Friday, September 2, 2011

SayTaiwan Diaries - August 2011

Since the SayTaiwan Website has now been taken down, I figured that I might as well preserve what I'd written by re-posting it all here. So, for your enjoyment, I give you: 

Day 1 - Taichung

Day 1 in Taichung = absolutely incredible. Had breakfast, wandered the Shui Nan day market, ate at the harbour, and watched the sun set over Gao-Mei Ecological Wetlands (So stunning!), before meeting a bunch of other guests for some BBQ. Heaven :)!

Day 2 – Danshui

Day 2 was awesome - headed into Danshui and met my host grandmother. She's such an amazing artist! Wandered around Tan Chung university - such a gorgeous campus. Stumbled across a Canadian exhibition at the Fortress of San Dominigo and watched the sunset from fisherman's wharf! Finally, got to be the first guests in my host-aunt's new apartment with the stunning view. Such a great day :). Thank you to Cooper and Cathy for the guiding & David for the drive :)!

Day 3 – Taipei City

Headed into Taipei proper today. First stop was the Taipei 101 tower where my host aunt managed to arrange for us to go partway up and visit a colleague for some viewing time before lunching on yummy dumplings, wanton soup and taro buns. Next was the Sun Yat-sen Memorial hall where we caught the changing of the guards. Onward to the Longshan temple and General Chang Kai Shek memorial - both so stunning :). Checked out Ximen area in the evening with some friends and am now off to bed. Thank you to host-cousin Jackie for the amazing company and guiding :)!

Day 4 – Fengyuan, Taichung County

Hopped on an early morning train back to Taichung, learnt all about the history of moon cakes and got to try some tasty treats at the famous Lian Hsiang bakery, tried some pork ear in the day market (unsurprisingly cartilaginous), checked out another Taoist temple (this one belonging to Matsu, goddess of the sea), learnt how to make traditional Taiwanese sushi and rise cakes (Mmm red bean and peanut cakes) and tried out my cashew based-lacquer ware painting skills before heading out with the family to a German-Taiwanese restaurant for my host father's birthday dinner :)

Day 5 – Taichung

Had a bit of a quieter day today. Spent the majority (5 hours) exploring the National Museum of Natural Science here in Taichung - easily one of the top 3 museums I have ever been to in terms of presentation, things displayed and quality of info. It was just so awesom; all of the displays were either alive or interactive. Loved it. Definitely should be on the must see list. It includes things both specific to China or Taiwan, and those from all over, ranging from rocks and wildlife to dinosaurs and culture. They also had an amazing exhibition on about the silk road - sooo well done!

Just adjacent are the very pretty botanical gardens containing specimens from all over Taiwan as well as an enclosed rainforest.

From there, Cathy dropped me off at Dong-Hai university where I was able to check out the famous Luce Chapel, wander the lovely (though not as lovely as Tan Kang) campus and check out the Dong-Hai night market before hopping on the bus to meet some friends from home at the famously large and wonderful Fengjia Nightmarket for some colourful food-filled fun :)

Day 6 – Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area

Just a quick update since I am exhausted and off to bed. I think the picture says it all though! Spent the day hiking in Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area. So beautiful! We had stunning blue skies for the hike up (I went with a group of ridiculously fit retired teachers), followed by rolling ever-changing clouds to sprinkle the view at the top and, in a show of perfect timing, a hail storm just as we all hopped on the bus to return home. Such a lovely day. Topped off by traditional Taiwanese karaoke sung on the bus-ride up. My host mom has such a lovely singing voice! Right, off to bed :).

Day 7 – Sun Moon Lake & Surroundings

Despite being exhausted, Cathy was determined to take me to Sun Moon Lake (Thank you!!!) rather than having me take public transport and waste time in transit. Once we arrived, I totally understood why - it`s absolutely stunning! Even more so than you would normally expect a lake surrounded by mountains to be. There is also loads to see, so much so that when only staying a day you definitely have to pick and choose. Located on the traditional lands of the Thao tribe, Sun Moon Lake was once two separate lakes before the Japanese flooded them together as part of a hydroelectric dam project. It was also a favourite place of General Chang Kai-Shek and his wife.

