In our travels we often notice tour buses parked in some remote parking lot where tired, native inhabitants indulge tourists with a staged performance. It may be entertaining, but it’s not the kind of authentic experience we enjoy. (Being served up by cannibals would be authentic, but that’s not in our travel plans.)
Taiwan has an aboriginal population that is treated by their government in pretty much the same way as Native Americans.
In Taiwan, we tried to find someone who could introduce us to the aboriginal community. We weren’t sure whether what we were looking for even existed because we couldn’t give it a name ourselves. Through another one of those round-about random associations that we seem to make, we met Sananda who worked in an aboriginal farm community.
Sananda teaches natural building skills and has been involved in all things natural and permaculture around the world. She invited us to a conference on natural building methods in Hualien. When they heard about our Burning Man experiences, they asked us to make a presentation at their conference. We spent five minutes describing and promoting the concept of Leave No Trace.
During that week, we got our hands dirty helping Sananda and her friends to finish a wall they had built using renewable materials including coconut fiber, limestone and horse manure!
Sananda and her boyfriend A-jen knew all the local river tracing paths and took us to a waterfall in the mountains where we cooled off in a refreshing mountain spring. We also visited a Japanese logging village that had been preserved as a heritage site from a time past when they had invaded the island.
And the last of the Taiwan photos are in this gallery:
I like to connect with people by sharing the humor I see, while Ivan uses his smile and laugh to draw people in. Perhaps it’s because we stand out in a crowd, that we always seem to make random connections with people.
I mentioned to Ivan that many Taiwanese wear a ring on their pinky finger like Canadian engineers, including me. Ivan then focused on the hands of two girls near us on the bus. The girls were startled by his staring so I tried to explain. This created even more confusion because they didn’t understand English. Someone nearby offered to translate. She didn’t want to lose her space in the crowded bus, so without moving closer to the girls, she shouted in Chinese down the bus. Everyone heard but whether it made sense to any of them remains a puzzle. We struck up a conversation with our translator, Beatrice and exchanged LINE IDs. Beatrice later referred us to a scuba dive master in Kenting, and invited us to other activities.
Another bus, another day, a girl seated across from us shyly established eye contact. We naturally smiled back. She offered us a pair of tickets to join her at a music concert that evening. Unfortunately, we already committed to dinner with a Meetup group so we couldn’t accept. We keep in touch with Ling on LINE, though, and she sends us information about music and performances that we wouldn’t otherwise hear about since they’re posted only in Chinese newspapers.
We met Betty in a coffee shop. She immediately offered to show us around Taichung and her hometown, Changua. We feel like part of Betty’s family as she has taken us twice to enjoy holiday dinners with her entire family. There is nothing like experiencing a town from a local’s perspective! We also traveled with her family as a party of eight to nearby LuGang, well-known for its myriad food delicacies. With this large crowd, we were able to sample many different foods in between photographing all the dishes, snapping group selfies and asking a lot of questions about so many things we didn’t recognize.
On a climb to see the sunset in Hengshun we met a girl whom we asked to recommend the best restaurant in town. We found the crowded restaurant that she wrote in Chinese for us (by asking everyone on the street). It served the famous Taiwanese dumplings and soup. We jokingly asked the people seated next to us where they were going for dessert. Suprisingly, they turned out to be tourists from China and had hired a guide who was going to take them to three other restaurants before having dessert. In true Wedding Crasher form, (not in search of Ms. Right but in search of the best food in town), we announced that we were following them. The four of them welcomed us to join them . . . (they could hardly refuse). We sampled many dishes all over town that evening with our new friends until it was time for them to turn in and for us to look for a massage and a nightcap.
Vince, a pediatrician at the Cheng Ching Hospital greeted us in a coffee shop and asked what we were doing in Taichung if we weren’t English teachers. He was surprised that we had not traveled to the east yet so we quipped that we would go with him the next time he went to the coast. He right away countered with an offer to take us to the mountains that weekend. We visited some lovely gardens and then brought us to hot springs high in the mountains where we luxuriated and gazed at the cliffs as the sun was setting, from within our private hot tub cantilevered over the gorge. It was an enchanted evening.
Perhaps our most convoluted meeting originated with Elizabeth and Phillip, whom we met on our cruise from LA to Osaka. Originally from Taiwan, they now live in California. They were not in Taiwan when we got here so they passed us the contact information for their friend Elena. Elena lived in Kaoshiung so she offered her hospitality whenever we come to visit her city and recommended us to call her friend, Angel who lives near us in Taichung. Angel conferred with her sister, Monica, to see how they could help us in Taiwan. Monica decided that it was best to meet her friend, Alice, who speaks English. Alice lives in Florida but is visiting in Taichung for a few months. We couldn’t break this long chain of connections . . . we got in touch with Alice, the 6th person in this referral chain. Alice introduced us to the perfect Taiwanese cultural experience. She brought us to a respected Chinese calligrapher with whom we spent a lovely afternoon copying Chinese characters with traditional ink and brush. While we worked, he poured tea, displayed his prized bonsai beside us, proudly showed us his collection of ancient tools of the art and presented us with our own Chinese brush at the end of our lesson.
These are just some of the ‘connections with strangers’ that we regularly make and it’s really why we travel.
The majesty of Taroko Gorge is impossible to capture in photographs. That doesn’t stop anyone from trying, of course. Its name by the indigenous tribe that lived in those mountains, the Truku people, means “magnificent and beautiful.” It truly is.
We went to get trail maps the first afternoon and were swamped by bus loads of Chinese tourists at Swallow Grotto. We decided that the best strategy was to start early in the morning before the buses arrived.
There are many interesting natural features and trails in the park. The suspension footbridge here leads to a trail that requires a backwoods permit. It’s a hike we’d love to do when we return to Taiwan.
When we started very early, we were able to take undisturbed pictures at the Baiyang water curtain. Originally part of a now defunct project to develop hydroelectric power, the tunnel has a water wall created by the spring that cracked the roof. We’re sure glad we had our dollar store raincoats with us.
One cannot help but feel awed and humble by the triple water falls descending from the sky, or by the Temple of the Eternal Spring built into the side of a cliff over flowing water.
You really don’t get very far from the coast in Taiwan before you’re climbing a mountain. We were surprised to find that our GPS recorded our altitude at 300 meters during our afternoon at Kenting National Park. At a high point in the Park, there is a 5-story tower with a restaurant of sorts and a roof-top observation deck that added a few meters.
The panorama below is looking west toward China. Kenting and Hengchun are down there but maybe behind the hills. (The panorama photo can also be dragged with your mouse.)
The bottom photo is the very southern tip of Taiwan. If you blow it up, you can see the Eluanbi Lighthouse, the first white buildings tracing the coast from the right edge, about 1/4 of the way in.
At the same time, this created an island of landscape that is both geographically extreme, and extremely beautiful. There’s hardly any land between the beach and the mountains. In some places, there only cliffs over the water. Taiwan has fascinating topography, hot springs, beaches and rivers that beg to be photographed. In a future post, we’ll cover Taroko Gorge, a place whose majesty cannot be captured in pictures.
For now, we’re photo-blogging the Kenting National Park. On the top of this 1000-foot mountain, there is coral rock that had been pushed up from the ocean when the island was formed. Coming from mostly sea-level Florida, I was duly impressed. This public park has two caves: the Stalagmite Cave and The Silver Dragon.