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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Moon Dancing in Guanshan

For the upcoming 3 day weekend (Moon Festival/ Mid-Autumn Festival), I really wanted to go to some obscure beautiful place in Taiwan, preferably w/hots prings. Well, truthfully I wanted to go to Hualien (yes I’ve lived a total of 5 ½ years in Taiwan and still have yet to make it to the Taroko Gorge, but I have been to Green Island, Penghu, Kenting and Alishan). All the accommodation in Hualien was booked, hostel minzu, hotel, full. I knew the orange daylilies in 60 Stone Mountain were now in bloom and imagined it might soothe the soul to take a change of scene and frolic in rolling mountains, fields of orange daylilies (yummy in soup, that’s why they’re cultivated). For photos click here.

I decided to make Guanshan (關山鎮) our base camp , 40 km north of Taidong on Highway 9 in the picturesque mountain valley between 2 mountain ranges. Guanshan is well known for its flat bike paths through pastoral rice paddies and sugar cane fields. We also saw tons of water buffalos, slogging in the murky river runoffs.

I had bought a train ticket last minute a few days before our departure, which meant no seats, but I didn’t mind sitting between the carriages. Our train departed at 6:30 am for Kaohsiung and the same train continued on to Hualien (stopping at Guanshan somewhere after Taitong). I’ve taken early trains before and actually this same on when we went to Green Island via Taitong, but it was like unseen forces restrained me from making this train on time. I hit every red light (optional in Anping, but I don’t do it in the “city”). Halfway to the train station my scooter backfired a few times and died, wouldn’t restart and when it did was tediously slow (grandmas on their bicycle passed us). We finally pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the station and in my hurry the scooter fell over and all my crap spilled out. (Z calls it our transformer scooter, half scooter, half trash can.) Picked up the scooter gathered our bag and made it to the man taking tickets at the gate just as I saw our train pulling away heading south. Two more minutes maybe one and we would of made it. Well, I’ve learned by now from traveling(which is life magnified), I’m too blessed to stress,  that it all works out for the best and it did, on the next train we at least got a seat. We even had time to go home and the Anping’s morning market (my fav place to be every other Sat morning).
There was some confusion at the ticket booth, he spoke zero English and it was all my broken Mandarin and facial expressions, but we got the next train around 1030 am, no charge and a seat. At Kaohsiung we changed trains. I called the minus owner and tried to explain we missed the train and we’d arrive later (she was supposed to pick us up.) She didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, but I understood her, she said call her when I go there. I had to have my friends Vicky and Allen call her and tell her we‘d arrive at 1:45, so she would be there (impatient me didn’t want to wait.) Of course when we got there she wasn’t there and I was saying hello to every auntie for about 10 minutes and then called her and she came 5 minutes later.
The minzu’s name is宜客山莊Suitable guest mountain village, and tel: (089)810736, the address:台東縣關山鎮新福里溪埔路22-1 No.22-1, Rd. Xipu, Sin Fu Li, Guanshan Town, Taitung County. http://ekweb.svu.com.tw/

The minsu room was cozy and roomy, with views and from the patio. Our room had a queen and single, AC, vanity, bathroom, cable, table and chairs for 1800NT a night, including breakfast ( a run to the local breakfast shop; Taiwanese style sandwiches and warm soy milk). We immediately went to the local bike rental shop (several big ones) and got an electric lazy lady for the whole weekend, for 200NT. I strained my knee the day before, squats with a barbell, plus sitting on the train immobile w/ Z on my lap, my knee was hurting. I felt guilty about being lazy as I like riding a bike, especially outside enjoying the scenery, and my daughter said, “Oh mom you just have to take it easy.” Maybe my knee was just a way to be lazy, but it was better than really damaging my knee and actually by Tuesday it was 90% better. About 10 minutes later we were hitting the trails for the remainder of the day as an afternoon storm blew in and quickly cooled everything off. Our bike was ridicules, it had a huge rectangle canopy that was useless in the rain, front basket and kid seat in the front, with this weird metal frame right in front of Z’s face (she said it didn’t bother her, she just tilted her head around it to see). It had a kickstand like a motorcycle that eventually fell off (they fixed it while we slept). But it was fun, I let Z do the power and she was tickled to believe she was really driving it, laughing, perma- smiling as we made up songs about our lazy, lady electronic bike. It reminded me of simpler times when I was a kid and my Dad used to let us do the power on his motorcycle when we rode front or when he let us steer the car when we sat on his lap.

