Friday, December 17, 2010

Taiwan -- Day 4 Chihshang, Ruisui, and Hotel Bayview

The next morning we all left the hotel and began another day of riding in Taiwan.  I grabbed a hotel provided bike map (entirely in Chinese) and followed the symbols for the 11km bike path through Chihshang and the local rice fields and around the lake.  I know I went off track a few times but the scenery was just so beautiful you wanted to keep riding and riding. It’s amazing how safe I felt there. The country really does have such a sense of calmness and peace.  The entire ride the weather was grey and drizzly and only occasionally would I come across other people. The rice fields swayed under their bounty and the gentle wind.  Even though I was wet, the temperature was still a consistent 25C and with the workout of the cycling I never felt cold.

Outside the Papago Resort

View from the Chihshang Bike Path

Canal in Chihshang

These are bathrooms located along the bike paths in Taiwan

More canals through Chihshang

During the ride this twenty-something man on a bike approached me, and tried to talk. I replied “English only, Ni Hao” and rode off. He turned right and I figured that was the end of it. A few minutes later he was beside me again trying to talk, I told him “English only” again and cycled down the street toward the highway at the end of town.  I saw a lovely temple in the field and ventured down the driveway to see it, apparently my new “friend” (who I think was mentally impaired on some level) was still trying to talk to me. I started to take photos of the temple even though I was getting a little nervous at this point but tried to ignore him.  I turned to tell him to go away and noticed he had started feeling his penis and was still trying to talk to me and then he tried to touch my shoulder. I lost it at that point and I yelled at him loudly and called him some not nice names and rode out of there like I was in the final heat of the Tour de France to win. Still, it couldn't put a damper on my morning though.  I rode around the town some more and worked off my unfortunate incident. I stopped at 7-11 and picked up some supplies for the day (read: beer), and rode back to the hotel.  Once there I had a relaxing mineral bath, changed, packed my bags and got ready to continue our adventure.

Laundry Pavilion

Water coming into the Pavilion

Seats where women would sit and wash their clothes

The Water Wheel

The temple where the strange man tried to grope me

Once the rest of the group finished their century ride, got ready and packed, we headed off to Wuhe’s Tea House in Ruisui.  First we stopped for a wonderful lunch at a local Chihshang restaurant, which is housed in an old train car near the end of town.  I had a fantastic fried pork steak-like thing and rice bento-box type meal.  When we finished our lunch we wrote our wishes on pieces of bamboo and tied them to the ceiling.

Photo by Mark Blacknell

We once again boarded our purple Pony bus and headed to the tea plantation.  I’ve always been a tea drinker, (Did I mention that I’m Irish?J) but it was amazing to see the things that you can make with tea.  We took a walk around the tea fields before being invited in to partake of some tea “goodies”.  First up was some tea jell-o.  Our hostess showed us how to mix gelatin and unadorned black tea and have it set.  It was the exact texture of jell-o but tasted like cold tea.  Our second course was the best green tea that I have ever had.  It was wonderful with subtle flavors.  It was served with shortbread tea biscuits that were delicious.  The same great taste as shortbread but with the added texture and flavor of tea specks.  Our last course was what I like to call “Cricket Spit Tea”.  I didn’t really care for the flavor without milk but I drank it all anyway because I am polite and didn’t want to offend our hostess.  Unfortunately she took that as a sign I liked it and she filled my cup again. Drat!

The official description of “Cricket Spit Tea” is this: 

A few years ago, a tea plantation, in cooperation with the "Poison-Free Farming" promoted by the Hualien County Government, stopped using pesticides. This resulted in the tea leaves being eaten by little "green leaf cicadas" (leaf hoppers). The farmer discovered that after drying, these tea leaves that had been eaten by the little green leaf cicadas had a special honey aroma. After many attempts and experiments, a new flavor, the "Honey Peach Black Tea", with its gentle fruit and honey aroma, was created. During the First World Tea Award of 2006, it won a gold medal award, and has become a shining star for the Wuhe Tourist Tea Plantation.

Tea fields in Ruisui

Coffee Plants -- did you know they look like this?

