er… yeah)
“Hao” (Alright geezer. I’ll get on it immediately)

He clearly overestimated my ability to speak the lingo, so began asking me a couple of questions while the oil drained from my engine. I met each one with a shrug and shake of my head, while apologising for how terrible my Chinese was. Ironically, one thing I’m very good at is explaining how bad I am at it. Clearly he noticed the bags I was carrying as a couple of words randomly registered; “huan dao ma?” (which means, “round-island trip?”) along with another brilliantly acted charade – a single handed upright oval-shaped circular motion. Yes. I felt like a native speaker. I nodded and smiled enthusiastically while verbally machine-gunning “dui-dui-dui-dui-dui!” as is the fashion in Taiwan. He nodded his approval in response. With a few taps of his finger, he noticed the Union Jack sticker placed just underneath my number plate and asked if I was from England. Yes sir, I am! I’m in there. I’m practically fluent. This is amazing. And to top it all off, it was cheaper than I’d normally expect to pay.

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One of Hualien county’s many rugged yet bushy cliffs.

Less than 100m from the mechanic’s garage, I waited at a crossroad junction next to Hualien airport for the light to turn green. As I did so, two cars approached each other from opposite directions, and neither were using indicators (surprise, surprise). At the last minute, driver one decides that he would, in fact, like to turn left (Brits: we have right lane traffic here) in front of car two going straight ahead. Car two screeches to an immediate halt, while car one continues on to the left as if nothing happened, at a consistent slow speed. Car two does not appreciate this, and as soon as I spot him fuming through his open window at a standstill in the middle of the junction, I gleefully notice he is wearing a police uniform, and furiously bellows “GAN!” (basically, the Taiwanese version of FUCK) at the top of his voice. Much to the restrained amusement of some other scooter drivers and I, he takes drastic action and spins his car around in pursuit of the dodgy driver. As some of you already know of my disdain for some Taiwanese drivers, you’ll also know how satisfied I was to realise that it’s not only me that gets wound up by these careless morons.

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I ride what’s left of the sublime 193 road (and incidentally, I pass a lone pig strolling through a village) before it joins onto the number 9, and decide to stop at one of the many viewpoints over the ocean for a rest. It’s the last chance for me to enjoy a view of the Pacific like this one for a while, so I park up at the side of the road and sit on the grassy cliff edge for a short time, which drops steeply by about 30 metres straight into the tumultuous water below. In between the rhythmic slams of waves battering the rocks I hear a scooter side-stand kicked into position, and turn around to see a younger man in his early twenties. He waves and shouts hello to me with a smile, then points above the mountains towards a thick manifestation of moody black clouds, as if to say: you’d better get moving, son. I gave a thumbs up and nodded to him in thanks and with absolute agreement as he put on his yellow poncho and headed northwards.

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I ride another 30 minutes or so before stopping off in a small village within Nan’ao township called Wuta. It’s home to a tour bus pit stop, made up of toilets, a gaudy souvenir shop, and overpriced restaurant. Actually, the last comment is unfair because I’ve never eaten in there. It just looks like it’s overpriced. Anyway, it seems to be the halfway house for buses driving between Hualien and Yilan, but I used it as a free shelter from the increasingly heavy rainfall, and was a suitable spot to put on my waterproof gear. I wasn’t the only one, however, as I spotted ol’ yellow poncho from earlier pull up and set his scooter underneath a small area of cover, that was probably only enough to keep his handlebars dry.
“I followed you here!” he jokes cheerfully, while searching for a dry spot to place his helmet. His English is at least conversational level, and clearly wants to practice a little, or perhaps just stay out of the rain for a bit. He tells me that he is on his way to Yilan (宜蘭) but the rest was a little unclear, as I couldn’t establish if he was going for a job interview or starting work today. After examining my chic rain poncho and fake crocs, he tells me – sincerely it seems – that he thinks Europeans are “very gentle”. After hearing this a lot, I’ve worked out that here people seem to confuse the adjectives “gentle” and “gentlemanly” pretty often, but I don’t have the heart to tell him right now. Especially after he says that out of all Europeans, British people are the most gentle and stylish. I ask if he’s interested in going to the UK for a working holiday, but with a frustrated smirk he quickly responds that he needs to work for a while and save a wad of money before he could afford to do such a thing, but travel is high on his list of priorities. He had to get a move on to reach Yilan, so said his goodbyes and zipped off into the distance.

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Several of the billions of people that queue up for a shot in front of the gates of Hualien’s Taroko gorge daily.

I stopped about five minutes drive away in Nan’ao (home of the beach caves) for some luncheon, as my hunger was getting the better of me. On a previous visit my friends and I stopped at a popular seafood restaurant by the train station, and remembering the high level of deliciousness it was the first option that came to mind. I park up and walk towards the restaurant, thinking of what I want to eat, but more importantly how I’m going to order it without the assistance of my local buddies, as reading seafood menus isn’t one of my strengths. In the end, none of that is important as piles of bouquets, balloons and a panicked hubbub from the workers inside tell me that it has been booked out for a wedding. Instead I found a small family run restaurant around the corner, but at first glance couldn’t tell if it was open for business or not. The frail old lady inside gave me a menu and sat me down at the smallest 2 seater table. Maybe they were expecting guests too? I ordered lamb fried rice, and noticed that the restaurant started to fill more as I ate it, and some of the visitors held a larger degree of curiosity towards me than I would receive in Taipei. I don’t mind, as long as they don’t ask me to have my picture taken with them. Stop that nonsense pls.

On the outskirts of Yilan it started to get considerably wetter, so my scheduled visit to the Kavalan whisky distillery couldn’t have come at a more suitable time. Yeah, you heard me right, whisky. Kavalan was established in 2005 after parent group “King Car” realised that the high quality of the water and damp, yet hot climate in Yilan would make ideal factors for producing and ageing one of the world’s favourite spirits. In fact, the climate is so suitable here that a barrel can be aged for just 6 years and have the taste of a 12 year old cask, as the frequent change in temperature and constant humidity considerably speeds up the ageing process. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case the ‘World’s best single malt’ prize in the 2015 World Whiskies Awards, and considering that was a mere 10 years after opening, the brand clearly has a big and exciting future ahead. In recent years Japanese single malt has started to challenge the big boys in Scotland, but now I’d bet that other Taiwanese brands are either thinking about or actively moving to join the fray. Anyway, if you’re in the area it’s an interesting place to visit, and previously I was lucky enough to be given a free personal English tour. The staff are very nice and pretty good at explaining the company’s background and their manufacturing procedure. If you can, visit during the week…

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A sneaky peek-er-oo of the copper stills within.

As it was a Saturday, the car park was utterly rammed with dithering tourists and awful children. Parking was a living nightmare as I fought the urge to run down zombies totally unaware of their surroundings, that is, a car park. A park for cars, buses, and other shit that will seriously injure you if you don’t move out of their way. Eventually I found a spot without murdering anyone and slowly made my way inside the building. One of my main objectives – as I’d already visited here – was to buy a bottle or two of the Kavalan distillery reserve, unavailable to buy anywhere else but from this building. Thankfully, the shop is just to the left hand side as I walked through the front door, but sadly is heaving with people. I find the bottle I’m looking for, but it’s more expensive than I remember so decide to pass up the opportunity. I was going back to the UK in a couple of weeks so it seemed like a slight extravagance considering the relatively cheap price of scotch in comparison. But, I text my mate back home to see if he wanted me to pick him up a bottle as he also rates it, but after hanging around for 30 minutes and hearing no response I decided to leave empty handed. A large part of me was happy with the lack of reply as I almost instantly realised after texting that I had absolutely no room in my backpack to get it home.

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Ageing oak casks of delicious Taiwanese whisky.

Driving through central Yilan at the weekend can be a huge annoyance. As if someone decided that traffic rules don’t exist for two days per week. On the way through I experienced a few incidents, one of my favourites was a car driver that simply decided that he didn’t want to wait in a traffic jam, so attempted to jump the entire queue and pull in front of someone, while almost knocking my bike. I had to brake sharply to avoid any dinks, and made a point of giving him the most evil of looks I could produce to hopefully notify him of his colossal level of bellenditry.  Another was planning to U-turn on a main road. No problem, there’s no traffic coming, so go for it pal. So he slams his foot on the brake for some unknown reason, meaning I have to stop completely and find a way around him in the busy traffic, as does everyone else. Maybe he had an epiphany that he was Taiwan’s shittest driver. If not, hopefully he will soon. But not while driving.

Another road that I enjoy riding is the number 9 from Yilan to Taipei. It takes a couple of hours but has a lot of sweeping roads in good condition, leafy scenery, and a great view of Yilan city from the mountains as you ascend. Alas, I wouldn’t be able to experience this road at it’s finest today, as the rain continued to beat down mercilessly and a thick fog rolled in, shielding the majestic view. Being December there was also a mighty chill in the air, causing my hands to numb slightly at times. Frankly, this was one of the least enjoyable sections of my whole trip, and it was a little sad to finish on this note. Boo. But, it was nice to sleep in my own bed once again.

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My apartment, last door on the left. Keep the noise down.

Lenpep’s final thought:
So that’s that, as they say. 16 days of thrilling adventure and hilariously entertaining stories. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it down (that is, only briefly for once a week). My main purpose of this diary was to have something to document the finer details of a trip that I’d never forget, but I’d be over the moon if it inspires or helps others do a similar thing.

Taiwan is such a surprising country with seemingly unlimited interesting places to visit, home to a friendly population, rich flora & fauna, and a far more interesting history than you might expect from such a small island. If you’re considering coming, then I hope this has persuaded you. If you’re already here, then what are you waiting for? Get yourself a motorcycle and do the huan dao, mofo’s!

