Category: Travel Experiences


Last week was 10/10 day in Taiwan, which is known as Taiwan’s national holiday. So we all got a day off and were very happy and excited. I decided to go with a couple of friends to Yelio GeoPark on the north coast of Taiwan. It’s not a big park but it has some amazing rock formations dating back…a long time. The link provides a bit of brief history. After grabbing lunch we got to the park and I saw a guy there that I had accidentally bumped into in the restroom earlier that day. He was hanging out with his friends just inside the entrance. As soon as he spotted me, he made a beeline over and asked if he could take a picture with me. I swear. This happens every time I venture outside of Taipei. For as many people who have random pictures of me posted all over face book I should be famous. Why aren’t I? My two girlfriends, Nina and Jersey, looked shocked. I don’t think they understood what was happening or what the guy wanted at first, but at this point I’m pretty used to it. I thought about refusing (it crossed my mind to charge him) but then decided not to be a dick and just take the picture. At least he asked. As soon as I said yes, his entire group of friends leaped up to cram themselves into the shot. I made the girls pose too. If I had to do it then it’s only fair that they should too. They ended up snapping a couple before we extricated ourselves. It gets a little annoying but I have to laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone to take a picture with me unless they were famous. Not even then come to think of it.

Approaching the promontory.

Yelio is amazing. The rock formations are unique. The hoodoo stones look like gigantic stone bulbs planted on top of long thick stems made of sandstone. We walked around a few of them occasionally stepping near the surf. Nina got yelled at by the park guides for stepping over the red line painted near the edge of the cliffs. I get yelled at for touching one of the stones. Those guys take their job seriously. However, the area I liked the best was the promontory away from the actual formations. Step-by-step, as we walked further and further along the promontory, it began to feel we were entering another world. The sound of people and the city fell away, with only the occasional sounds being carried by the wind. The area was peaceful and quiet. We walked into a small cave that led back out to the promontory, and meandered down the coast for

Nina and Jersey in front of the cave.

probably an hour. It was the cleanest coast I’ve ever seen in Taiwan, and the most exotic. The entire promontory appeared to be made of sandstone. Hundreds of pools littered the stone near the water, constantly pounded by the relentless surf. The wind picked up and the sun was blotted out of the sky, but despite threatening to rain, we only had to endure occasional sprinkles. The sandstone was covered with hundreds of ridges layered one on top of the other. We chanced on a cliff overlooking the coast with a pack of wild dogs lolling around at its top. One stood, king of all he surveyed, and stared down at us curiously for a time. Another made his way down and picked through the sand for something to eat. There were areas completely covered by sandstone, with unique formations in every direction. In many areas water had etched away at the stone leaving behind beautifully carved lines in hues of red, orange, and copper. I could have stayed there for hours.

This doesn’t show the half of it.

Eventually, we made our way back and explored more of the hoodoo stones, but time was running short and we had a bus to catch. While we waited, we walked through the tourist market and picked up fried fish full of roe, and toasted fish flavored with sesame seeds. They are a common snack in Taiwan and I because I’d had them before, I picked up a bag for myself. We couldn’t stay all day, regretfully, but I found this trip to be an enjoyable excursion from Taipei. I definitely recommend an afternoon at Yehlio.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve been taking a walk down Face Book lane for the past couple of days. A habit I’ve developed over the last couple of years when I’m bored. To be more accurate, when I’m back from a night on the town and feeling a little melancholy. I scroll through pictures and check up on old friends. You know how it is.

August first was the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Every August first at five p.m. Poland observes a minute of silence to remind us of when Poland fought back. Fought back, and lost, horrifically. It’s a time for remembering, respecting, and honoring our dead. I was trying to recall why I hadn’t remembered it last year. The moment of silence.

I scrolled back through my FB timeline to see what I had posted.

Nothing. I posted absolutely nothing. Instead, I posted something about losing my voice and being sick.

Shallow, right?

I clearly remember the articles and videos last year. Knowing me as well as I do, I’m pretty sure I decided that I wasn’t going to post anything just because everyone else was.

The upside, and the most bittersweet part of it all, was scrolling through a year’s worth of posts.

Why is it that we can always recognize how happy we were only in retrospect? I saw photos from my vacation last year in Helsinki and Tallinn with Linds, my announcement that I’m moving to Taiwan, my going away party, and my first post from Asia. It was all there.

I remembered.

