After Taroko we weren’t sure where to go. Our initial plan was to go to Kenting in the most southern point of Taiwan. There, we thought, we could find a nice place at the beach and spend a week visiting the National Park, dive (Green island is supposed to be good for that) and just relax on the beach. We changed our plans based on the weather (nice, but not beach-nice) and on a German couple that just came from there and said it’s windy, chilly and apparently not the best time of year to go. Beach and diving would have to be postponed until the Philippines.
Instead we choose to spend more time on the east of the island and this turned out to be a great decision! We spent 3 days in Yuli and 7 days just outside of Taitung and were pleasantly ‘stuck’ between mountains and sea, met such friendly, caring and hospitable people and had a great time freely scootering around the countryside.
Yuli’s highlight was our guesthouse and especially its owners. We had heard about this place through the same German couple as mentioned before and also read about it in our guidebook. After being picked up from the station, arranging a scooter (Lucia has never ridden one, Mark’s last time was probably in Cambodia in 2004) and receiving a massive room-upgrade we sat down in the beautiful garden of the Wisdom Garden homestay and were welcomed with a cup of tea and homemade sweet potato & honey cookies. This was only the start of delicious snacks, fruit and food that we received there with a special note on the breakfasts we got for 3 mornings: each time it was different, each time home-made, each time a wide variety and each time delicious. Traditional buns with (home-made) peanut butter, shrimp-filled pancakes, pork floss, filled wraps, omelette, steamed vegetables, fruit and fresh soya-milk is only a small selection of what was on the table. Breakfast always took longer than what we planned for it. The family Hsu that owned the place have created such a nice retreat in the Yuli hills that it’s hard to leave.
In the Yuli area there are three main attractions: The Walami hiking trail, hotsprings and the 60 stone mountains. For all three you’ll need your own transport so we could put our scooter to good use.
The Walami trail was one the few cross-island roads that were constructed during Japanese occupation.There is a cabin where you can sleep overnight after 14km, but as we don’t carry a sleeping bag, we decided not to go that far. We went about 6km far and the hike itself was fun and not that challenging apart from one thing: the animals living in the forest that we passed through. First of all there are black bears in the area and you’ll find (cute) warnings everywhere. Also lots of bees and wasps. Monkeys, which is nice. Snakes, not so nice. Luckily we didnt encounter a bear, we did see a few monkeys, a deer with very short legs and two snakes. Yes, snakes right on the path where we were walking. Mark nearly stepped on one because he was looking somewhere else. We didn’t recognise them later in the visitor centre so couldn’t tell you if they were poisonous (which do live in the area), but they scared the $!%& out of us anyway.
There are a few stories where the ’60 stone mountains’ get their name from, but the main one seems to be that from normal rice area you could get 40-50 stones (English measure for weight – 1 stone equals roughly 6kg), but from these in Taiwan you could get 60 stones a day. A winding road runs through these hills and there are various viewing points where you can look out over the tea-fields and the valley between the sea-side mountains and the central mountain range. We’ve seen beautiful pics of this area in August/September when the orange lilies blossom, but already now we found the combination of the greenery, clouds and sunshine amazing!
The area has quite a few hotsprings, most of them have hotels built around them. Next to one of the more famous hotels (Antung’s hot spring) there is a (free) public spring that consists of 3 separate baths outside squeezed in between a road and a river. To get into the spring you need to be wearing swimming gear which meant doing an old-fashioned changing session by holding up a towel in front of your partner while (s)he stands butt-naked putting the gear on. During one hour of soaking in hot (65 degrees straight from the spring) water we met a few people there out of which one spoke good English. The first thing we learned from him is that you can drink this water (so we did) and then he did a suggestion for our onward travel that defined our next week and eventually got us to a place just outside of Taitung:
The English-speaking Taiwanase gentleman mentioned that there are quite a few farmers in the area that are willing to take people in their homes in exchange for some help around the farm. All you would need is to turn up at the train-station (he suggested specifically Luye – mainly known for its annual air-balloon festival) ask the stationmaster and he could put you in touch. Our first thought was ‘let’s do it’, however with the help of the Hsu family we ended up doing this slightly differently. They had a friend called Mr. Huang who runs a guesthouse just outside of Taitung who might need some help. After a few calls he agreed to take two poor travellers in and in exchange for three days of work (8 hours excl lunch :-)) we could stay at his empty (season is over) guesthouse for a week. This is how we met one of the most nice, busy, hospitable and admirable people in Taiwan.
Mr. Huang runs a guesthouse called Sunnyhome (http://sunnyhome.com.tw/) as a hobby next to running an electronics trading company. The place has about 10 rooms and is filled with beautiful wooden furniture, statues, a canoe, logs and other carvings. He also has 3 black dogs and a pig living on his guesthouse. He is always running around fixing or doing something around the house or on the phone, but miraculously always found time to sit down with us or other people for self-prepared lunch or home-made coffee. Home-made because he grows his own coffee beans, roasts them, grinds them and makes the coffee. Nearly every evening he would take us somewhere into town either for food (we had the best sashimi ever) or to meet people or see an exhibition. Also he gathered his friends to ensure we would have a good time and could communicate. He doesn’t speak English much and we don’t speak Chinese so all communication went through sign language or his friends that speak English. This is also how we met the retired couple Oling (Taiwanese) and her Swiss husband Eddie who lived together in Switzerland for 30 years. It was fun spending time with them and learn more about life in Taitung.
Additionally to all he already did for us, Mr. Huang also took us out for a day to see the main sights around Taitung. He knows the area (and the whole of Taiwan) as no other and he also works as a tour-guide for his guests. After a visit in a local tribal museum we stopped by Yuli again to have lunch with Hsu’s and then we visited a harbour with fish-market and the 8-arche bridge (Sansiantai). The fish market was mainly impressive because of the types of fish we saw there, including sharks, mantas and swordfish. After driving along the coast for a while we then stopped at the 8-arche bridge and hiked up the hill for another beautiful view with crashing waves against big black rocks lit up by the setting sun.
You would almost forget about the work we had to do for this week’s stay. Day 1 consisted of weeding for both of us while sitting on a tiny plastic chair. Day 2 meant the same for Mark. Lucia got a bit more variety by cutting a huge potato type vegetable into pieces for the pig and participating in lunch preparations for all workers (incl Mark). She also started with her main task: Mr Huang has 1000s of pictures of the outings with his guests and other events. These are all stored on his PC but a lot of them were not upright. As Lucia knows a lot about computers and internet it was a perfect job for her to go through all the pics a make sure they are all turned in the right direction (haha)! Day 3 started with weeding for Mark again and ended with sanding one of the walls which at the end of the day made him look a Colombian dealer too keen on his own product. Lucia finished her picture-job just after lunch and after that just did a few small things.
The people we met in Yuli and Taitung really made these 10 days unforgettable. So friendly, helpful and hospitable. It is really something that we believe we can learn from. We were looking forward to spending some time in a city again and having a look at the other coast of Taiwan, but were also sad to leave the East-coast, where we’d had such a great time.
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