Summer on the East Coast of Taiwan.

Taiwan is a warm, tropical world, and southern Taiwan is especially so. This week, we have experienced its harsher side, being baked for hours on end in the strong sunlight, and also its more softer side, in the humid and slightly cooler nighttime. On Sunday evening, we arrived in Taitung, our first excursion on this visit to the eastern coast of Taiwan. The city of Taitung itself lies in the giant East Rift Valley, and brilliant mountain scenery surrounds it.

On our first night, we went to Siwei Night Market, which was quoted on Tripadvisor as being “a more rustic night market”. What they mean by that is that it’s decidedly for locals. Many night markets more renowned in bigger Taiwanese cities have stands which boast neon signs, each more garish than its neighbor’s, and often feature a flat screen TV that loops a news segment about the stand. Siwei Night Market had almost none of that. We did get a delicious crepe stuffed with smoked chicken and vegetables for Steve and a bowl of steaming hot spicy stinky tofu for me (it tastes much better than it sounds!). We also watched several men at open-air karaoke, which seems to be a pursuit for the 50 and above, not that it’s easy to tell the age of Asian men.  But they had just set up along one of the aisles of the night market, and were warbling songs in Taiwanese into a microphone which reverberated around it. Steve and I watched for several minutes, entranced.

We spent our first full day in Taitung biking along its renowned bike path. As opposed to most Taiwanese (or older) cities in general, its train station is new and located a bit outside of the city. The old train station is of course downtown, and its tracks and the surrounding space were remade into a lovely languid bike path that is approximately 29 kilometers long. We biked it a bit in reverse, starting from the old train station where some train cars still sit, and going south to the seashore. The seashore park is long and rocky, being one of the more pebbly beaches we’ve encountered.

We went east from there, slowly getting into the Taitung Forest Park. There, we encountered a lot of other bikers, many of them families. The forest park itself had a lot of tropical plants like bromeliads (which is the family of the pineapple) as well as more temperate trees like pines. There were some lakes in the park which seemed definitely artificial, but they presented such a lovely sight against the backdrop of the mountains. We meandered through the park, and then spent an unforgiving hour directly under the sun going north. We saw the highways that led further north along the east coast, and eventually found a pavilion under which to sit and relax. Soon afterwards, we followed a path that Google Maps said would take us back into town, but was in fact woefully outdated. We ran into a path that almost didn’t exist anymore, a locked gate that we barely squeezed past with our bikes, and walked our bikes to skirt a muddy washed out stretch of road to finally emerge onto a real paved road. That was a real disappointment, Google! It was a ridiculously beautiful stretch of biking though, that even Steve felt comfortable keeping up with, though he goes biking only twice a year.

Yesterday, we instead trekked up to Liyushan, a small mountain just west of the old train station inside Taitung city proper. It was not the best hike that we could have planned, but it was a little interesting. Though entirely soaked with sweat, we could admire a good view of Taitung, and we also ran into a lot of Taiwanese grandmas and grandpas who sit in a public square at the foot of the mountain. After realizing it was not the most worthy hike, we beat a hasty retreat to McDonald’s, which has plentiful A/C and cold beverages, and then back to the hostel for an early rest.

This afternoon, we said goodbye to the Spring House Hostel where we were staying, which has the distinction of being one of the cleanest hostels I’ve been in. We caught a car and driver who had been sent to meet us and were soon away to the north of Taitung toward Dulan by the coast. Of Dulan itself we didn’t see any on the drive, but the brief ride north on the eastern coast scenic highway was beautiful. Everyone who does a round-island trip by car, scooter, or bike, go by this stretch, and it was magnificent. Late afternoon sunshine illuminated the road which sat above cliffs at some points and very close to rocky beaches at others. Palms dotted the coastline, and the whole thing just seemed quiet, more tranquil and slow. Thinking about the beauty of the sea, I wish we had opted for a spot nearer the ocean, or perhaps several spots near the ocean later on, but am pretty pleased with our place for tonight and tomorrow night. (I only got some photos of the seaside on my phone, and they’re a bit blurry, but already, Steve and I think we will want to do a proper trek with a car when we return.)

High up in the hills is the Sea Art Hostel Motherland. Motherland (大地之母), as it’s more colloquially known, is run by Roman and Emily, an American-Taiwanese couple with two young sons and a baby daughter. There are also two cats, Pepito and another one whose name I didn’t catch, and Willow, a four year-old lab mix of yellow and white fur. They live and offer rooms in a low one-floor house. There is a large outdoor kitchen and an outdoor bathroom and shower combination. Fruit trees and other exotic plants and shrubbery dot their land. It took many twists and turns of our car to come up here, and if we were to go back down, I’m sure it would take us over an hour on foot. We went on a walk or two before night fell, and could see far out to see from this vantage point. We seemed to be on par with the low clouds that lie over the ocean, and not so far from the large white moon that is overhead. It was a gorgeous view.

After dinner, it’s quiet now, and Steve and I are both working (me on this blog and him on his programming projects) while sitting within a circle of faded and comfortable couches in front of the house. We had to buy and bring up all the food we wanted to eat, so I made us a fairly filling cold dinner of chicken sandwiches, saving some shredded chicken for the dog and cats. Roman and Emily are charming and nice, and their boys very ebullient. I played with them or rather, served as a stand which they could jump on and jump off, since they are but three and four years old. They were playing with my Nook for a while, and insisting that they knew how to play the Sudoku app on it, before it quickly turned into a tussle and almost a fight. Steve reassured me that this is exactly how brothers close in age deal with each other, but having never had siblings, I will have to take his word for it, even if I’m not used to it!

Tomorrow, we will lounge around the place some more, and perhaps make it further around the mountain. On the drive up, we saw a mischievous monkey with a curled tail hotfoot it across our path before the car got close. On a short walk we took before the sun set, we noted numerous spiders and spiderwebs as complex as the Taj Mahal, its owners as big as a few inches long. Geckos and lizards often crossed our path, and this evening, I startled a large brown toad walking between the garden and the house. Steve and I are decidedly city mice, and we’re not used to all the animal life out here, but it’s very interesting and fun to get close to for a night or two. On Friday morning, we’ll wake up very early for the car and driver, who live in Dulan near the coast, and will get ourselves back to Taitung railway station by 6 am for our early morning train back to Taipei.



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