Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan


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Cimei and Fishing

Having missed sunset the night before, I had hoped to get up early to see it peak above the horizon.  I set my alarm for 5:45am, crawled to the porch, and to my dismay saw that it was cloudy and overcast for the first time in weeks.  Our ferry was due for departure at 10am so we rode the scooters back to the old lady and sat by the port watching the fishermen return from a nights work.  We boarded the ferry and had the same ball retracting journey to the more southerly island of Cimei.  The moment we stepped off the boat, another old lady, clad from head to toe in sun protection begged me to take a lone scooter that looked older than I was.  Eventually she ushered us over to some more suitable looking bikes.  Only having 4 hours on this island, we were pretty efficient in driving to all the popular tourist attractions, snapping a picture, then taking off again.  Cimei compared to Wangan seems more populated despite being further away, and is slightly more impressive in terms of geological beauty, with massive basalt extrusion along the coast, and the famous two hearts fishing trap.

Knowing that our boat was to depart at 2:30pm, we headed back to the port around 1:20pm for a bite to eat at the islands one and only Family Mart.  Looking out the window, we saw the ferry was already boarding passengers.  Looking at my iPhone again, I realised that our boat was at 13:30 after all. Sprinting towards it, hotdog in hand, we managed to get on just in time, and had a long bumpy trip back to the mainland which made even my sea legs shake.

It was a splendid weekend away from it all, although we regret not having brought along a fishing rod. A few days later, we headed to the angling shop and purchased a basic starter kit.  Having not fished since learning off our Grandfather many years back, our knowledge was deeply lacking, including how to actually cast a line.  Instead of practicing in the sea where we might be mocked by fishermen, we rode to a large expanse of grass, and practised casting out into the great green yonder.  We have now mastered the technique of getting the sinker in the general vicinity of the scooter helmet we had placed on the grass and now feel slightly more comfortable about trying it in the sea with the hooks attached.  Later that day, we researched fishing some more, and realised the grim realties that we would soon face, including how to remove a hook from a fish mouth, the best ways to kill and bleed it, and how to gut and behead it, keeping all the entrails attached. After an hour of YouTube massacring, we drove to the local hardware store in search for some items we would need for this piscatory crusade.  It felt like we were shopping with the intention of disposing of a body; buying rubber gloves, pliers, a knife, and a rounders bat.  This last item we exchanged for an axe handle which was 200NT cheaper and would do the trick. Once the wind drops we shall head out to the bridge to see if we can catch anything, (hopefully not a puffer-fish in case we get tetrodotoxin poisoning).

Our swimming is improving, and I successfully managed to get a 30 ticket season pass with my broken mandarin.  We have got into a routine of swimming 20,25,30 lengths, and shall hopefully do 35 tonight.  Bearing in mind the pool is 50 meters long, rather than the 25 I am used to, one length of front crawl is pretty tough if you’re going flat-out.  The last 15 meters is mainly a lot of splashing and not a lot of progress. I’ve garnered some tips on correct technique from the guardian, and will deploy these in my next trip including counting the number of strokes it takes to do a length (the smaller the better).

For the past three nights we have driven back from the pool and gone straight to the steak house which is our new local. For a “three course” meal of soup and side salad, a steak with pasta and a fried egg, and a ball of ice-cream to finish.  The steak is brought out on a sizzling hot plate, and an egg is cracked on just before service so it cooks before your eyes.  The steak is incredibly tender, barely requiring any mastication, and for a total bill of $320NT for the two of us (about £6) it’s an absolute bargain.


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Island Tour: Wangan

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.

Our new hats

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.

A view from a room

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.