Skipping ahead… We’re in artsy, relaxed Dulan, Donghe, Taitung and it’s a fabulous ride. When I arrived on Tuesday after a four hour train ride on the Puyuma Express from Taipei and wanted to pick up a scooter at the place recommended to me, I was told that “sorry, we don’t rent to foreigners.” That can be somewhat of an issue in this particular area – to be a foreigner. “But you used to, yes?” “Ya, the boss changed mind.” Hmm, I wonder what happened… The friendly clerk directs me to another rental shop where I am served so very well – yes, they rent to foreigners. I get three choices and choose the middle one (a little stronger, a little taller, it will have to carry two) – middle path is often good. Off I go, iPhone securely attached to the holder, navigation to the Travel Bug Hostel in Dulan set. It’s a beautiful ride through rice fields, mountains on the left, ocean on the ride as I head north from Taitung.
Kaya is cycling down with a couple of friends from Hualien. They left Monday morning and will arrive sometime Wednesday. Roughly 200km with side trips, mostly flat, and mostly in the rain on Monday. What a trooper!
Dulan is a small seaside village located in a remote and very beautiful corner of Taiwan – it’s a gem. Reminds me a bit of Maui, Hawaii. I wanted to come here during my last visit in February, but didn’t make it. Dulan is a village of the Amis Aboriginie Tribe (阿美族) and a very friendly town. A young father with his toddler on the bicycle in front of him chats with me, is happy to try out his English, which is very good. He works at the local post office, is on maternity leave now looking after the kids. I see him again a little later by the beach, this time on a motorcycle, the little one comfortably in front of him. Kids here get used to two wheels, motorized or not, very early. He offers me a bicycle if I want one, free, tells me about a few things to see. What a nice man! His English name is Sam, I don’t remember and can’t pronounce his real name. I’m delighted to meet him. What a lovely welcome.
The Travel Bug Hostel is a funky creative place where one can feel right at home. Lots of places to lounge and get creative. In the evening, wandering down the main road I come upon a tiny night market – some local food vendors are offering their specialties. It happens on Tuesdays – I’m in luck. Among the offerings are Oyster omelette, a Taiwanese specialty, which people either love or hate. After trying it some days ago, I’m more on the hate side though still somewhat sitting on the fence. The taste is great, it’s the consistency! The crispy part and the oysters I’m good with, but the slimy whatever it’s made of part I’m just not fond of. You have to try it to understand what I’m talking about. It’s still better than stinky tofu though… There are of course, other choices. Noodles, fried Takoyaki balls (octopus in dough) which I love and have a few as appetizer! And I’m captivated by a stand with several big soup pots, one full of fish, I think it’s giant cat fish, simmering in lots of spices and herbs. I have to try it – and do. Get a huge piece of fish and plenty of the broth – I like the taste, it’s warming and fragrant. I’m not so sure about the fish, or at least the fish skin. Think I’ll leave that for the dogs.
Other locals are sitting down at the pop-up tables and one is asking me if he may join my table. Of course 🙂 Conversation ensues, Yusiang (as I shall call him here) speaks some English, used to be in the military as a meteorologist, now he runs a cafe and guesthouse a few kilometres from town. A friend of his joins, he also speaks a little English. Ohyoung (that’s what his name sounds like) works in IT. They wonder how I like the soup? Look at it a little skeptical – catfish?! Apparently, it’s farmed. Oyoung recommends the lamb bone soup. If I’m alone? How do I do that – travel alone? How do I communicate? Find my way? Well, hands and feet and pointing and google translate and facial expressions and the rest of it…it’s easy. Just a little confidence and willingness to make a fool of yourself is required. 🙂 They offer me some of their food, then some of their “herb wine”- it’s a local specialty, based on rice wine, but with Goji and herbs and spices added to it – warm and very yummy! Every family makes their own. What fun to sit by the side of the road amongst locals, joking, exchanging smiles and drinking cheers in different languages, teaching Oyoung how to count from 1 to 10 in German, just connecting as human beings and…well…slowly but surely getting drunk as that cup keeps being refilled.
Eventually, we say our goodbyes, and I take myself to the hostel bed to fall into an immediate coma, sort of, until I wake up hours later just wanting to empty myself. Got a little carried away there, didn’t I?! Haven’t done that in years! Next morning, I don’t have a headache, but am most certainly hungover – this woozy feeling that’s hard to shake. It takes good strong coffee, lots of fresh air and the amazing brunch at Dulan Sugar Factory Cafe to shake it. I meet new people, make friends over brunch – Ceci and R – sharing travel stories and the love for good food. The food is amazing. Then it’s time to pick up Kaya in Taitung whose cycling progress I can follow via google maps ‘location sharing’. Off I go on the scooter, enjoying the ride. The ocean is so wild! The wind keeps pushing me. The scenery a delight. It’s exhilarating!
