It’s now less than 24 hours before we leave Taiwan and I should probably be packing…but I’m not. Irene is packing clothes right now and I’ve got a lot of gear to figure out where it goes…and to be sure I take everything I brought.
As tomorrow will undoubtedly be consumed with farewells and last minute things, today was my last unscheduled day in Taiwan. Irene and the kids were meeting friends to say goodbye, so I took the opportunity to go hiking one last time.
I broke out the trusty Chinese/Japanese hiking guide and scanned for my next excursion. This time I located a trail that loops through the mountains between Qilian and Qiyan MRT stations in the Beitou district, which is north, towards Danshui.
Yesterday, I left the house planning to eat one last time at Mr. Cong You Bing’s place, but he as closed. I don’t recall that he used to be closed on Saturdays, but then he also didn’t used to stay open past lunchtime either. Maybe he’s making longer days but shorter weeks. Being hungry I stopped at 7-11 and, not finding anything promising to eat, I tried a hot dog. I had managed to blot the whole experience out of my head and didn’t report on it yesterday.
Today, with equally small prospects, I decided to try a different “flavor” hot dog. They have “original”, “garlic” and “spicy.” I tried spicy yesterday and words cannot describe how awful it was. It bears no taste similarity to any real hot dog ever! Today I went with original.
For starters, I have a pretty subtle sense of taste, but as far as I could tell, there was no difference whatsoever. Perhaps they were misidentified.
Taiwan is a funny place. Take garbage collection for example. They collect garbage every day, but they don’t go door to door. They go to designated street corners and everyone in the neighborhood brings out their garbage and hands it to the garbage truck people.
This strikes me as an enormous waste of everyone’s time. We have to be home at 4:45 in the evening (or whenever it is) to have our garbage collected.
Taiwan is a heavily polluted place, the cars and factories belch noxious filth into the air all the time and rarely is there a day when you can’t see the air in front of you. Yet, Taiwan wants to be seen as progressive and “green.” So what do they do? Do they implement programs to cut down air pollution, which impacts the quality of life of every man, woman and child on the island? No, they decide they need to do something about their garbage dumps.
For starters, a few years ago, they implemented a scheme where you can only throw your garbage away in city bags. Bags that you purchase and are clearly identified. It’s a great way to make people pay for exactly the amount of garbage they generate, I can’t deny that, and since you have to go to the garbage truck and hand them your garbage, they won’t take your garbage without it being in the proper bag.
And woe to he who purchases counterfeit garbage bags! (Yes, of course there’s a market for counterfeit garbage bags.)
So, what happens when you implement a scheme like this? Yep, you got in one guess, people started dumping their garbage in street garbage cans to let someone else pay. And so all the garbage cans outside 7-11’s and on the streets disappeared.
So, what now? Every shadowy space, every rooftop accessible from an overpass, every hidden bush just off a trail has piles of garbage under it.
Eventually, the city had to put garbage cans back on the street, but only at bus stops on main streets and MRT stations, with a warning that they are not to be used for household garbage. They’re few and far between and they’re usually stuffed with household garbage.
Clearly this system doesn’t work, so do they abandon it?
Oh no, they expand it into a fascist recycling program. Now everyone has three garbage bags to take out, one for garbage, one for recyclable materials and one for food waste, which is apparently fed to pigs somewhere.
And so it was that I was walking down the street, looking for that next city garbage can thinking, “I’m going to continue to eat this horrendously awful hot dog until I reach the next garbage can and then I’m going to feed to back to the pigs.” Appropriate, since I think it was once parts of a pig, but I can’t stand to imagine which parts.
After yesterday’s experience with Taipei hiking signs, I wasn’t expecting much, and paid particular attention to the maps I had. Once again, my city map didn’t match with the Taipei hiking map of the area. This time, there was also no sign at the MRT station pointing the way, so I headed off in the direction indicated on the map and hoped for luck.
Pretty soon, I came across a sign; at least I was traveling the right direction, but my hopes were soon crushed when the next sign seemed to make no sense at all. I was walking down a city street, and the sign pointed directly to the gated entrance to a University.
After thinking about it for a while, and seeing that there was no guard at the gate, I decided to follow the sign anyway. I continued to find signs as it wound me up the steep roads on the University campus. Finally I came to not only what was obviously the real trailhead, but also a map.
This map of the trail also didn’t match either of my maps, so I snapped a picture of it for future reference.
This trail took my up what shouldn’t so much be called a mountain, but a giant rock. The usual stairs were cut right out of the exposed rock, all the way to the top of a promontory called Battleship rock, or something like that. When i reached the top, I was surprised that the rock was scoured and worn and covered in white sand. It didn’t take long to figure out why – once I got up into the wind, I was being scoured with blowing sand, too. I’m not sure where it was coming from, but there was a strong wind from up the canyon and the sand was fairly constant.
Here’s a word of advice about Qilian station: It’s the only MRT station I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have a 7-11 or other convenience store right nearby. My plan was to buy a bottle of water when I arrived, but since there was no place to buy one, I was without water.
By the time I reached the top, I was considering going back. I sweated out the bottle of water I drank when I left the house, and was only about 1/3 of the way down the trail (not counting the roads to get to the trail.) It had been uphill every step of the way, hot outside and humid. I was worn out already.
After resting a while, I pushed on, mostly because the trail seemed to be level or slightly downhill. The mountain I was on was the highest in the vicinity, so I figured I wouldn’t be going up too much more. The gamble paid off, the rest of the hike was fairly easy and enjoyable, had I not been tired out from the first part.
At the end of the second segment, the trail ended at a Buddhist temple, which, as far as I can tell, all have soda vending machines. A can of “Sport” later and I was ready to go!
This trail, unlike yesterday’s, had trail markers all over the place, making it easy to walk along. Much of it was unpaved, and pines and other trees kept it shady and pleasant. By far it is my favorite trail I’ve taken in Taiwan so far.
Once I got back to the city streets, though, the city trail signs failed miserably, but I doggedly tried to follow the map just to prove it would work. Along the way, I passed an unusual place. A little temple had been built next to a stream. The stream was pouring quickly down the side of the mountain and had been cemented, presumably so that the water could be channeled under the road. Cars and motorcycles were parked next to the temple.
At first, I thought they were worshiping, but instead they were washing their vehicles. They had brought buckets and were taking the water out of the small pond at the bottom and using it to wash their cars. Somehow I suspect this is in response to some water conservation technique in use by Taipei.
The signs continued to elude me and only the GPS saved me. By shear coincidence when we went to Danshui the other evening, I’d taken a GPS reading at Qiyan station, which now kept me on course. I still tried to follow the map(s) but I seemed to be walking in an arc around the station when suddenly I saw a sign pointing to an MRT station – in exactly the wrong direction. Just at that moment an MRT train came by on the overpass which I’d mentally dismissed as an expressway.
The sign was pointing to the Qilian station, but according to the GPS, the Qiyan station was still closer, so I followed under the tracks until I came to the station.
I rode into the Guting station, and as it was now well after 3:30 and I’d only had 3/4 of a hot dog all day, I was famished. I stopped at MOS and had what I expected to be my last MOS burger of the trip. I ordered in Chinese and the transaction went flawless. Just the way I’d want it to be.