Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Northern Coastline of Taiwan

Close your eyes and fill your mind with the sights and sound of the beach. You see the sandy, golden shore, littered with shells and pebbles, the arched palm trees and their long, green and gold leaves, you feel the soft summer breeze and the golden sunshine on your skin and you hear the sound of gulls squabbling over scraps of food, and the boom of the ocean as the waves break. This is the typical tropical paradise, maybe the Maldives or Puerto Rico or Seychelles or maybe even Hawaii, but not anywhere I have been.

Our imagination takes us places, and we all dream of being there in the flesh someday, but sometimes, places you never expected to feel like paradise manage to surprise you. These places may be closer than you realise, and in just a single moment, you may be overwhelmed by its beauty, which is something, that perhaps, only you are able to perceive. For many of us, there is a special place, some corner or nook or cranny on this majestic planet which owns a fragment of your heart, and I think, that perhaps, I have found mine.

Taiwan is not known for its beaches, but there is one, far down south that fits the description above. I have not had the chance to visit that beach, and probably will not get the opportunity any time in the near future. I was however, lucky enough to visit a different piece of the coastline, and what I saw there, is closer to my definition of paradise. The island of Formosa is like an unpredictable friend, familiar, yet always revealing surprises at unexpected times.

Christmas Holidays 2013 – 2014, I visited two different pieces of the Northern coastline of Taiwan on two different days. I was incredibly lucky as the weather on both days was fantastic, although rain did cut short my adventure on the second day. On day 1, I visited what is the most northern part of the island (Coastline 1 on the map below).

The coastline was beautiful, stretching as far as the eye could see with the dark mountains in the distance helping to craft an unforgettable image. Along the way, we stopped at a geological wonder, the Shi-Men hole, where waves had eroded away bits and pieces of the rock over time, and left a natural arch-like structure, onto which you could climb via two flights of stairs on either side. The vantage point from here allowed a wider view of the surrounding ocean, and on that day, together with the warm winter sun and soft breeze, being so close to the ocean left me feeling calm and at peace. The tranquil sea seemed to strip away the burdens and anxieties that I carry day by day, pulling them down and down, into the dark depths of the unknown, and in those few moments, I felt a lightness in my soul and happiness. Later, I bid farewell to the fifth day of the New Year as the sun set over the ocean, a visual spectacle that I rarely have the chance to enjoy. The sky was lit up by rich, vibrant colours, leaving me amazed at the beauty and artistry of our natural world. These simple and priceless things in life, forever surrounding us, never fails to slow my footsteps and thoughts, and seems to infuse me with an energy that feeds not just the body, but the spirit and the soul.

The long long coastline

The Shi-Men Hole

The view from the top of the Shi-Men Hole

Sunset over the ocean

The surprises were yet to come. On the second day we took a trip to Coastline 2, and the weather seemed to not be on my side, it was possible we were not going to make it to the ocean before the rain hit. The god of rain (whoever he is, or is it goddess?) was unusually kind that day, and only teased us with soft drizzles for most of the morning and early afternoon. We first drove past the Yinyang Sea, a small stretch of the ocean where the water has a distinctive colouring: the water in the bay area is ochre/yellow-brown, but further out is the usual blue colouring of the open sea (azure, if using fancy names to describe colours is your thing). This is a natural phenomenon, a result of runoff of seawater over rocks rich in iron pyrite and then some geological/chemical mumbo jumbo happens, causing the water to be stained the distinctive yellow-brown golden colour.

The Yinyang Sea

The coastline here was also breath-taking, with mountains that were closer than along the other coastline, grandiose in their demeanour. We sped along the ocean road, I saw bits and pieces of the beach and rocky shores and tried to capture some of them on my (incredibly slow shutter speed) phone camera. A little surprise came in the form of two rocky sculptures basking in the sun. Two whales sculpted out of rock: the blue whale asking “Marry Me?” and the reply from the pink whale “Yes, I Do!” In my opinion, these creations are way cuter than a certain yellow duck, and I was surprised that they have been barely mentioned on the internet.

Fishy marriage proposal

Our final stop was one of the many places my uncle would go to fish. There were abandoned abalone farms here, stone paths stretching over an area of the water designed in a grid-like fashion. The floor of the enclosed area holding the water was made of rocks overlapping each other on a 45 degree slant. To my delight, I spotted little schools of fish darting about in the water, different colours and sizes. There was even a puffer fish, which swam with aimlessly around the enclosed area, sometimes pulled by the water current, seemingly with no concerns or burdens in life. My uncle prepared a fishing rod for me and cracked open some barnacles (or whatever they were) with a rock for use as bait, which worked well. To my utmost surprise, my inexperience did not let me down, and I managed to catch three greedy, unsuspecting fish. Whether or not catch-and-release fishing is considered as animal cruelty, I hope what I did that day was just a bit of harmless fun. Just as I was perfecting my technique, a storm hit and a fourth fish I did not hook. As we scrambled to get our umbrellas open over our heads, we were pelted with rain and our dash back to the car was a little too late, we were already drenched. In this midst of all this chaos I was happy, albeit a little disappointed my adventure was drawing to a close, but the sea had brought out the child in me again, and its clear waters and little treasures had reminded me of the best things in life.

As I move on with life, and eventually return to my studies, I think that I will sometimes just close my eyes and take myself back to that place. I will imagine the sounds, the sights and the treasures waiting to be found, and perhaps that will give me enough energy to carry on. I hope to return some day on a bicycle, so that I can see and feel as much of the coastline as possible, travelling at my own pace, stopping when I desire to, to drink in and breathe in all the sights and sounds that the Northern Coast of Taiwan has to offer.

Majestic Mountains

The abandoned abalone farms

Rocks at the bottom for farming abalone

Catches of the Day

*The Maps of Taiwan credited to: (northern part of Taiwan) and (full length Taiwan)

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