Cola Mark, myself, Bev and Kate

Candy, Tea leaves and pumpkin seeds, shortbread tea cookies and fantastic green tea

The Taiwan 5 at Wuhe's Tea House.
On the table is tea jello and other goodies

After our tea break we headed to dinner. We went for a fantastic dinner at this mountain restaurant called the Moon House. It was a family style dinner with amazing dishes.  We had Chicken with Plum (all parts included), Poached whitefish in a ginger broth, Pork meatballs in a great sauce, Vietnamese salad/spring roll for the vegetarians, Tofu and vegetables in a spicy sauce, Cabbage and bok choy in chopsuey sauce, Vegetarian broth soup with greens (aka wonton type soup), Ginger sesame pork and Guava and dried plums for dessert. 

Chicken and plum sauce

The chicken came out in a big bowl with the feet and head attached soaking in the oily sauce. John put on “Ove” gloves and then plastic clear gloves over them. He basically had to pull the chicken apart with his bare hands. Luckily none of it flew out of his hands (a la Pretty Woman) and none of us were covered in oily chicken-juice splashes.  With the fish, it came out on the tray still in its boiling sauce and then you had to separate it off the bone with your chopsticks.  

The restaurant really was beautiful with amazing views down the mountain.  The only drawback was the bathroom only had squat toilets. If you don’t have good balance or good knees this can be a problem for you.  Luckily I managed it and kept myself dry.

Moon House Restaurant with Wireless Mark, Bev and Kate

A Squat Toilet (not the one at the Moon House)

By the time we left the restaurant it was dark. Apparently its physical location is as close a kept secret, as is its Internet address.  It seemed that neither John, nor our bus driver knew how to get to our hotel.  We made at least four u-turns and drove around the back alleys/roads of Hualien for close to an hour in the pitch black.  We knocked on two different houses to find directions and finally had a nice man drive his car to the main road so that we could follow him. I felt like I was on a special addition of “The Amazing Race”. 

We finally got to the Hotel Bayview at 9p at night. Everyone was so tired we had fallen asleep on the bus.  Waking up and finding we were at the hotel was a surprise. When we entered a bride in a lovely purple dress was having her photos taken with her new husband.  She looked absolutely radiant. We checked in and met downstairs a few minutes later as we all wanted to have a drink. Surprise, it's Taiwan and there was no liquor in the hotel. Literally, there was no bar or drinks in the minibar (beside water).  Since we were all asleep on the bus when we arrived we had no idea what was around us. Over 5000 7-11's in Taiwan and none near this hotel! 

Lobby of the Hotel Bayview

My bathroom at the Hotel Bayview.
The smallest bathtub in the world.

My room at the Hotel Bayview

I know it sounds like I drink a lot but I was on my first work/vacation in years with no kids, no husband and a tour leader that planned my entire day.  It was so nice to relax and not have to have to be “on” all the time or be the person in charge.  I just wanted to relax in the evening with a glass of wine or a beer. Was that too much to ask?

The Hotel Bayview in Hualien is right on the beach and lovely. It was the only hotel so far with no bathrobes. It had nice bathroom amenities with a gorgeous shower and half size soaker claw tub.  I have to say that the beds at all the hotels have been so nice and comfortable, as well as the pillows. This hotel was no different. The room was bright and cheery, with nice original architectural touches. There was also a nice balcony overlooking the seawall.  Interestingly enough it had an escape sling installed in case something should happen. Since Typhoon Megi was making herself quite known at the moment I quite liked that. The hotel did offer free wireless Internet and a café with free coffee and biscuits. 

View from my room at the Hotel Bayview
Since the hotel was right on the beach it had a fantastic view of the ocean.  This was made all the more dramatic due to Typhoon Megi and the giant crashing waves and pounding winds. The surrounding grounds are all under construction and it was not as pleasant as our previous hotels.  There is a lot of clearing and updating that needs to be done with the adjacent building lots.  In front of the hotel is a great seawall, which goes for 30 plus kilometers to Hualien City.  From the look of the swells while we were there, and the crashing waves on shore it didn’t look swim friendly.

With no bar to stop at we went for a walk in the dark along the seawall during the fierce storm. (Always my next choice of activity when there is no bar :)) Directly in front of the hotel is a lighthouse type structure and a boat ramp. As we were standing on the ramp a huge rogue wave came up and soaked my legs and shoes. Completely sopping, I squelched along with the gang for a while longer. Finally I had to return to my room and get cleaned up.

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