Friday, 4 October 2013

Oslob and Whale Sharks

After leaving Malapascua I headed south to a town called Oslob. Oslob is a fairly small town in a sense but straddles the southwestern coast of Cebu for some kilometres. It took quite a while to get there and involved taking two buses, one from Maya to Cebu City and another from there to Oslob itself. Oslob is famous for having a local population of whale sharks. Rumour has it that the local population in the Barangay where the sharks are fed dried shrimp and in turn they stay affecting their traditional migration pattern with an unknown impact on how this affects the concentration of sharks at their breeding grounds etc. If you ask the local people they will tell you that Jesus sent the sharks to help them boost their local economy and that in turn these creatures are revered for the improvement they have brought to the lives of the locals in the community through the trickle of tourism that has resulted from their presence in the area. Personally I’m not sure what to think. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide do not seem to have discovered the area yet and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea if they do. What’s happening there doesn't by any means sound ethical but at the same time I don’t feel in a position to judge what is happening there as I have never endured the economic hardships of the local populace.
I arrived in Oslob in the evening just as the sun had slipped under the horizon and was informed that all the accommodation was sold out due to families coming to spend their time here together for the holy weekend. I had mistimed my trip as it turned out and arrived in the village on Holy Friday (Good Friday). This meant that the fisherman who deal with the complications of tourists visiting the sharks wouldn't be working the following day. In any case I was famished after spending all day on public transport I really just wanted to eat and rest to as much of an extent as possible. I went in the first restaurant I saw and ordered a barbecued pork chop and a squid with some rice and calamansi. While waiting for my food to arrive the old man that ran the restaurant approached me and said that he had a room available and it was only 300 pesos per night which seemed significantly cheaper than the room in a hotel that someone at the bus stop was trying to peddle to me so I agreed to take it. I basically slept on a mattress on the floor in a room on the side of the restaurant but in all relativity after a long day of bus travel I didn’t care, it wasn’t uncomfortable and it fit in with my budget. Perhaps the only downside was having to listen to the snoring of the owner and his waiter who slept on camp beds in the restaurant when I needed to squeeze past their beds to get to the bathroom.
After a decent breakfast of corned beef fried with garlic and some steamed rice I decided I’d go and have a look at the town. I walked outside the restaurant and eventually a trike stopped and asked me if I needed his services. I’m pretty sure the driver’s name was Freddie – and so I’ll stick with that – and he showed me some of the local sites. There isn’t really a beach in Oslob but the colour of the water is an azure shade of blue and the church is situated right on the coast with the sea as a backdrop and it really made for a nice hour or so chatting and looking at the fine old structure. After spending a while at the church Freddie took me back to the restaurant and I grabbed some lunch. I napped for an hour or so but luckily there was plenty of time left in the day to see the local waterfall. Sinulog Falls is a behemoth of a waterfall and very easily accessible by car and a short walk. It is quite a popular local attraction but retains its majesty nonetheless. It cascades down a sheer drop and at a mere guess is somewhere around fifty metres in height but I have no real idea. The cooling spray from the waterfall is a welcoming distraction from the humidity and heat of the equatorial mid-summer sun.

The next day I headed to the shark viewing area and paid my ecotourism fee. A snorkel and mask were thrust into my hand and after an interesting but not particularly informative chat had been delivered to me and a few other mainly Filipino tourists we were thrust into canoes and given life jackets. Comfortably I was afforded my own canoe and had plenty of space to sit. Within minutes we were in the presence of a whale shark and I was allowed to get in and swim with it. The mask wasn’t amazing and kept allowing salt water to get in but in any case there were two big whale sharks swimming around us in different places. These guys were apparently adolescent sharks and not humongous by whale shark standards but in any case as far as I was concerned they were big fellas. The shark I got closest to was around 20 feet in length and I was pretty happy to have been given the opportunity to swim with a fish of this size. A lot of the Filipino tourists seemed reluctant to swim and so I had been able to really enjoy my time in the water with the sharks without people climbing over me or getting in my way to see the fish. It was a bit busy though and I had had the sense to go as early as possible to avoid the majority of the crowd. By the end of my swim there was a canoe full of a pretty loud local family that were getting quite close and the girls were squealing every time a droplet of water splashed in their general vicinity but I had seen what was fair for me to see by this point and so I headed back to the restaurant to read, nap and eat squid with calamansi again :D ...







Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Malapascua

After leaving Taiwan the first place I headed was The Philippines. I had previously been there before a few times and felt that it was right to spend a few weeks there before heading closer to the location of my next job. Ninoy Aquino International Airport isn't my favourite place in the world and I have spent the start and end of a few trips there so avoiding it completely was a welcome option when I managed to buy flights with Air Asia along a new route to Clark Airport just north of Manila. Upon arrival however I just wanted to hit the beach and had no intention of spending time in and amongst Angeles and it's extra-curricular entertainment, instead I immediately headed south and within an hour of landing in Luzon I was on a bus to Manila and my old friend NAIA. I managed to purchase a ticket to Cebu almost instantly and the next day I flew there but only after holing up in a Filipino cafe for 8 hours drinking 3-in-1 Nescafe in the hope that it would have enough caffeine and sugar in it to keep me awake. Part of the reason I headed straight to the airport was that I had a limited amount of Pisos and wanted to exchange them at a BNP counter at the airport due to the simple fact that the exchange rate is higher and more competitive than any other I've seen in the PI - particularly the muppets in places like Boracay that offer laughably low rates.

After landing in Cebu the first thing I did was take a taxi to the northern bus terminal and head straight to the port town of Maya. By this point I was knackered and completely bored of my Ipod and my own company but fortunately during the ride - not all the way to Maya, but most of it - I was sat next to a little girl and presumably her grandfather who had possession of a hen in a box covered with a tea towel in the hope that it wouldn't realise that daylight had sprung upon us and that it should be clucking and scratching and doing whatever it is that chickens usually do during the course of the day. Upon arriving in Maya I was delighted or rather not so delighted to hear that the boat to Malapascua wouldn't be leaving for a while. By this point it was approaching midday and my grumpy meter was about to hit boiling point with the afternoon heat. I remember talking to a couple of girls and a man from Israel and a Spanish lad with pretty good English. I was back in the world of backpackers and chatting to positive or semi-positive people again... well grunting but it was a start. I gave my copy of the Lonely Planet to one of the girls and let her browse the options of places to stay on the island. Finally arriving on the island after an extremely long plane-bus-taxi-plane-taxi-bus-boat trip was somewhat relieving and no better place to relax than a quiet diving retreat with decent snorkelling and a sleepy vibe that I was understandably keen to embrace.

Upon browsing the 'budget' options on offer it was decided that I'd share a room with the Spanish guy I'd met on the boat. His name was Carlos and he would only be staying for a couple of days. After a nice meal on the beach and watching sunset among the locals I decided that I was going to be dead to the world for quite a while and sleep as long as I needed to. I woke up the next day and after breakfast found myself with an invitation to join some Spanish people to snorkel off of one of the northern beaches on the island. Apparently there was a shipwreck to be seen and the Spanish guys made straight for it as soon as they had put on their flippers. These guys were obviously experienced divers and were snorkelling as somewhat of a climax to their morning dive where as this was to be the highlight of my day. They possessed things such as common sense perfectly exemplified by the knowledge that it is a lot easier to walk into the sea wearing flippers if you walk backwards... I lack such common sense and roared into the sea with the grace of Andy Fordham dropping a hot meat pie and consequently chasing it before it got too soggy to salvage. I was also wearing a t-shirt that was too small for me and that resulted in sunburn. Pluses for the day were that I managed to see a few anemone fish of Finding Nemo fame and try out my new cheap but waterproof camera. After a lunch of steamed stuff with rice I again took a nap and read my book by the sea watching the sunset over Northern Cebu. Malapascua is a really nice spot and after two years of not so much holiday time it was the perfect place to start a trip in the Philippine Islands :) ... After Carlos and the Spanish guys had headed to Negros to seek further diving opportunities I basically spent the rest of my time between an all-you-can-eat fish buffet, the nearest beach and my beach hut. After a few days on the island I felt perfectly at ease with myself and the gentle calmness that comes with a tropical white sand beach and its azure blue waters and decided that I'd wobble south to the town of Oslob in Southern Cebu to try and catch myself a glimpse of a whale shark...








