Thursday, January 16, 2014

Paragliding: Take 2

Since Angela and Charles were not part of our New Years road trip and therefore did not get to go paragliding, we decided to keep our original date and just go again. We headed out to Puli, about an hour away, in the morning and met up with our new paragliding friends. We spent the morning goofing off and relaxing at the takeoff zone while we waited for the winds to pick up. Angela and Charles had two flights each, while Michelle and I each got an unexpected one. We weren't planning on getting to fly, we were just there for the sunshine and views, but our friends were nice enough to take us on a ride again. It was a fantastic day of sunshine, flying and friends. 

At the takeoff area

East Coast Roadtrip

Christmas had come and gone and New Years Eve was fast approaching and Michelle and I had no plans. We decided to forgo going to Taipei like most of the other foreign teachers were doing. We wanted to do something different, though we had no idea what that something was until about 4:30 pm on New Years Eve. I was in art club and Michelle came into the classroom and told me that our new friend, Karlis, had messaged her and was planning on renting a van and driving to the Sunrise Party in Taimali (on the southeast coast). He wanted to know if we wanted to go with. It was a very easy yes.

Around 8pm Michelle and I, along with lots of camping gear, took the HSR down to Kaohsiung, where we met Tim, Karlis and their van outside of an MRT stop. We stopped in Pingtung where we picked up Ria and her friend Jennifer. After that we were east coast bound.

With ten minutes left before midnight, we pulled over at a small seaside town that we later learned is named Fangshan. We toppled out of the van and headed towards the music. After a quick pee break we found ourselves in the middle of a large celebration. We had made it with about two minutes til midnight. It was perfect. The presenters on stage started counting down and before we knew it the sky was filled with fireworks. We watched the show for about ten minutes before deciding that we needed to get back on the road.
We're pretty positive we were the only foreigners there that night

We piled back into the van and continued our drive. Shortly after starting again, we hit the mountains and the roads became narrower and much curvier. This was where we learned exactly what our van, and driver, could do. It being well past midnight by this point, our driver took quite a few calculated risks much to the horror and excitement of the passengers. The drive was completed to the soundtrack of South African, German and American music, accompanied by our off-key singing. 

We arrived in Taimali around 1:30am and headed straight for the beach where we met up with some of the boys' friends. After setting up our campsite, we spent the rest of the early morning hours talking and eating food from the vendors. Everyone finally called it a night around 4:00am. 

Alarms went off at 6:00am and within a few minutes we made our way down to the shoreline to watch the sunrise. In the two hours we slept, the semi-deserted beach had become packed with thousands of people. The sunrise was just as beautiful as I thought it was going to be. After the sun was fully risen, we packed up our tents and ate breakfast at a nearby shop. Then we piled back into the van and headed up the mountain. We were going flying. 

A mix of sleep deprivation and our weird personalities made us into the pre-sunrise show for the lucky Taiwanese people standing next to us on the beach. 

The Sunrise Party draws thousands of people each year. 

The ladies

There were dozens of tents and thousands of people

Our van climbed higher and higher up the mountain until we reached the take-off area near the summit. Karlis and Tim are professional paragliding instructors and they were taking us flying. I really can't even put it words what paragliding was like, it's just something that you have to experience for yourself to fully understand. It was exhilarating and terrifying and the whole time it was happening it didn't seem real. Being up in the clouds I felt detached from the rest of the world. I was simply an onlooker while the people below went about their normal lives. It was a one of a kind feeling that I'd definitely like to repeat again. 
Palm trees on top of the mountain

At the takeoff area

Michelle went first

Michelle & Tim

Jennifer & Karlis

Ria & Tim

I love this picture! If anyone in Taiwan wants an awesome paragliding experience, you should contact Karlis or Tim. Check out their Facebook page here! 

Part of the paragliding experience included a video. Check out my awesome video here!

Since none of us girls had ever been to the East coast before, the boys decided that we were going to head to the beach for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped off at a few different areas along the coast so the boys could see if they could paraglide. They couldn't find any suitable spots but, that did not stop us from enjoying the views. The east coast was gorgeous. On one side of highway was mountains and on the other the Pacific Ocean. 

Somewhere along the East Coast

Eventually, we made it to our destination. We thought that we were still on the east coast of Taiwan, but as it turns out we had crossed the country and were back on the west coast. We found ourselves at some sand dunes near the bottom of Taiwan. The dunes were absolutely beautiful. I had never been anywhere like this before. The boys took advantage of the location and the weather and got busy practicing their kiting skills. I took advantage of the amazing natural lighting and got busy practicing my photography skills. We spent the last few hours of daylight relaxing on the dunes, wading into the water and chatting about how crazy of a day it had been. 
Sand dunes somewhere in southwestern Taiwan

Everything about this place was beautiful 

The boys spent the afternoon practicing their kiting skills 

As the sun started to set we packed the van back up and hit the road again. It was three hours to Kaohsiung and another hour from there to Taichung. Michelle and I made it back to our apartment at about midnight, exhausted but happy. It was one helluva day. 

Ria's friend who came with us told Ria something that pretty much summed up the whole day for me. She said "You foreigners are crazy. Today was just like a movie". And it was. Good characters, a beautiful setting and just enough crazy to keep things interesting. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Strawberry Pickin

Roxy and Cleo, being the awesome people they are, invited a few of using to go strawberry picking in Miaoli. It's strawberry season here in Taiwan and the little red guys are everywhere. Even though most of us had been out late the night before, we jumped at the chance to take a trip to the source. An hours train ride, 45 minutes on a bus and a five minute walk and we had arrived at the glorious fields. The glorious fields ended up being basically in the middle of a tourist area, surrounded by buildings. Nevertheless, they were strawberries and they were there demanding to be picked. We had to oblige. 

After spending some time in the fields, picking whatever strawberries we wanted and singing "Strawberry Fields" over and over again, we headed back to the touristy area. We sampled lots of different strawberry flavored delicacies, including deep fried strawberries, strawberry sausages and strawberry shaved ice. It as an excellent afternoon. 

That evening we ate at a restaurant where I ate the second best soup I've had in Taiwan. Then it was back on the train and back to Taichung. 

Another great day in this beautiful place. 

Deep fried strawberries

The group for the day

Strawberry fields forever (or at least until the buildings)


Not as good as the mango version, but a very, very close second

The foreigner part of our group

Hsinchu Weekend

The weekend after Christmas, Holly, Katie and I went up north to Hsinchu for the weekend. It was a nice, relaxing weekend filled with hiking at Lion's Head Mountain, going to an improv comedy show, visiting a glass museum and the local zoo. 

At the start of the trail. Lion's Head is home to 11 Buddhist temples, all of which are very different.

The view from almost the highest point on the mountain

The hike was beautiful 

A small place of worship built into a retaining wall

We ventured up a blocked off path and found the reason why...a recent landslide.

We climbed these stairs one too many times on our quest to find the "Lion's Head Rock" (fun fact: Lion's Head Rock is the actual mountain and we spent the entire day trying to find the rock, when we were in fact on it the whole time)

Beautiful, 100+ year old temple. It had 3D carvings like nothing I have ever seen

The most unique and beautiful temple I have ever seen

The detail on this temple was incredible

We loved it, Katie on the other hand hated it.

Another 100+ year old temple

I love this picture

Visiting the glass museum, because that is about the extent of things to do in Hsinchu

The zoo!