In order to get around the lake, you have the choice of car, bicycle or water shuttle. We chose the latter, making port at Xuanguang temple where I trekked up the 1km path through a betel nut plantation (which I still haven't tried...) to see the beautiful and peaceful Xuanzuang temple and check out the stunning views of the lake from up high.  I decided not continue up the path to the pagoda that Chang Kai-Shek built in honour of his mother since I had left Cathy down at the bottom eating boiled eggs stewed in green tea and mushrooms (it tastes how it sounds. I leave it up to the reader to form an opinion...).

From there, we hopped back on the boat to Ita Thao where I tried some traditional Thao foods (including intestine soup... I hadn't noticed what it was despite it's obviousness and wound up eating it before I clued in, wondering all the while why it tasted like tripe... ) and saw a Thao performance. I also got to try some Thao foods and some traditional Sun Moon Lake products including black tea cookies and candied dried tomatoes. There was also a drink made from plant seeds that turn gelatinous in water that was absolutely delicious.

Next we headed back to the Sueishe visitor centre to check out the Church of Christ before driving over to Wenwu temple (Yay! my first Confucian temple!) so I could have a look. It was stunning. I think I wound up spending over an hour just checking it out - and that's not counting the time spent climbing all the way down the 366-step stairway to heaven, before turning around at the bottom just to climb back up, with a brief stopover on my birthday step of course. The views from the steps are gorgeous, as are the steps themselves, tied as they are with prayer bells. I also ran into a fellow say-taiwaner from Brazil whose host was teaching him the proper worship techniques.

Home-time followed where we met up with David who had returned from his business trip and set off for a yummy meal of hotpot (where I discovered the yummy-ness of deep fried green bean and taro balls - mmmmm)

Day 8 – Lukang & Changhua

Today I joined Y.y. from Malaysia and his host-mother Vivi for the day in order to give Cathy a bit of a break. First stop was to exchange Vivi's adorable two year old (honestly, I've never before heard a child say Mg-no-nal (McDonald's) with such frequency or desperation, you'd think he genuinely wanted the food! But, no, apparently it's just fun to say :P) for friend of the family Elyssa. We were also joined by fellow SayTaiwaner Bill from Papua New Guinea (I so want to go!) and his host family after lunch. From there, it was off to Changhua County to visit the city of Lukang.

One of the oldest cities in Taiwan, Lukang (literally 'deer harbour') is filled with narrow streets lined with shops (including Y.y.'s favourite, the 'breast touching lane'. So called because it's so narrow that that is the only way to pass a person), a vibrant day market filled with food (including yummy crayfish and Taro sorbet) and over 200 temples including the Mixed worship Matzu Temple (Goddess of the Sea and the main deity worshipped in Taiwan) and the phenomenal Lukang Longshan (Dragon Mountain) Temple where Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, is worshipped. Have I mentioned how much I love longshan temples? I've been to over three now and they are definitely up there on the faves list (possibly because I am year of the Dragon?). In the afternoon we tagged along with Vivi's Junior Chamber International group (she's vice-chair of the Taiwanese sector) to the Taiwan Glass Gallery to meet the Managing Director and wander through their 'golden tunnel' - a massive glass labrynth that uses mirrors, glass, lights and changes in floor type to disorient visitors.

Once safely through the maze we went for a dinner of goat soup, goat intestine, goat heart, goat stomach, goat liver and goat cranial skin... not really being found of goat to begin with, you can imagine how I felt about this meal. I honestly have to say that goat stomach and heart taste the best for the simple fact that they taste the least like goat. I decided to dine on some delicious clam soup instead.

At my request, we stopped off at Changhua's giant (and I mean giant) Buddha and lookout point to check things out and snack on some candied pressed squid (I finally found a version of squid that I don't love..) before finally heading home. The Buddha was awesome. Sadly it was night time, so while the view was stunning, the temple was not open, nor did I get very clear pics of the Buddha. Overall though, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Day 9 – Taichung City & Dakeng Mountain

Started off with a bit of a quieter day today in order to get some laundry done and pack before we head off to the Island of Kinmen (pronounced Jee-men) tomorrow. After getting that done, Cathy, David and I headed off for a brunch of traditional Taiwanese breakfast foods. This involved many dumplings and was very yummy. From there, we were off to the Taichung City Hall to see some chocolate models of Taichung's landmarks before checking out the very green elite department store - which includes a massive bookstore with painting classes and a rock gallery on the top floor (which of course made me very happy).