 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Reflections of Formosa


This has been a hard post to write as it has been a few months since I initially left the isle of Formosa otherwise known as Taiwan. While I was living there I had started to get a little bit tired of finishing late at night and living in the same small town for two years. I mean I liked it there but I found myself having the same old conversations with drunken disgruntled expats, walking down the same grey drab streets of concrete highrises and eating in the same restaurants over and over either because they had a menu at least barely readable in English or were open late enough after I'd finished work... and because they sold beer...

My experiences in Taiwan are always going to hold a special place in my heart I think. I didn't make the effort to see half of the things that I wanted to see there but I did see some really special things. Highlights for me include looking over the Central Mountain Range from the north peak of Hehuanshan on a rainy Monday afternoon in April and climbing Seven Star Mountain in Taipei's Yang Ming Shan National Park twice as well as hiking the Xiaotzukeng trail from Houtong to Jioufen and seeing the Pacific Ocean on the descent at the end of the hike.

This is quite a reflective post for me and it has been a while since my last - a trip to Taitung back in February but the things I think I'm going to miss most about the defiant little dragon of a country is the people that I met there, for all the right and wrong reasons. I think you meet a lot of people when you are an ESL teacher which is a career path I've found myself stumbling along since early 2010. Firstly I think that my students are the thing I miss the most. While I have new ones in a new country who are equally lively and very entertaining I just think there was something idiosyncratically cool about the rapport that had been built between myself as the teacher and my old students. I spent two years with a great group of people who at times baffled me with their quirky ways and to say the least I wish them all the best for the future. My employers were also pretty cool and worth a notable mention as they were (still are) warm people and gave me a lot of their time. I just found that the working conditions in a "buxiban" or cram school as they are also known didn't really suit the lifestyle that I would have otherwise led. I left England all that time ago and have found myself working either pretty long or unsociable hours with not really much time to travel and see things. A reason that was a major factor in me leaving my position in Taiwan and looking abroad for new opportunities was the rut - as I see it - that I see other expats fall into when they stay in the same place for too long. A lack of holiday time was also a factor and the issue of it being unpaid as a norm in Taiwan did nothing to encourage me to stay. Talking to other expats - certainly not all of them - in the town that I was living in often became dull and the more beer that flowed the less that it made sense to me as to why they were living there. Many of the guys were unhappy and seeing as many Taiwanese people are very reluctant to speak English where I was living it meant that I had very few enthusiastic conversations. I did manage to have plenty of good chat with a few people such as my adult private students and other expat friends that had managed not to fall into the trap of becoming miserable bastards and feel content that I didn't grow to become ignorant and grumpy.

