Monday, February 18, 2013

Chinese New Year Episode II

By the fourth day my Chinese New Year plans veered away from beach, sun, art and carefree living, when my friend Ted and I took off on his scooter to meet some friends at the Lisong Hot Springs, the most remote and hard to reach hot springs in all of Taiwan.  Discovered in 2002 by Aboriginal hunters.  

We began the 2.5-hour journey going the wrong way for about an hour, making it more of a 4.5-hour journey.  It was no problem though, I am always happy on a scooter in the sunshine, and the scenery was breathtaking.  A place where the mountains meet the sea is always a good place to be.  When we were on the right path growing closer and closer to the mountains, it dawned on me that I was not at all prepared for this impromptu change of pace to hike a hot spring.  In fact, all I had brought with me was what I was wearing: a swimsuit, a dress, and a pair of Tom’s.  Over my arm was a straw beach bag with some notebooks, pens, makeup and a random pair of dinosaur socks.  As the mountain air grew colder it was decided it would be beneficial to pull over and purchase some warm clothes. 

On the right path, with our new warm clothes, we were ready to take on the mountain.  We scooted up the road through rock faces, caves and cliffs deeper and higher up, up, and up on our way to meet friends at the mouth of the path to the hot springs. 

It was more than half way up the mountain that Ted realized we were almost out of gas.  I had no idea what was going on at this point and was exhausted.  He stopped and spoke Chinese with a police officer for a while and was told to take the road leading left, because along that was an aboriginal village, where there would surely be petrol for our trusty stead. 

When we arrived to the village I was in awe.  It was so picturesque and different.   We were in another world on this road.  The people were so friendly and it seemed like such a happy place.  There were people outside and puppies frolicking around everywhere!  We spoke to a woman and she led us to a young big-bellied man who happily siphoned gasoline into our empty ride.  The people were so friendly and happy to help.  I was pleasantly pleased to be in the presence of these aboriginal peoples.  Then I heard a yelp and looked to my right to see a cute brown and white Taiwan dog being completely run over by the back left tire of an SUV.   “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!”  I gasped as I put my hand to my mouth and did everything I could not to cry in front of this ancient civilization.  As I am watching this dog squirm, and die, dragged to the side of the road, I look around to see the poor girl who lost her dog running to its aid.  However, there was no little girl, little boy, old lady or anyone who this dog belonged to.  He was just left on the side of the road.  Shocked, I tried to look anywhere but at man’s best friend dying in the dirt.  I looked away only to see a baby waddle out of its home and pop a squat in the front yard, peeing like it ain’t no thing.  “Where are we?” I thought.  Ted immediately just started laughing nervously and we decided to get the hell out of that time capsule.  In a strange daze, we slowly found our way back to the road leading to our friends. 

It was starting to get dark now and the clouds were beginning to descend on to the mountains.  The higher we climbed, the darker and thicker the misty mountains became.  Eventually, we found the trail marker.  We were close.  The path to the trail led us on a muddy, rocky journey to what was the beginning of a horror film.  Dogs viciously barked at us, chained to multiple wooden dog shacks along the chilling, dirt road.   

When we arrived to the trailhead, there was no trace of anyone.  We looked around and an old woman emerged from a small house surrounded by dark, ghostly mist.  She was small, and old and scary as hell.  She spoke in Taiwanese tongues and told us she had seen our friends.  Eventually, we were able to find a spot to get service and called our friends.  They were not on the trail or even near the trail.  They were down the mountain and had texted us earlier to tell us the locals said it would be crazy to drive up at this time of day.  Yeah it was crazy, but kind of fun at the same time. 

So we made our way slowly back down.  All that could be seen were the scooter lights for about two feet and the white lines on the side of the road.  As we made our way down the mist eventually cleared and we found our friends and feasted.

That night we found our way to some hot springs down the mountain where we hung with a rowdy bunch of Taiwanese people.  We drank beer, relaxed and thanked our lucky stars that we had made it out of this day alive. 

We all woke early the next day to take on the path to the most remote and hard to reach hot springs on the island.   Wearing only a dress, bathing suit, and ill-equipped shoes, I wrapped my mom’s old pink bandana around my head ready to take on this trek.  I led the way.   The hike began as a nice path with a few steep inclines, and poles and ropes to lead you.  Then the trail led to a 400-meter steep path straight down, complete with ropes used to repel.  So I took them in my hands and began to step down the face of the mountain into the gorge.  We slowly made our way, panting and sweating, when I heard the earth grumble above me.  “Helen!!! Move!!” “Helen, watch out!!”  The boys above me screamed.  I looked up and saw a large boulder coming my way.  After a second of hesitation, I angrily pushed off from one side of the rock face to the other.  I swung around Just in time for the gigantic stone to graze my elbow and lodge in a few rocks next to me.  In just this small second in time on a mountain, in Taiwan, I literally almost died, or lost a limb, or something.  Had it not been for the rocks it lodged in, if it wasn’t me, it surely would have been the old Chinese couple or their fat, annoying Chihuahua below.  I sat and waited as the people hopped up on adrenaline rehashed the tale above.  I was alive, and I was a Jedi, that much was clear. 