Book gazing (and price comparing - why are books so much cheaper in every place that's not Canada??) finished, David and Cathy took me to see the so-called 'avenue of evolution' leading to the Nature Science Museum and to Taichung park where I startled the children by joining them on the jungle gym :).

With a few hours left in our day, Cathy and David asked if I would like to go for a hike and took me over to Dakeng Mountain, a lovely spot consisting of 10 hiking trails - we took the 2nd easiest, # 10 - which is only considered easy because it consists of over 1000 uneven wooden steps winding theier way up a mountain, rather than a super-steep dirt incline (which I would have loved to climb had I not been in strappy sandals). The Dakeng area is gorgeous, covered in lush green trees and offering stunning views of the city. I think that this afternoon was one of my favourites since arriving. Although we were thoroughly sweaty by about halfway up the climb (I blame it on the 35 degree + humidity weather), things only got better once at the top. Trekking a little further, we arrived at one of the Buddhist temples dedicated to Guanyin just in time to see some ghost festival ceremonies. I also spotted a play park complete with gymnastic rings parallel bars and uneven bars, which of course made me very excited :). Even more exciting was the fact that there was a 70 year old man playing on the aforementioned apparatuses who was in amazing shape for a 23yr old, never mind a 70yr old. *shakes head* he was amazing. David also decided to join in on the fun and we had a hanging party :).

Coming down, we took trail #9. Really a narrow paved road, it offers up loads of delights as fresh fruit and vegetable stands as well as transient restaurants - including a Do It Yourself fish soup station - line either side. Tried some more tasty treats on the way back to the car before heading home for some fresh clothes and then out again for my last dinner in Taichung. Omg, the food was delicious. Chicken in spicy sauce, beef and greens, green onion pancake, fried noodles with chicken and veg and last, but not least, surprisingly tasty Sweet & Hot (aka duck's blood) soup. And now, it's off to bed before tomorrow's flight :).

Day 10 & 11 – Kinmen

Woke up nice and early (though at this point it was more of a lie-in for me - I kept getting up at 5am!) to get to the airport for our 9:50am flight. It was great though. We got to meet up with everyone who was staying in Taichung and the surrounding areas along with their hosts - many of whom I'd met at the BBQ the first night, knew only from facebook or had no knowledge of at all - it was a pre-event mini reunion! Flight was great with only us on board and we were taken directly off it and placed on buses to tour the island.

A bit about Kinmen. Located right next to the Chinese mainland, the island of Kinmen has a long history as a military stronghold. It was originally used as a base in attempts to overthrow the Qing dynasty and reinstate the Ming and was instrumental in driving off the Dutch army in the mid-17th century. More recently, Kinmen played a crucial front line defensive role in the civil war between Kuomintang (the nationalist party of China) and the Communist Party from 1949 to 1958. Kinmen actually remained under military control for a great deal of time and was only returned to civilian government in 1992.

As is to be expected on such an island, a great deal of what there is to see pertains to military matters. Take for instance, the 'Small Boat Tunnels' built into the mountains as concealed sea ports in 1963 and the many military parks and monuments. Not everything here memorializes war however, with a number of sites preserving 7th century, 15th century and 18th century residential and spiritual sites. There are also a number of other activities taking place on the island, including the production of traditional Chinese medicine from local herbs, the production of a wide array of fish-based candies, cookies and snacks and the production of world class steel knives at the Chin Ho-Li factory using scrap metal taken from the 480,000 some-odd shells launched at Kinmen by the PRC between 1958 and 1978.

