Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Message from ME to YOU!!!

Thumbs up to Paint technology. This is me with my first graders at Wakamiya Shougakko above, and with my fifth graders below. I got them all to say "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays" (in case you didn't catch the very fine pronunciation) and wave spastically, just like me. They just finished making incredible Christmas cards that I'll be bringing with me to Vietnam to share with the Jesuit parish we'll be volunteering with. I love these kids!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Taiwan: Take Nine: Leaving Time

The trip wouldn't be complete without another taste of Taiwanese ice cream. Luckily, we just happened to be passing through a city with a little festival going on. Got me some ice and some sweet caramel souvenirs.

Unfortunately, we did not schedule in a stop to the Promised Land on my very detailed itinerary.
Remember, way back when, about 5 posts ago, when I was talking about this very highly recommended vegetarian restaurant that we were gonna go to (I had persuaded the others' to go with me) but it was closed... well, we made it back in time on our last night to hit it up - and I was NOT disappointed! My eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach, but I totally do not regret it. I think Ronan actually liked the food as well, instead of just pretending to like it, like he was intending to do.
Round two; namely desserts. Oh my gosh, mouth has just started uncontrollably watering.
The last hostel we stayed at in Taiwan... not the highest quality, but definitely a unique crew of individuals 'bunkin' with us.
The hostel's owner, John Li. As he said "I have been many places"... very interesting guy.
All packed up.
The mopeds that make Taiwan, Taiwan.
Boarding our Hello Kitty sponsored plane.
One last gloomy look at Taiwan.

I really loved Taiwan and of course, wish I could have spent WAY more time there. If it weren't so pricey for the flight over, I'd go back in a heartbeat. The scenery was breathtaking and incredibly diverse, the people were generous, kind, had amazing English and senses of humor, and the food was delicious. My kind of trip for sure.

Taiwan Take Eight: The Walami Trail

After camping on the beach in Kenting, it was time to head back up the east coast on the more inland highway, 9. We wanted to catch a little different scenery (or for Ronan, more of the inside of his eyelids) and wanted to hit up another great hike on the Walami Trail. So, this was our last sight of the beach.
Check out some of the scenery while we headed up north.
We passed through Taiwanese army training grounds. Alex told us that all men are required to serve two years.

The Walami Trail is part of Yushan National park, so we hit up the Nanan visitor center there for maps, registration, etc. We then had to get the actual 'permit' at the police station, which despite their directions of "right next door", is not the house immediately to the right of the info center. It is a guys house, who will still tell you it is okay to hike, even though he doesn't understand English. When you actually get to the police station, it will have three very stooge like 'police men' inside who are entertaining.
The Nan-an waterfall, aka our shower for the day.
Our new friend at the waterfall.

One of many awesome suspension bridges.
One of the many awesome views throughout the 6 hour hike to the overnight cabin we were headed to for the night. The trail actually goes from the west to the east coast and would take only a mere 6 days to complete. It used to be used to move soldiers across the country during the Japanese occupation and since has been maintained and restored. It's actually a really easy hike, just a little time consuming. But, definitely worth the time if you have it for the magnificent views and awesome scenery. We even got to hear some wild macaques at night. Ronan spoke their language, so we had a nice little chat with them. They want their bananas back.
The night set in, and the night lights came out. Totally different but still an amazing trek at night.
Waking up with the others at 5:30am who were actually doing the full 6 day hike.
The Walami hut, where officers and army men used to sleep about 60 years ago.
The approximated 6 hour hike back took us 3 hours (even with my paparazzi stops); speed hiking at it's best!

I'd definitely recommend the Walami Trail to anyone headed down the east coast of Taiwan. It could probably be done in a day, but would be pretty intense. Sleeping over in a cabin with MUCH more hardcore hikers than us (the only ones without our own stove or sleeping bags) was an experience in itself. It was my first 2 day 'trek' and I really dug it. I think I might be ready to join my friend Julie on one of her week long hikes in Japan. Mayyyyybe.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Taiwan: Take Seven: From Hualien to Kenting

The next leg of the trip, we rented a car and drove down the east coast... well, most of the way. The intended route is shown below, driving along Route 11, stopping overnight at a campground... This was the actual path we ended up taking over 2 days to get from Hualien to Kenting. It happens when only one person is reading the map and driving. But, it was gorgeous and the views from the top of the mountains in the middle were stunning.
We overnighted at a 'free' campground in Hsiao Yeliu, known for the crazy rock formations along the coast. I'm all about sunrises and sunsets, so I made Ronan roll outta the tent around 4:30am to catch it. We headed to the coast and found a little hut to chill in until the sun came up, which randomly had sitting on the bench: night vision binoculars! No idea where they came from, but they were a blast to play with. There were no intruders in the area, in case you were wondring. In a campground. In a campground that probably fit 40 tents, we were the only ones.

Anyway, the 4:30am rise was clearly worth the struggle.

After the rise for sunrise, we headed to a very lame tourist stop called, "The River Running Up", which appeared to do exactly that. I'm pretty sure I figured out how it worked, but I don't want to have to post a spoiler alert! Then we drove round in circles in a town of less than 500 people to find the Dulan Sugar Factory, a place where artists and musicians chill, jam, create, and display their work.
The inside of the old factory is still semi intact. Not sure it's really safe, per say, but interesting nonetheless.
In a building on the grounds, a local Dulanian was hard at work.
I'm getting these chairs for my future kitchen round table.
This was my navigators assumed position for 98% of the time, only to arise from slumber to refuel (himself, not the car).
Almost to Kenting, we spotted this crazy place in Khaosiung. Immediate pull off for photo opps.
When we finally got to Kenting, we made our way to a beach where the only reference to rock jumping in Lonely Planet was listed. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, there was a giant sign with warning against jumping unless you want a big fat fine. We walked up to the edge to check it out, and out jumped a guy that was snorkeling. He said it was excellent, we said we wanted to go, so he walked us over the shop he got his gear from. $2 bucks for snorkel rental = awesome!
Swordfish at the surface.
The reef was pretty damaged, but there were still some really gorgeous areas.
Looking out over one of the many VERY touristy areas of Kenting. Over 5 million people a year come to visit it. It's namely hotel upon hotel upon restaurant upon hotel, but still fun and pretty.
Looking back at Sail Rock, our non cliff jumping rock.
And of course, any good day at the beach ends with a good sunset. We set up camp here.
Out on the town that night, sporting our only souvenier purchase of the trip: $2 sunglasses. And don't worry Dr. Carlino, the salesmen (with the giant wig and glasses) totally had a UV checker and these babies were at 100%.