After my near death experience, we couldn’t wait to get into the gorge that housed the hot springs.  We made it down to the bank of the river and followed it to to our destination.  Here we sat in amazement that we were alive.  Damn, we deserved these waters.  It is said that each hot spring has something they are good for.  It could be skin, or health, or bones.  These were for healing and they did the job.   

Aboriginals gifting us gas.  SUV and perishing perro in the background.

Crazy dog attached to his house in the mist.

Creepiest tractor I ever did see.  

Beginning of the hike.

The boulder.

I call this: "Shit, I almost killed Helen."

Lovas in the Gorge. 

The beautiful Lisong Hot Springs.  Totally worth it. 


Chinese New Year Episode 1

My Chinese New year began in a car of five expats: three Americans (Texan, Hawaiian, and Detroit native), an Israeli (they all drive crazy), and a quiet, handsome Swede. 

Our journey commenced in Taipei.  The Swede picked up the car after a sleepless night of partying the night before.  My friend Cassiopia and I were picked up that morning, and our Israeli had thankfully taken over the wheel.  We had been warned about the traffic on Chinese New Year by all of our Taiwanese co-workers.  It basically was going to be the absolute worst traffic we had ever seen in our lives and we were crazy for even thinking it would be a good idea to leave any of the first three days of the week. 

For those of you who don’t know, Chinese New Year is a celebration very similar to that of Christmas in the Western world.  People have a week off of work to celebrate and travel wherever they need to be to be with their families.   Like Christmas time, everyone becomes the worst version of himself or herself in at least one point in week.  The Friday before, everyone is driving around like crazy a crazy person after the last Tickle-Me-Elmo, everyone is pushy and irritable.   Driving my scooter around the Friday before in Taipei was so bad, I opted to pull over and take taxis around town for the day.  We left the following Saturday morning, New Year’s Eve.  To our surprise the streets were nothing as they were painted to be by our co-workers.  In fact, overnight, Taipei had turned from a bitch-slapping town to a ghost town.  There was not a car on the road and we zig zagged safely to the highway and out of the city in no time at all, disappearing into the mountains. 

We planned a road trip for our venture this week; a road trip all around the island of Taiwan, going wherever our five little hearts desired.   Our first stop down the coast was to be Dulan where we would meet our friends for a party to start off the new year right.  After all it was New Years Eve, and one must be with their friends on such a day. 

After my hitch hiking venture, The East Coast has become my favorite part of Taiwan.  The drive through Hualien, where Toroko National Park is located is just insane.  The steep twist and turns of the road, up and down, through tunnels going forever cut through the mountains, and surrounded one side by green ocean and the other by green mountains.   The drive is a surprising, stunning adventure in itself. 

Six hours later, we arrived in our destination: Dulan, a small town in TaiDong, and my most favorite place in Taiwan.  We set up our tent at a campsite after getting lost and almost wrecking the car a time or two.  After that we were golden and ready to enjoy the night.   We enjoyed copious amounts of beer, wine and fireworks in celebration of the New Year.  In fact, fireworks are set off all week long, all night long in the weeks following New Year's day.

Dulan is a creative town built by aboriginals, expatriates, painters, poets, writers, philosophers and surfers.  I met a lot of interesting people that first night.   One of which was an elderly Taiwanese man with an old soul and youthful appearance that people called Professor.  I suppose he was a professor.  We spoke for a while and he invited me to lunch at his museum the next day.  I excitedly accepted not taking into account that it’s me, and its New Years and I probably wouldn’t be sleeping. 

There were about twenty of us all-together at the campsite and we picked up several people along the way to take our party to the beach for a lively bonfire.  We stayed up talking, laughing and dancing into the next day and ended up passing out around 11am.  Lunch was at noon. 

Luckily for all of us the Professor was not going to let a New Years night on the town/beach stop us from keeping our promise.  About an hour later he was at our campsite rattling our cages, poking us with his cane and telling us to get up and that we had an appointment to keep!  Some dragged their bodies up off the ground of their tents, others flopped out of hammocks and eventually we all made our way to the Professor's house/museum. 

This was our Chinese New Year meal.  We were all together a hunger over group of Americans, Israelis, Taiwanese, Eastern Europeans, a Honduran Ambassador, a professional South Korea pianist, and the Professor (AKA the Indiana Jones of Taiwan).   Our first course was getting learned a bit and moved around in a boy-girl order for our meal, second course was a salad, followed by a fabulous sushi plate, a pork dish, ice cream sandwiches, and all accompanied by our beer, wine or champagne of choice.

After lunch we had a good, hard sleep only to wake up and dance around the fire like a tribe of heathens. 

And our journey begins...

Stopping along the coast to enjoy the scenery...

Fireworks on the streetz of Doulan
Sparklers by the fire...

On Vacation, watching the sun rise. 
Our Table!

Beach adventures.

Joy and the Professor. 

Large sush plate.

Some salad. 

Photos taken by: Me, Cassiopia Nichole Urban, and Oli!