I guess in a sense I'm glad that I have lived in Taiwan and managed to gain somewhat of an insight into a very interesting place but that I am glad to have finally moved on and realised that my time in the world is somewhat limited and that the one thing I want to make sure I do before I'm too old - or fat - is to see as much of it as I can that is feasibly possible. I don't want to fall into the trap of befriending a bunch of miserable bellends in the future who do nothing more than drink and complain about living a different life than they would have "back home" when in reality I think they would find something to complain and in a way be happy being miserable about no matter where they were. That said, I think I'm starting to feel bitter about the bitterness that I experienced from these people in Taiwan but by no means were these the people from Taiwan. I think living in Taiwan and dealing with Taiwanese people brings with it a whole new set of challenges. In a sense I didn't really feel a part of society or much warmth from local people all that much. In a sense though I feel that that sounds negative when I don't mean it to be. Living there over the two year period that I was there felt like I was valued to some extent in a professional capacity - in that I could do my job and teach - but didn't feel wholly accepted as an individual in a foreign society either. Writing this makes me feel as if I could experience these feelings in any country or society in Asia that I might find myself in and I'm not entirely sure that I'm conveying my meaning to the degree that I want to...

 In sum, I think that I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to live and work in Taiwan and the ability to return and visit during holidays but that I also feel it natural to leave and continue to progress on with my somewhat calamitous climb up to the next rung on the ESL ladder. I have no idea where I'm going to end up in the long term but at the moment I'm pretty content with where I have been and where I'm headed... Peace xxx

Friday, 15 February 2013

Taitung and Chinese New Year


It's Chinese New Year at the moment here in Taiwan. Last year I spent the entire holiday in the north and around the Taipei area mostly and it was cold and wet practically the entire time. With last year fresh in my mind I wanted to get away from the north for at least a few days in the week off from work. If I'm honest after travelling around Taiwan during my spare time over the last couple of years I've had quite a bit fun and some nice experiences but something has been a little off for me. Perhaps because I have always been north of the Tropic of Cancer and never ventured to the southern extremities of the island or perhaps a combination of the busy nature of popular attractions and unpredictable weather. I have definitely enjoyed my time here but the experiences seem too polished in a sense. The hiking trails I've been on are all lovely but very accessible and complete with stone paths at every possible opportunity... I am quite aware that I haven't ventured into the high mountains and would find myself mesmerised by the hiking there I'm sure, but Taiwanese bureaucracy and my rather spontaneous and random decision-making have combined to prevent me from venturing there. So perhaps my gripes with the hiking I've done thus far is not so much what Taiwan has to offer but what is has to offer that feels authentic and is accessible without two mountain permits and a mandatory Taiwanese guide.

After a lot of reading as to possible locations in order to maximise the potential of a few days away during the New Year break I reached the decision to venture to Taitung. My friend Party Pete seemed up for it as well and so we ventured there on Monday. Taitung is in the south east corner of Taiwan. It is perhaps the most traditional of Taiwan's cities and provides a wealth of options to enjoy. One of the most appealing factors of choosing Taitung was the fact that it is so far from Taipei and even though hordes of people travel all over the country during the Chinese New Year period Taitung's relative remoteness meant that it was quite quiet.

After a seven hour train journey we finally arrived in Taitung and it was warm the contrast was immediately noticeable after leaving the train – North Taiwan was at least ten degrees cooler! We hadn't been smart enough to pre-book a hotel and actually upon reflection I think we were fortunate not to because prices are incredibly high due to the holiday season. After finding a hotel and realising that a night here was out of our price range we bumped into a local that had spent some time in England. He was really friendly and had spent some time living in Nottingham with his aunt and spoke good enough English to act as a translator, the people at the hotel were lovely too and they managed to compromise with our budget and found us a bed for the night. We were picked up by two girls in their twenties who spoke no English but they took us to a house in a suburb of Taitung. We paid them the price we had agreed for the room and they left leaving us with some bedding and the company of two nice dogs. Eventually a loud man around the age of forty came by in his pajamas and started rambling on at us in Chinese giving us directions on how to use the facilities and checking that we knew how to brush our teeth. I didn't really understand much beyond a few basic verbs and nouns but I gathered enough that he wasn't intentionally being condescending he probably just wasn't sure how foreigners do things... lol

