Monday, January 30, 2012

Climb Any Mountain

For a couple of reasons (which I shall go into later) I am staying in Taiwan until the 7th of February. Having done a loop of the island already I needed something to fill my time constructively, as I am not one to be able to sit on a beach for days on end. Luckily Taiwan has its mountains that I had mentioned previously, and this was the perfect opportunity to see them up close and personal. In Taiwan, however, going into the mountains is not simply a question of turning up at a trailhead and setting off at random. Perhaps it is a way of ensuring safety by knowing who is on the mountain should anything unfortunate happen, perhaps it is an environmentally-friendly way of limiting the human impact on a fragile ecosystem, or perhaps it is just the Taiwanese love of officialdom, but anyone heading to the higher mountains needs to get a permit. Sometimes two. The process is Byzantine, requires numerous forms to be filled out in triplicate, and, for the more popular trails (such as Yu Shan - Jade mountain), needs to be done several months in advance. Luckily through my host in Taipei I was able to find a group of people who were heading off on a 5-day hike and was able to join up with them.

View of the snowy peaks of Yu Shan (Jade Mountain), Taiwan's highest mountain.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Float Like A Butterfly And Sting Like A Typhoon

Once I passed the the southern tip of Taiwan I was back in the western plain with its towns and cities that merge into each other. Kaohsiung is the island's second city and main port. If there was anywhere I was going to find a boat out of here it would be there. I wasn't feeling too hopeful though after contacting a shipping agent who specialises freighter travel who told me that due to the corruption and bribery that is endemic in the Philippines freighter companies refuse to take passengers: "in 18 years of Freighter Travel – we have NEVER been able to handle passengers to or from ports in the Philippines." The container port is vast and sprawling and impossible to get into, and there didn't seem to be a recognisable yacht harbour either (the concept of owning your own boat and sailing around, either to neighbouring countries or just within Taiwan, is not one that is much accepted in society and certainly not by the authorities). Instead I went to the customs office, and although the man I talked to was genuinely kind and wanted to help, it was not a situation that they are used to handling and could only give me the numbers of a couple of local yacht manufacturers in the off chance that they may be delivering vessels to the Philippines.

One of my favourite types of street food in Taiwan. The stall has all the ingredients set out in portions. You go around with a little basket and tongs (kindly modelled here by Adele), picking out whatever grabs your fancy (sausage, duck eggs, chicken ass, tofu, fish balls, chicken hearts, noodles, etc.) and then paying per item as they boil it up into a soup for you. Nice!

Site Update

Just a quick note to let you know that I have now uploaded more photos to my albums, which are now complete up to (and including) China. The links are on the right on the website so feel free to browse and leave comments if you like.

Otherwise I have also updated my two travel maps (one with the route and the other with free-camping spots) and added a little anecdote into my east Taiwan post (Formosa) about miscommunication with my friendly trucker who gave me a lift.

Happy Chinese New Year, or as they say here in Taiwan: Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Being Choosy About The Choice To Choose

As I mentioned in my previous post my time here in Taiwan has coincided with election season. In western Europe elections are not particularly visible to the casual visitor going about their daily sightseeing. The same cannot be said for Taiwan. Posters supporting this or that candidate, with the number to tick on the ballot paper prominently displayed, occupied every free bit of wall space and every lamp post, even in the meanest little village. Everywhere volunteers in blue waistcoats can be seen canvassing and handing out fliers whilst scooters and vans with loudspeakers diligently plough the streets declaiming to all who will listen the merits of their party over the other.

Election flags outside the KMT party offices in Taichung. The incumbent president, Ma Ying-jeou (on the left with a corny "fist-pump" gesture), was running for a second term.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Ask most people of what they associate with Taiwan and they will likely say the words "Made in". And it is true that Taiwan produces a lot of things, most notably hi-tech equipment, microchips and bicycles (more on that in a bit). As for the island's other notable points,apart from along-running political mésentente with China, you would be hard pressed to find any that are well known beyond its shores. Like its other East Asian peers, such as South Korea and Japan, it is densely populated, yet it also has large tracts of unspoilt, mountain areas. The island can be neatly divided into eastern and western halves, with most of the cities, industries and agriculture concentrated in the frenetic west. There is then a long mountain chain that runs the entire length of the island from north to south, reaching a peak of almost 4000m at Jade Mountain, whilst the east coast remains relatively sparsely populated and devoid of much economic activity apart from agriculture, fishing and tourism. It is here on the east coast (and in the central mountains) that nature lovers and outdoors enthusiasts can slake their thirst.

The entrance to the Taroko Gorge, Taiwan's most popular attraction. Unfortunately it's impossible to give you a picture of the narrowest, steepest parts of the gorge as my lens just doesn't have the wide angle necessary to catch the vastness at such close quarters.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Auld Acquaintance

A big reason that motivated me to come to Taiwan (because let's be honest, who goes to Taiwan?) was to see my friend Steve. We had met six years ago when I was travelling in western China and have stayed in touch ever since. One of the advantages, and also disadvantages, of a travelling life is that you end up having friends all over the world, however you rarely get to see them. Luckily with the wonders of the internet it is possible to easily keep in touch. But if I am at all close then I will certainly make the effort to meet up.

My view for New Year's Eve. Impeccable view of the fireworks from Taipei 101.