I guess this weekend of exploration started Friday night. We went to meet Alice at the Jongli night market. (We live between two major cities, Jongli and Taoyuan, Jongli is a little smaller and on the southern side of Nankan.) It was smaller than the one in Shilin, but a lot more manageable. Basically the same types of foods were available, fruit milk, sugar coated fruit on a stick, green onion pancakes, boazhi, any fried kind of meat or vegetable, and plus some different ones I didn’t see in Taipei. A polish native selling homemade cakes, who we stopped to talk to, he and Micheal had a few words in Polish and he bought some pieces of cake. We got spicy fried nan bread, that we have no idea the Chinese name for it so we just call it spicy bread, and fresh papaya milk. The Jongli night market had a lot less lights flashing in your face and a lot more variety. There was even a pet stand selling birds, porcupines, and sugar gliders.
After we got food and wandered around the park, we were sitting down to eat and saw a guy sitting alone across from us “ooo white person!” so we had to go over and say hello. It turned out to be another ESL teaching working and living in Jongli. After talking for a bit, he offered to show us the going out area, a little street of bars, one particularly popular as an expat hangout. So we left Peter and Alice and went to seek adventure. He brings us to this little section of Jongli that looks like it could be out of a movie. Cobblestone streets lined with bars and cafes (don’t be fooled that does not mean you can walk in the street). The popular ex-pat bar is called “The River”, and ex-pat bar it is. Everyone was very friendly, we walked in and people talked to us right away. They wanted to know our story(ies). Every Taiwanese I have met so far asks “Why Taiwan?”, well because you ask, because you are interested, because if I get lost I have no problem asking someone and that someone will do whatever they can to help, and the mountains, oh the mountains, and wait that’s not all…rivers, gorges, and beaches too!
We met so many people. Taiwanese, Chinese, ABC’s, British, Dutch, and of a couple other Americans. Some young students, some old ex-pats and everyone in between. We hung out well after our gracious host (and new friend) left. The owner is American, his wife Taiwanese, she owns Ocean Cafe, a western food restaurant in Jongli. She bet Micheal a free lunch for him and his girlfriend (me, apparently) if he beat her in pool. Well, Micheal won and she gave us her business card to come in on Saturday to collect our winnings. We called it a night around three and said farewell to our misfit group of new friends. I don’t think I’ve felt more comfortable and welcome walking in anywhere than The River on Friday night, I think I will definitely be going back in the future.
Saturday, we decided to try to find this Ocean Cafe for lunch. We did it the old fashioned way (look it up on Google and draw your own map on a piece of paper to take with you, oh such children of the 90’s) so with our hand drawn map and a business card we set out to claim our prize. It took us two hours of wandering around Jongli, to find it, tucked away on a side street. The wandering, even though we did several circles around the city, was very stress free. We obtained a couple different maps from a couple hotels we asked directions from and found the bar from Friday night again(several times). But we got a feel for the city, and eventually found our own way. And inside, we found the owner who greeted us with a big hug and a warm smile and got a free western food lunch. The whole time I could not help but think about wandering, you search and search and search and end up in some tiny little corner of the world where you feel like you belong.
Yangmingshan has been my mecca this entire week, all I’ve been able to talk or think about since I decided I’m going with or without anyone else. The plan was meet at 6:30 AM Sunday morning, take the bus to Taipei then the bus from there to Yangmingshan. Yangmingshan is the northern most national park in Taiwan, and the closest to me. It’s tallest mountain is Mt. Qixing, at 1120 meters. It is home to the Datun Volcano region, several ecological reserves, natural hot springs, several waterfalls, and steam geysers (I’m not sure if geyser is the correct term). We were going to hike Qixing, and walk the bamboo forest trail (a simple rec area walking trail). We ended up doing much more. We first hiked Mt. Qixing, the main peak and east peak. It is also called seven star mountain because you are supposed to be able to see seven other beautiful views from the top, but it was not clear enough to see, we were right in the middle of a cloud.
We didn’t do the full length of the trail just the peaks, then decided to try to see the Juansi waterfall. On the way down the mountain we found the Menghuan Pond trail, and wandered around that for a bit, then tried to make it to the waterfall trail from there. Alas, somehow we got lost and ended up on the completely opposite side of the park, in Xiaoyoukeng, where we happened upon the steam geysers. It was volcanic region, a natural gash in the side of the mountain with this dank sulfuric steam pouring out of it. The way the steam pours out of the ground and curls around the rock is said to look like a dragon, the name Xiaoyoukeng has something to do with dragon in Mandarin (I apologize for that sounding so ignorant, I am really trying to learn I promise). There we found the bamboo forest trail.
We then got the park shuttle to the hot spring bath, a little crowded pond of people dipping their feet in (we decided not to join in on the feet dipping). There are actual hot-spring baths that are off limits but supposedly people go there anyway, on an unmarked trail, that will have to be saved for another day. Then we walked the waterfall trail back to where we thought we were going to find a visitor center but ended up on the side of the road next to a bus stop. Which we then took back into Taipei then back home to Nankan. Every path we took had a different feel to it. Qixing was cold and windy and made you feel alive, while the Juansi Waterfall made me feel like I was in an exotic tropical forest. I was so content to be in nature I did not even realize we spend a full eight hours wandering the park. It is beyond explanation the feeling of how rewarding it was to experience what I have come here seeking and to know I made it happen all on my own.
I’m not really sure how to end this one so…
All men must live.