– L

Day Fifteen: Hualien city

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I awoke at around 9am and was pleasantly surprised to realise that I had been granted my own choice of wake up time for once. I was the only backpacker staying in this dorm room which gave me more peace than I’d hoped for. The bad news was that I checked the weather outside and saw possibly the bluest sky in the world. Bugger it. I starting thinking that I’d picked the wrong day to go to Taroko, but unless I bumped into Doc and Marty McFly then there was no chance of changing that. And even if I did, they’d probably feel a little put out only going back 24 hours.

The plan today was simply just to have a wander around the city, maybe pick up a souvenir or two and check out the local grub. With a rumble in my belly I hopped onto the KTR and headed towards an area that had been recommended by hostel staff for having decent food options. I arrived to find that almost nothing was open. I previously mentioned in one of the earlier days that finding breakfast between the hours of 9am – 10:30am can be a nightmare for some reason, and it was certainly the case today. After around 15 minutes of careful checking of opening times and menus, luckily I eventually stumbled across a shop which I later worked out was called “Mr Goose”; the drawings of geese on the fascia clearly showing that at least I know what animal I’ll be eating.

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Qixingtan beach (七星潭海邊) in Hualien.

The restaurant cook, a moon faced auntie sporting a hairnet and stained black apron grinned at me as I approached, with the usual tourist pleasing “hello, hello”. In Mandarin, she immediately asked if I could speak Chinese, to which I replied “only a little, it’s not good”. “Hao-ah” was her response, which kind of means: “alright then”. Then she proceeds to point at various dishes and explain what they are in Chinese, which doesn’t help much. Every time I use the phrases “bu zhi dao” (I don’t know) and “ting bu dong” (I don’t understand) she holds her stomach and roars with laughter – like a Bond villain – and repeats what I said, followed by more chuckling. As I can recognise a little writing on menus, I crane my neck to the front of the cooking stall and try that approach instead. I see something that looks like “oil rice”, so I order one of those, then I notice that inside one of her broths has a favourite of mine: duck’s blood pudding. Now hear me out… it’s delicious. OK, that’s all I’ve got. I point decisively at the red squares, and she motioned for me to sit down.

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After some brekkie I headed back to the hostel for a shower, before I planned to hit the souvenir market. Well, if you are looking for pineapple cakes or jewellery then you’re in luck. But there’s practically nothing else for sale on the street that was recommended. This is another Asian phenomenon that puzzles me; rather than have a street consisting of different types of shops and businesses, they will often be located all in the same area. For example, it’s not uncommon to see three or four mechanics all working next door to each other, or in this case, a street of mainly jewellery and pineapple cake shops. How do the ones in the middle of the street make any money? Do people walk along for five minutes, passing cake shop after cake shop and think “no, not today” and then finally succumb to the temptation? Anyway, I digress. The hostel had mentioned a decent souvenir shop that sells aboriginal and hand crafted items, so I headed there first. As luck would have it, it was closed that day. Bugger it again.

The urban explorer side of my brain had been keeping an eye out for something interesting, even though I had heard that abandoned buildings were either few and far between or not particularly interesting around these parts. I spotted a Starbucks on the corner of one of the city’s main streets, and the windows above the shop showed a number of indications that the second floor might be abandoned. Sadly the first hurdle was insurmountable; a concierge at the main – and only – entrance. I gave up on that idea pretty sharpish.

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While I continued my search for some decent trinkets I couldn’t help noticing that the sky was becoming extremely murky, and sooner than expected it started to come down relatively heavily (say that three times fast). I was passing a McD’s and had the desire for a burger and ice cream, so I ducked in there for an hour or so while the rain poured. Unfortunately this continued for the rest of the day, which – if nothing else – gave me ample reassurance that I did pick the correct day to visit the gorge, and allowed me to get some nice shots of Hualien during the evening rush hour. My final evening didn’t get much more exciting than that, as I watched episodes of The Office to the sound of rainfall outside, and enjoyed a relaxed hotpot dinner courtesy of the generous hostel hosts.

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At this time tomorrow I’d be back in Taipei.

Day Fourteen: Taroko Gorge

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I won’t lie. The thought of driving my motorcycle through the meandering roads of Taroko gorge was one of my prime motivators during planning. For the uninitiated, it’s a 20-ish kilometre canyon based in Hualien county which shapes a gloriously rewarding route to drive taking you through the central mountain range, as far as Taichung or Sun Moon lake. Along the way you’ll see the turbulent Liwu river, rushing from the highest peaks of Taiwan down to the Pacific ocean. Let’s not forget the amount of lush vegetation, staggeringly high cliff drops and wild hot springs (if you can find them…) that are gagging to be checked out too. To sum it up, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.

Arguably holding the top spot in my list of favourite places in Taiwan, I’ve been here a couple of times already. I came with Masta Minch in 2015 on a 5 day camping trip, and distinctly remember saying that “if we have to drive the whole length of this road every single day, I’d be happy”. Luckily we did, due to necessities such as petroleum and food from the 7-eleven, both located outside of the national park area. Anyway, hopefully now you understand the magnitude of the beauty and my love for this place, so we can begin. About time.

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Frankly, even I am getting sick of mentioning that military jets woke me up early again. But it bloody well happened. From 8:30am to 8:45am, I counted no fewer than 7 low flying fighter pilots hell-bent on fucking up my comfortable sleep, but for once, I welcomed it. The weather reports looked good around Taroko gorge and I was keen to get there early and do a little hiking before the inevitable afternoon rain set in. My heart was set on one particular route, known as the Lianhua pond trail (蓮花池步道) as I attempted this with the previously mentioned Mr Minch in 2015, however we were forced to turn back as the trail looked a little dangerous while simultaneously seeming to be closed a few weeks after a typhoon.

Approximately five minutes after entering the national park, the rain started to come down, enough so that I admitted defeat by pulling out the poncho and rain shoes. I remember feeling pretty gutted that my Taroko experience would have to be under grey clouds and rainfall, but so be it. 20 minutes passed as I made my way through sweeping bends and mountain road tunnels, when all of a sudden I was greeted with fresh blue sky and dry roads. Was I dreaming? For the rest of the day, the rain clouds were being kept out of the majority of Taroko by the might of the mountains, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Off came the poncho.

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This charming little spot is called “Frog Rock”, because… the rock looks like a frog. And the pavilion is like a little hat, I think. It’s normally flooded with tourists so watch the road as you come by here. They like to shuffle around on the sharp bend like lemmings sometimes.

At one point on my journey I had a moment of severe déjà vu. I was sure that the trail I was aiming for began at a small car park on a hairpin bend, and – while the roads certainly are winding – there aren’t many bends as sharp as the one I was looking for. I drove past one that was missing the car park, but looked familiar. So, stopping at a small viewpoint sixty seconds down the road, I checked my GPS. It confirmed that my instinct was right, and this was indeed the bend I was looking for. Maybe I’ll go back for another look. Well, I did, and I was a little upset. Without a doubt the victim of a gargantuan landslide, the car park had disappeared, and there was nothing to indicate that it had ever existed. The mountainside above the trail used to have a thick carpet of vegetation, but was now reduced to a cold stone face. I took a few minutes to reflect and imagine how terrifying this landslide must have been to anyone unfortunate enough to witness it in person. On my previous visit the Lianhua pond trail began with a memorable low cliff overhang above, but the damage was so severe it was difficult to see any traces of its original state. So I suppose it’ll be a few years before I can try this one again, unless I’m willing to brave the locals’ “safety rope” system…

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Squint a bit, look to the left of this picture and you’ll see some very thin ropes that I assume the locals use to get around the pesky inconvenience of a massive landslide. I thought about having a try myself, but quickly realised that I value my life.

Well, as I was in the area I decided I may as well enjoy the roads. I carried on a little further and traffic was stopped by a band of aboriginal construction workers who were clearing loose debris from the mountainside above the road. It’s not unusual to see this around here, and the normal protocol is to park up, wait for 15 minutes and then continue on. A couple of Taiwanese bikers started chatting with me, one with a Kawasaki sports bike and the other with a rather fetching Triumph. The latter seemed to take pride in showing off his bike to a Brit, but I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I could barely take my eyes off of it. He was a middle aged chap, mentioned he had been to London twice, and was a professional photographer. Mid conversation, I noticed how impressed some tourists on a bus were that a Taiwanese person and a foreigner were having a normal conversation, so they decided to take some very low-key (and by low-key, I sarcastically mean extremely unintentionally obvious) photos of us to commemorate the occasion. They’ll talk about that for years.

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After the initial disappointment of the day, I decided to head to another spot that Mr Minch and I failed to properly explore back in 2015. At that time, it seemed to be a shamefully neglected and overgrown entrance to a possibly abandoned temple. While making our way in we noticed that a gang of macaque monkeys were sneakily trying to get into some sort of defensive or ambush position, so we called it off pronto. This time when I stopped by it looked to have been cleared and open for business. Here we go then. There was no sign of any mischievous monkey activity thankfully, but there were a few angry chained mutts. Anyone that has owned a dog will know the sound of a bark from a genuinely angry or aggressive canine. In the first instance I brushed it off as your classic chained dog behaviour, but as I got nearer to one of the buildings I could almost feel the burning fury in this mongrel’s soul, and the froth spraying out of his angry gob. Taking the hint that I wasn’t welcome in the slightest, I 180’d and headed back to my bike, much to the relief of the flea-infested guardian. Today was not going well.

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Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got dogs and chains.

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An abandoned old wooden shack discovered shortly before the livid guard dog.

