Bodies, Maokong and Typhoon Nanmadol

29 08 2011

Began the week with a quick day trip to Taipei with Katie to see the Bodies Exhibit. I’ve been wanting to see this for years, so I was quite excited to finally make it happen. Pretty cool stuff, although I left feeling slightly depressed.

The theme seemed to be, when your young your vulnerable. Then, after the majority of your growth, you have a few short years where you peak (mid-twenties), and then life is a slow losing battle until you die. Haha, sounds horrible, but kind of true when if comes to the physical condition of the average human body. Really cool exhibit packed full of information, and for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I would recommend going.

Our weekend plans originally included a group of eight people heading south to Alishan, a major tourist attraction and mountain in central Taiwan, known for beautiful sunrises and the sea of clouds. Those dreams were crushed when we heard news of Typhoon Nanmadol barreling towards Taiwan.

Instead a few of us went up into the mountains outside of Taipei to an area known as Maokong. Rachel, Ingrid, Allison and I ended up hanging out on patios of local tea houses that dot the lush hills. Really low key day chatting, drinking tea and enjoying a great view overlooking the mountains and Taipei before the rain moved in.

We ate some local steamed buns, sesame-oil noodles and some other cuisine (not sure what the rest was) at a cool outdoor patio before heading into the fields. A short trail dropped down through the trees near the tea fields. After being terrified for a while from the insane amount of abnormally large spiders along the path, we arrived back on the main road and grabbed a bus back to Taipei.

Hot buns on a misty patio overlooking the mountains near Taipei

All was fun and games until we reached the spider jungle below

Almost back to the main road

Fun with Taipei 101 in the background

Upon returning, we heard news saying that school was cancelled on Monday due to Typhoon Nanmadol. Sweet – Typhoon Party! A large group of us went out in Chungli and had a fun night partying and enjoying are extremely rare two day weekend.

Monday morning, preparing for an insane typhoon, we rented movies and stocked up on food and other necessities. All for nothing. Taoyuan County got nothing more than a few degree cooler and a nice breeze. Nice day off, but completely unnecessary. We spent the day wondering around local side roads near the apartment and relaxing. Glad to say that I officially survived my first typhoon, although I don’t really think that it counts.

Side road out of Ping Jen

I was incredibly lazy today

Found some molds for statues in the middle of a field

 





The Largest Tea Museum in the World, Old Town, Cycling, and of course, Swimming

25 08 2011

Last weekend a small group of us visited a town east of Taipei by the name of Pinglin, literally meaning “forest on level ground!” Sweet! After a 45 minutes bus ride from Taipei we arrived.

First stop was to visit the world’s largest tea museum and learn everything one could possibly want to know about tea ranging from cultivation to drinking techniques. After strolling through the museum we tried the famous bao chung tea.

Tasting some tea before visiting the fields - Intense process...

Quenched of knowledge and actual tea we moved on to the old town area and ate lunch. Perfect timing allowed for us to eat and for the rain to pass by before we continued on to the tea fields.

The Main Strip

Deeper into town

A failed attempt at renting bikes led us down to the riverfront to check out the river. Due to a ban on fishing, the water is loaded with “flashing fish.” Not sure as to their real name, but you can imagine the reflecting sunlight coming off the fish. We hung out along the river for about 30 minutes skipping rocks and chatting, and then ventured back to the shop to see if the roads had dried enough to rent bikes.

Sweet Fog in the Mountains

Riverfront

Nature!!!

We were in luck and within a few minutes we were equipped with some pretty ridiculous little bicycles. About 5 minutes later we were on a bike path that weaved through the tea fields and followed the river. After about 3 km we turned back around and found a nice spot to take a dip.

Paul insisted on giving Katie and I a lift to old town

Katie, Paul, Me, Cecelia, Libby, Winnie

Almost cycled into this dude- Can you say heart attack?

We swam until dusk and then hopped back on the bicycles and raced back into town in time to catch the last bus back to Taipei. Upon returning the bikes, the owners of the shop gave us free tea and tea caramel – delicious!

A quick ride landed us back in Taipei ready for dinner. We decided on Indian food. Two of the girls had never tried it before, and after not being able to find the “ideal” restaurant, we settled for the only one we could find.

Should have taken the clue when we walked in the door that it might not be too good. Next to the kitchen was a wood carving of an American Indian. Slight misunderstanding in translation, oops. Anyways, the food was alright and satisfied our needs before catching yet another bus back to Chungli and ending another awesome day trip.





Oh yea, that cliff needs to be jumped off!

17 08 2011

Aside from teaching a lot of elementary school kids random board games in the morning and a handful of English classes in the evening, I have been exploring the mountains near where I live. Constantly finding new roads has been so much fun. Some lead to arterial roads, others a quick short cut around traffic, some end in the middle of a rice patty leaving me the only option of turning around and cycling a couple of kilometers back to try again, and yet others go way out-of-the-way only to end up a kilometer down the road from where I started. At the end of the day though, Taiwan continues to surprise me.

I honestly believe that unless you cycle (or ride motorcycles for fun) it is difficult to explain what make a road good or bad. Either way, I will try to stop saying the same thing over and over again on my blog and how awesome roads are….

