Friday, 17 June 2016

Taiwan Trip (Part V): Where Lady Luck Left Us - Hualien

We had a very good time in Taroko Gorge, but it's time to move on to our second city of the trip - Hualien. And we sure weren't disappointed! In fact, we stayed in the city for 2 days cos really, nothing soothed us like the comforts of the city-life after all the traumas (ie. this & this). 

Hualien is just at my desired level of "cityness" - it has no skyscraper in the city center, but streets and streets of shops which open late into the night, and you can grab a quick bite/drink almost every other 5 minutes.

We stayed in an inexpensive but very comfortable hostel called 'Here and Now' (see here for list of accommodations and links to book), where we even had the whole place to ourselves for one night. 

We were just fooling around here, but I was so clearly upset and conscious of the horrendous mozzie bites that had now spread to my face after conquering my legs

We spent the first day stuffing food into our faces, exploring around & watching movies - fully submerging in the happiness of a city-life which we had so badly wanted to escape from just a while ago before the trip. It was, however, also intolerably hot - almost 40 degrees - where we had to escape indoors every 10 minutes of walking outside. 

We initially wanted to do a 150km biking journey (almost 3 days non-stop riding) from Hualien to Taitung, where one would be very visually rewarded by the scenery of the Great Rift Valley. It was made possible by the islandwide bicycle stores called Giant, where it allows cyclists to rent and return bikes inter-cities. But taking into consideration of the crazy weather -almost 40 degrees. We literally had to escape indoors every 10 minutes of walking- and our 10+kg of bag each, we decided NOT to subject ourselves to further torture and drop that idea entirely. Still, you can go over to this blog to see how beautifully it could have potentially be. 

The weather next day was no different -hot like cray crayyy-, but we decided to pull our arses out and just do something. We got ourselves some bikes and after nearly evaporating under the noon sun, found ourselves at the iconic Qixingtan Beach.

Qixingtan is this loooong stretch of beach that is weirdly covered with smooth pebbles instead of sand. It also marked the FIRST time I lay my eyes on the Pacific Ocean itself and I was so overwhelmed with awe. The pebbles felt very warm and comfy, having heated up by a day of sunlight. They had this magical calming effect that drove one into an instant deep deep sleep (evidently from the pictures) as we fooled around burying each other. 

This was on the way back and as the sun went down, the city lights gradually took over, changing the entire feeling of the place. We had to continued our journey southwards and decided to spend our night in an official campground (ie. the kind that's listed on gov websites and you have to pay a fee for the showers, platforms etc) which is located right beside a very touristy place called the 'Liyu Lake'. We fortunately managed to catch the last bus out of Hualien but little did we know that our blissful times in Hualien would also come to an end soon...

So, the story went like this.

The sky turned dark not long after we boarded the bus, and the lights vanished as we left the city and soon it was just pitch darkness lit by only the orange sodium-vapour lamp posts. We thought it's fine since the campsite was an official site, let alone just beside a tourist spot. Oh no no, we couldn't be more wrong.

We told the bus driver where we're going, and a while later he basically asked us to get down in the middle of NOWHERE - no buildings, no walkways, no houses, just unkempt bushes/forest along the roadside extending into darkness. I got a bad feeling about the campsite right away. Still, we got down and tried to psyched ourselves that everything would be alright. We then reached an entrance of what seemed like 'an abandoned and soon to be demolished theme park in the 70s'. There wasn't a single bulb lighting up the place and the some wordings were falling apart. If it's not for the open gates and a dim-lit lobby at the end of a long drive-in, no one would have even notice this place.   

We walked in slowly, shining our torchlight at the lobby to let the people inside know that we were coming in. Halfway in, a middle-aged man suddenly shot up and came to the door and asked, in an extremely uninviting and unhost-like tone, "What?! What is it that ya'll want??", while standing defensively at the door as if to stop us from going in. I got taken back by his rudeness -and basically the whole DUBIOUSNESS of this entire place- but still tried my best to contain my alertness and told him that we were looking for the Liyu Lake Campsite. 

How I hope for him to say no! Well, no he didn't. 

He gave us one more look and said he could bring us to see the campsite. He hastily went in to the lobby (where we could roughly see the shadow of a few men under the dim light) to take his torchlight and came out in seconds, as if afraid that we'd follow him in to the lobby and see -I don't know- maybe say the corpse that they were in the midst of dissecting COS THE WHOLE PLACE JUST SCREAMED ABSOLUTE DUBIOUSNESS!! 