My final stop – one which I prayed wouldn’t let me down – was going to be the Wenshan hot spring (文山溫泉). Every time I’ve been to Taroko, no matter what time of year, I religiously stop by this place for a soak in the soup. It is arguable whether or not you are allowed to be there, but it seems while the local authority would like to dissuade you from entering there with tough-talking “prohibited” signs, they also know it is virtually impossible to police. Some visitors may be put off, but there are almost certainly a troop of local residents that regularly visit, enjoy, and maintain the hot spring for others. Every time I have visited here the layout or construction of the spring has been different due to the fast flowing river along side it, and of course those darn landslides.

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The famous Wenshan hot spring view from the suspension bridge above. It used to be much more polished than this, but a huge landslide in 2005 dramatically altered the layout.

A short walk down some stairs of varying degrees of traction followed by a cheeky hop around the side of a metal gate gets me right where I want to be, down at the bottom of a canyon next to a raging river and a natural hot spring conveniently located inside a shallow cavern, like a big sheltered bathtub. There are already a number of other bathers already here. One is a well groomed young gentleman sporting a Duke Nukem haircut and sunglasses, whose main pastime seems to be taking hundreds of selfies. There are a boisterous group of two middle aged women and a man enjoying themselves, who I thought might have been on the Gaoliang, but it turns out that they were just from Guangzhou in southern China. Through my broken Chinese and his broken English, we managed to find out enough about each other to satisfy our curiosities. It takes me around 5 minutes to reach some kind of relative comfort in the hot spring, as temperature here is normally around a scalding hot 45 degrees Celsius. The river next to the spring is a Godsend, as you can switch from hot to cold water or vice versa instantly.

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A shot from the river beside the hot spring.

After starting to feel a little light headed, I decided that I’d had enough bathing for today. A 45 minute drive home was fairly uneventful in the dark, except for when one of the biggest moths in the world decided to fly directly into my face when my visor was up, causing significant panic. Kids, if you learn one thing from this blog, it’s that you should always ride with your visor down.

How to camp under the stars in Nan’ao

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Taiwan constantly surprises me. I may have been through a certain area several times and foolishly think that there is nothing else worth exploring but through the wonder of the Internet and my local chums, new information frequently makes its way to my eye and ear-holes whether it be locations for waterfalls, wild hot springs or in this case, caves on a beach.

A couple of years back on a trip to Taroko Gorge, a friend and I camped in this town no further than a two minute drive from this beach, and had absolutely no idea of its existence. I’ve been generous enough to give you a full write-up of our trip and some handy information at the end. Here is how to camp under the stars in Nan’ao.

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Photo credit due to my two fellow cave-campers, @wu_pongo and @jason_maowang for their sweet photography that I stole for this article.

Last week I received a message from one of my mates – Mao – that used to live in Taipei, but is now stationed down in Hualien on army related business. He tells me that he’s training for the Special Forces, but considering that his Instagram stories are just him walking a dog up mountains, I think he might be telling porkies. Only joking pal. I know you’re doing good work.

Anywho, he invited me on a camping trip to Nan’ao (南澳), which is a small, mainly indigenous town in Yilan County along the east coast, far from any city. He talked about sleeping in a cave by the sea, cooking steak for dinner, doing a little off-road motorcycle riding along the beach and having perfect conditions for stargazing in the evening due to the lack of light pollution. On top of that, it was his birthday, so it would be a crime not to throw a few beers into the equation. Is there anything here that doesn’t sound appealing? So I said yes, and started to pack my bag.

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I took the 3 hour motorcycle journey from Taipei all the way along the number 9 road, which takes you directly to central Nan’ao. I met Mao here (he was over an hour late, for the record) and we collected a few last minute supplies from the Hi-Life near to the train station; drinking water, kimchi, and obviously a couple of birthday beers. Then we loaded our guts with noodles and “100 year old egg”, which is tastier than it sounds. Give it a whirl.

We got down to the beach (GPS co-ordinates at the end of the article) via Hai’an Road and in a particularly sincere manner, the first thing Mao said to me before we touched the sand was:

“Don’t let your wheels get stuck, OK?”

Sound advice that I hoped wouldn’t be an issue for me on my Kymco KTR. I was quite wrong. For around 2km, the ground is manageable. The route is regularly used by the 4×4 vehicles of fishermen on the beach, thus the sand is fairly well compacted. I had little to complain about for the moment, but Mao – on his scooter – had to travel a little slower, saying that he was concerned for the welfare of our eggs. That bloke loves his eggs, I tell ya. When we passed the fishermen, the ground started to get much more soft. We struggled to keep our bikes upright as the front wheels sank left and right. I came up with the bright idea of riding nearer to the sea, where the ground was mainly stones, and presumably had more of a solid ground. I was catastrophically wrong, and I hated myself for it. The wheels sank into the ground, and I had visions of the tide coming in to make matters a whole lot worse. Thankfully, using careful clutch control and a lot of manhandling, I managed to get the bike back up onto the sand.

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That daft sod is me. Nice view though, eh?

Admitting defeat, Mao and I parked our bikes far up the beach as near to the cliff as possible so that the tide wouldn’t reach them. We walked the final kilometre because, well, we couldn’t take any more. Another of our friends joined later (who has a larger, heavier scooter, plus more beer) and had to park 500m further from camp than us. Doing the heroic thing, we walked down to meet him (and the beers) and helped with carrying supplies.

One nice addition to this area is the presence of a small waterfall. You can’t swim in it or anything, but it’s a handy place to have a natural shower in the evening. It’s easy to find, it’s about a 5 minute walk from the caves.

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Our shower for the evening. I’m afraid no towels are supplied so you’ll have to bring your own.

After this point there is a large, unmissable cave that is by far the most ideal spot for camping without a tent. It’s huge, is practically fully covered and has room for plenty of people. Unfortunately for us, when we arrived it was occupied by a group of stargazers. We took the second best option, which is just a little further along. The weather was perfect for our stay with hardly a cloud in the sky so shelter from the rain wasn’t a priority at the time, and we didn’t use sleeping bags. I can’t say with confidence that there is enough cover in the second cave to keep you dry overnight if it rains, so consider taking a tent if the weather report looks a bit iffy.

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This is the prime real estate of the area, the first cave. Set up camp here first and you’re laughing.

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Our evening was essentially photographing the Milky Way, drinking a little beer and scotch, and chowing down on wedges of cave steak. Pretty manly, eh? Yes it is.

We awoke at around 5am just before sunrise, as the dawn’s light didn’t really give us any option. As I have weak British skin, my kind friends mercifully decided to make a move sooner rather than later to stop my pasty bum getting burnt to a crisp. As expected, we struggled for the first section but once we reached the fishing spot it was plain sailing, as they say.

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Top notch sunrise.

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Handy info:

  • You can catch the train from Taipei to Nan’ao, which takes between 2-3 hours, and runs every 3 hours via the Mountain line or the Coast line trains. It’s $304NTD for the fast train and $234NTD for the slightly slower one.* This website allows you to search for train times, is pretty simple to navigate, and is in English! Woohoo!
  • The bus is a little pointless, as you have to change in Ludong (羅東) to get the train to Nan’ao anyway. If you bloody love buses and insist on doing this, you can get the 1917 or 1915 from Taipei bus station, which takes you to Ludong.
  • If you do plan on cooking, central Nan’ao (by the train station) has a few convenience stores such as Hi-Life and 7-eleven, so you can stop up on supplies there to save you from lugging your body weight in dried noodles and canned beef.
  • The caves are located about 4km south of the road that takes you to the beach (GPS co-ordinates for this road are [24.438332, 121.801142], and GPS co-ordinates for the caves are approximately [24.402575, 121.788924].
    You should either be prepared for a long slog of a beach walk or take a 4×4 vehicle. As you have just read, scooters are possible, but not advisable. If you take a motorcycle like a Sym Wolf or KTR, you might be OK, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…
  • If you do take a scooter/motorcycle, don’t ride on the stones near to the sea, like this idiot. I made the mistake so that you could learn! You’re welcome.
  • Take your bestest camera and tripod to shoot the Milky Way at night. If the sky is clear it really is spectacular.
  • Other essentials: earplugs (the sound of waves crashing is LOUD in the cave), mosquito repellent, drinking water, ground mat, picnic blanket, stove (obviously only if you want to cook), towel (if you want a waterfall shower), and a headlamp or LED light.

*All above info correct as of July 2017. You have my utmost heartfelt apologies if any of it is outdated.

Day Thirteen: Dulan to Hualien

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This morning the jets gave me a more soothing wake up call than I would have received from the Minions bin lorry (or “The Binions” as I’ve just realised I should have called it) that followed around ten minutes afterwards, in all their annoying, fatuous glory.

So onto my route for the day. I couldn’t help researching this one before today as it looked to be one of the most interesting and scenic journeys of the trip. The plan was to head south towards Taitung on the 11 road, then north along the 197 – which looked like 40-50km of mountain road bliss – which eventually joins the mammoth 9 road. Thankfully only briefly, as you can opt for the less direct but far more enjoyable choice of the 193 road, guiding you all the way to Hualien city.

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Taitung (台東), as seen from the southern end of the 197 road.

Several days prior, I had a conversation with one of my friends living in Taipei, whose name will remain anonymous. But he knows exactly who he is. And so will all of my Taiwanese friends reading this by looking at the profile picture below.. We talked about where I’d been so far, most of the places I chose to stop off at he was already familiar with, as that group are avid hikers, and probably know every inch of this island between them. Please observe the following conversation.