I remembered like it was yesterday, my thoughts, my feelings, the sounds, scents, and scenes. The fear I felt in going. How I wasn’t sure I wanted to go but I didn’t get the job that I was applying for so I knew I had to. I gave myself pep talks. All the ‘But its good money,’ and ‘Did you ever think you’d have a chance to live in Asia? Visit sure, but live?’ and ‘ One more country off my list’. I remember all of it.

It turned things around for me. By the time I left I was excited to go. Packing was a bitch.  Trying to pack everything I could into a suitcase, carrying my whole life in a bag.

For the second time in a year I would be heading off into the unknown. What a rush.

The last couple of weeks flew by. I remember trying to squeeze in as much sister time as I could. I listened, again, to the video my sister left on my wall…the Faithless Don’t Leave video.

Yeah, sis. I’m listening to that now.

I remember the cultural festival Karolina and I stumbled upon in Old Town. Last minute drinks and lunch with Olga rehashing my going away party, getting filled in on the juicy details that I missed. Finally, my last night with Magda at Plan B, bullshitting about how Polish men suck, and why we need to be better friends and how can we connect better with other people and on and on.

I remember waking up, late. A little buzzed. I remember hearing my roommate get up. Slam into the bathroom and then his lumbering steps as he left for work. I clearly remember snapping off the WIFI button on the edge of my laptop with my heel. It was the beginning of the end of that crappy thing. I remember the ugly realization that I had no way to leave the keys inside the apartment for the roomies as I had promised. Oh shit! Then I remember thinking, ‘Screw those guys. I’m going to Asia.’

I remember my sister pulling up, seven stories below, and my nephew in the car. The drive to the airport where I told her I’d left the door unlocked and the look of horror she gave me. “That’s bad, Mish. You can’t do that here in PL. All of their shit is going to get stolen.” Feeling guilty. Calling my roommate to let him know the door’s unlocked. And oh yeah. Sorry ’bout that. Really.

At the airport. My heart racing, my stomach quivering. My luggage. overweighted. By a ton. Rushing back out to the car, trying to figure out what I could leave behind. The clothes I tossed back into the car, the movies, gifts, and then rushing back in. Talking to the unfriendly staff. Luggage still over the limit. Paying $250 dollars to lug 6 kilograms worth of weight. What a damned rip off! The airlines are making a mint off of people like me, no question.

Then the flight. Step one: Frankfurt. Six hours meandering around the airport then sitting around, drinking beer, and reading the latest Marion Keys book. I stepped outside, inhaled some German air, and headed back in. Sat down and watched the people around me and made up stories about their lives. Not better than mine I hoped.

Step two: Shanghai. I had every intention of using my 22-hour layover to explore the city. Where I ended up checking into the first airport hotel I could find and admitted to myself what I had not wanted to that I had neither the courage nor the strength to explore any damn thing.

I walked through the smothering heat back into the airport and had, quite possibly, the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten in my life. I still don’t know what it was. It was some type of black potato-like thing with a starchy texture, and chicken feet.

Through it all, overwhelming fatigue and adrenaline, in my veins, my heart, my mind. My heart was going a mile a minute, my mind was racing, and it was all I could do to keep up.

It was exhilarating. I felt like I could do anything. Be anyone. I couldn’t get enough.

That feeling has been with me for a long time. It was with me in Poland too. Anything could happen. Anything DID happen. Anything and everything, and although shit happens on a regular basis it made life absolutely fabulous. No better experience, no better trip. No better life.

I’ve been living in Taiwan for nearly a year. I’ve had so many firsts. First time in Asia. First time meeting new people and going to expat events on my own. First time watching a plump rat squeezing its chub-assed way down a drain into the sewer. I’ve seen that too many times at this point. First time seeing horrifically massive black spiders. First time for Stinky Tofu and Taro ice cream, vinegar noodles and duck eggs. First time being the advisor to my friends. Learning to crawl, learning to walk, and learning to live. My life in Taiwan has been nothing but a series of firsts.

Taking a walk down FB lane. There are so many memories, so much laughter, funny comments, and enraging ones. The crappy times, nonsensical posts, and drunken Facebooking, too. It’s all there in my electronic brain, waiting for me to visit it.

I’m grateful for it. Are you?

How often do you scroll through your timeline?

My long-awaited vacation finally arrived last week and I chose to go to Green Island, which is about 40 kilometers off the south-eastern coast of Taiwan.  Green Island is known for its wonderful coral and fish life and is a very popular area for divers.