After getting to know the island and learning about it's history and the lasting effect of the Straight Crises on the Taiwanese identity, we were fed dinner (which Wilson and I decided meant we were also allowed to raid other tables) and left to occupy ourselves for the evening. Naturally, this meant we all had to engage in what I have come to realise is truly a national Taiwanese pass-time - KTV! (that is Karaoke for the uninitiated - thank you to Vivi for organising it!). As the Karaoke was not starting until much later, a bunch of us took a wander down to the beach to get a feel for the sand between our toes, gaze at the lights of China across the way and check out some of the beach defences - which are sadly include in the reasons so few people swim in Kinmen - mined waters).

After a late night of singing (read screaming lyrics en mass at a video screen), we awoke the next morning to fulfill our true purpose on the island - to lend our collective presence to the ringing of the Peace Bell, both in Kinmen and in a number of other nations, by President Ma of Taiwan (who was accompanied by former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, two Nobel laureates and anti-Landmine youth Ambassador Song Kosai) in honour of the 53rd anniversary of 823, or the 44 days of shelling launched at Kinmen by the PRC on August 23, 1958. The ringing of the bell capped off a wonderful ceremony of moving performances and speeches and was lovely to watch, especially when one considered all the survivors in attendance.

From there it was off to Taipei, but not for those of us who had been living in Taichung. Due to the large volume of SayTaiwan-ers, we were flown back to Taichung (delayed) and then placed on a 3hr bus ride to Taipei. Once there, it was time to hit the Shilin night market and see what we could buy! 

Day 12 – Taipei, Press Conference, President’s Office & Farewells!

The morning started off bright and colourful with all of the SayTaiwan participants and hosts arriving at the official governmental Taipei Guest House fully dressed in their traditional gear to meet Vice President Siew and participate in the official SayTaiwan press conference. From there, we were taken over to the President's Offices to explore the grounds and learn more about the political history and status of Taiwan.

We were then given the afternoon off, which a great many of us used to rest, pack, shop and/or swim. After getting my first taste of a hamburger with rice patty buns, I chose to go for a dip in the pool. Not normally my first choice when cultural activities are available, I have to admit it was a lovely feeling in the 35 degree weather - particularly as, while I'd by then been on an island for nearly two weeks, I had not yet been swimming (in addition to avoiding the sun, the Taiwanese tend to avoid the water - understandable as it is quite rough in many places, that having been said, I hear there is some lovely snorkelling and surfing to be had in the south and east).

In the evening, it was formal time, with a farewell banquet held at the Grand Hotel in our honour. Not only did we get a marching band and parade entrance,   but we had delicious food and amazing entertainment (including phenomenal Chinese yoyo-ers, aboriginal dancers and traditional Chinese temple dancers in addition to performances from some of the international guests). It was also the time for good byes, with many host families and hosts (including Cathy - thank you & David so much for everything! I will miss you both!) heading back home that evening. Sad as it was to say goodbye to everyone, many people have already said that they are coming back!

Unwilling to part quite yet, many of us decided to continue the party elsewhere, returning to our hotel or even departing for the airport only at first light.

Fortunately for me, while I had to say bye to Cathy, David, Ivy, Vivi, Kai-Kai and the rest of the Taichung-ese who were so wonderful to me, It was not yet goodbye to Taiwan or those living elsewhere in the county!

Hiatus – Days 13-17

Sorry for the Hiatus, I took a quick five day detour to Hong Kong, Macau & Lantau :). Am back in Taiwan now though and planing on checking out the south and east sides, so updates should recommence shortly!

Day 18 – Hong Kong to Kaohsiung

While I loved Hong Kong I must say I was happy to be back in Taiwan! The deliciousness of the food and friendliness of the people here is just incredible!!! The only place I have ever been that even remotely approaches it in terms of the latter is Central Anatolia - both places, interestingly enough, where western tourists are not particularly common... maybe we wear on people...

Never-the-less. I woke up on Thursday bright and early and hopped on the subway that would take me to the train that would get me to the airport in order to board my flight back to Taiwan. Having not yet had enough travelling by that point (and having heard a rumour that some American SayTaiwan friends were in the area), I decided to hop on the bus to the train station in order to catch the High Speed Train down to Kaohsiung. While the price was slightly steep (for Taiwan) at the equivalent of $50 US, it is certainly an effective method of travel, cutting the normally 5hr ride down to only 90minutes.