Kaya, Ira and Ken made it, all smiles and happy to take a longer break now. Ceci and her partner invite us for dinner at their vacation rental the same evening – it’s a social roller coaster. Another fun evening with conversations about wine, semiconductors (apparently big in Taiwan), food, life in Taipei, and sharing an amazing spread of barbecued meats, salads, and local drink specialties. Great cooks, great company, a fabulous evening sitting outside under the stars, surrounded by nature, and even up the mountain able to hear the waves crashing! Eventually, we ride our trusted scooter down the hill for another good night of sleep.
The next day, I take Kaya to my favourite breakfast/brunch spot by the old sugar factory – a fun artsy spot in town. Right now is the low season and not every art studio is open, but I’m inspired by what I see just walking around. And – besides the food and presentation – love the artsy details in the cafe.
Later, we scoot up to the trailhead for the Mount Dulan hike – what a beautiful ride. Vegetation is lush and vistas stunning, even on this cloudy day. We hike for just a couple of kilometres, don’t have time to do the 8 km return hike, but it wets our appetite to come back and do the entire hike – it will have to be another trip. Rain is in the forecast. Today, we want to head to the Moonlight Inn (now a lovely cafe and art gallery, no longer an Inn) to meet Ira, Kaya’s cycle buddy, who cycled here today from Taitung. What a lovely spot to hang and enjoy tea and cake and the view and each other’s company. So many interesting people found in the expat communities. From all over the world, and many walks of life. A minute walk up the hill we find A’tol/ Atoll / Atall, Umeda Testuja’s rock and water installation, which produces the sound of large water droplets falling into a hollow space – it’s really cool. You can’t see the water, but hear the melody of the droplets in the hollow space beneath. “Suikinkutsu” – an ancient Japanese concept. (See photo of description below – unfortunately, can’t include the sound.) A place for stillness.
And off again, to meet Ceci and R at Sophie’s Bistro, a fabulous little spot in nature. Just an open hut (like a cabana) along a small backroad; you have to make reservations and order your food ahead of time, ideally in the morning, so he can get the ingredients for your dishes fresh from the market. We are not disappointed. Ceci is Taiwanese and we entrusted her with ordering our food – the only requirement was that one dish had to be prawns. We have limpets (yes, you can eat them – I had no idea) and cucumber salad with fried/pickled (unrecognizable) pig skin as appetizers, sticky rice, smoked hot mackerel (my favourite), pepper prawns and greens, toasted buns, and specialty Belgian beers. It’s another feast!
Friends, last time I came to Taiwan I gained 10 pounds which took a while to shed… I have to include many fasting days if I want to fit my clothes. On that note, today was not a fasting day… breakfast at the Pearl Dulan Inn is generous and hearty. A stroll on the beach in the rain ends us at the Cape Beach Cafe, where we can’t resist sampling food. And dinner tonight at the local French restaurant named “Dulan Crap” (yep, that’s right, that’s how it’s spelled) was no crap at all, but delicious. I have a chat with the Chef Patrick (from France), learn about his globetrotting life, and have to ask – why the name?!
Well, you’ll have to come to his restaurant and ask him! It’s not my story to tell. But it certainly gets people curious. And if you google it, there’s only one “Dulan Crap” and it will always pop up first without him having to pay anything extra. Now, here’s a marketing strategy!
I’m heading back to Taipei today and there are still so many places to visit in the area. I haven’t even scratched the surface. How much can you pack into a day?! In the morning, a quick ride north to Douli beach, well-known for it’s reflections on the wet sand, but the tide-timing and weather aren’t optimal. However, the Donghe Bun Shop delivers – very yummy buns. Along the way, I have to be very aware of all the Triathlon cyclists on the road. Later I hear they are part of a full “Iron Man” competition. So many very, very fit men and women speeding along. Wonder how many made it to the end…
Back in Dulan, I check out of our lovely Homestay (Dulan Perl Homestay) and , on the way out, finally understand what these ovens are used for. Wood fired and steamed chicken! I’ve seen larger ones in Alishan before and am guessing larger animals like boar go in there. Another stop at the Sugar factory, a quick visit at Yusiang’s place (The Treasure Bay Seaview Cafe) where I enjoy the yummiest flower tea (Marygold flowers and leaves, Gojiberries), a final visit to the Jialuan Recreation area with stormy rainy weather and still fantastic views and art.
Then it’s time to return the scooter, drop my luggage in a locker at the station, and head to the “Slow Food Festival” in Taitung with Ceci and friends. Many yummy local specialties to try here – I sure wish I had known about this festival before purchasing my train tickets. But this brief immersion in images and tastes was an unexpected gift, much appreciated. And now, I’m actually feeling quite saturated and ready for some quiet time. It was great fun, thanks also to Ceci’s generosity in sharing food and her Chinese language skills. 🙂 Good people!
I will definitely be back, Taitung and Dulan! And next time I hope to make it to Green (Ludao) Island and Orchid (Lanyu) Island – the air and sea were not collaborating this time around.