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Sounds good eh? Aboriginal tribes, mountain roads, and lush scenery, pretty much everything I’m looking for. I wasn’t so keen on the 11 road, as it has the same view of the ocean for the entire journey and would most likely be full of construction vehicles, trucks and tour buses, as it’s one of the main routes between Hualien and the south. The 197 to 193 route was the obvious winner.

Once I’d reached the 197 the traffic became virtually nonexistent, which wasn’t a bad thing at first. Then I realised that I hadn’t seen another human being for about 30 minutes of riding. Then I noticed that the road surface changed from that of a solid asphalt to loose gravel. Then it became slightly muddy. I kept my confidence by noting that I was – at least – still on the correct route as I continued to ride past ‘197’ road markers, and that I was on a suitable mode of transport: a rugged KTR dirtbike. I’ve seen uncles riding these bad boys up hiking trails with several gas canisters on the back, so I had confidence that it was prepared for a challenge. I remember reaching a point where the road continued to get worse and worse, and my brain had a negative spell once the thought of getting a puncture crossed my mind. I had no repair kit, and hadn’t seen a soul for about 10km. If the worst happened, the bike would have to remain while I went in search of a mechanic by foot. I started to care less about enjoying the quiet mountain countryside views and more about getting back onto solid tarmac and finding some degree of civilisation.

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Another beauty on the way out of Taitung.

I powered along the deteriorating road – incidentally the worst I recall seeing in Taiwan – in the belief that it had to end soon. Well, it got worse before it got better. I turned several corners that had clearly suffered landslide damage; piles of rocks teetered on the edge of a steep cliff drop to the left hand side, which was sporadically marked by temporary (though clearly showed some age) concrete safety barriers. Large chunks of granite littered the road but were only a minor obstacle to be steered around. The real stumbling block was around the next corner, which is probably best described as a 30 metre clay pit. Grey, wet, and appearing to have the consistency of a chocolate mousse, I stopped to think about the best method of crossing. Quickly? Nope. If the bike topples in, I’m in big trouble. Hard to lift out, and I would bet that the clay isn’t good for the exposed engine, and tough to clean afterwards. Slowly then? But maybe I’ll get stuck and the bike will start to sink. Not slowly and not too fast? OK sounds good. Let’s do that.

My main comfort was that I could see car tyre marks from previous visitors of the swamp, but I had no idea when they had been made, and if it had rained since then. I was hopeful that the more narrow weight distribution on a motorcycle wouldn’t be a problem if the clay had been compacted by the last car’s mass. I turned on my Xiaoyi camera to capture the event, as I predicted a lot of swearing and anger being directed at the aforementioned expert of Taiwan for his terrible advice, which I could show to him later. With some careful manoeuvring and the use of my feet as impromptu stabilisers, we managed to brave the metaphorical banana skin with only a caking of dried clay on the bike and my trainers.

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Just. Look. At. That. Shit. Not fun.

Around 15 minutes later, a random road sign appeared on the gravel road, seeming to show different routes at a junction. My first instinct was to laugh. My second thought was that a previous landslide had most likely dramatically altered the landscape, thus calling for a slight re-shuffle of the intersection. All of that was rubbish in the end, as 100m later I finally reached a junction made of my old friend: tarmac.

Overjoyed is too insignificant an adjective to describe my immediate mood. I punched the air, whooped, and even chanted my celebrations. I felt like I was smoothly floating over the road, and leaned into turns with ease. We had reached industrially developed society again! A clear reiteration of that was the appearance of a well placed 7-eleven, where I stopped to have lunch – covered in dust and clay.

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Between there and the 193 road there is a place called Chishang (池上), which has a straight road flanked by rice paddies used for a TV advert or movie or something, and as a result has been firmly placed into the Famous category. The knock on effect is one of the most horrible tourist traps I’ve has the misfortune of seeing in all of Taiwan, and is smothered in tackiness. Loud music blares out at eardrum shattering levels, dozens of pedal rickshaw drivers wait by the barricaded entrance to the road, and hordes of tour groups shuffle up and down the road taking their unique pictures of the famous tree. I’m trying my best not to sound negative about this, but… well, I’ll leave it there. I just don’t understand it. I tried at least to have a ride down the road to see what all the fuss was about, and the swindle of rickshaw drivers (incidentally,  “swindle” is a word of my own invention; the collective noun for rickshaw and taxi drivers) jumped up in unison to tell me that no, I was not allowed down this road on my vehicle. However, if I wanted to hire a bicycle or rickshaw then I was very welcome to try and enjoy myself while attempting not to crash into anyone. I very politely told them that this option did not interest me, and carried on my merry way.

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A road leading away from Chishang (池上). There are a wealth of straight flat roads alongside rice paddies to explore, and all but one are empty!

It didn’t take long before I was on the glorious 193 road which quickly made it into my top two favourite roads in Taiwan. It snakes through rural villages, lazy winding rivers, ramshackle farmhouses, stagnant ponds and is home to many curious locals. Frankly, 90 kilometres of pure joy. The traffic is nonexistent as the vast majority of vehicles want to finish their Taitung – Hualien (or vice versa) journey as soon as possible, so logically choose the faster route 9 or 11. The only other users of this road are locals driving from village to village, or lycra-clad tour bikers. It’s surprisingly well maintained, which I would attribute to its popularity with cyclists, and that if it wasn’t in such a condition it would be avoided (like, oh I don’t know, the 197?) meaning a loss of revenue for the local people. Probably the only drawback would be a minor loss of convenience; you can still buy drinks and whatnot, but I wouldn’t expect the choice of FamilyMart or 7-eleven from the little family-run shacks they have here. Although, the road runs in-between the aforementioned routes 9 and 11, so you are never too far away should you wish to get your favourite Matcha Latte drink.

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Some snaps from the sticks on the 193 route.

As the sublime 193 came to an end, so too did my luck. Rain started to fall after an entire day’s worth of dry weather, something fairly rare on the east coast. I pulled over to cover my backpack in tarpaulin and replace my trainers with rubber Croc-like shoes which are perfik for riding a motorcycle in the rain, and as I bent over to slip them on my phone slid out of my jacket breast pocket. It hit the road and settled face down. People that have done this before know the awful feeling of not knowing exactly how shattered your phone may or may not be. Schrödinger’s Screen. It is both perfectly fine and completely ruined at that moment. I picked it up and turned it around for inspection, full of hope. Yeah, It was ruined. The impact hit the corner and the cracks spread the whole way up the screen, splintering in the bottom right. It was the final nail in the coffin, and I decided to get a new phone when I returned to Taipei, but for now, thankfully I was on the outskirts of Hualien and it was fairly simple to find my lodgings for the evening without the use of GPS. I reached the hostel at about 18:30 and took a well-earned shower.

My phone buzzes. It’s a text from my mate, you know, the bloke with all the good travel advice? He asks me how I got on. I tell him I hate his guts and will never forgive him. He seems confused. I tell him every detail of my ordeal, and he nonchalantly responds:

“Aww yeah, sorry. It’s not the 197. 193 is the one I meant.”
“…What?!”
“Did you take the 197 then?”
“Yep.”
“Oh I heard that it’s really difficult, like all off-road…”
“…Yep.”
“Dabon (mutual friend) is the only one of the group that has taken that road before, he says it’s horrible.”
“…I will destroy you.”
“The 193 is beautiful though, isn’t it?”

During my rage, one thing distracted me. How the bloody’ell did Dabon get through that clay pit on a scooter? To stop me riding all the way back to Taipei for a fight, I settled down for the evening by listening to whale song on my iPod. Day fourteen was going to be a big one: exploring the colossal Taroko Gorge.

 

Day Twelve: Trips around Dulan

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I took breakfast at a family-run restaurant just over the road from the hostel, which by my reckoning was the best in town. The brains of the outfit was a kind lady who spoke fine English, and looked too young to be called Auntie, but maybe not quite young enough to be called older sister. Regardless, she knew how to fry a noodle or two. Habitually – as conversing with a foreigner – she asked me in English what I’d like to order and I responded in Chinese, which caught her off guard somewhat, judging by the slight recoil of her head and surprised “ooo” noise. At the time, my Chinese was terrible as opposed to completely terrible, so we had a very basic conversation and as usual I felt out of my depth. However, the shop was quiet so she was patient and used a lot of hand gestures to give me hints and reminders of words, leaving me to piece together the Mandarin jigsaw and figure out the sentence. It was a real examination too: “Where do you live?” “Who taught you Chinese?” “How many days have you been travelling for?” “How much did you just give me for this meal?” “How much change will I return to you?” Just recalling the conversation in my head is making me sweat nervously; my maths is poor enough without having to combine it with Chinese. When she was satisfied of my lack of proficiency, she switched back to English to allow me the usual compliments, but in particular that my pronunciation is very good, much better than most foreigners. This is an accolade that I’ve been awarded several times before on separate occasions, but I tend not to read too much into it as it seems like a common something that people say to foreigners to be polite. Either way, thank you lovely restaurant lady.

Full of rice and that, I went back to the hostel to get a tea down me and laze around for an hour to get some inspiration for the day whilst digesting my morning feast. Comfortably planted on an armchair in the first floor chillzone was a bright Korean lady called Sangmee (hi, if you’re reading) who I’d spoken a few passing words to previously, but nothing too in-depth. I expected some polite chit-chat about what we’re doing here, where we’re from, and all of the stereotypical hostel small talk subjects until we find common ground or get bored of each other. On rare occasions, you quickly realise that you are speaking to someone that, for whatever reason, you are comfortable speaking with about most subjects. We talked engagingly for something close to a couple of hours which flew by, until good ol’ Bo Selecta (hostel staff) popped her head in and asked about our plans for the day. She and her friend wanted to head up to Sanxiantai (三仙台) which is an island just off of the east coast of Taiwan, around 30-40km north of Dulan. By the time Bo had done the rounds of the hostel, there were an eager crew of six; Sangmee, my dorm mate Laurent, Bo, her friend Ine, spiritual Dez, and me. The democratic vote was to hit some nearby bridge with ace views, eat some bao zi (包子 aka steamed buns) from a famous restaurant (of course), and finally to Sanxiantai – known as the platform of the three immortals.

