Wake up to sirens blaring out on the streets below. It’s 9:30am. Damn I’m groggy. Roll out of bed and hit Paul the Newf’s bathroom. Little bulldog, The Snots, hears me get up and starts barking. “Shhhhh The Snots, it’s too early for that shit”. I get on to the tiles and find two bull dumps waiting for me en route to the throne. Maybe The Snots was trying to tell me something. I dodge the landmines and hit the shower. Eyes are burning from lack of sleep.
Today’s plan is for Tha Queebs and I to catch a train to Taichung, where she’s originally from, and then grab a bus to Sun Moon Lake up in the mountains east of there and maybe stay there tonight. Agent Getz was gonna hang back in Zhongli for another day to catch up with his old buds there. We’ve got two unlocked cell phones between us so I leave mine with Getz so we can nab some sim cards and walkie talkie up a rendezvous on Saturday in Taichung somewhere. Hopefully.
Queebs and I follow the road that leads to the train station, Paul had pointed it out from his balcony the night before. Grab some tickets and decide to track down a breakfast spot while we wait for the train. The city is alive with scooter traffic. There’s only so much space so scooters and cars are parked on the sidewalk forcing us to mosey in and out of the street. Scooter drivers line up at the front of each stop light with their pollution masks looking like some sort of scooter mod squad bandits. When it turns green it’s like the start of a whacky motocross. Crossing the street is scooter frogger. I can’t read a single sign on the street. My Mandarin knowledge extends as far as saying hi, bye, thank-you, and beer and I have zero understanding of the characters.
We find a little breaky spot close to the station. Just a tiny cooking area in the front and a handful of tables. We plop our bags on some seats. Can’t read the menu so Queebs interprets. We go with some spicy chicken pancakes, a teriyaki pork sandwich and some hot milk teas. While she’s up ordering I get the God vibe. What’s happening? There’s choir music playing? I look around the little shop. There are inspirational quotes and bible passages on little plaques and pictures hanging on the walls. Some Christian breakfast? I wasn’t expecting that. Whatevs, the food was good and the tea was great.
Back at the train station I’m head and shoulders towering over everyone there. With giant curly hair t’boot. Lots of curious glances. I’m the only white guy on the train. Queebs and I grab seats and I decide it’s time to reignite this here blog thing and fire up the lappy. It takes an hour and a half to get to Taichung. Seems similar to Zhongli architecturally but we don’t really get into the city proper. Just grab some waters and head to the bus station. There’ll be time to take in Queebs hometown tomorrow. Apparently her friends have something planned for us. I’m picturing the mecca of karaoke.
We climb up into the mountains and the foliage changes to more lush and tropical varietals. Palm trees start springing up and bamboo patches. The bus driver is fairly aggressive, honking and intimidating cars out of the way. We barrel through several tunnels in the mountains, it’s a pretty cool drive. While crossing a bridge 3 brand new red Ferraris go zooming by. “Whoa, Queebs. Did you see that?”, “No , what?”, “3 identical Ferraris just went by, weird.” We start to make a pass on some trucks and I hear ballsy motors on our right. Three more red Ferraris slide through the gap between the bus and the truck we’re passing, zagging their way deftly between and gunning it to catch up with their friends. “Whoa, what the hell?”. We get back in the right lane. A 7th and 8th red Ferrari goes by. “Ok. That’s officially the most Ferraris I’ve seen in one day…” 9, 10, 11 Ferraris are now ahead of us. This bad ass motorcade was then followed by several Porsche Cayennes, all white, blasting past us on the right. Very odd but very cool.
We get to a small town in the mountains. There is a statue of someone in the center of a roundabout and Queenie asks if I know who it is. Completely ignorant of Taiwanese history I admit that I don’t. It is the first president of Taiwan (I’ll have to look up the name later, can’t remember). Apparently back in the day he was part of a political group in opposition of the communist party in China. They lost their battle and many came to Taiwan as an escape. He became the first president here. Many believed that one day they would go back to China and take it back. At least that’s what Queebs described from her childhood. She says they used to salute the statues when they passed by as kids. “Is that weird?” she asked me.
