By GRL JAMES and LRB JAMES
We decided it was time to be a bit more adventurous this weekend and booked a boat ride from the southern port in Magong down to Wangan and Chimei Islands. Waking early for the 9am departure, we stocked up on suncream, water, sun hats, and Oreo’s in case of shipwreck. Fiona waved goodbye to us at the port and we stepped aboard the ferry and down into the depths of the hull where our seats awaited. Despite the boat being relatively large, it sped along the rough sea like a power-boat, and looking out of the porthole we could see our imminent death on the cusp of each gargantuan wave. This experience was too much for our vestibular system to bear, and resulted in a queasy feeling once moored.
We arrived around 10:30 in Wangan and watched the ferry being unloaded of its goods; including two crates stuffed which angry swine, a couple of mopeds and a load of Taiwan Beer (where’s the party?). We waltzed around the port a bit, trying to get our bearings until we were ushered over by a thousand year old lady who thankfully was a proficient mime artist. She threw two mopeds at us, and with a refreshing lack of paper work, sent us on our way with a tank of petrol for just £6 each. No I.D., no deposit, no nothing. Once out of sight of the desiccated lady, (which could have only been about 2 meters with her cataracted eyes) we gave each bike a quick safety inspection consisting of squeezing brake levers and prodding tyres. We concluded that they were indeed fit for service.
We made our way westward looking for a hotel opposite a temple which in any other country would be fairly simple, but in Taiwan it is slightly more complicated, with a temple round each corner. At first we were underwhelmed by the “hotel” that greeted us. We poked our heads into a frankly ratty looking ‘restaurant’ adorned with orange plastic stools and tables, to be greeted by nothing but the feeling that we had taken a wrong turn. Luckily at that moment, a van pulled up and out stepped a man who clearly owned the premises, due to the mobile phone holder strapped to his waist.
Having been crept up on like this, we sputtered out some mandarin verse and mimed heads on pillows. Like a couple of wimps, we speed dialled Fiona to get things sorted. Somehow she managed to get us a 10% discount for our room. He led us through a courtyard of stray, undernourished cats, towards the sea and showed us our four person chalet. Only four, very close friends would have fitted in here, the layout better suited for an orgy. Sadly we only had each other and two kindles for company.
All of this aside, we were bang on the beach with air-con, cable TV, a kettle and even a couple of sea kayaks thrown in for our amusement. We dropped our things and were straight back on the road. Despite being old hands at driving mopeds, the rush of riding a two wheeled vehicle is still something of a novelty and despite looking like Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong in Mario Kart, we feel more like Ernesto and Alberto in the Motorcycle Diaries.
We came back later that evening tired and hungry. After popping our heads into the restaurant and asking in broken mandarin that “we want food, where do we eat”, an old lady pointed us to a farmers market down the road. Driving there just before closing time, we discovered it was severely lacking in both farmers or meat. What we quickly realised was that, while we had been sunbathing on our kayaks out at sea, our neighbours had been diligently fishing for, and catching, large Cobia (Rachycentron canadum to the aficionados amongst us). What we presumed were poor fishermen scraping a living were actually well to-do tourists who had brought top of the range fishing equipment with them. Returning from the shop, pot noodle in hand, we found our neighbours grilling fresh fish on a BBQ and cavorting well into the night, fuelled by Taiwan beer, fresh fish, and smugness. We slunk into our room and boiled the kettle while watching Charlie St Cloud,The Bodyguard, and G.I Joe – The Rise of Cobra. Lesson one: always pack a fishing rod. Lesson two: Don’t watch G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Despite being on a world heritage site for nesting sea turtles, the conservation centre was closed for reparations, and we were thus denied a trip to putative nesting grounds at sun down. Not being allowed on the beach past 8pm, we had to look out into the darkness, hoping for the glimmer of a wayward flipper or the “Plop” of a freshly laid egg. Needless to say, all hopes of scrabbled egg in the morning were dashed. Tomorrow we shall write about our trip to the second large island of Chimei.