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Sanxiantai (三仙台) from the beach. Photo credits due to Masta Minch from a previous visit, annoyingly my pictures came out awful due to low light and no tripod, hence why I enlisted extra help. It’s all for your benefit so shut it. Check out his other pro snaps at mastaminch.com – he’s alright you know.

We hit the bikes and set off for the first two destinations, as they are within spitting distance of each other. We arrived at the steamed bun (Bao zi) shop with a chorus of rumbling bellies and I can say with confidence that we all looked forward to stuffing our faces with these renowned buns. It was a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, not exactly a peak time, so we were served more promptly than expected. Top marks for speed, but the buns were not as good as hoped. I may have mentioned this before, but Taiwan has an obsession with “famous” things, most commonly tea shops or restaurants. They may have been the original place to sell a certain kind of food, or one of the longest established in the area, or it may have even been decent once. However, the famous label often means – in my experience – that you have to queue a long time for an average product. Luckily today there was no queue, but the lack of excellence was definitely present. Maybe that’s harsh. It wasn’t bad exactly, just… well… like everywhere else. I have no idea why it’s famous. Or which person decides who gets that title.

Bao in our guts pushed us to continue, but not before I’d gone for a wee at the local cop shop. I felt it might have been a bit cheeky, but I think it was the most exciting thing that happened all day as we were in a small township, and they were only too pleased to oblige. Shortly after we found the first bridge, but as it was for pedestrians only, it was blocked to traffic. Laurent and Dez got there first, and quickly spun around and sped off without waiting for a tactical discussion. Unfortunate for them, because the rest of us were quite keen on having a look around. So, after inadvertently splitting up, we hiked  down to the water’s edge and sat for a while on the limestone rocks along the banks of the river, far from the hubbub of the selfie taking tourists on the bridge. This is the kind of travelling I’m all about.

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Tranquil serenity. Serene tranquillity. Any way you want it, that’s the way ya need it.

After an hour’s drive or so we arrived at the main attraction, the small island just off of the coast known as Sanxiantai (三仙台). Back in the day, the only way to access it was during low tide, as visitors had to walk across. In 1987, the government built a bridge allowing access during high tide, which has been constructed in the shape of a humped dragon’s body. The walk over the walkway is part of the whole experience, as you can see, hear and feel the huge waves crashing up against the rocks and bridge as you watch over the side. This was my second time here, and both visits have been overshadowed by murky skies and strong winds. Usually this would be pretty undesirable, but here it creates a moody atmosphere; a spectacular show of crashing water and the resulting spray being whipped around by gale force gusts, and leaves your hair looking like you’ve just crossed the Atlantic on a speedboat. The island itself is a fine place to spend at least an hour walking around, it’s a small volcanic island but supports a surprising amount of greenery and wildlife. The surrounding coral reefs are said to be among the very best in the whole country, so if you like to get wet and look at things underwater then you could do a lot worse than here. It was an hour or so before dusk, so we didn’t get the chance to have a thorough explore, but it did mean that there were few other people, so – at least for me – the enjoyment was doubled.

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Thanks again Masta Minch, top man.

On the way back to the bikes, my phone decided to switch itself off and immediately expend almost all of the battery juice, and continue to do that frequently for the remainder of its life. This was potentially a huge problem for me, considering that GPS navigation was virtually a necessity for the rest of the trip until I got back to Taipei. Plugging my power bank in seemed to temporarily cure it, but I was concerned about the next few days. Only time would tell if I made it back to Taipei.

It held out long enough to reach the hostel in Dulan, where we converged once again with Laurent and Dez after their earlier detour. After some dinner at the night market, I made a spontaneous decision to ride back to Taitung for the sole reason of taking a photo of a neon light sign I spotted while there a couple of nights ago. I already had a picture on my phone, but was keen to snap one on my camera to capture a wider shot with higher resolution, which would also be more suitable for photoshop tweaking. Ine decided there wasn’t a whole lot else going on and jumped on the back of the bike to come along for the ride. The dry weather held out, I got my photo, and I even had a little of TFC aka Taitung Fried Chicken at “Blue Dragonfly Fried Chicken”, but good luck finding it with that name. Search your map for 藍蜻蜓炸雞. Yes it’s famous. Yes the queue is long. And yes… it’s worth it. The skin has been rubbed with spices and is utterly divine.

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The picture I travelled back to take. Was it worth it? Your opinion doesn’t matter to me anyway, I had the delicious chicken just next door.

Ine and I set off once again for the hostel, where I started to pack my bag and prepare for the next day’s drive, which was arguably the most beautiful of the whole trip.

Day Eleven: Dulan Discoveries

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Let’s begin on a slightly unexpected topic. In Taiwan, the waste disposal system operates a little differently to that of my home, the UK: the British have rubbish (garbage) collections once a week, and everyone leaves their bins out the front of their house or apartment building in preparation for the nice men in the stinky lorry to take their shite away, and probably chuck it on a big heap somewhere. Taiwanese collections can be three or four times each day, with different vehicles receiving different types of waste; some glass bottles, others plastic, and – my personal favourite – standard refuse. But, the most interesting characteristic of these vehicles is that they emit jolly tunes to let people know that it’s time to do the dustbins. It’s one of the things that I fondly associate with only Taiwan, and I remember that it genuinely gave me a welcome  the first time I heard it when returning to Taipei. While being host to pleasant feelings, they can also provoke rage. Day eleven began in the traditional manner (that is, being aggressively woken against my will) with the combined din of a rubbish lorry song, and what I can only assume was a school bus blasting out Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”, but as sung by a group of Minions from Despicable Me. Honestly.  You’re surprised? Imagine how I felt being woken up by that nonsense. Actually I have a video of it somewhere. If anyone’s interested I’ll try and dig it out.

Keen to escape that irritating row, I got myself out of bed to score some breakfast and sort out the day’s activities, such as getting my surf on. I was in the mood for something a bit stodgy, so opted for a bacon and hash brown pancake. Surprisingly this was the first time I had considered that putting all of these three wonderful foods together, but I bet it won’t be the last. Straight after I headed down the road to the most popular place for surf rental; Wagaligong. Home to a multitude of services, they rent boards, offer lessons, have a bar/restaurant and offer accommodation in the form of a backpacker style hostel. It’s popular – with good reason – but I later found out by personal experience that the owner is a 5-star wanker. The kind of person that the word ‘insufferable’ was invented for, so I was glad that I stayed elsewhere. Anyway, that story will come up later. I met a pleasant local girl there called Yong-Yi who instructed me to come back at 3pm, as they would provide me with a lift in their van to the beach. Exploring for a couple of hours until the lift came back seemed like a good use of my free time, so I hopped back on the KTR and decided to go for a little moto-ride.

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The first stop was a fascinating local attraction known in English as “water flowing upwards”. Despite being told by several locals that it was an utter waste of time, these kind of ridiculously named tourist spots give me a tremendous curiosity that demands I see it for myself. It was only a few minutes drive away, and when pulling into the car park I noticed 3 large tour buses and a line of tourists. It never fails to surprise me that in the most dangerous situations – let us call them tour-bus tourists – they don’t seem to be able to anticipate any kind of danger, or anything outside of their current state for that matter. So many, and so blissfully unaware of the world around them. This was while they were crossing a road, and either couldn’t see (irresponsible) or chose to ignore me (inconsiderate) on my bike. A sharp honk of the horn made a few of the permed zombies snap back to reality with a jump, and move their arses out of the road with looks of horror and shock on their faces. Enjoy your tour.

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Not much to report about Water flowing upwards. Just a man-made optical illusion that makes the water look like it’s flowing uphill. Well done to anyone that guessed that. I read that a stone tablet erected there reads “miracle”. Yeah, it’s a miracle that some nutter thought it would be a good use of public money creating it, that’s for sure. Giving it the 45 seconds of my life it deserved seemed fair enough, but inspired me to find something a little more interesting. What do I like? Oh yeah, abandoned stuff. Off to the hills, then. I came across several houses on my search, every one looking potentially uninhabited but demanding a closer look to know for sure, and every one being the home of a very loud and mean looking guard dog. Either they aren’t abandoned or they don’t want people going in. Both of those reasons meant I gave up my search in the hills. But, I did happen to come across a temple with a superb view over the bay, boasting jaw dropping vistas of Dulan, the surrounding areas, and of course the Pacific ocean. I hopped off of my steed for a walk around and a nose inside the temple, when an old gentleman came out to say hello. I quickly depleted the extent of my ability to make small talk in Chinese, so when he continued to talk to me as if I was a native speaker, I apologised for my poor Mandarin skills. I must have pronounced that incredibly well, as he responded by firing off several more questions, probably asking my opinion on the meaning of life, theory of relativity etc, while I stood flummoxed in front of him, grinning politely. This has happened to me many more times than you’d expect. I asked him if I could have a look around and take some photos, and he told me to fill my boots. Many thanks, temple guardian. After that, I hit the town and smashed a bowl of pork fat rice before the main event.

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The aforementioned temple. Not particularly grand, but a place for the locals to go and pay tribute to whoever, and has a grand view out the front.