The vacation I planned for myself was going to be awesome.  Three nights in Green Island, then back to Taipei for a night, then a two night backpacking hiking trip.  I couldn’t wait.

The first part went off without a hitch. I took the train down to Taidung, caught the ferry over to Green Island with no problems. I was met at the train station by a taxi driver hired by the tour company I went through and they also bused me to the bed and breakfast where I stayed.

It was ok. There were ants in my room and my bed, and though I should have complained, I didn’t, and as a result they irritated me the entire time. My own fault.

I was able to rent a scooter through the  tour company and so I headed off scootering around the island.  Green Island takes about forty minutes to circle on a scooter, with a variety of sites along the way. I checked out the cultural park which was a five-minute stop that turned out not to be worth the time then headed off to see The Swallows Cave.

Culture Park

It wasn’t much of a cave. More like a big depression into the cliff. It did have lots of Swallows  (I could see them flitting about and nesting all over the area), which I have since learned are very special in Chinese culture.  The area around it was amazingly beautiful and I felt rewarded for my short but extremely sweaty and hot hike to the cove.

Near Swallows Cave

The next day dawned bright and clear and I headed over to the dive shop to get my dive guide. He was my dive partner too since I went solo on this trip. At eight in the morning I knocked on his door, where he proceeded take another hour to wake up, take a noisy dump in his bathroom, and then off we went.

Turned out I had forgotten nearly everything I had learned. I had brought my dive book along so I could review the night before, but true to form, decided not to read it, and relaxed instead. That was a little embarrassing, but my dive guide whipped me back into shape in no time, mostly by lecturing me on how much I had forgotten, and into the water we went.

My first dive was at Shilang Diving area and turned out to be the most beautiful of my four dives. My guide gave me some bread to feed the fish (which is frowned upon but we did it anyway) and within a couple of minutes I had fifteen different types of fish eating from my hand. Including a couple BIG mothers which freaked me out a little, but it was all good in the end.  I even saw a Moray eel swim by.

Both of my dives on the first day were at Shilang and they were, by far, the best ones. There was a considerable amount of sea life to see, random different types of  fish, coral, all sorts of good stuff.

After a quick nap I headed out again. This time I checked out the Light House (good for 15 minutes) Guanyin Cave (5 min) and the cross country path which was long and, due to excessive bush and grass growth, tended to block all the best views. In the evening I checked out the “downtown,” which is basically a long street of tourist shops, and then headed back to my B&B.  I spent the next couple of hours sitting on a bench overlooking the coast and staring out at the sea looking at the stars and drinking a brew. It was peaceful, and I realized this was the first time I’ve seen stars since coming to Taiwan.  The overcast and smog in Taipei precludes these little pleasures in life.  It didn’t take long for me to notice some lights underwater and after watching for a while I realized that there was someone in the harbor scuba diving at night. I kept them company from my bench and watched as they made their way across the harbor and finally came out only to steal away as quietly as they could on scooters.

I asked my guide about it the next day and he told me that most divers go out there to fish.  Mystery solved.

My third day there we went diving at the Dabaisha Diving area, which was ok, but didn’t have nearly the same amount of life as Shihlang. When I commented on this my guide explained that it’s because there is more fishing in that area so the fish population is down. On my last dive, he took me to the Hot Spring Harbor right next to the dive shop and this pissed me off a little.  There was nothing to see there except for a massive graveyard of old glass and plastic bottles on the ocean floor. I think he got lazy, and that was annoying.  While he was somewhat professional in some respects, I wasn’t impressed with this guy at all.

After finishing up with the dives, I met a girl named Chris I had gotten in contact with in Taipei.  We were part of the same hiking group on FB and, though we had not met before, agreed to meet on Green Island.  I found out she is from Malaysia and here in Taiwan on a work travel program.  It was fun meeting someone new, especially after spending three days on my own. I learned some interesting things about Malaysia, and comparing our views of the Taiwanese was both amusing and educational.

We scootered around the island, visiting a few key spots including Youzihu where we got to see a small snake, and a crab that was in the process of shedding its old shell.  One of the Taiwanese gentlemen in the surf ended up helping it along a bit and separated the crab from its old shell entirely.  I also saw, for the first time, what my later research indicated was a brittle star fish.  We walked around for a bit and saw the remains of an old village long since abandoned.

Brittle Star Fish?

Youzihu

At one point we visited Guanyin Cave again and one of the vendors there talked us into trying to try this weird “tea”  made from Swallows. It’s supposed to be a very good delicacy with strong health benefits.

