Wednesday, February 27, 2008
We arrived in Taiwan around noon and of course we were greasy and ready to lay down somewhere for a very long time. David Jinkins, staunch and starched was there waiting for us. Thankfully he was there so we didn't have to deal with much. He made sure we had the right bus and the right tickets and then took us into the city the whole way chatting with us about what we had been up to Economics. When we finally jumped off the bus in Taipei David insisted that we go to a certain restaurant to have his favorite dish, unfortunately it was closed and we wouldn't get to taste it til the next day. We had set ourselves up in a hostel not far from David who was, we would find out, run by one of the strangest men. He was really nice, but so strange and always wanting you to do something. Sign this ping pong ball, write in this journal, or join my international group, he just wouldn't quit. Thankfully Dave got us around the city a bit and we saw some nice neighborhoods as well as had some good food. What were those cold balls called Dave? J Later that night we again went out for some beer and strange food. We ate at a Tibetian food and had a nice tea called butter tea. I thought it smelled reminiscent of something foul, but was soon taken with its creamy flavor.
The next day we were up late and ready to go by noon. It was our objective to see the National Museum and to go to Taipei 101. While the national museum was neat I would not recommend more than half a day there if you are not going for a particular reason. There many old aritifacts and even some more modern displays, but nothing to hold my attention for more than a few hours. Moving on to Taipei 101.
101 is, but will soon not be, the tallest building in the world. We took the elevator to the 88th floor which is close to as high as you can get. This floor was an observation floor and although no one else seemed to notice or care I could feel the building sway! It was really cool. Something very unique about Taipei 101 is that there is a giant metal ball suspended by cables in the center of the building on the 84 floor. This is supposed to keep the building balanced as it sways back and forth and particularly in the case of an earthquake. I have been up a lot of tall things, London Eye, Eiffel Tower, Prudential Center, Empire State building, Sears tower, top of St Paul's, top of St. Peter's, but I was very taken with Taipei 101. It was very unique. That night we went out with one of Dave's roommates for a couple of beers and some authentic hole in the wall food. Good stuff.
The next day we did not do much at all. After waking late we took a couple of trains to the eastern side of Taipei where there is an extension network of cables hosting a gondolas that go up and down the surrounding hillside. If you want to see a video please visit http://kevininjapan.podomatic.com/ it was really quite cool. We stopped at the top of the mountain to take in a Buddhist and a Shinto temple and then went a little further to have some tea.
All in all a good night, we headed back to the hostel where a birthday party awaited.
Our eccentric hostel keeper had found out that it was my birthday in January and so decided to throw a party for me and the two other guys who were staying there that had January birthdays. About 15 people came together to have some cake and beer. It was a good time made even more fun by the sheer silliness of it all.
The next morning we were up late, again, and out of the hostel by around 11 to get our early afternoon flight back to Japan. In a way it was a sigh of relief as we were all ready to be "home" again. For me though it was a bit sad as I had to leave my friend Dave again. I have seen him in 4 countries now and in each he has played tour guide to me with no complaints. I am certainly lucky to have a friend like him.
The Island. The island was beautiful and full of tourists. Our bus ride from Koh San road was fine, but a bit long, about 10 hours. They played Die Hard 4 on the bus and turned off the lights, so reading was impossible- so we watched Die Hard, even though we had already seen it. We arrived at the ferry port at 7 am and boarded a ferry, which was fine. The ride to the island was beautiful. As the sun came up we could see many islands around us and the nice blue water below us. Having traveled for about 12 hours by that point we were about ready for a shower and a good nap.
When we arrived on the island our hotel was not ready yet, so we chilled and got something to eat across the road at the Safety Stop bar. This became headquarters for rendevous and the like; also they served good hamburgers for when we were tired of Thai food. Once we could we all went to our hotel, showered, and then lounged for a couple of hours to regain our footing. That afternoon we trekked it to a beach not far from us and went snorkeling. It was really fun, but I thought it to be unusually hard to do. I guess I just figured it would be easier than it was. I kept getting water in my tube and had trouble keeping up with my partner, but it was still pretty fun and there were a few fish and such to see. At one point Rich was snorkeling out near a large rock and ran into some divers- they mustve been doing a practice run, because it wasnt that deep. In fact, he went down there and gave em the thumbs up a few times- I don't think they liked seeing a snorkeler keeping up with them, must've made them feel kinda silly diving there of all places with all that gear and such.