Surfing was terrible. I plumped for a 7′ board rather than the 9′ as I recalled that it was the size I used the previous year when in the water. Shortly after my attempts to ride some waves it became clear that it was a bad choice, and it dawned on me that I had struggled last time too. It was incredibly hard. Now, I’m not making my excuses or anything – but – the conditions didn’t help. The waves were essentially just weak white water, and any bigger waves that manifested quickly died out and lost their momentum. But the fact that I’m a shite surfer probably doesn’t help matters.

Being essentially a beginner, I struggled to find if there was a consistent break point, so all I could do was stay patient, and try to keep an eye out for any potentially decent swells coming in. I’d say around six good waves came in all day, and I only managed to attempt around half of that amount. Another surfer in the bay, a Korean lady, was an absolute beginner before having a lesson in the morning session, and for most of the afternoon slot she was slouched over her board, practically begging for the end. Also in the water was a Bosnian girl who seemed to have a little more experience, but still appeared to be finding her sea legs. Evidently it’s very common that travellers stay here for longer than expected, and end up working at a hostel on a no-wages-but-free-bed basis. She was one of them so I’d bet good money that she’s improved considerably. Maybe I should consider doing that if I ever want to elevate myself beyond the level of “Barney”.

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Found this little pond up an overgrown lane while looking for empty houses. I’d guess it’s a man-made fishery.

That the sea had virtually evaporated my entire energy supply mattered not. Arriving back at the hostel, one of the workers – named ‘Bo’ – invited me to go to another hostel with her friends for a fish BBQ, which was fresh out of the Pacific that very day. Wasting no time, I showered the saltiness and disappointment away before heading straight over with Proper Bo and a few beers for the crew, even though I was told it wasn’t necessary. The hostel owner welcomed me, and cheerfully introduced himself as “Xiao Yu”, which translates to “Small Fish”. Quite appropriate really, as once we had finished the fish he squeezed into his not-so-little wetsuit, grabbed his mask and snorkel then told us he was going to catch some sea urchins for us! At this time, it was 7pm and pitch black. He assured us he’d be back in 30 minutes with his catch. Time for a beer then.

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I felt incredibly outnumbered initially, with a group of nine girls and two fellas. Being the only foreigner, the typical curious questions came up about where I’m from and whatnot, and the subject of sports came up. A couple of the girls played basketball for their university team, and they asked what I enjoyed. Of course I said football, squash (I enjoyed discovering they call it “wall-ball”, which I hope catches on over here), and then cricket. To my great surprise, a couple of girls were quite interested in cricket. I mean, that’s pretty rare even in England. When I say they were quite interested, I mean they knew that it’s basically the English equivalent of baseball, and even more complicated. Anyhow, to satisfy the intrigue of the other girls I started to explain some of the rules, and gave up halfway through leg before wicket due to a number of glazed eyes. True to his word, Xiao Yu came back with a canvas shopping bag of sea urchins, and a self-satisfied grin. Sadly, it was just as a few of us were on our way out, so it’s a delicacy that I still haven’t had the pleasure of trying.

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Yikes. Keep your eyes peeled for crumbling roads. This area suffers a great deal during typhoon season with flooding, and scores – if not, hundreds – of landslides like this one.

Next on the list was a bonfire down by the sea. When Bo suggested this, the proposal seemed like more of a given than an idea, as though this is an everyday occurance. A recruitment session at the hostel followed, and several of the guests came along too. Arriving at the beach, it was easy to see why this pastime is virtually a daily event. The soft and cool sea breeze alleviated the tropical heat and warmth from the bonfire, while the practically inexhaustible supply of washed up driftwood meant the fire would always start well, and continue for as long as its audience could stay awake. Two of the guests from my hostel were from Tibetan areas; the first was from the capital Lhasa, and the second from a small town called Langmusi in Gansu province, in the very centre of China with a primarily Tibetan population. A huge coincidence and cause of excitement for both of us was that I had visited that exact town a year before. A law student in the process of obtaining a Tibetan Law degree – which I perhaps disrespectfully considered was a niche market, especially considering the Chinese government’s relentless destruction of Tibetan culture and identity – and having an extremely good grasp of English, I thought I’d give her a brief interrogation about Tibet. Having never visited Tibet and being subject to a lot of hearsay heavily biased against the big bad Chinese government, I wondered if all of the talk was true. By the talk, I mean the supposed constant surveillance of tourists, dilution of Tibetan culture and implementation of Han businesses such as bars, nightclubs and otherwise un-Tibetan establishments. Sadly, she confirmed that everything I’d heard was correct. Maybe my assumption wasn’t so ignorant after all. They both had a flight back to Taipei at 4am, so unfortunately the conversation didn’t continue as long as I would have liked.

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Another victim of a typhoon’s wrath.

As with most of my conversations in Taiwan, the subject of old abandoned buildings came up. Dez, one of the workers at the hostel who was a particularly spiritual South African girl mentioned that she had located an interesting one which was as close as about 10 minutes worth of riding. There were four of us in total, so we went for a cruise up the hill to find an abandoned mansion. It was pitch black when we parked the bikes as we had travelled out of town and up the mountains a fair distance. Except for a few houses or small farms on the way, there wasn’t a lot of light pollution. It was clear after arriving at the house that it was obviously abandoned, but that no one had ever lived here as the construction wasn’t finished. The general structure of the building was complete, but none of the rooms had been finished beyond a simple plastering of the walls. I prefer the places I go to have a little history, but this was fairly interesting in it’s own right, as the view over the jungle and bay was awe inspiring. Poor old Bo Selecta stayed as quiet as a mouse for the whole visit, and when pressed why she revealed that she was terrified of ghosts. My dorm mate Laurent and I were indifferent, feeling no different to sitting on the beach. Dez did her best to make Bo feel better, but I’m not sure it worked. Shortly after we all made our way back to the hostel for a well deserved slumber.

Day Ten – Taitung to Dulan

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I can only assume that it was to stir up some familiar feelings of nostalgia for the readers of this blog and I that the Taiwanese Air Force once again decided to hold a dress rehearsal of World War III, which was a very considerate but slightly deafening loud alarm clock. Fortunately for my dorm mates, none of them seemed to even stir at this assault on the eardrums. Unable and unwilling to hang around in bed at the start of a glorious day with such a din, I got my stuff together and headed out for the day. I had plans to do a touch of urban exploration today as I’d heard that Taitung, and the south of Taiwan in general, is a bountiful trove of abandoned buildings for keen explorers.

First on my list was the old Datong Cinema, just off of Zhongzheng Road, one of the main roads of the city. I parked over the road to look as inconspicuous as possible, and wandered over down the side road for a closer look. The front door was open wide, so I got in as soon as possible. A dog next door must have heard something and started to have a bark-up, but I wasn’t hugely concerned as it seemed like the kind that would bark at any noise and not be taken seriously by its owners. ‘The wolf that cried wolf’, if you like.

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Datong Cinema in all of its… well, not glory, but… you know what I’m saying. It’s there.

After researching afterwards I discovered that the theatre closed in 2009 after a fire claimed the building. It’s particularly evident upstairs where you can see in the photos that the walls are totally caked in black, ironically masking many fire extinguisher and no smoking signs. Taiwan used to have almost as many cinemas as people at one point, and due to technology advances such as home entertainment systems and large multi-screen theatres, the industry slowly died out. As businesses struggled to make ends meet, I would guess that many resorted to the ‘insurance job’, where a mysterious fire would begin, thus prompting a payout to the owner(s). That’s not to say it definitely happened here, but it seems to be a common factor in these situations.

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Make sure you put that fag out, fella. Could start a fire in here. Shame the fire extinguisher is missing.

While searching downstairs in the main lobby, I could hear the sound of a different dog barking menacingly, and then a faint, prolonged hissing noise. After putting an image together in my brain, he must have been pressing his nose to the bottom of a door or fence to try and smell if his suspicions were correct. I suspected that he was on the other side of a wall, and so wouldn’t be able to come into the cinema. One of my pet hates (forgive the pun) of this urbex lark is running into stray dogs; you never know if they will be vicious or not, and I’ve had one or two unsettling run-ins in the past.

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This is the direction of the unnerving dog sniffing noise.

The next thing I know, I hear the patter of dog feet heading towards the room that I’m in. I freeze, and wait for him to come round the corner and find me. I had nothing on me to repel him. Should I shout at him? Act aggressive maybe? Just run out of the doors? I have enough experience with dogs to know that running away is by far the worst option, so I decide to stand my ground. I wait, and as the footsteps get closer he stops outside the room and smells the air, obviously having not seen me. This makes me think that he was actively searching for me, which put me even more on edge. I bit the bullet and made the first move by walking towards him with a heavy stomp. As soon as I did this, he figuratively shat himself, and his twitchy movement caught me off guard and made me jump out of my skin, instantly loading up my Fight or Flight mode. Thankfully, rather than lash out he ran a million miles an hour back to the hole he squeezed in through, either going to fetch his doggie pals or leaving me in peace to explore this old cultural temple.

As a result of that confrontation, I couldn’t take a decent picture for a good couple of minutes as my hands were a-wobblin’. So, I went for a walk around to see if there were any hidden corners I had missed. Where the wooden roof had perished due to the fire, nature had reclaimed the old seating area by way of an overgrown grass patch, with a few trees of varying size dotted about. There had clearly been some agricultural works going on by the locals as I managed to find a handy scythe which would act as my dog deterrent in case Sniffy came back with his gang. Nothing of real interest downstairs, bar the rear exit which looked quite out of place, and the ticket booth. Upstairs there were a few interesting trinkets, such as rolls of film and projector spools.

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The projection box housing all of the necessary equipment required to show the movies. All the big stuff looks to have been pilfered long ago, with only damaged and inexpensive items remaining.