While Taipei had been bright and sunny on arrival, Kaohsiung was still experiencing the tail end of the Typhoon that had landed while I'd been away - making my emergence out of the metro a somewhat wet one. Fortunately, in true Taiwanese style, an older gentleman who was passing by saw that I had no umbrella and offered (well insisted really) to walk me to my hostel (which by the way is a phenomenal place). After a quick clean up, I contacted the boys and set out to meet up with them and their amazing couch-surfing hostess Kim. Stopping for a quick squid stick (mmmm squid) at the Liuhe night market as it was getting set up, I encountered fellow Canadian, and Waterloo exchange student, Brandi and we decided to set off together to meet the boys under the 'Dome of Light' in Formosa MRT station - it's pretty amazing, normally such domes rely on sunlight but there is nothing above it but well-driven tarmac!

From there, we headed off grab some dinner, where we were met by former SayTaiwan host Jessie (yay!) before wondering off to check out the Love River and it's 'heart' at the centre of the city. In typical Taiwanese style, we topped off the night with an exploration of the night market (which was, of course, still on despite the rain) and delights offered there-in.

Day 19 – Lotus Lake & Kaohsiung Harbour

With the boys off in Tainan, Brandi off to explore a temple and Jessie at work, I decided to grab my opportunity to explore Lotus Lake and the sites in that part of Kaohsiung (the ultimate reason, though the company was nice, that I had wanted to come down here in the first place).

It was beautiful! Took me ages to get there, though not for lack of help from friendly locals. As it was drizzling and a Wednesday following a Typhoon, I had many of the sites and temples to myself for much of the morning. Surrounded by bustling fruit markets and busy streets to the north, slipping into the deserted Confucius temple was like escaping the world. Much quieter than it's Taoist or even Buddhist counterparts, the peaceful serenity of Confucius temples are soothing in their own way.

On my way to the famous Spring and Autumn Pavilions and Dragon and Tiger Pagodas spread along the southwest side, I was able to explore a number of both Buddhist and Taoist temples and well as the temple-statue, filled with beautiful paintings, of Xuantianshangdi.

From there, it was a quick detour west to check out the old ruined traditional houses and south to check out the old wall and old Kaohsiung city. While there I also managed to pick up some utterly delicious Taro bread (sooo yummy) which I have yet to discover anywhere else...

After finally winding my way back to an MRT stop through wetland parks and botanical gardens, I headed back to my hostel (called Old Taiwan or Liuhe Hostel - it's amazing! Free wifi, great downtown location, spacious and comfy rooms, fully equipped kitchen, coin operated laundry, a roof terrace, hilarious caution signs, wonderfully helpful and inviting staff and beautiful decor - all for the cheapest (NT400) price in Kaohsiung!) in order to freshen up before heading down to the harbour and Chijin Island with Brandi for (a serendipitous encounter with Jessie along the way to) some yummy yummy seafood!

After dinner, we decided to check out the view of the ocean from the other side of the island, only to 
(literally) stumble upon someone setting off some lovely fireworks in the dark.

From there it was back on the ferry (so cheap! It costs around 50cents US! No wonder all the locals use it as a scooter transport!), and back to the Liuhe night market to test out some of the giant octopus legs on display (sadly, they chop them up when serving them) and deep fried shrimp in egg (yummy but better without the yolk - though that admittedly is likely due to my aversion to yolk ;) ). From there it was farewell to Brandi who was returning to Taipei and home for some rest! 

Day 20 – Kaohsiung to Taitung

Had a bit of a lazy morning (HongKong did me in I swear!) repacking my bags and figuring out where to go next - I must say though, I in no way wanted to leave Kaohsiung or that hostel! Finally settled on Taitung as reports from people there said, unlike in Kenting, the flooding had disappeared and there was some archaeology out that way I was interested in checking out (Taitung is also the departure point for those wishing to drive up the scenic east coast - I almost wish I had a car! It's also the port for the ferry to the Green Island. Sadly, lack of time and a desire to see the Taroko gorges in the coming days dictated that I would have to skip out on a snorkeling & saltwater hot-spring adventure there).