How, exactly, was it made from Swallows? I wanted to know.

Chris tried to explain, but she wasn’t sure she was using the right word in English.  At first she said spit, but then said she wasn’t sure. I eyed it dubiously but decided to try it. It was thick and mucous-like and looked like saliva. It tasted very sweet and I could feel it sliding down my throat in slow thick phlegmy clumps.  I found out later from my friend Zona that, in fact, it was made from the saliva of Swallows.

On the upside, I tried an Asian delicacy and I broadened my horizons, gaining an appreciation for different ethnic flavors and enriching my over all life experience. On the downside, I had the unpleasant experience of having an overly sweetened mucousy fluid slither and drip its way down my throat. It was gross.

After watching the sunset at Niutou Hill (by far my most favorite part of the island), we met up with some  recent college grads that Chris had befriended on the ferry ride over. They had been kind enough to let her stay in a room rented by one of their friends who had failed her graduation exams, and so had to drop out of the trip.  They treated us to a bbq dinner they had arranged through their travel agent.  It was an eye-opening experience for me and I wish I had taken some pictures.

Taiwanese BBQ restaurants have small hot plate grills in the middle of every table.  The concept, somewhat similar to Mongolian BBQ in the States, is that we watch our food grilled right in front of us.  The difference was we did all the grilling ourselves.  The boys got to work and grilled for everyone.  I have no idea what I’m doing with a grill so I was pretty happy about that, and the food was delicious.

I don’t know why this amazed me considering I have had  hot pot in Taipei a few times and have also been to a couple of Korean BBQ places. However, with the wooden tables in an outdoor tent and a massive grill in the middle of our table the whole experience was more like a genuine BBQ than anything I’ve ever experienced at a restaurant before.  Given the sue-happy nature of the US I’m not sure restaurants like this exist there. I’ve definitely never been to one.

After dinner the group took off to do a night tour of the Deer Conservation Area but I was pretty tired  so I headed back to my hotel room.  I met them all again in the morning at the Zhaori Hot Springs to catch the sunrise which was absolutely gorgeous. The Springs are famous for being one of the few salt water hot springs in the world, but to be honest, I didn’t find them to be any different from any other hot springs I’ve been in.  The area was packed as everyone gathered around to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise at Zhaori Hot Spring

Afterward we soaked in the natural springs near the coast for a while, but they were not that warm. We headed back up to the nicer pools by the entrance where I had to borrow Chris’ swimming cap to take my soak.  I don’t know if it’s a law or what, but everywhere you want to go swimming in Taiwan you must have your swimming cap.  The college grads went off to boil their eggs for breakfast at one of the hot pools designed for just that purpose.  Later, I spent a while talking to one of them about traveling, life in Poland, and all the usual stuff two strangers talk about. He was endearingly shocked when he found out I was 30. It was gratifying.

After cooling off by a picnic table I decided it was time to leave and catch breakfast at the B&B so, still in my bikini, I stood up and told them all I’m taking off.  Chris goggled at me in silence for a moment, and I explained that “taking off” is slang for “I’m leaving” in English.

She laughed weakly, and a look of relief crossed her face before she explained that for a second she thought I had left out a word and was about to take my top off.  I’ve been smiling to myself about it ever since.

I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed every part of my vacation, but there was an unfortunate post script to my time on Green Island.

I got home without any problems, and was all set to get ready for part two of my vacation when I realized that the minor ache I had in my back at the beginning of the day had metamorphosed into screaming agony by the time I got back to Taipei.

I don’t know if it was the excessively long train ride (7 hours) that I took by mistake (I forgot to tell the ticket agent I wanted the express train), hauling the air tank for diving, or hauling my backpack around all day, but by the end of the night I couldn’t bend over by even half an inch without experiencing pure agony. In the morning, I called and canceled my spot. I was severely disappointed but there was just no way.  I haven’t experienced this kind of pain in years, and this was either the second or third highest level of pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I haven’t decided which yet.

I’ll let you know more in the next post when I fill you in on my first medical visit in Taiwan.

These last couple of years have seen a lot of new experiences come my way. New countries to visit, new cultures to learn, new cities to explore.

It has been the journey of a lifetime and I’m thrilled that I gathered my courage to finally do it.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t do this straight out of college.  I wish I had the willpower and courage then to do what I’m doing now. I wish I had started telling myself “yes” instead of “no” a helluva lot earlier.