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The ticket booth facing out onto the front of the building.

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Now the wooden roof trusses have been burnt away, Mother Nature has created an enclosed garden of sorts. This used to be the main screen, and afterwards was split into separate screens when times became hard.

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The incongruous rear exit. Or the fire exit? Probably not as the door is made of wood, and so is the roof, and so is about a third of the whole structure.  So no, it’s not the fire exit.

I headed back to the hostel and targeted some local houses that were in poor shape. My biggest fear, along with bumping into a pack of hungry and rabid stray dogs, is that I walk into someone’s house that is still living there; someone that may not speak any English. Should that situation arise I had an idea and means of dealing with it – say hello to my Urbex Apology Cue Cards! For any urban explorer types that don’t speak the local lingo, it might be worth spending a few minutes preparing something like this.

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台灣人 – 不要笑! I hoped this would be better than trying to explain why I have wandered into some poor old Auntie’s living room. I take it with me in my wallet everywhere. Well, not in England, you fools.

As predicted it was difficult to tell which buildings were inhabited and those that weren’t. I spent a great deal of time at several entrances of houses scratching my chin in deliberation, but more often than not decided against it. I did come across a house on a corner which had a door left open, making it safe enough to assume it was empty. Clutching my Apology Cards, I crept into the lean-to attached to the side of the house, and while examining a world map left on a chest freezer, a ginger cat panicked at the sight of a visitor and bundled itself off to the safety of a roof beam deeper inside the house. For the second time today, his extreme shock matched my own. There weren’t enough clues to give much indication of who lived here, but it’s safe to say that the previous residents left due to a fire. Consequently, the roof now exhibited a huge accidental skylight which must have been there for some time now. The house was swarming with mosquitoes and probably was a consequence of both of the bedrooms being totally flooded. I bade the cat adieu and continued my search.

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My next discovery came while I was looking for an abandoned shopping centre and came across this place. Placed above the third storey was a weathered and poorly maintained neon sign, which looked like it hadn’t been turned on for years. The name on the sign translates to something along the lines of “Gold Jade Stone”, which is a little paradoxical considering jade is green. Whatevs. The first impression the building gave was that of a possibly abandoned shady KTV bar, looking like a fairly run of the mill flat roof house but with an old neon sign out the front. I couldn’t see much evidence to suggest that anyone was inside so I decided to take a closer look. After walking through a side door into the garage, I could see a couple of tanktops hanging on a clothes dryer, and two scooters parked inside. As it wasn’t a busy area, it was almost certain that people would be inside the house, ruining my hopes of exploration. Drat. Five minutes later while taking a photo of the place, two girls in their twenties left the building and walked past me with indifference. It’s by no means certain, but after seeing them my mind became fairly made up in deciding that it was 85% probably some kind of brothel.

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Eventually with a little Taiwanese assistance (on my phone, not in the brothel), I found the shopping centre I was looking for. Annoyingly, it turned out to be fruitless, but it did push me in the direction of a far more interesting discovery which is far too long to detail here, and besides, I’ve already done the write-up, innit?

After that little adventure, I headed back to the hostel as the darkness of the evening was almost upon the city. It was time to think about my next step, and my next planned destination was Dulan (都蘭); a small community about 30 minutes drive from Taitung up the 11 road, which stretches all the way to Hualien city. I was told that it’s one of the best places to surf in Taiwan, so after feeling like I have seen most of what Taitung had to offer I felt that staying another night may be one too many. It’s nice and all, but very ‘sleepy’ and moreover I started to feel a strong hunger to get in the water, particularly after my previous disappointment. And it was a Sunday, so perhaps a move to Surfville would be a more interesting (beer filled) evening.

I reluctantly said my goodbyes to my handy inn-keeper; it’s always sad to leave such a nice hostel in a quiet place, but feet itch and waves need to be ridden. Back on my trip north many seemingly deserted buildings dotted the route, but it was far too dark to start looking around. In fact, one particularly infamous abandoned building is the Sugihara Hotel. Granted permission to build by the government but without planning permission, the whole thing stunk of dirty money controversy, so much so that the local populace protested the build for years. Ironically, once it was completed the courts ruled that it should never have been allowed and so was prohibited to open. A brand new luxury hotel sits empty and useless on a beautiful beach, tarnishing the view that the population fought so fiercely to save. Curiosity demanded that I have a look around, but it looked alarmed, and unlikely to have a way in that doesn’t involve breaking a lock which isn’t my style.

The good news is, I drove past a restaurant call “Pooz”, so… every cloud and all that…

Day Nine – Kenting to Taitung

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So I’d just passed the halfway point; both geographically and in terms of trip duration. Today I waved farewell to the sunny shores of Kenting and fist bumped the east coast city of Taitung.

The day started with a local breakfast in the company of my dorm mate Esther and hostel chief Ian. He recommended a well respected family eatery where we were fortunate enough to sample a delicious cold noodle dish called Ma Jiang Mian (麻醬麵). Incorporating the aforementioned cold noodles and a combination of peanut, sesame and soy sauce along with sesame seeds, it is entirely unpretentious and – along with one of my favourites lu rou fan (滷肉飯) – a great inexpensive dish for backpackers, or indeed anyone on a budget. After this scrumptious start, we headed back to the centre of Hengchun to find a huge bandstand in the town square with several people focusing their attention intently on the performer. Curious to see what the fuss was about, I wandered over and gradually started to hear what sounded like a rock band performing live, then was taken aback after seeing just one drummer on stage. To make things more bizarre, he could barely see over the bass drum or reach the pedal as he looked, in my eyes, no more than 10 years old. He knew how to hit the bloody things though, to be fair to him. From what I’d witnessed, his only competition was a girl of about 8 on a unicycle, and she was absolutely shit. Sorry little girl. Practice harder for next year.

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The glorious 200 road. Ride it ride it ride it.

It took about 20 minutes to get packed up and strapped down onto the motorbike before I was ready to set off on the day’s journey. My plan was to take the 200 road (AKA Bee-sting Boulevard) then opt for the only possible route along the east coast to Taitung. One of the cons of having boundless mountain terrain is that it can limit your choice of road at times. The main drawback about this isn’t that I can’t choose the route that I want to take; more that I’ll have to share the road with infinite amounts of cars, tourist buses, 12 ton lorries, and last but definitely not least, huge construction vehicles. Taitung and beyond to the north along the east coast of Taiwan suffer immensely from constant landslides, which dictate the frequent need for maintaining and rebuilding of infrastructure, just to add to the inconvenience. Consequently, if you ride from Kenting to Taitung or vice-versa, be prepared to share the road with every other driver going in the same direction. One recommendation aside from the obvious safety bikewear is a facemask or scarf to tie around your mouth and nose, otherwise expect to be wiping exhaust dust and road grit off of your face for the next few days. Heed this warning. HEED IT. Anyway, that’s exactly what happened, but more on that later.

I was more than happy to take the same road again as yesterday, actually it felt like a real treat as my first road of the day. My planned route all the way up to Taitung would be a little different to what I’ve become accustomed to so far, as aside from the obvious surrounding beauty, the area boasts a high population density of aboriginal Taiwanese, in fact, the second highest percentage in the country. The indigenous group here are known as the Paiwan people, and their legend is typically fascinating – their ancestors lived on the nearby Dawu mountain (on the border of Taitung and Pingtung counties) in an area called Paiwan, where heaven was said to exist. Since then, the population has spread out, but their identity has always retained that name. Good eh? Also, back in the 19th century they had several tit-for-tat minor rucks with the good ol’ US of A, most notably the Rover incident and the Formosa Expedition, the latter being the retaliation for the former; the killing of American sailors after their ship sank off the coast of Taiwan (then Formosa), but only because they started it by killing natives first. Apparently. For such a small island, Taiwan’s history certainly is rich and captivating.

On my drive through I certainly understood one of the reasons that humans settled here thousands of years ago, it’s bloody magnificent to look at. As altitude increases the scenery seamlessly transforms from clear blue sea to jungle canopies along a spine of rugged mountain peaks. This was probably one of the best photos I took on the whole trip, complete with Jesus rays and everything. Check it yo.

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One of the memorable moments of the journey. A car passed me while I was enjoying the view and decided to pull over and join in with the basking. Or so I thought. A father-son combo got out, spoke together in Taiwanese dialect for a minute or two, then finally Dad had a fag (cigarette for non-UK readers) and a wee before hopping back in the car and continuing their journey. They must have thought this view was rather average if they live around ‘ere.

Almost every minute of the journey once I’d reached the 9 road was stuck behind a large, and hence slow vehicle, repeatedly kicking dirt and dust into my face like a wronged cowboy. Luckily the weather was better than expected, if a little uncertain at times, with oceans of dark grey clouds manifesting directly above and in front of me, while blue skies over the sea mocked me. I had to play a bit of a strategic game by choosing my breaks and petrol refills wisely to avoid the wrath of the rain gods. When planning routes during this trip, I could generally suss out whether or not a certain road on the map was interesting. Presumably the road would to be busy as previously mentioned, but I expected – at the least – something visually pleasing while driving along the coast. Disappointingly, it wasn’t enough to make the day’s journey a memorable one, considering the other negative factors. Also, the perpetual construction work was unmistakably evident, detracting massively from the area’s natural beauty.

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Situated in a frequent typhoon zone, in between the ocean and the vast central mountain spine of Taiwan, the weather is always going to be quick to change to extreme. Pack a mac in your sack! …Jack.

