Or “The Emerging of a new Species – the Yellow Smurfs”
It was to be as expected for the beginning of the year of the snake, there were a lot of snake-like quos to be found around the city, the MRT and generally anywhere you can find other people. When the Taiwanese celebrate they do so in style, invading the streets as if they had never seen them before, shopping like lunatics and eating everything from tiny snails to huge boars. But in a country that is seemingly obsessed with food (when, where and especially what will we eat today??) we found ourselves part of that very same culture and of course, eating much more than normal...
We had been told that Taipei would be quite empty during the New Year, mostly since all of its inhabitants went to visit the countryside and their distant relatives in the villages. Whoever told us that information was probably from mainland China and had never spent a New Year in the city. The streets were filled with people, restaurants and shops open and business running on high gear and everywhere we looked we saw more of the intensity we had grown accustomed to in Ximending, “our” district for the last two weeks. But we wanted to have a little peace and quiet so we went to see some hand painted lanterns that we heard were on display at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. Although not alone we still enjoyed the tranquillity and peaceful atmosphere around the hall, with little kids playing around, the elderly discussing the dawn of a new year and adults receiving new recipes from grandma as a way to say that last night’s dinner was...crap :-)
The lanterns were quite beautiful, each one hand painted and unique in its own way, the colours and images so detailed I was amazed by the technique of the artists. What a sight they must be during the night!
Since we were already here we paid a visit to SYS himself, and were surprised at the orders that were given at his statue....
Typical Chinese I guess :-)
Since we had some spare time we headed for the Daan Park, your typical city-green-space like any city should have. It was filled with families who let their kids run wild and of course, more elderly discussing ancient politics. In all, it was a slow but peaceful afternoon as we sat on a bench and ate peanuts from the shells, hoping/afraid that the nearby squirrels would not jump on us from above.
The next day we checked the weather online and although it wasn’t going to be sunny, it should at least stay dry, which was enough to prompt us to leave the city borders and explore one of the day trips we had planned. After much contemplation (and since we hadn’t woken up THAT early...) we opted to go visit Yehliu Geopark which promised some serious lime stone formations and if nothing else, a day at the beach!
As we left the train and boarded the bus the heavens above did not look promising, a slight drizzle had begun and people around us were looking at us with both amazement and wonder, as we only had plain T-shirts and nothing against the forthcoming rain. We just shrugged it off and said to ourselves that we had survived the harsh weather of Peru and Chile, had conquered Patagonia by boat, what was a little drizzle going to do to us?? Well folks, as we left the bus, the slight drizzle had developed into a somewhat little storm and I had started to curse the frigging weather channel in 4 different languages. Luckily for us the Taiwanese are nothing but creative when it comes to business, so we hadn’t even walked more than a dozen strides when we met what can only be described as the creator of a new species – the Yellow Smurfs...
These creatures where everywhere, in sizes big and small, but what can I say? In the weather we had, this plastic garbage bag was the only thing that kept us half dry (or maybe it was quarter dry?? Or just a little wet??). But we wouldn’t let the weather spoil our fun and walking around the park, whilst we weren’t that impressed by the formations, we did have fun fighting the rough elements of the seas, with our legs firmly planted on the ground...
And I must admire the Taiwanese; they won’t let anything come between them and a good day out with the family. I didn’t think there would be anyone else here with us, but I was definitely wrong about that. Dozens and dozens of people walked along the paths, soaking wet, but still enjoying themselves!
As the wind picked up and the danger of us flying off into Oz grew by the second we left the park and entered one of the many covered markets at the entrance of the park that sold anything fish related...
Not my cup of tea, but still....amazing!
We didn’t want to wake up early the next day so we decided to sleep in a little and relax a little more. With the thousands of miles we had covered since the beginning making themselves known in our tired muscles we thought it a good idea to go for a massage. With the thoughts of scented candles, worldly music, hot stones and an overall goody feeling we set out to the nearby massage parlour. I was taken up the stairs by a somewhat scrawny looking man which made me doubt that he would be able to undo the damage that backpacking around the globe had left on my muscles. The getting undressed part was a bit awkward (keep them on, get them off, what exactly do you want me to do man??) due to his underdeveloped English, so when in doubt, keep ‘em on! Very quickly I found out that any previous experience I’ve had of massages could not have prepared me for the next 60 minutes. That scrawny looking man started to knead me like dough and any resistance was futile... He worked on muscles that I didn’t even know existed, whipping me like a soft noodle until there was nothing left except...Mr. Elastic I guess. Ronni said that I looked a little stoned as I came down the stairs an hour later, and judging by the “beating” and kneading I’ve been through, walking seemed to be an ordeal. But I must admit, that the pain in my back had subsided, although it had been replaced by a little sore feeling that made me walk a little funny... :-)
But that wasn’t it for the day. Some people go bar hopping, we decided to go market-hopping. In the quite touristic area of the Logshan temple there is not one, not two, not three, but four markets to wander through, eat until you drop and buy all sorts of nonsense that stops working after a month.