Many people have said that cycling has started to build up here in that past few years. Give it five more and you won’t be able to get on the road. It is only a matter of time before the secret gets out. Taiwan is a cycling paradise. Hands down it’s the best cycling I’ve ever seen. Clustered populations are a quick escape here and within a handful of kilometers your lost in the country. Consider yourself unlucky if you see more than a handful of cars in an hour. Truly amazing.

And to my cycling friends, if you have the opportunity, think about taking a week to visit and explore with me – seriously. In a few years these roads won’t exist anymore; at least sans traffic and congestion.

It’s the only place I’ve ever seen to encompass every type of cycling within 20-30 kilometers of an area. Long mountain climbs, steep winding descents, flat country roads, rolling roads through rice patties and valleys, beach roads, networks of trails and clearly marked arterial roads low on traffic.

The past few weekends have been spent between Taipei and going to a park on the shoreline north of Taipei. Yeliu Park is home to awkward rock formations caused by centuries of wind and sea abuse. After viewing some of the highlights, such as Queen’s Head and Fairy’s Shoe, we walked around the back side of the park on what looked to be the surface of another planet.

Paul and I in front of the space rocks

A walk along Mars

JUMP!

Splashdown

Chilling during a hot afternoon

Once on the back side, away from the plethora of no swimming signs, we decided to take a dip. A little cliff jumping ensued. A few of us swam, while the others decided to stay dry. Afterwards, we hiked to the top of the small peak and then back down through the park.

The past few weekends have been a ton of fun and we are still searching for new adventures for small day trips on the few Sunday’s that we have off.  In the past week or so I have secured some additional time off and places for adventures in the upcoming months.

Next month I will be participating in one of the world’s largest mass-swims across Sun Moon Lake. People are only allowed to swim in the gorgeous lake one day a year. It is a 3 kilometer swim. Sweet mercy its going to be a long one.

A week or so later we have a three-day weekend for the Moon Festival. A group of us are planning a trip to Orchid Island, a small aboriginal island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The plans aren’t for sure yet, but I’m hoping for it. Should be an awesome little trip!

In October, I was able to secure two weeks off work to cycle around Taiwan. It will be my first solo cycling trip. I’m a little nervous about it, especially since the east side of the island speaks almost no English and in some areas, no Chinese.

I have been working on planning a route, but half of the fun is exploring roads that look ideal at the time. I am unsure as to where I will be staying at night as of right now and am hoping to soon lock down some places early on in the trip. I have been looking into couch-surfing. Anyone know first-hand how this is? If not it’s a cool idea. Check out the website if you’ve never heard of it.

Once that is completed I will have a week or so of normal life and then back to the east side to Taroko Gorge. It is probably one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan, at least that’s what everyone says. On November 5th, I will be running the Taroko Gorge Half Marathon. Can’t wait to do another race; it’s been too long. Hoping to use this as a launch pad for a solid marathon at the beginning of the year.

So yea, that’s what’s been and will be happening with me. Hope to have a camera soon so I can continue to share the epic views of Taiwan. Much love!





Chicken Organs and River Chasing

3 08 2011

Mountains. Rivers. Spiders. Pretty much sums up my weekend. A group of us went “river chasing” in Wulai, an aboriginal village just south of Taipei in the mountains. The water couldn’t have been more perfect for the hot summer day, and not long after starting, we were completely hidden from the sun by an amazing jungle canopy.

Wild butterflies fluttered all along the river. Giant spiders set up camp along the sides of rocks and floated in mid-air beside the stream. We also saw a caterpillar the size of a hot dog and an abnormally large frog while working our way up the river. It was amazing how quickly we were able to be completely out in the wilderness.

While I would love to show you pictures of the awesome day, I slipped and took the bag down with me.  It was holding all of our wallets and my phone and camera. No big deal we thought; we had everything inside of a ziplock bag. Once we finished our journey, and took our belongings out of the pack, we noticed the cup of water sloshing around inside the ziplock bag. Probably a bad sign. Ziplock fail. My phone and camera are currently buried in a bag of rice, although after almost 3 days there is no sign of life to either.

Yesterday morning I cycled out into the mountains past Daxi. Great country roads with practically not a car in sight.  While I was climbing up one of the tiny mountain roads, I heard a sudden ping of metal snapping. I quickly looked to both my sides, praying that there was some farm equipment malfunctioning or another person working on some sort of machinery. No such luck. I looked down and saw my worst fear. A spoke in my back wheel had popped out.

For those who are unfamiliar with wheels. A spoke is the metal piece that goes from the center, or hub, to the outside, or rim. When the spokes are not tensioned properly the wheel will become unbalanced and structurally weak. If you have ever seen someone riding a bicycle with a wheel wobbling awkwardly, it’s probably a good guess that it has to do with their spoke tension.

I was able to crawl back into the closest village and find a bicycle shop. I waited for around thirty minutes for it to open before having them take a look. Unfortunately, I had to leave my bike there. After a long cab ride home, I had to start figuring out how I was going to get to work. Fortunately, some people at the dorms were able to give me a ride there and afterwards back to the bike shop.

The evening ended with me meeting up with some people at the night market and yet again trying some ridiculous foods. For those interested, the random body parts of chicken that normal people dare not consume, are really not too bad. The texture is awkward and the taste is quite bland.