By about 5pm I’d reached Taitung. Having only been here once before on a rainy morning I didn’t remember much about the place, but it looked far smaller than I expected (that’s not a bad thing though, before any Taitungians jump down my throat). Soon enough after pulling over and consulting the internets I found a joint with an interesting name. “Why Not Hostel”. Why not indeed? Great marketing strategy. It took under ten minutes to reach the spot I assumed it would be, however, it’s not uncommon for GPS locations to be wrong so I pulled over at the junction for another look at my map when a voice popped out of a window.
“Hey. Are you looking for the hostel?”
Where is he? What kind of sorcery be this? I look around for an answer, and the human that made the noise, but no luck. Suddenly, he appeared in view, sitting on a stool outside while calmly smoking a cigarette. I must have missed him on first glance, but this encounter unsettled my brain for a few moments. Before long, I was parked up and shown the accommodation to check it was to Sir’s liking (I am Sir).

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After setting my bags down upstairs and being offered the grand tour of the hostel, I notice that the place has a lot of personality, just like the owner. After I compliment some suspended lightbulbs in the bathroom and the use of steel pipe to make shelves, tables and ladders, he tells me that he is quite a keen handyman, and completed almost all of the work here himself. Not just the decoration either, we’re talking electrics, the lot. As my football team were due to play later on that evening (Tottenham Hotspur if you’re curious) I made the usual enquiry to check if there were any sports bars in town that might show it. The answer was a regrettable no, yet he proudly directed my attention to the large projector that was set up in the communal area and hooked up to the hostel computer. Game on! All I had to do was find a stream that was showing it and I’d be in footy heaven. For some inexplicable reason – it doesn’t happen often – but it wouldn’t work and I failed to get any kind of a live feed. Thus, I was limited to drinking a couple of Taiwan’s finest tinned beers and constantly refreshing the BBC sports page to see the live scores. It turns out I missed a belter of a game. We won 5-0.

In a bittersweet beer induced light headedness, I decided to hit the sack. I had a few plans for the next day, involving a few abandoned building visits, one of them a cinema. Surprise, surprise…

Day Eight – Kenting kontinued

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Travelling around a tropical country is no picnic you know. It’s not all relaxing in a hammock while your monkey butler gives you a back massage and prepares your Mojito. It can be stressful, tiring, and such hard work can give you quite an appetite. That’s why I destroyed two bagels for breakfast this morning. Not one, two. During this time I watched the world go by outside of the breakfast shop with a nice hot black tea, while my monkey butler did the crossword.

If you’re like me and enjoy views rather than landmarks, you’ll find yourself busy should you visit Kenting at some point. Today I marked a beach about 20 minutes drive away called Jialeshui (佳樂水), which has a reputation for being the best surf spot in South Taiwan, and is arguably one of the top in the whole country. My plan was to head down thataway to search for a friendly surf shop, hire a board out and spend the day falling into and ingesting a gallon of Pacific seawater. It’s far more fun than it sounds, honest. I did have a minor concern this morning; it was so windy that I thought it would be more likely that I’d be kitesurfing rather than regular surfing. Trying to ease my fears, I spoke to the previously mentioned Brit-from-Singapore after breakfast.

“It’s nothing to get worried about”, he confidently reassured me, with a slow, mechanical shake of his head. “I did the journey yesterday afternoon when it was windier than this and it wasn’t a problem. If you’re on your motorbike you’ll be too heavy to notice any effect anyway”. Just what I wanted to hear, even if I knew deep down that it wasn’t entirely accurate.

Off we pop, then. I got on the road from my hostel in Hengchun, which – according to the local lad and hostel owner Ian – is known as “Wind Town” or “Gustville” or “Blowy Village”, something like that.  You get the idea. It’s windy as shit. It’s also the setting of the highest ever grossing Taiwanese film called “Cape No.7”, if you like that stuff. Anyway I digress, a few of the roads out of town were a little treacherous, as some of the narrow roads seem to act like wind tunnels. Once I got out of town, it felt OK. Then once along the 200 road I was hit by a potent gust every 2 minutes, which each time felt like I was being gently pushed from the side. Every one that thumped me was met with a spoken ‘WHEEEEY’ along with some cursing, which I hope, if nothing else, gave any locals within earshot a bit of a laugh.

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The old West Gate of Hengchun town. 

 

Due to distraction and having so much fun preventing serious injury, I missed my turn by approximately 4km. I wasn’t particularly bothered by it as the wind had settled down, and the scenery I had driven through since leaving town was fantastic. Rolling green hills, lush foliage and quaint farm life. I u-turned, and aimed to get back on track. A few minutes later while riding through rich vegetation, I felt something go into the right hand side of my motorbike helmet. My visor was up at the time due to the warm temperature, and I assumed it would be a dead leaf, or twig, which isn’t an uncommon occurrence at all, particularly in tree-dense areas. I could feel it irritating the side of my head and wasn’t travelling rapidly, so decided to go for the left-index-finger-hook-out while driving. Safe enough. As soon as I put my finger into the helmet I felt an excruciating sharp pain like an electric shock, and a lot of confusion, considering I was expecting a leaf to fall out. I looked at my finger and there was a bleedin’ great sting hanging out of it. I slowed down to a halt to perform emergency surgery, and the little fucker flew out of my helmet and buzzed off on his way until he probably died.

Through constant cursing, I pulled it out of my finger by using my fingernails as tweezers, and some paranoia crept into my mind after recalling a sign at the nature reserve just the day before, which read “beware of poisonous snakes and wasps”. At the time I scoffed at this peculiar safety warning, and now I was beginning to wonder if maybe Taiwan did have poisonous wasps. Immediately after, as any normal person would, I thought: what would Steve Irwin do? The answer is this – suck the wound to get any of that bloody venom out, mate. So there I am, at the side of the road, sucking the tip of my finger and spitting it out in the ditch like a wally, making occasional “Aaaaa” noises while there was an old man on the opposite side of the road sitting outside his old one storey country shack, with legs sprawled out from an old woven chair and his head propped on the top of the backrest. His open-mouthed expression was one of bewilderment; but he appeared so comfortable wearing it that I guessed it was his natural look. That was confirmed once I’d nodded and waved in his direction, despite my pain, and he did literally nothing, except maybe breathe, in response. Cheers old fella.

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My finger was throbbing like I’d been hit with a cartoon hammer, but I thought it was most likely to pass within 15 minutes or so. Like the trooper that I am, in spite of my suffering I set off once again towards the surf zone, all the while keeping an eye on my finger to make sure it wasn’t swelling up too much. When I arrived near to the spot, I saw a couple of closed surf shops, and thought maybe they were low staffed, and perhaps already at the beach showing their customers the ropes. Rather than waste more time looking around, I thought I’d head to the water and check what the conditions were like, as if it was as windy on the coast as it was during the drive here, I’d be pretty reluctant to get in the water, especially without a buddy. I parked up the ol’ bike and walked up a short uphill slope to what seemed to be the beach. It didn’t take longer than ten seconds to realise that surfing was not a wise move: the sea crashed up against the rocks like Neptune himself was in a terrible mood, and the beach simply didn’t look like a beach. The sand had been sculpted by the strong wind so comprehensively that it was covered in thin rakes of driftwood and formed into an almost totally flat surface. The gales came intermittently, but frequently, and when they blew, I had to immediately shut my eyes before hundreds of grains of sand blinded me. In addition to that, they felt like millions of tiny knives being blown into my poor legs. So all this coupled with the lack of open surf shops, and lack of humans on the beach, I decided that this had been a bit of a write-off. Back to the motor then. Just as I was saddling up, I noticed a car with 3 tourists pull into the lot. They cheerfully got out of the car and began strolling up the slope to the beach when the Wind Gods smote them for having such a cheek. Watching them wincing in pain as they were hit by the million knife gale, I doubted they would last much longer than I did.

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Nice beach, good surfing (probably), and much pain. So many memories.

My evening plan was to watch the sun set over Hongliu port, and then have a fish dinner before heading back to the hostel. The idea that it would be the last sunset over the sea I would witness for a while was a pleasant and mildly sentimental idea at the time, but seems a little vapid and corny to me now, especially considering it was the first one I’d witnessed too. Either way, it was pretty nice and more peaceful than I expected. There were several couples looking from the road when I arrived, but I hopped down onto the concrete dock and sat on the ledge for the best view possible. The others quickly realised that yes, this bloke has seen a sunset or two in his life and clearly knows what he’s doing. So they shook off their fears of an untimely death and came down to sit along the dock edge. Sadly – for them – they left before it really kicked off. The sun had disappeared over the horizon yet still illuminated the sky thanks to the spattering of clouds above, and had taken on a soft yellow and peach hue which adjusted slightly by the minute. It was possibly the most painting-like sunset I remember seeing. Luckily for you, I had the foresight to pack my camera.

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I felt like I was inside one of Bob Ross’s paintings.

Afterwards I found a pretty spartan-looking fish restaurant along the dock, which looked like the type of place that would be utterly packed to the rafters during high season, but not so much outside of it, due to its lack of effort in the presentation category. In my opinion, the majority of eateries like this more than make up for that shortfall with the high quality of the food. That was again true in this case, but it was a tad more expensive than I expected. My mysterious image caught more Taiwanese eyes yet again, as I had conversations with two different families, one noticing that I was clearly struggling to work out the menu and order in Chinese, and the other asking how I got to this place, how I know it, and what the hell I think I’m up to. Both very nice indeed.

But not as nice as the two American cyclist gentlemen I encountered on the way home while waiting at some traffic lights. Sensibly wearing bicycle helmets, and strangely, short sleeved white shirts. What the devil is this?

“Hey, good evening, how are you today?”

Shit. Mormons.

*Light turns green*

“No.”

And yea, those Mormons were hence left in the dust. Len 8:14