We arrived at Shitiping and checked in at the campsite. The campsite is very nice, with open shelters for tents – you basically pitch your tent inside a small cabin with only two walls (without the front and back wall). For the first time ever, we encountered a little baby toilet there, and were quite amused by it. The campsite is also occupied by a pack of semi-wild cats, and if you leave your things outside overnight, they will sleep in/on them – my backpack was quite fuzzy in the morning 🙂 The cats aren’t the most cleanly of creatures, and they do drink out of the toilets (literally, they drink the water out of the squatting pans), but they certainly are a pleasant enlivening of this beautiful place.
The coastline at and around the campsite is just breathtaking. The color combination of very vivid blue, green, white, and black, and the splashing of the waves is just wonderful. We met another lovely Taiwanese couple here, this time with kids, and again, they gave us some nibbles.
We checked out the nearby village as well – it is apparently mostly a fishing village, and you will find some of the little privately-owned general stores here. You can find those everywhere in Taiwan, especially outside the big cities. They are usually tiny places or shelters attached to the owner’s house or hut, with a cooler for drinks, some instant noodles, canned products, sometimes fruit and vegetables, and usually other stuff as well – anything from scooter parts to fishing gear.
We spent the afternoon enjoying the sun and the sea – we found a nice little cove at the campsite where the waves didn’t go, and even though the water was only knee-to-waist high, it was the first place where we could access it. There aren’t many places around the east coast where you can swim – we still found it strange at this point that there were signs everywhere saying “DANGER – NO SWIMMING” or something to that effect. We would only later find out that the waves along the coast were just too strong and that it really would be dangerous to go swimming at an open rocky coastline, and any casual swimmer would likely be thrashed against the rocks badly. There was also one very interesting thing about the rocky coastline – the amount of broken, washed-up corals among the pebbles – far greater than the amount of shells.
The next day, we woke up with our faces and arms red as a lobster. I even had dried-up yellow plasma on my face. We didn’t have any sunblock, and the entire day spent in the sun turned us into two little piggies.
We got on the bus back to Hualien, where we purchased some baby oil – sunblock is quite impossible to get outside the big cities – and continued north by train to our next stop, Fulong.
Fulong is a nice little town on the coast with a temple at the seafront, a large sandy beach, and an even larger campsite. We met an interesting guy at the visitor center – not only did he speak perfect English, he also knew where the Czech Republic was and knew the Czech greeting “Dobry den” – his flatmate was from Slovakia, once part of the same country, Czechoslovakia.
The campsite in Fulong (Longmen Camping Site) was completely empty, we were the only visitors at this large but pleasant facility – with a lot of trees, tables, benches etc.
The next day, we went on foot further north to Aodi. We went along a nice trail, starting at the beach (paid entry) in Fulong. The trail leads along a bike path, where you will encounter quite a humorous DANGER sign – Taiwan is rife with DANGER signs, but this one takes the title. To paraphrase, it says “Warning, bikers, you are going downhill!” Which would be funny in and of itself, rendering the bikers complete morons, but its location makes it ten times funnier – the slope is roughly….well, I don’t know, maybe 0.001%? So, beware, if you pedal with all you’ve got, you might go slightly faster than you would on a leveled path.
In Aodi, we got on a bus to Longdong, where we wanted visit the Longdong Ocean Park (recommended to us by the guy in Fulong) and check out local climbing opportunities. I can’t say that the park impressed us very much, as four years later, I don’t really remember anything interesting there – but I think it wasn’t even open at the time of our visit (off season). But we saw how seaweed is processed in Longdong – it is dried in the sun right on the sidewalk by the road. I wonder if this is where various bio-eco dietary supplements get their seaweed from 🙂 At the park, we asked a local woman sitting with a group of cops on the terrace if there was any campsite nearby. She informed us, quite happily, that there was a rest stop – near the “Bat Tunnel” (Pien-Fu-Ton, or something like that) just outside Ruibin, a few kilometers away. That surprised us, because up to this point we thought that wild camping was really frowned upon in Taiwan (that was what we had read on multiple blogs) – due to safety concerns, above all.
With the blessing of a table full of cops, we got on another bus, headed to Jiufen, a nice little town up in the mountains above Ruibin. We drove past the waterfalls in Jinguashi (I would recommend a stop there) and got off the bus in Jiufen. The town has its charm, especially in misty weather that we encountered there, spoiled only by the crowds of tourists, sadly (locals, or so we assumed). We took a peek at one of the local temples, and continued down the switchbacks toward Ruibin, where we replenished our larder and asked about “Pien-Fu-Ton”. Obviously, I pronounced the name of the tunnel intelligibly, and received proper bearings. We went through the tunnel – at the east end of Ruibin – and set up camp in the parking lot, which is right at the end of the bat-infested concrete tube (actually, we didn’t see a single bat). Though there were some cars in the lot, no one cared that we built a tent there. However, we waited for the dusk to do that so we wouldn’t attract unnecessary attention. But no one cared in the morning either, which meant the lady in Longdong was quite right that it was OK to spend the night there (back in 2013, don’t know if it still is). The rest stop is right at the shore, and there are toilets with running water there and some monkey bars as well. In case of bad weather, there are two gazebos available. Local fishermen on the rocks put on quite a show after dark, with fluorescent lights on their rods and all 🙂
The next day, we continued by bus from Ruibin to Keelung, where an older lady gave us some fruit after we asked her where our next bus to Jinshan was leaving from. We got to Jinshan without any hitch, and after a visit to the information center, we found out that there were no campsites in the area, and the cheapest option was the local YHA hostel, referred to as the YMCA by everybody. Finding the YHA in Jinshan is easy, just look for the largest military air-force base in town, and that’s it. Really, it looks like a fortified airport, with the control tower visible from afar. The tower is the main lodge. The service there was great, but it was a bit pricey – though the standard was more hotel-like than anything else, and the overnight stay included wonderful breakfast – again, hotel style – which would give us the opportunity to sample several new dishes. We went to explore the town until our room was ready. We went through a very interesting cemetery with a lot of unified tombs, varying only in color – you get to choose between blue and red – and small statues outside of them.
The local street market was one of the more interesting ones that we visited around Taiwan, with a variety of local foods. There is a nice temple in the center, though at this point the whole temple architecture had gotten quite old and wasn’t that exciting for us – basically all the temples look alike and only vary in size or the presence/absence and style of the casino-like neons above the entrance. We met another friendly local here, a guy named Chon (I think), who told us the temple was Confucian. Chon actually lived in California and was on a visit to his mother. And as the approximately hundredth proof of the hospitable nature of the Taiwanese, he offered us an overnight stay at his mom’s. We had already paid the lodging at the YHA and didn’t want to be a nuisance, so we declined. Looking back, maybe we should have accepted the offer anyway, as we could have learned a lot about Taiwan from Chon, who seemed like an interesting guy, and I have since come to believe that the Taiwanese really are that hospitable, and their invitations aren’t only gestures, but are genuine.
After we checked in at the YHA later in the afternoon, we went to the Shitoushan Park by the sea to take a look at the Twin Candlesticks – two tiny, tall islands a few hundred meters off shore. It is a nice walk for the evening, and you get to see what is probably one of the fattest, most indolent buddhas in the whole of Taiwan.