But before we could quench the need for food, some cultural themes were served as an appetizer. The Longshan temple for example, which was packed with people, all praying for health and maybe a little bit of luck when they went to play the lottery only minutes after leaving the temple...:-)
A short stroll from Longshan we found the old historic area of Bopiliao which was being restored. And as the sun started its descent and dusk wrapped the city in its beautiful grip, dozens of lanterns started to illuminate the streets.
It was now, after we had satisfied the need for something cultural, that we could finally turn to what was really important – food. As always in Taiwan, and especially in Taipei, the whole day revolved around what was going to be the next meal. And with the Xichang, Huaxi, Wuzhou and Guangzhou markets to walk through, there was much to choose from.
Huaxi market is unique in one way though – its food. And not just any food, unique food. If you want to be adventurous, this is the place to go. The following delicacies can be found here; snake blood and meat, turtle meat, deer penis whine (?!?) and various other snake delicacies, hence the name “Snake Alley” which was given to it. I would like to boast and say that I was courageous enough to go ahead and try one of these essentially disgusting dishes, but when I laid eyes on the snakes, their huge, huge bodies filling the tank, my privates descended to the other side of the globe, and I had to swallow deeply not to involuntarily pee myself. No way I would go and eat that thing!!! So instead of snake we had ourselves another delicious dish – beef, lamb, pork, chicken, all grilled to perfection on a stick and covered with tasty spices. Needless to say they were devoured within seconds, a huge grin on my face, and the thoughts of eating snake or drinking deer penis whine pushed deep into my subconscious...
It was an early wakeup call the following morning as we gulped down our breakfast and headed for the High Speed Railway in order to catch the train to Hsinchu on the west coast. It was the weekend and it seemed as if all of Taiwan was on its feet on their way to somewhere, swarming masses of people filling the main station like anthill after anthill. Luckily for us we were able to get a seat on the train and half an hour later we found ourselves in Hsinchu, a modern city which serves as the gateway for the Tri-Mountain National Reserve. Another hour on the bus up the hills brought us to the quiet and scenic area of Lion’s Head Reserve. Happy to see that our plan had worked and the masses of tourists did not come to visit this remote place in the middle of nowhere we set forth to get a little fresh air in the nature paths around us.
Although the Taiwanese seem to like nature, their capability to enjoy on their own two feet and not in cars is a little limited so after a while we found ourselves alone in the surrounding jungle, only two gringos far, far away from their home. What would happen if one of us fell and the other had to go get help? I thought to myself, quietly testing the ground along the steep ridges, stepping back quickly as the dry earth disintegrated under my feet. Better not think about it, I told myself, and pushed that thought to the back of my mind (although several signs did point out that rescuing fallen hikers could be difficult...?! Gulp!)
Ah, the reason that we were the only ones left was mainly because the path was not really a path, but more of the ultimate stairmaster Ronni calculated that we climbed up around 30 floors in order to get up the hill, only to find ourselves needing to climb all of them back down again – where is that elevator when you need it most?
But we were both in good spirits having missed a little nature lately and although the weather was quite hot and the sweat trickling down our backs we felt the smile never leave our face as we headed up and down that damned stairmaster...
At one stage we reached a place which my highly imaginative mind already placed under the category of ‘Lara Croft’ and ‘Indiana Jones’. It was a cave in the middle of the jungle, hidden between trees and roots, a small rivulet trickling before it. I could almost feel the enigma that was hidden inside it, calling out to me...or maybe that was just Batman calling?
Ronni saved me from any foolishness and kindly asked me to stop the shenanigans, pointing out that should Batman abduct me she didn’t know the Chinese word for ‘large man in weird costume with speech problems’...
So we continued our way down, all the time hearing nothing but the chirping birds and the thick green trees around us. It had been a while since the two of us had been alone in nature and we thoroughly enjoyed it!
Although I did need to rest a little, after all, we aren’t the youngest of the bunch anymore :-)
(My hair, by the way, is a jungle itself, having found some leaves in it the same evening I am now contemplating what to do with it. Any ideas please let me know! :-)
As the afternoon sun shone upon us we reached a narrow gorge, at which a small temple stood lonely and silent. In my opinion, there are few better places to find solace than here...especially with the heart-shaped water reflection on the face of the cavern!