But I didn’t.

And so instead of being a globetrotter like so many expats that I have met, I’ve been to five countries in the last two years and lived in two.  And that sucks dammit!  I should have been to 20 countries by now! Or more!  What happened to a life full of travel?!

I get that you think I should stop whining. No doubt some of you are thinking I live a charmed life and I’m ungrateful and I don’t appreciate how awesome my life is. And that’s OK. Because that means you’re jealous and that makes me feel good about myself.

But get this: My blog…

…has been to no less than 57 countries in the past two months. 57! You can follow its journey with this little link here.

The little shit! It’s gone nearly everywhere I wanted to go. Its even gone to places I never wanted to go.

It has visited 57 countries on six continents. That’s right. SIX continents.  Secretly, a part of me feels happy that Antarctica has denied my blog visitation rights. But then another part of me feels sad.  The chances of my visiting Antarctica are vanishingly small, so maybe it would be nice for my blog to visit. But not just yet. I’m not sure I could handle it just yet.

So, yeah, it’s cool. My blog. Living the life I was meant to live. I’m sure it enjoyed roaming the jungles of Malaysia and Vietnam, and standing on the steps of the Parthenon in Greece. Sipping coffee at a café in France and thinking snotty thoughts.  Creeping around off the coast of Africa somewhere, no doubt getting involved with smuggling blood diamonds.  It is just the kind of thing my blog would do. Shady bastard.

I should be doing those things. Not my blog.

When it comes back, and smiles its little sheepish smile, I’m going to take its cheesy little garden gnome and smash it against a wall. Then I’m gonna punch it right in the face.  And it’s gonna feel good.

Jiufen

The streets of Jiufen.

Jiufen, or Chiufen, or Jiuofeng, also known by several other creative spellings, is a small town in New Taipei county.

Famous for its old architecture and gold mining history it’s a “must see” in Taiwan. I finally saw it this past weekend.

It’s  a tourist trap. There’s just no denying it.  I’ve walked the streets of a few major cities at this point overflowing with history, culture and charm so a small town version isn’t awe-inspiring.

That caveat aside, I enjoyed myself . It is a perfect day trip for people wanting to get out of Taipei.

Jiufen is halfway up a mountain somewhere near the sea. When we went it was foggy and drizzly (no surprises there) but the streets were still crowded with tourists.

We wandered down the main streets which were filled with store after store and restaurants selling the usual crap, Taiwanese style.  Then checked out the view of the sea and stole up some random stairs that led to an old abandoned  shrine. Unfortunately, for a time, most of the views were obscured by a thick wall of fog that blew in from the sea over the course of five or ten minutes.  While we were climbing to the shrine we had a chance to see some spectacular views.

I say chance because the fog was so thick at that point all we saw was a wall of white.  The stairs themselves were eerie and worthy of mention and presented the beauty of that little detour.

Jiufen’s famous local food is apparently a type of dumpling. It’s not like your typical dumpling which consist of some meat or veggies wrapped in dough.  Instead these are very solid and made from a paste like substance of whatever it is you are eating.  For example a shrimp dumpling is made from shrimp paste, a pork dumpling from ground up pork mixed with I don’t know what, and boiled.

They were good. We ate these at a local restaurant that my friend had been to before and where the proprietress had clear narcissistic tendencies.  The walls of both floors of the restaurant were completely covered over with pictures of herself.  Occasionally, she allowed some local celebrity to grace her walls, but only when she was in the picture herself.

Who does this, seriously?

Even the people sitting next to us sarcastically remarked at that it was tough to eat under the watch of so many eyes. I told Jimmy, my friend, that she must be an absolutely awful mother in law, because, seriously. Who does that?

After lunch, we wandered around some more and eventually had tea at a tea restaurant. The decor was beautiful and old-fashioned.  We spent a couple of hours there enjoying our tea and toward the end we got lucky with the weather. The fog finally cleared and we were gifted with a gorgeous view of the coast.   Ten minutes after that it was raining hard. Luckily we were sheltered in yet another restaurant eating a famous dessert made from glutinous rice and beans, in a sweet broth.  It was tasty.

On our way back to the bus stop, we stopped at an artist’s store and he painted my name in Chinese.  I have a similar poster that I bought in New Orléans once, but this one is cooler by far.

Despite the rain it was a lovely way to spend the day and I would recommend it, if for no other reason than it’s a cheap and quick ride outside of Taipei to try something a little different.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

%d bloggers like this: