The driver speaks passable English but Melinda helps with translations for some parts, too. We head south and toward the sea; our general route will take us to the coast (the Pacific Ocean), south, cross a line of mountains to the central valley, north through this valley, and back to Hualien.
The weather is great this morning – clear and sunny. We haven’t had this good of weather anytime on Taiwan, yet. It’s very warm – probably 90F, but dry, happily. We stop at:
- Bridge 18 – the 18th bridge built along this highway. It’s 100m to the river valley floor below and an impressive sight.
- Baci platform, where the mountains meet the ocean in exactly the way they do along Hwy 1 in northern California.
- Shihtiping harbor, where the stone form steps down to the ocean. It’s low tide so we look in tide pools in the rocks that’ve trapped fishes. They’ll escape (hopefully) at the next high tide.
- Guangfu, our first city in the central valley. We stopped here for lunch at the restaurant in the B&B that was once the only hotel in town (decades ago).
- Hualien sugar factory, now more well known for its ice cream stand than sugar, apparently. Melinda and I do look through their tiny history room and interpolate the photos from what we learned at the sugar mill in Maui. We also do eat ice cream (taro for me and papaya for Melinda) and walk through the little shops there. We see some cultivated bee hives (the white box variety) in business – the bees are content to ignore the nearby humans despite their (humans’ and bees’) number. We don’t dally, though.
- Morisaka forest, a logging station set up by the Japanese about 80 years ago but that’s now a forest cultural center (eg, has a whole mess of intricately carved statues made from local timber and a bunch of exhibits about logging over the years but is no longer an active logging forest.)
- National Dong Hwa University, a university that opened its doors about a dozen years ago and now enrolls 4000 students. Melinda and I walk the grounds a bit; the place is nothing special. Several of the buildings look newer or are under constructions, but the central building is not well kept up. We see a few students on our walk – far fewer than I would expect for a university enrolling 4000. The university isn’t anything special; Melinda and I suspect it was added to the schedule just to pad it out to 5p and to add a bathroom break.
We’re back at the hotel by a little past 4p, ahead of schedule but just fine for us. One of the advantages of being the only people on the tour is that we didn’t wait for other people and we could dawdle without imposing on others. We have a half-day tour tomorrow, I’m sort of curious if we’ll have companions for that trip, too.
We nap after the tour then strike out at dusk for the night market at the end of Heping road. It’s about a mile away and – oh, walking. Taiwan doesn’t seem to believe in sidewalks; or, at least, doesn’t feel the need to keep them passable. Where there are sidewalks the adjacent stores typically set up tables or show merchandise or a food cart appears to block it. So you end up walking in the road, or in the scooter lane (most roads have a lane for cars and a narrower lane for scooters). Not a big deal but you need to stay aware of traffic more when you’re pretending to be a car. Anyway, we walk to the night market and stroll around. We expect to buy food-on-a-stick and maybe some souvenirs; we’re disappointed with what we find. There’re a few food vendors, but they’re all vending about the same stuff. The sugar cane water is pretty nice, tastes just like chewing on a cane, and the watermelon milk and chicken-on-a-stick are surprisingly tasty. We find a few booths selling clap-trap from China (hey…) but most are midway arcade games – pop balloons with darts and win stuffed animals. The games are all sort of boring looking, too. So we don’t stay long – we walk out to the beach, finish our chicken on sticks, and then walk back to the hotel.
We make one stop on the way back to the hotel, at Cotton Sweet. It’s a bakery; I’m still hungry for the rest of dinner. We end up with pork on a bun, chicken in a bun, and a custard thing. Also, a bunch of free samples. I like how you choose your foods: they have trays at the front and tongs; you pick up the goods you want and collect them on your tray; and they bag each one at the front. It all comes to $85NT (about three dollars) and is well worth it. The pork bun and custards were the winners. The pork bun, the bun itself, was very light, and the pork salty and sweet. Eating the custard was like eating a cloud. Definitely the right way to round out eating for the day.
Back at the hotel we head to our room. I noticed yesterday that the elevator has no button for the fourth floor; 4 is an inauspicious number in Chinese superstition. And this also no explains why, in Kenting, our room (305) was on the floor above 301 – because, in America, it would have been room 401, but who from Taiwan would want to sleep on the Death Floor? Anyway, mystery solved.
Melinda’s watching the antics of local TV again (four mid-20s people are getting the VIP tour of a marine park) and we need to pack before we sleep tonight. We’re also not sure when the internet SIM card will expire. We were told five days but we were also told it could make voice calls and that’s proved untrue. Checking by phone it said it would expire in November, but maybe that’s the card, not the money I’ve paid for it. So, maybe I’ll post this message tonight, or maybe I won’t get to do so until I’m in Taipei. We’ll see.