The bus playlist is a messed up mix of linkin park, call me maybe, and traditional Taiwanese music. Completely impossible to predict what’s next. This is actually the standard for most places we’ve been so far. They like to keep your ears on your toes.
We get to Sun Moon Lake and grab some info from a helpful info girl. We can take a bus around the island and stop at a bunch of places, take a ferry to some spots, there’s a ropeway into the hills and a bunch of hiking. Should be fun!
We opt to grab a lakeside hotel with a view out to the water.
Drop our bags and hit the ferry. It was a little late to get to the ropeway so that became tomorrow’s plan. We hop on the ferry and Queenie starts translating the tour guides mandarin for me.
Apparently, this hotel’s Presidential suite is 20 grand a night. It’s so expensive because everything in the room is made of gold. Even the bathtub and toilet are made of gold (there’s a gold nugget joke here somewhere).
We pass by a group of small islands. Queebs says they are the smallest islands in Taiwan:
We get to the pier on the other side of the lake and hop off. There’s a group of people wearing indigenous garb and playing traditional Thao music. There’s a line up for tea eggs, Queebs says a lot of Chinese tourists like to come here and get them.
We take the stairs up to a little temple and gazebo. There’s a decent view of the lake and a line to stand in front of a rock with characters for Sun Moon Lake on it. We skip the photo op and look around. Past the temple is a cool abstract Buddha looking art piece.
Behind this there is a path which says it leads to another temple 850 meters away. “What do you think? Can we make it?” I look at my watch. “Yeah probably”, secretly I know it’s gonna be tight and this is gonna turn into a race back to the boat. But I think I crave stressful situations and somehow relying on luck to get out of them sooooooooooo “Let’s go!”
We hike along an odd path deeper into the woods. There are a few scenic lookouts and some cool statues, sculptures, and resting spots along the way. Queebs tells me that this large book signifies a pilgrimage some guy took, walking from China to India and gathering religious materials along the way. He brought them back and translated them, using those to educate the people here.
There are also some pretty steep inclines and steps. These pics probably don’t do them any thigh burning justice:
At the end of the path we found the temple though, and it was well worth the exploration. The Xuan Zang Temple was way bigger and better than the one off of the main pier. We were fortunate to be the only ones there, except a handful of painters slapping some more white on to the temple walls. There is an announcement that comes on every five minutes that rotates through several languages describing the place and its hours of operation.
The inside of the temple is quiet, not a soul around. Not even any ‘employees’. I drop some coinage in the donations box and glance around. There’s a sign that says “please take off your shoes when you look at relics upstairs”.
Upstairs there were a number of interesting display cases filled with what looked like gold medallions. Queebs described that these were cases containing the bones of saints. A plaque further explained that for a Saint to earn a relic in the temple they had to undergo a number of good deeds during their lifespan. I’ve only done 6 nice things in my life, so I’ve got a ways to go.
When we come back down there is a worker girl there now w a pollution mask on, which seems odd to have on in a temple on an island in a lake. We say hi and go outside to look around the grounds some more. She follows us out. Clearly doesn’t like that we’re here.
While I’m snapping a pic she closes in and says something to us, seemingly annoyed. “She says we have to go”. I look at my watch. It’s 5:10. The rotating announcement at that very moment describes hours of operation being from 9:30 – 5:30. I point up at the announcement voice and then down to my watch. The girl just looks at me. Alrighty, we gotta get back anyways. The last boat is at 5:30.
We begin a jog-walk back to the boat passing everything we’d just seen in reverse order and clambering down the steep steps and inclines at a way better pace than when we came in the other direction. When we exit through the abstract Buddha whole we don’t see anyone around. The vendors are all packed up and rolling out. So are the Thao culture group. Tea Egg guy has shut down as well and there is literally no one there anymore. The chug putting of boats can be heard through the trees and when we round the corner to the piers there isn’t a single person or boat there. Haha I knew it! This is some classic adventure detective shit. But we were on time. Had minutes to spare even. There’s just one lone fishing dude at the end of pier 3 quietly casting into the now dark waters.