How I wish I'd bothered to take pictures on the train ride! It was absolutely stunning! The first half was uneventful though interesting, filled with floodplain agriculture and betel farms. The second half? Well, imagine a train track situated just barely on a mountainside rising straight out of a crashing ocean and you'd have it :). Amazing.

Arrived at the station with nothing more than a phone number for my hostel (helpfully provided by the hostel in Kaohsiung) and was instructed to hop on a bus to the old train station where I was met by my hostel owner and his scooter (another picture I wish I had: two people, one large suitcase, a backpack and a satchel of food. All on one scooter) and whipped around the corner to his red and white ranch-like hostel with awesome drawings (including a map!) on the walls. Armed with his advice, I decided to go for a wander down to the Taitung Seashore Park to check out the damage wrought by the typhoon and the (un-swimable - yes, another one of those, though this one due to the roughness of the waves) beach.

I love how every now and then you are unquestionably reminded of the power of nature. I must have spent at least 2 and a half hours just watching the waves tumble and crash against the shore. I wasn't alone either. United by our enchantment with the waves, I befriended fellow sea admirers, and Taipei engineering grads, Wilson and Jason and, once it finally became too dark to warrant staring any longer (and the pangs in our stomachs became too insistent to ignore), joined them in a search for food. This being Taiwan, we inevitably ended up at the local night market where Wilson tried to convince us that stinky tofu truly was delicious (urgh...) and Jason and I chose to chow down on giant tako yaki (octopus balls) and yummy tea instead. We also spotted some asparagus-stuffed intestine, none was consumed by any of the three of us.

I was once again astonished by the inventiveness of political campaigners here, as one of the delicacies offered at the market was a free baggie of election cookies! The incredible generosity of Taiwan was once again also on display as the boys would not let me pay for anything :P. Xiexie! 

Day 21 – Taitung to Hualien

Woke up nice and early - although not nearly early enough since I am told that the sunrises in Taitung are among the most beautiful you will ever see - to sunlight flooding the room and decided to get a jump on the day by renting a bicycle at the bus station (counter-intuitive I know) and cycling out to the National Prehistory Museum. While I am usually skeptical when the Taiwanese tell me something is a far distance, I am now wondering why no-one bothered to warn me off this little adventure (made harder by the lack of signage - in any language. As a side note, have I mentioned how amusing it is that the same word or place name will often be spelt differently several times... in the same publication? *shakes head* too many transliteration types!). Regardless, I had a thoroughly enjoyable bike ride out. Taitung is definitely cycle-friendly, with the municipal government having recently converted all of the old rail lines into cycle paths after building a new train station to accommodate increased tourism.

In addition to having been enjoyable, the cycle ride was also totally worth it as the museum turned out to be really well presented (in what I am coming to see as typical Taiwanese style). Filled with well presented, up-to-date and interesting info on the geographical, biological and cultural past of Taiwan, the museum was a great way to spend an hour or two. It also contained a special exhibit on the effects of climate change and on 'scientific archaeology'. This last exhibit was so well done that I almost felt like I could have skipped out on my entire undergraduate degree and just spent several days reading everything on display there!

From the museum, I hopped back on my bike and cycled northward to the new train station and archaeological excavations taking place there. Unfortunately, the dig was deserted so there was no one to bug for information, but it was interesting to see none-the-less. From there it was a 45min cycle back into town along the highway to drop off my bike, take a quick shower, grab my bags and head back out to the train station (this time on a bus) for my journey to Hualien. While I would have loved to stick around and see more of Taitung, and maybe even gone over to the Green Island for some snorkeling if the water was clear enough, I was starting to get antsy about the weather and the potential of missing out on a nice day for hiking in Taroko. Good thing too as it started to pour not long after I got on the train! This also made me feel marginally better about not having a car to drive up the East Coast with it's gorgeous scenery, and I settled instead for curling up cozily in my seat and watching the eastern rift valley pass me by.

Day 22 – Taroko National Park!

