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Friday, 10/10, was Taiwan's National Day holiday, which meant I got a rare three-day weekend. I decided to take advantage of it and planned a day trip to Bitou Cape (鼻頭角), on Taiwan's northeast coast, to take in some beautiful scenery, and then to Jiufen (九份) to experience some historical culture.
I wanted to squeeze every minute from my day off, so I woke up at 5:00am to be able to catch the very first bus at 5:45am to the train station. Here I am, about to leave my apartment. And no, I haven't had any coffee yet.
I arrived at the bus stop at 5:45am—the arrival time of the day's first bus, according to the schedule. I'd never seen Taoyuan at sunrise. Here's an early morning, no-traffic-view, of 中正路 (Zhong Zheng Road), the main drag that leads to the train station.
However, as per my previous bus experiences in Taoyuan, the printed schedule didn't mean squat. Here I am, still coffee-less, and still waiting. A bus didn't arrive until 6:30, although, according to the schedule, four different buses should have been by during those 45 minutes. I can only surmise that the buses were on a special holiday schedule.
[Addendum: I've since found out that the times printed on the bus stops are not the arrival times, but the times that the buses leave the main station. I still can't understand how that would help one know when to catch a bus at a particular stop.]
Bus delays aside, I arrived at the train station (pictured here) in plenty of time to grab a breakfast sandwich and a latte before hopping on a train. Unlike the bus system, I've never been disappointed by Taiwan's trains and subways. So, latte in hand, I settled into my 1.5 hour ride to Jilong (基隆) and studied my Chinese flashcards.
Catching the bus from Jilong to Bitou Cape did not turn out as easy as I had hoped. Lonely Planet said to "catch the bus at the Keelung [Jilong] Bus Co. station." Silly me, I assumed 'Bus Co.' meant that there'd be a building selling tickets with an information booth. Nope, no building, no employees, just a regular, crowded bus stop. I asked a friendly looking older woman which bus to take to Bitou, and she explained by pointing to some Chinese characters on a sign. Hmmm.
This particular bus stop was in a main traffic circle kind of area, and so buses were continuously pulling in, pulling out, and circling around. After about 15 minutes, three buses pulled in together, whereupon the old woman walked towards the middle bus, and motioned me towards to the last bus. I jumped on that bus, and asked the driver if he was going to Bitou. He wasn't, and pointed to the bus in front of him—the one the old lady got on. By this time, of course, that bus was pulling away.
I returned to the bus stop, upset and frustrated, first at the old woman, and then at myself, once again realizing how badly I needed to improve my Chinese skills. Later, when I replayed the scene in my head, I realized that the old woman could have been motioning to her own bus; I'm still trying to get used to Taiwanese gestures and body language.
So, while I scanned approaching buses, looking for the characters the old lady had told me, a man sensed my dismay and asked where I was going. (Thankfully I can understand at least that much in Chinese). When I told him Bitou, as luck would have it, he pointed me to a bus that had just arrived. I jumped on and asked the driver if he was going to Bitou. He impatiently said something that I assumed was an answer to my question, but he had a thick Taiwanese accent and so I didn't understand his Mandarin. As I stood there looking puzzled, his impatience grew and he again barked out some response. I finally realized he was indeed speaking Mandarin and had said "六十五" ("sixty-five"), as in $65NT, as in those three words meaning, "Yeah, yeah, I go to Bitou, now just pay the damn fare so I can get going!"
So anyway, here's a view from that bus (aka "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride"). I'm surprised the photo isn't a total blur, what with the bus rattling my kidneys and the driver careening along the narrow coastal road, apparently late for something.
The very moment I exited the bus in Bitou, the rain started to pour. Oh well, I wanted an adventure today. Thankfully, the beginning of the trail is immediately next to the bus stop, so I started on my trek up Bitou Cape.
The churning sea.[→]
Prehistoric looking plants.[→]
[→]My relaxed and totally natural pose.
[→]At last, the lighthouse. OK, time to head down to the shore.
[→]User-friendly coast access.
[←]...those who love to fish[→]
(isn't that right, T!)
[→]You know how much I love bugs.
Fortunately, I was able to stay lost in deep thought, even at the urinal.[→]
At 12:30pm I boarded a bus back to Jilong. It started to pour rain again during the ride back. This bus was more like a tour bus: Upholstered, reclining seats; footrests; pastel curtains on the windows; and a decent suspension that didn't rattle out my fillings. Plus, the driver was more professional ("helpful") and the cost was $11NT less than the first bus.
The trade-off, though, was that this bus didn't stop at the "Keelung Bus Co. Station", so I had to walk about 3 blocks in the pouring rain back to that main bus stop. I found a Burger King across the street, and decided to eat there in honor of Amanda and Austin. Of course, with the rain, the place was packed, but luckily I found a seat.
Getting a bus to Jiufen wasn't difficult, as these seem to be the only buses with the destination printed in English also. On the bus I met a woman from New York named Tabitha. She had won a one-week trip to Taiwan after entering her name in one of those contests held during a travel & tourism exhibition. She had assumed, like me, that those contests were just ways to gather names and addresses for advertising. She was surprised when she won a legitimate prize.
So, we arrived at Jiufun, but, unbeknownst to me (I like to work in archaic language whenever possible) the bus droped us off on the other side of town, whereupon (there I go again) I instantly got lost. I was supposed to meet Marc and Zenny at the main Jiufen Teahouse (九份茶坊), but I got hopelessly turned around. Now, I know you're asking yourself, "How could a member of the gender known for its map-reading skills possibly be lost?!"
After several phone calls to Marc I finally managed to find him.
The water is heated old-style on charcoal flames.[→]
I try my hand at preparing the equisite tea that's been aged for decades.[→]
After tea we went to a nearby shop for dinner which included pork, chicken, cabbage, rice, and fishball soup. I must be getting used to Taiwanese food: As I munched on pieces of darkly crisped chicken, at one point I realized I was eating the head. Six months ago I would have been aghast; now I casually thought, "Hmm, I'm eating the head."
Now, it was time for dessert! We headed over to the most famous dessert shop in Jiufen, Grandma Lai's Yuyuan (賴阿婆芋圓). Yuyuan are doughy balls made from taro. These, along with other items (yam balls, sweet beans) are added to a warm, sweetened broth. (photo)
The trippy part of this whole experience was that, after ordering and picking up your yuyuan, you had to walk through the owner's house to get to the dining area in the back. If you look at the photo, you can see two aunties watching TV, while a guy—who just had to cross in front of them—enters the dining area.
After dessert we went to a local temple, where there was a puppet show in progress. These puppet shows are to honor a god on special days, even on days like today, where the rain was pouring down in sheets. Unfortunately, because of the dark, wet conditions, the photo isn't too clear.
By this time I think we all wanted to get warm and dry. After waiting a while for the bus—in the rain, with the still-huge holiday crowd—we flagged down a taxi and shared the cost to Rueifang (瑞芳), where we were able to catch a train back to Taipei. In Taipei we parted ways, and I headed back to Taoyuan.
As I walked from the Taoyuan train station to the bus stop, I came upon this man sleeping in the roadway underpass. I don't know if he was homeless, or just tired and trying to stay out of the rain. At that point, I completely understood, and almost considered joining him.
But it was a happy tired, the end of a fulfilling day.