While Rich and I were out snorkeling Katie found a new friend and by the time I got back to the beach they were chatting it up like a couple of school girls. Her name was Ursula and she was there with her boyfriend Mike. They were both from England, nice couple of people. When Richard got back to the beach we all chilled at the bar and decided to meet up later for eats and drinks, which we did. It was a really nice day, and a great start to our time on the island.
The next day we went to a beach where we heard we could find black-tip reef sharks. So Rich, Mike, and I went out for at least a two hour snorkeling session. We did eventually see some sharks, and one giant turtle. Neither species mided us swimming around with them, though they did keep their distance. After we returned to the beach, Rich decided he wanted to swim to an island that was a little ways of out the bay. He neglected to check a map for the actual distance. The rest of us decided to hang out on the beach and bit more, head back to the hotel, shower and get ready for dinner. A few hours later we all met up for dinner minus Rich. By this time it was dark and we were all stumped as to where he was. He finally came sloggin up 4 hours after we last saw him and told us the story.
The island ended up being a little less than 2 kilometers away from our beach. I'm not sure how long it took him to get there, but it must've been around an hour of swimming- also, once he had gotten out of the bay, the current kept pushing him, making the swim that much more difficult. The island was more like a mountain tip sticking out of the sea, so he decided that while he was here he would climb the thing. That took him about another half an hour, and not having shoes made it more painful than expected.
He didn't have a watch, but he kind of knew that if I didn't start heading back soon it would be dark. So back into the sea. This time he decided to swim to a closer beach and walk the rest of the way. Made it to that beach, which was a resort beach, and started walking down the road that led away from it. This was a terrible mistake. The road in no way led me the direction he wanted to go, it got dark quickly, and he had no shoes. Also the first 30 minutes of it was extremely steep. His motorcycle was parked at the entrance to the other beach, so after he climbed/walked to what must've been one of the higher points on the island, he started to look around for some way to get back down to the shark beach. He failed. At one point He was walking through jungle. 2-3 hours later he got to his bike, and headed back into town to meet for dinner. He was exhausted, and had little cuts all over his feet.
Our days pretty much ebbed and flowed like that for the next couple. Late to rise, down to the beach, beers around 4, nap and shower around 7 and then out to eat and drink a little more before bed. I found it quite enjoyable. New Year's Eve was something quite different and fun. If I told you that I spent New Year's on a beach in Thailand you could probably imagine what it was like. There were fire dancers, lots of music, lots of people drunk and dancing, people in the water, floating lanterns being sent into the air, and of course the general good cheer that goes with being in an island paradise full of drunken young travelers. All in all a good choice and something very unique and interesting.
Around the last day bad weather arrived and as the sky darkened the sea became a bit rougher. By the last day I did not want to stay on the island anymore, just getting a bit bored, and I did not want to leave, the waves were huge! As we boarded our ferry a ragged bunch of people got off the boat from one of the other islands. (two guys had trunks, scratches all over, and plastic bags on their feet...nothing else) People looked sick and frightened. One guy said, "Don't get on this boat; they are going to use another one because it's not safe." I wasn't really sure what he meant and they did not switch the boat, but I figured all was well because of the crew. They looked cheerful and were not reluctant to get on the boat. If trouble was up, they would know, so I just followed their lead.
I can't say that the ride was easy, in fact it was one of the worst I have ever had. For the first 15 minutes or so I was terribly sick from the rocking of the waves. They were so bad that to walk to the deck you had to stutter step and keep your legs in ready stance the whole time. I could have sworn we were going to tip and I wasn't alone. About half of the other people on the boat were the same as I was and the rest weren't much better. Around an hour in I started to feel better, but at the same time Katie started to feel sick. It was almost as if we switched positions and now she was going for the worse. Richard slept almost the whole time, I don't know how he did it, but I certainly was jealous.
By the time we got to the other shore about half the people on the boat had puked (some on themselves mind you!) and all were glad to get off that boat. Unfortunately the traveling wasn't done for us and we boarded another 12 hour bus to take us back to Koh San road where we got a cab to the airport and jumped our flight to Taiwan at 8 in the morning.