The next morning we woke up quite early and got straight to using the wash room in the 'homestay' we had managed to find. The facilities were merely a bucket and a tap with a smaller container to scoop water over your head... this was something I had been relatively used to when living in Indonesia so it wasn't such a big deal really but I'd rather have a real shower. After washing the local man we stayed with had supplied a breakfast of a fried pork sandwich and soy milk. It was pretty good and after discussing our onward travel arrangements for some time in broken Chinese and gestures it was agreed that he would drive us for a small fee which turned out to be very reasonable. I didn't have the decency to ask the man's name – perhaps due to the seven-hour train ride the day before – but he turned out to be really friendly and showed us some of his army documentation from his younger days. He seemed very happy that we could babble a minimal amount of Chinese and proved to be friendly and helpful beyond my expectations.
In what felt like a long drive but a short distance taking in the mountainous scenery of Taitung through the holiday traffic we made it to the Xiao Yehliu area. The campsite appeared half empty and we were eager to get our tents up and ready for the night so that we could chill out and enjoy the weather by the popular rock formations. We were stopped almost immediately in our tracks when the man declared “no have” in regards to us wanting to camp there. This obviously wasn't the case so we responded in a rather baffled manner and he later informed us that there would be space from 12pm, considering that the time was 11:20am it didn't seem like such a big deal and we were happy to wait... I'm pretty odd admittedly but even I camp longer than 40 minutes in any given trip. After finally getting our tents up we made it to the rocks and had some lunch of fried chicken and corn dogs which really hit the spot. The rocks were really cool and it was nice to see a local man fishing off of them. I got some nice photos and despite a bit of mild sunburn, we managed to find a place away from the local tourists in which to relax and appreciate the chilled vibe of the area. I really enjoyed this and it was a welcomed change from the frantic nature and frenetic pace that is part of everyday life working in the north. That evening we had a decent dinner of fish soup, rice, noodles, clams and sushi in Fugang harbour a short walk from the campsite. As a side note, one thing that really made me chuckle about camping in Taiwan is how the concept of 'camping' and experiencing the outdoors really is different to what I feel is a Western conception of camping. For me at least – as a Westerner – I feel that camping is an experience to enjoy the outdoors and get away from the internet and modern life by roughing it a bit and forgetting the real world if only for a day or two, in Taiwan it seems markedly different. The campsite was amazingly well equipped: each tent was given it's own raised wooden platform complete with electricity and the shower facilities were better than any of the hotels I've stayed in since leaving Europe – despite being communal! I feel it necessary to generalise slightly here and say that it appears most Taiwanese people have trouble stepping away from their creature comforts as almost every other tent we saw was complete with an extra gazebo, a powerful light and a fully makeshift kitchen and there certainly didn't seem to be room for a campfire! The plots for each tent also included your own water supply, BBQ pit and picnic table. This was all nice and I was certainly intrigued but I didn't feel like I was being adventurous in the slightest and all the other guests at the campsite appeared to be sustained by their laptops and portable TVs... apparently songs round the campfire are not so popular in present day Taiwan not that I was itching to sing coom by ya or anything....