After a few minutes we see a ferry boat coming towards us.
Yes! When they pull up Queebs asks them if we can get on. No. Wait at pier 2. We go to pier 2. It’s dark now and a little cold. We’re the sole people left here. A few more minutes and another boat pulls up. The only people on it are the driver and a young tour guide dude who hops off, doesn’t bother securing the boat to the dock, just kicks open the door and says “let’s go”. When we get inside the boat instantly starts motoring and young tour dude says something to Queenie, she responds and he walks away. He grabs the mic and starts the tour but since we’re the only ones on the boat he decides to just come sit with us and do the spiel that way.
As we pass by a great terraced Tower visible in the hills Queebs translates from Tour Dude that it was built by the first president after he’d been here a while. He was unable to get his mother out of China and so he built this grand tower for her up in Sun Moon Lake.
Tour dude also tells us that the first temple we saw by the pier was the original temple there but once more and more tourists started visiting there wasn’t enough room for everyone and the relics showcase. So they built the larger and more grandiose temple that Queebs and I had hiked to better showcase the Saint’s relics.
We get back to our side of Sun Moon Lake and decide to grab some dindin at the swanky hotel next door. I check the room price just to make sure it wasn’t in range of what we ended up going with. It wasn’t. It was 2.5 times more expensive. Phewf.
We swing down to their Jupiter Café on the bottom floor hoping for a romantic table looking out at the lake. All taken. We peruse the menu. There are a bunch of Thao dishes (the indeginous ppl around Sun Moon Lake) and a bunch of Chinese cuisine. We order up a feast and some Taiwan beer. It all starts arriving in stages. First came the local vegetable plate. It was kind of funny. 3 miniscule little mushrooms, some boiled chicken (on a veggie plate?), a few yams, and something we couldn’t quite place. It was some sort of vegetable but crunchy, citrusy, and sweet. It was delicious. No idea what it was so Queebs asked the waiter. He had no idea and went back to check for us. When he brings back a mountain of spicy pickled cucumbers (which were also amazing) he tells us the little piece of scrumptious was pumpkin. Pumpkin? What? No way. That’s weird, it didn’t resemble pumpkin in any way. I need to learn how to make that and add it to the list of pickled goodies Agent Getz and I sometimes dabble with.
After the cukes came a Thao style fried rice with spicy pork belly, a beef stew in a clay pot, and a steamed water bamboo with woodear mushrooms and snow peas. All of these were fantastic dishes. We feasted well and downed a few tall bottles of Taiwan beer.
After this we could feel our lack of sleep from the night before (was it 3 hours?), the insane 14 hour jetlag, and our digestive comas coming on fast. We retreated to the room and enjoyed a nightcap on the balcony looking out over the peaceful Sun Moon Lake. Fitting in some measure of romanticism before reuniting with our third wheel tomorrow. (Although Queebs had joked earlier that she was the third wheel on this trip). We soaked in the scene while some karaoke was rebounding loudly off the waters to our right.
Tha Queebs started to conk out but knowing it was too early for me to do so without triggering a week’s insomnia I turned on the TV and opened the lappy to get some blog time in and wait until a good and late ‘normal’ local hour for me to go to bed. I caught the end of Attack of the Clones and then most of Revenge of the Sith while typing and putting back a few more beers. Those new Star Wars movies are terrible. So so soooooo bad. Man I hope they can do so much better this Xmas cuz those were such a disappointment.
Tomorrow we’ll be getting up early to hit the ropeway and see what’s on that side of the lake. Then we’ll head back into Taichung, hopefully meet back up with Agent Getz, and hang with some of Queebearino’s old friends and most likely blow some minds with our outstanding karaoke prowess.