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.
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.
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.
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.
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.