The next day we planned to visit the Jhiben Forest area. We woke up early used the amazing shower facilities and had a breakfast of biscuits and water that we had bought in Fugang harbour the night before. We packed up the tents and got rolling... eventually. We realised that we had been waiting at the wrong bus stop when a man working for the campsite approached us and struck up conversation he had pretty good English and told us that the next bus was from the other side of the road and that we had to wait a couple of hours which felt like a pain but we headed to the bus stop and decided to wait anyway and try to flag down a taxi, which we did, but only after about eight had already driven past us. By mid afternoon though we were back at Taitung train station with tickets to go to Jhiben and a microwave lunch from 7-11, not the most culinary adventurous choice but it was quick and it did fill us up. After catching the train to Jhiben we realised that Pete had left my tent on the train – he was carrying it because I had apparently overpacked and well he hadn't. Luckily we realised as soon as we crossed the platform and the train had departed and we spoke to the guys in Jhiben station and they were really cool and checked the seat number on our tickets and said that we could leave our other bags there while we hiked the forest and could pick them up along with the tent at 6pm. We went straight to the taxi section and showed the driver where we wanted to go. I was pleasantly surprised to find a female taxi driver working in a rather conservative part of Taiwan. Nonetheless after negotiating a highly inflated price because of it happening to be Chinese New Year – Big Fat Mustache Taxi Driver Lady proved to be pretty conversant in English once we had agreed to pay a flat rate fare and she got us there smoothly enough.
Jhiben is one of many areas in Taiwan that is famous for it's hot springs and like most hot springs in Taiwan it has a hotel monopolising the use of them. Hot springs were not on our agenda though and we headed straight for the forest. We were here for the monkeys. A personal goal of mine since living in Taiwan has been to see the local primates in the forest and Jhiben provided this opportunity. I have seen macaques in Indonesia on more than a few occasions but up until this point hadn't seen one in Taiwan. The forest was pretty cool and despite being easily accessible and the presence of bins and benches appearing at regular intervals along the path the forest felt quite authentic. The macaques here were wild and the opportunity to see them in their true glory swinging high in the trees away from an abundance of tourists was enjoyable and the monkeys here haven't yet been corrupted by the presence of mass tourism. I even managed to get a photo of a curious monkey watching us through the trees and it felt more rewarding than I imagine other places feel when it is easier to see the domesticated monkeys that tourists feed. These monkeys were wary of us and kept their distance which is a contrast from the monkey forest in Ubud, Bali where they steal things from people regularly and display next to no fear of humans. We also got to see some cool banyan trees that appear as if they have a thousand roots. Eventually we made it back to the train station after finding a place that sold kung pao chicken and rice. We recovered our bags, sincerely thanked the guys at the train station for so efficiently and kindly helping us to recover my tent and we headed for the beach town of Taimali to spend the night.

We arrived in Taimali quite quickly as it was only a twenty minute or so trip from Jhiben station. Immediately we were greeted by a “Hello and happy new year!” from one of the station workers a really cheery old man. Dusk was fast approaching and we were forced to pitch our tents on the quiet beach in near darkness but manage it we did and I was still hungry so we headed into town to see what food could be bought. We walked down the main road and after deliberating over a few options for food we arrived at a small noodle shop that looked family run and quite welcoming. The waitress was also pretty which aided my vote to eat there. I had thus far succeeded beyond what I believed were the limits of my Chinese language skill – poor by anyone's standards – but this is where I failed. I could decipher the dishes that had meat in on the menu because I recognise the character and after asking a few short, simple questions in my pidgen Chinese I managed to order some rice and noodles for us to share. The place was really cheap and so I figured that I'd just tick a few side dishes in case we hadn't ordered enough and despite warnings by the lady at the counter that I'd ordered a lot for only two people I nonchalantly waived away the caution. This ultimately caused me to lose face but was pretty funny. For two people I ended up ordering one portion of rice with fried chicken and vegetables and 5 different bowls of noodle soup. The food was tasty but there was way too much of it. Luckily Pete did some inadvertent juggling when reaching for the bowls and so I didn't look like the only clown in the room... After the noodle incident we grabbed a few beers and headed back to the beach to sit down and listen to the waves crashing against the sand. The beach at Taimali is nice and about 2km long so there was plenty of room for us to sit and chill out while watching the fireworks that some of the locals had been setting off.

