Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Marble and Sand, the Yin/Yang of Taiwan's East Coast

A Story for the Ox New Year, Part 3 (here is Part 2)

Hualien is a special city because of its marble industry. I was dazzled by the marble goblets, and vases, and decanter sets, and went on a bit of a spending orgy. That led to piling boxes and boxes and boxes of MARBLE onto the back of the bike. We didn’t just shop; we did the usual zipping around: at the Temple of Eastern Purity the women praying couldn’t get over how tall I am!

The plan was to ship the marble, but because it's New Years, the post office had very limited hours. So we continued south, down to Taitung, where we found one open, just as the motorcycle battery was giving out and had to be replaced. I stayed at the post office as BFF went off to talk a roadside garage guy into taking a traveler’s check for a new battery--another downside to New Year’s travel was all the banks were closed for days, and we were very low on cash.

The shipping documents had one other language than Chinese: French, which I had studied. But under the circumstances my brain was seizing, and it took me forever to fill out the forms.

Somehow we got the marble safely shipped and the battery replaced, and we were set to zip off to the Buddha by the Sea and the Cave of the Immortals, the oldest archeological site on Taiwan.

We spend 2 nights in Taitung at the Eastern Hotel-—a little bit of Europe with telephones on all the restaurant tables, mimicking the Kit Kat Club--then go further south to the mineral spa town of Jhihben. The screeching monkeys in the trees at the hotel and the festive lights keep the spirit of the new year celebration alive for us.

We then headed down to the very tip of the island, Kenting. A storm followed us most of the way down, making for a very soggy ride.


Small dangerous Children Enroute

Another attribute to New Year’s travel was the continuous explosion of firecrackers. Children in every town and lonely isolated house were intent on setting off firecrackers right in front of us. The first few times the explosions were really scary. Then we became super attuned to any sight of “small dangerous children” anywhere near the road, and we had fewer near misses.

Hail, Caesar
It’s warm in the south, and flat, both a welcomed relief after the chilled air of the mountains. The road between Jhihben and Kenting National Park is quite a stretch of straight driving with some treacherous crosswinds, which made it exhausting. And the bugs-in-teeth meter was going off the charts.

The Insight Guide talked about a new Caesar’s Park International at Kenting, when suddenly, there in the distance, we saw the distinctive Trojan helmet rising on the horizon. The roar of the motorcycle disturbs the serenity of the grand entrance of the sleek modern resort as we pull up. The doormen are dumbfounded as one grubby American woman gets of the bike and walks across the lobby to register while the other waits. “You can’t park here,” they tell BFF, the same mantra we heard at every hotel we pull up to.

WE KNOW. WE’RE NOT TRYING TO PARK HERE. WE”RE JUST GETTING OFF THE DAMN BIKE.

It didn’t matter. In just a few moments we are in a fashionable room overlooking the South China Sea, absolutely giddy over the little amenities of a luxury hotel: the terry cloth bathrobes, the shampoos and conditioners, the sewing kit. I fall asleep listening to BFF on the phone with Wachung (ah, the days before cell phones), the sea crashing in the dark, and the sound of Spanish guitar playing drifting up over the balcony. The next day our time on the white sand beach is rejuvenating, and after a facial and a massage, we’re ready to start the long journey north.

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