Rather that going on a tour or renting a scooter, I decided that I would take the hostel owner's advice and catch the local bus up to Tiansiang, a tiny settlement (if it can even be called that) situated at the top of the marble filled 'inner gorge'. From there, the plan was to trek the 20km down along the Central Cross-Island Highway to the visitor centre at the entrance of the gorge, taking any interesting side trails spotted along the way. Fortunately, I found travel partners in Marie, a fellow hosteller from South Africa, and Svea, a medical exchange student from Germany.

I have to say that I am so glad we hiked those 20+km! (well, Svea and I did, Marie decided to stay an extra day and, so, only came part way with us). While we had been warned that the gorge would likely be busy as it was Sunday, we didn't encounter very many people until near the end of the trip - that being said, we did often have a cliff to one side of us and a speeding truck, bus or scooter on a narrow track to the other. The views though, were just stunning! It was amazing to watch the landscape change from rocky limestone and schist with coniferous vegetation to fertile, green subtropical plants (the temperature change was noticeable too). The sights were amazing as well! Unfortunately, the tunnel of nine turns and the Baiyang waterfalls trail were closed do to rockfalls caused by the typhoon, but Swallow Grotto, the Shrine of the Eternal Spring, the suspension bridges and the gorges themselves were not to be missed! 
It took Svea and I about 5 and a half hours to hike the whole distance and I will took far too many pictures.

Upon returning to Hualien, I, for some reason, decided that I had not yet walked enough for the day and, joined by an American hostel-er, headed into town to wait in line for some of Hualien's most famous dumplings. Yum.

Day 23 – Yilan to Daxi

Decided to take a bit of a lazy day today and actually make it to the beach! (for the first time in my month long Island-based journey ;) ). My original intention was to surf, and I was informed by my ever-useful hostel owner in Hualien (Amigos hostel) that the best thing to do was to take the train to Ilan, the capital of Yilan county, an grab a local train from there. She also provided me with the phone number of a surf shop in Daxi (alternatively spelt Dashi, Tashi and/or Taxi) that not only offered up surf boards, but a place to sleep for fairly cheap. Following these instructions I discovered that the local trains along the Northeast Coast are used in a manner similar to the metro in a city, with small tiny towns (we're talking a temple, a surf shop (or two), a convenience store, a school and a restaurant) and all manner of beaches, white and sandy to black and rocky, at each stop.

Getting off at Daxi with all my bags, I discovered that, not only did the owners of Spider Surf speak English, they had strong ties to Toronto! Although I ultimately decided that I was far too tired to surf, the waves looked so tempting that I decided to rent a body board anyhow so that I could at least enjoy sleeping in the waves (and, okay, I did use it to play around in the surf for about 5 hours as well). While the beach was slightly dirty as a result of the last typhoon, the laidback atmosphere, complemented by the few locals and few die hard weekend surf fans up from Taipei, made it the perfect place to relax.

Day 24 – Daxi to Taipei

After saying goodbye to Spider Surf this morning, I caught the local slow train back to Taipei and enjoyed watching as we chugged past all of the small fishing and farming villages nestled in between the mountains on one side and the great blue pacific on the other.

Once settled into my Ximen-area hostel in Taipei, I took myself out on a walk through the old part of the city, passing through some of my favourite temples, including adorable old hidden ones that I had no idea existed. My host father was certainly not exaggerating when he said that temples, like 7-11s, are on every Taiwanese corner. I have to say though, that in addition to all being beautifully decorated and unique, the best part of their ready availability is that they all also contain public toilets!

While wandering, I also managed to check out day market stalls selling pig entrails, which actually smelled far too appetizing for what they were, and, the infamous snake alley! I didn't, unfortunately, have enough money remaining to purchase myself any snake produce for consumption but, locals and passing tourists who had just tried it assured me it tasted like chicken. I did, however, manage to procure for myself a delicious oyster omelet (at only 50NT/$1.50USD) for lunch and was fed some moon cookies for desert.

In the evening, I wandered over to Shida Night Market and met up with Jackie and her Canadian/Taiwanese friend Charlie for a great evening out and my last yummy night market experience.

Day 25 - Return Home

Sitting at the airport and I don't want to leave!!!  Farewell Taiwan! It's been amazing!

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