When morning came we woke up early to see sunrise but were slightly hindered by the cloudiness of the dawn sky. The photos came out okay though and we headed into town to find some breakfast. After walking past a place that was open but absent any visible staff we decided to head further into town to find breakfast. I was enjoying the laid back atmosphere that Taimali offered but still require enough motivation from the locals to be able to buy breakfast. We found a small do jiang place selling the usual Taiwanese breakfast items and I settled for a cold milk tea and some dumplings with chilli and soy sauce. There was a really small local man that appeared to be a regular patron of the place and seemed really happy to see us and almost privileged to shake our hands and just seemed happy to be in the presence of different people. I must say that I really enjoyed the attitude of the locals in Taitung county and found the pleasant smiles and attitudes a sharp contrast from the busy people in the north. Perhaps it was just a combination of the holiday season and spirit that I found down there or what I believe is the true nature and spirit of the Taiwanese people away from modern technology. Taitung perhaps wasn't the prettiest place I have ever been but I like to think of it as a girl next door kind of pretty and certainly a diamond amongst pebbles.

When we arrived back in Taipei after standing on the train back for seven hours we hit Burger King and made for the bus. I was exhausted by this point and really wanted to go to bed. Upon queuing for the bus an old lady immediately pushed in front of me almost knocking me aside and I realised I was back in Taipei and exposed to it's 'me first' mentality...

I finished the Chinese New Year week by watching the fireworks from the local lantern festival with my friend Steve from the roof of his building. Earlier in the day I had managed to strike up a conversation with a spritely old man standing 88 years young called Mr. Huang. He was really friendly and said that he had learned English as a teenager in the Chinese mainland. It turns out he escaped with the rest of the Kuomintang in 1949 and managed to live a nice life away from communism in Taiwan. He seemed to really enjoy British culture and was super friendly and complimentary. I often find in Taiwan that there is a certain snobbery towards mainlanders and yet every time I meet someone from the mainland in Taiwan they seem humble and kind and I hope that stereotypes change one day and that the Taiwanese stereotypes can adapt and become slightly more realistic in representing their neighbours. One thing I didn't like about Mr. Huang was his insistence that I have an American accent which simply isn't true, jokes aside he was a really pleasant guy and I wish him all the best.

Xinien kwai lur! Gong xie fa cai and all that business!...

































Monday, 4 February 2013

Hiking in Neihu


As my time in Taiwan is drawing to a close I'm starting to feel a little sentimental about the place. I keep walking along the polluted river in Nankan on the way to work. I find that the slight detour – a mildly more attractive route than the road – provides for less stress than the chaos of the Taiwanese traffic. I decided to hike last weekend and was feeling a little lethargic about it so I didn't want to do anything too stressful which led me to stick with a relatively easy hike off the MRT system in Taipei. There are a couple of nice hikes around Taipei and some of them are great and close to MRT stations making for a really nice and convenient hike with the feel of being away from the hustle and bustle of the city while actually really being connected to it. I was supposed to be meeting my colleague Meathead and our student Rick but only Rick showed... It later turned out that Meathead had overslept after making love to his biceps rather vigorously the night before, well, either that or he was 'tired' from a hard week's work. But Rick showed and we soldiered on without him.

The hike I picked was close to the Neihu district of Taipei. The trail started at Bishan Temple – a rather beautiful temple on the hillside above Neihu with a great view of Taipei and 101 could be seen in the distance. After having a look around the temple and taking some rather good photos we headed on with the trail. The next stop was to walk through the village of Shenkeng and on to a rocky outcrop on the mountainside that led to Dragonboat Rock. The rock itself was pretty damn big and had to be crossed without the use of any ropes or anything. I pretty much did a poo in my pants and skidding along the rock on my bum I didn't stop to look back and see whether I had left a brown trail...

After crossing the rock and being told that there was no road we headed into the forest anyway and followed the dirt track which headed towards a pomelo orchard. After what felt like an hour we followed the track climbing down rocks and mud surrounded in tree roots using fixed ropes and eventually found our way to the orchard after following a dried up stream bed for a few minutes. We stumbled across a few other hikers in the orchard and they managed to point us safely in the right direction of the final stop of the hike the rather subtle but pleasant Yuanjue Waterfall. There were some pretty big rocks here too and plenty of old ladies doing Tai chi as there was access from another path that led into Dahu Park and back to the MRT line... :)