Soon, we found ourselves following him into TOTAL DARKNESS at a forested area (it was so dark that I could see fireflies at the sides, but ain't nobody has got time for romance following this dubious guy into this unknown place). He flashed his torchlight at rows of wooden huts, which he said we were free to choose cos there's no other campers except us tonight. 

He said it like we had it lucky to be the only ones here in this secluded site with only their spooky lobby down the road. And as if assuring me, he walked forward and flashed towards the toilet that's in a distance and it just looked like a perfect shooting location for horror films. Since I was scared the moment I went into this place, I did not take a single photo the whole time. I found the following photo of that toilet on the internet and it still looked creepy as hell even in broad daylight.


To make things worse, while all I could think about was how to get out of this secluded place asap, he interrupted my thoughts and asked, 'Btw, you know about our charges right? We are charging NT1000 per night cos we are supplying showers and gonna leave the lights on for yall till 6am." 

I was momentarily speechless. 
This despicable person over here, probably already plotting our murders in his head, still scheming to overcharge us by 5 times when the price stated on the official website was only NT200. Besides, I won't even accept getting paid to stay this place in the first place! It's like when you are still thinking of how to reject an irritating guy, he comes around and starts listing to you his expectations of what you should do for him instead.

Though Q was with me the whole time, I felt really uneasy in the dark with this man and so tried to guide him back to where we came from as we talked. The man followed and as his torchlight turned, the light SUDDENLY stopped and A MAN APPEARED STANDING THERE IN THE DARK -Wait for it, that's not all- AND HE HAD ONLY ONE ARM.


The man continued talking to me as if he didn't just see the handicapped guy and for that moment, I was just holding my breath not to scream and freak the hell out. Even with the above picture that I drew, I can't convey that level of creepiness at the scene. Then, of course, it turned out that the handicapped guy was the man's friend and he just came out to check on us. 

I tried to give him an acknowledging nod as I passed him but he just stared at us with a threatening expression. Normally, I would have flipped by now, but I didn't. Instead, I put on my best impression of a scared little girl and told the man that I won't want to stay here anymore cos I was afraid of the darkness. You must know that was very, very unusual of me, as I have a reputation of in-your-face confrontational attitude whenever necessary. But why not then? Well, I reckoned that I should play the soft card first as in this case, as a hard-on attitude would definitely invite troubles and we didn't even know how many of them there were. And to be surrounded within their campus in a forest would not be an advantage to us at all. The man and his handicapped friend stopped walking and just stood there, kept persuading us to stay, and at my other side I could feel Q about to lose his temper (he would have if he could understand Chinese, luckily he didn't). The tension was growing, but I kept to my (very cringeworthy) cutesy voice saying that I would be really scared to stay there, I won't dare to use the toilets, etc... Finally after quite a while, they started to walk back to the lobby place saying there's no more bus anymore and that there was no other accommodations nearby. 

At the lobby, the handicapped guy tried to talk us into staying again. As he balanced himself on whatever stump that was left of his right arm against the wall, I started noticing the scars on his face. He reminded me so much of the kind of gangster who did something wrong to the gang at one point and got his arm cut off as a punishment.

After we've finally 'escaped' the place, we walked down the street that were supposedly to be lined with shops and very touristy in the day but right now was just a ghost town with hardly anyone walking outside at 830pm. The houses along the street were all dark and quiet, and there's no more bus or taxi passing by with only a handful cars that didn't not stop for us when we stuck out our thumbs. Q said it's usually harder to get a ride at night and it's even harder in towns/cities. We spotted a container which we decided we shall tent at the back of it if we really couldn't find any place to stay. Yea, we were that desperate. I wanted to tent at least near the lake, but Q's concern was that it's a fairly visible place and now that the people at the murderous campsite knew we were just along the stretch with nowhere to stay, they could easy spot us if they came out to the lake.

As if to confirm his concerns, we suddenly saw the campsite guy riding a bicycle out and heading towards us. He rode right up to us and stopped very threateningly near to us. He then said, "See! I told you there's no place to stay right!

I just stammered back in disbelief that we would look for some minsu (Taiwan's way of calling B&Bs) nearby, if not we would call for the taxis. The guy was really one of a kind, I never met anybody who could be so shameless to chase after people so far out to try to scam them again. I felt braver here along the roadside, so I just ignored and stopped entertaining him at all as he continued talking. He gave us one last look and laughed to himself creepily as he slowly slowly cycled off. 

That was when we decided we're not gonna tent outside today with these creeps lurking nearby like this. God was kind to us at last, and we found a cosy little minsu barely 5 minutes down the road. 

As we had our long baths and ate our dinner in bed while watching TVs, we exclaimed at how different our lives would be if we actually stayed at that "campsite" (more like hello-I-am-here-to-be-murdered-place). Gawwwd, how things could change in an hour's time. 