It took about 10 minutes to check out the town of Guanshan itself, a hit and miss by car. The street parallel to highway 9 had the majority of the sites, eateries, traditional market, temples, the only English bushiban. It was getting dark so we bought some groceries (yogurt, fruit, ginger tea, noodle soup) and had a late lunch/early dinner on our veranda as it rained.
I forgot to turn off my alarm clock off on my bootleg i-phone and woke up at 5:30 to catch the tail end of the sunrise. The minus lady came at 7 with breakfast and we were off on our bike until lunch. After lunch we waited an hour for our supposed driver but he was stuck in traffic (60 Stone Mt). I didn’t mind, and had a quick power nap. He finally arrived in a massive guzzling blue van and I thought, Im not paying for that, so they called a relative w/ a taxi and for 1000NT had him drive us to Loushan waterfalls and 60 Stone Mountain (and later the other direction to the Hongye hot springs). No one would rent me a scooter w/o a license ,according to the Minsu lady, which might have been true, but I doubted it (she gets a cut from my taxi, plus I’ve rented in other parts of Taiwan before, best to deal with scooter rental people face to face). I wasn’t going to push it, Z was tired and I in my lazy mode didn’t feel like driving. It was a better decision because 60 Stone Mt, like all beautiful places in Taiwan on a holiday weekend is packed bumper, to bumper.
If you go to Loushan waterfalls, bring a swimsuit!! Had I known there would be the loveliest, cool, crystal clear pool, void of swimmers I would of worn my swim suit under my clothes. Z could hardly wait to strip to her undies and cavort like an otter. I was jealous that I couldn’t do the same, “Just take off your clothes like me Mom! “ I wish, but we weren’t in Europe. So it was enough to stand knee deep, take pictures, admire the families already beginning their BBQs on the large boulders, a boy catching crayfish for lunch. The view from the bridge there was amazing, the valley sprawling below, the indigo mountains in the late summer haze in the background. I wasn’t even aware then how majestic the waterfall was until I saw it from the nearby Volcanic mud baths. It was tall and vertical, Polynesian.
Soon we were stuck in the traffic of 60 Stone Mountain. The road was at some points so narrow that the oncoming lane would have to wait, there were no buses. The top is a relative term, because just when it seemed we arrived there was more road, more rolling hills of exploding orange. Fortunately Taiwanese like to travel in packs and so it was easy to find a piece of peace and quiet away from the hordes. We walked, took photos until the day was cooling and the sun dropping. We saw an interesting rainbow that was so low, it was actually on the daylily fields, not in the sky. Z was feeling peckish so on the way down we stopped at one of the snack stands by the crowds for some sausage stuffed with daylilies and I bought a few bags of the dried flowers as gifts. The rest of the evening we spent soaking our bones in the beautiful hot springs of Hongye. Actually it was my 2nd time there (I was there 4 Moon Festivals ago on a staff trip), but we went so late the first time it was too dark to see the beauty around it. We admired the rising full moon from the warm, odorless, mineral pools. We had our driver stop at the local dumpling place for dinner.
On Sunday I planned on taking a local public bus from Guanshan to Wulu to admire the east end bit of the famous (and for me elusive because I’m w/o a car) South Cross Highway. The minsu lady was a riot and insisted there was only one bus and Id never make it back for my train. She was actually too much, talking loud, telling me in Chinese, “you’re not helping me” which was hilarious, she wanted me to pay another 1000 NT and hire her relative to drive me. She followed me to the bus stop and refused to let me wait in peace and got the other passengers in the conversation. Finally Z told her “why cant we just ask the driver ourselves! My mom thinks you’re annoying!” Actually I was calm, I knew this old song and dance and have been bested by the best of them (Delhi touts) and had this amazing supernatural composure to ignore her ravings. Of course there was absolutely no problem on the public bus. We were the only passengers on the way up. Z got car sick both ways (poor thing I should of bought medicine before).

The Wulu gorge was amazing, majestic vertical cliffs dropping into the wide Beinan River(卑南溪) below. The river was grey, cement colored, chalky, hence it’s name (white is bei). The road was narrow and winding and even I felt a little nauseous. I couldn’t imagine hiking down to the river to these makeshift hot springs I’d read about. Definitely not with Z and not with a bum knee, but the desire is still there. The bus passed through Wulu and onto the aboriginal Bunun town of Lidao. We had an hour to explore and found the elementary school playground with this curious mural of two traditional Bunun kids South Park style. I’m from Littleton, Colorado so the South Park reference seemed all the more personal, like a confirmation of my right for us to be there at that moment. We walked around the town admiring, the farms, the local stone cutters art and ran back to the bus surprised to find it packed w/ young indigenous on their way back to Guanshan (and presumably the big city of Taitong). Our little bus was held hostage by one young man, who was still drunk the previous night’s Moon fest activities, I’ve  been there before. I liked the way he spoke Mandarin, although I’m not sure if it was the accent from his Bunun tribe or his intoxication because he took up all the space for speaking, no one else spoke.

I had a dream the night before that the bus stop was at the red traditional gate by the market and down the street from the temple. I had no idea where the bus stop was. Turns out that’s where the bus dropped us off on the return trip and we walked across the street to the local grocery store and called the minus lady to pick us up. She did and we spent the rest of our time (2 ½ hours) chilling in the patio shade, me catch up on reading and Z doing her simple addition, taking breaks to check her work, drink some tea or share a laugh.

The train back to Kaohsiung was what I was expecting, seatless crammed between the carriages. At every stop more people got on, until when boarding passengers would just look at us, and try their look at another car. For the first hour Z and I sat on our bag, next to a nice enough young man. After an hour I couldn’t sit anymore and stood, sometimes leaning on the wall, always one hand on Z’s shoulder when the doors opened (I was afraid from al the pushing and shoving she might get knocked our the door as she as on the edge of the step.) That was part of the experience and to her credit she didn’t complain once, and stood the last hour herself, leaning on the bag (there was no room for sitting). She did ask the last couple of time if we were there yet. At Kaohsiung I bought us both seats on the fast train to Tainan and we arrived in Tainan for the first time, she yelled “hooray we’re back in Tainan!”


Maps and info http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=0002123&id=R172
Hiking Mt. Guanshan http://www.taiwanese-secrets.com/guanshan.html
Biking http://www.taiwan.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=34661&ctNode=2158&mp=1004
Wulu Gorge http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=0002123&id=14294
Taitung Hongye Hot Springs http://tour.taitung.gov.tw/en/AllInOne_Show.aspx?path=1669&guid=52228058-a2d6-41dd-bf9a-de1bdb406b46&lang=en-us

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