Finally, Fresh Air

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March 23rd 2011
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 22.63, 120.27

Very windy today … but good weather. Sun and clear air!

After breakfast, we piled into the van and drove down the coast toward Kenting National Park. The first part of the drive was along the motorway and very boring, as it was particularly hazy today. I was intrigued by the number of driving ranges, with their massive nets, sitting amidst the apartment blocks, but otherwise there was little of interest.

Not too long after leaving the city, we jumped off the motorway, onto a dual-carriage way. The highway was lined with fields full of different crops, and rows of sellers with identical signs and booths, spaced a few metres apart, were hocking water chestnuts. Eventually, we pulled into a large shop selling fruit – we used the WC, then were served various very tasty fruits: bought some wax apples and star fruits, which they prepared for us, along with dried mango.

Just after leaving the fruit stand, but in a clearly unrelated development, the air cleared, and we could see sun. It was very windy, but I think, more importantly, we were entering an area of low population density, and the mountain ranges block the pollution from heading south. It was so wonderful to see the sun again, and to feel like you can breath without gasping.

We were now driving along the seaside – very choppy out there in the Taiwan Strait – and paused at a couple scenic spots: one was to view a rock, which our guide assured us looked like Richard Nixon. I couldn't really see it … but apparently what I thought was his chin was his nose. At another spot, we were shown a rock that looked like a monkey; this indeed did look like a monkey to me, so I feel like I redeemed by imagination.

Our first real stop was the Cat's Nose viewpoint. It was incredibly windy, but we still walked out to the tip to watch the waves crash against the rocks. We could see the lighthouse (our next destination) in the distance. Our guide was very nervous when we walked out to an undeveloped (though still highly used) viewpoint … he came chasing after us, yelling at us to be careful. We assured him we were okay; even though we can't read Chinese, we understand that the signs with the big red writing means "Danger". He seemed only slightly mollified.

From there,
we drove to the lighthouse, which sits amidst a large park, with grassy knolls and a trail through the coral to the sea. We rushed up to the lighthouse, through the large groups of Mainland tourists, but once we entered the actual lighthouse compound, we left the other tourists behind. Very odd. There was not much to see in the compound, which may have been why they did not visit it, but the old customs building had some interesting artifacts. Plus, we could see the entire lighthouse from the inside of the compound walls.

We walked from the lighthouse down through the jungle to the sea. The path would not have been too bad, but they had laid paving stones with diamond-shaped cut outs … presumably, it was intended for grass to grow between the cut outs, and thus provide a soft path for walking. But the grass was dead, or did not grow, or was dormant, and the size of diamonds was exactly the perfect shape for tripping over. Soon, however, those paving stones were replaced with slate, then with just dirt, then finally with a lovely boardwalk across the coral, so we could view the ocean without tripping. (One of my favorite signs earlier had said to watch your step while enjoying the distant view … very good advice.) I wish we had a bit longer, but we covered most of the grounds, and it was a quite enjoyable walk.

After leaving the lighthouse, we continued around the island, past a place where the sand dunes are reaching up to and across the roads, through some more towns, to a spot where natural gas emerges from the ground. Although the gas could be ignited by a natural source, the parks service actually lights it, so you can see the ground burning. It was odd, but even odder was the fact that the area was very popular with doves. Please to explain. We bought sweet potatoes from a vendor, who had baked them in the fires. Quite tasty, actually.

Our final stop was a town (I think Hengchung) with a name that translates to “Never-ending Spring” with an ancient wall and gate. The gate had been reconstructed, but part of the wall was old, built in the Qing dynasty, to protect the garrison from attack by indigenous tribes.

Long drive back to the hotel; we re-entered the haze almost exactly the same place where we had departed it earlier in the day. Once back at the hotel, we rested, then went out in the evening to a restaurant along the river for Taiwanese food: good food for an amazingly low price. Dining here is certainly a lot cheaper than it would have been in Japan. After dinner, we strolled again up and down the riverfront. It was far more populated tonight, maybe because the weather was better or maybe because we were here later in the evening. We stopped again at the coffee place along the river, which was full of people, had some coffee and enjoyed the live music. It was so pleasant out that we lingered for a while, people-watching, until I could keep my eyes open no longer.

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