The next day, we got our bikes from the minsu and cycled to a nearby place called the Mukumugi. It's actually a continuation of the Taroko Gorge but not within the national park boundary, so visitors are free to explore and swim in the waters. 

Look at the beauty of this place!
But no, like the title of this post suggests, we didn't manage to get there.

Just as I was expressing how romantic our parents' era of cycling-together-in-the-village-under-the-setting-sun relationships were, Q's tyre decided to give me a taste of reality and punctured itself halfway there. We then had to push our bikes through slopes and rain, reaching at the entrance (ie. the police station for entry permit application) and hoping to find some shops nearby to fix the bike.

But nope, of course we didn't find. After almost an hour plus trying to do everything we could (ie. pumping the tyre, getting tapes to tape up the tyre), we met a random passerby who offered to help us. He then asked us to follow him back to his place. He couldn't talk very properly but did not come across as creepy, so we did. Halfway there, he kept asking if we had earpieces with us and I was thinking to myself "oh oh, did we get ourselves into weird situations again..."

The moment we arrived there, he said he needed the pump that we just returned to the shopkeeper before we came over. So Q immediately offered to go back to get it and before I could say anything, he left. Seconds later, the friend of that guy happened to pass by and so stopped to watch us. As the guy went into his house to get his tools, the friend started chatting with me. 

Guy's friend: "So do you know what he does for a living?"
Me: "No, I don't."
Guy's friend: "He's the snake king of this place! He does nothing the whole day but going to mountains to catch snakes and sell them. He even catches the poisonous ones! He's crazy!"
Me: "Are you serious?!"
Guy's friend: "Ya! If you don't believe me you can go in to his house to see all his snakes!"

I was still pondering what kind of person would ever do that and the guy returned, suddenly took out several long knives and started hammering at the bikes. I looked at him, he looked back, and suddenly he asked me to go water his yams. When a Snake King asked you to water his yams, you jolly well do it. 

As I watered, I was starting to question my trip planning skill cos really, why the hell I had to fly over to this place, camping outside a garage on a foggy mountain, almost losing my life in the mountain, nearly getting trapped in a "murderous campsite", just to be here to water yams for a Snake King?!

Soon, Q returned and they started fixing the bikes. You could see the knife in the foreground, and the very watered yams (those yellow/green plants) at the background.

As we were fixing, a car drove passed and the driver shouted to us, "Don't get cheated by this guy y'all!" But he pretended not to hear and I did the same too. When we were done, it's already 4pm and the sky looked like it's gonna rain again. We told him we decided not to go in to Mukumugi anymore, but somehow he kept insisting that we should follow him in. It felt extra strange cos we were right outside the police station by then and he seemed very uneasy, as if kept wanting us to go away from there.

 I thanked him again and again for his help, before telling him firmly that we would be leaving soon. As I watched him leave, I wondered if he indeed had the intention of cheating us or that he's just a very misunderstood person who really just wanted to help us this time round. I felt a little sorry for him...

That emotion didn't last long cos barely 5 minutes of cycling later, the other tyre of Q's bike punctured again. By now, we weren't even exasperated anymore. We just laughed, laughed at the sheer amount of unluckiness that surfaced one after another. We even made it a joke, "YAYYY HERE COMES ANOTHER PROBLEM!!" And God has a good sense of humor cos moments later, it started raining so bad that we got completely drenched

That's our Liyu Lake story. We decided that we were really not fated with this place, so we packed up and headed to our next (mis)adventure.

And as for the lake itself, it's as boring as any puddle of water anywhere else. So please don't come here to waste your time.

On our way to the bus-stop, we passed by the places we went last night.
This was the "last resort" container that we intended to tent behind of in case we couldn't find anywhere else.

THIS was the place of your nightmare, aka Liyu Lake Campsite. 
Imagine this whole place at night without a single light. Only crazy people like us would even walk in.

At night, only this lobby-like place was lit up at the end of the long, dark driveway. And by lit up I meant like that, one could barely tell how many people there were inside. Just like the night before, there was a group of suspicious grown-up men sitting intensively in the lobby. Yeah right, I'm sure they are not some gang people plotting human/drug trafficking, they just discussing about their upcoming camping trip.

The bus-stop where we should have never alighted in the first place.

- Well, if you insist on searching for an epic adventure (in the bad way), make sure to take the last bus (around 630pm) from Hualien Main Bus Station and tell the driver you are alighting one stop after the Liyu Lake. And from there, I guarantee you a night of adrenaline (in the bad way).