Friday, 25 December 2009

A trip across Táiwān and back

After two days exploring the Táiwānese capital Táibèi, we went over the past two days on a trip across the western coast of the island to Kěndīng at the southern tip of Táiwān, almost 400 kilimetres from Táibèi. We initially went on an extremely impressive electric train service that does shame to the ultra-slow train services and track alignment that Australia's government has allowed to persist through its obscene wastage of money on roads.

in the early part of the journey, all I could see was a continuation of the urban landscapes found within Táibèi. There was nothing remotely rural apart from a few very small farms in tiny areas of flat land, and most of the initial train journey took place over large tunnels where no view at all of Táiwān's countryside was possible. The air was never clear at any point on the journey up to Táizhōng, and when I reached Táizhōng I was so shocked at the pollution of the city that I asked my brother for the camera so I could take a photo!

Beyond Táizhōng, even as we moved into one of the most densely populated areas of the world, there began to be rather more authentic rural scenery amidst the cities of Táinán and Gāoxióng. The train finished at Gāoxióng and by the time we reached that city, the weather was uncomfortably hot, but we still had a very long way to go to reach Kěndīng at the southern tip of the island.

The bus ride, however, can best be described as horrible. The bus we had to ride in was terribly tight, but far worse than that it was really, really bumpy and hard in ride. The result was that by the time we reached Kěndīng I really was tired despite having got to sleep and up at an hour that would seem normal to people with a much better rhythm of life than I have ever possessed. The plus side of the bus ride was that I was able to see some authentic rural scenery for the first time in my three days in Táiwān. Although Táiwān is a wet place, it was the dry season and a wide variety of crops were being irrigated by some very unusual pumps with conical blades. There was rice of course, but also such fruit crops as bananas and citrus. It was so interesting it is a pity I have no photos because of the terrible bus ride.

For the rest of the day, we walked round the beaches of Kěndīng. They were quite interesting, and had some very decent coastal scenery. However, with the weather so hot I was very happy to be in a huge hotel for the night where I could take a long rest. I did have one problem: that without my brother's computer I had no way to charge my iPod and as a result I spent the night fiddling around thinking about what to do to have it charged for the trip back home. I went to the Internet cafe downstairs in order to try to have it charged, but the machine could not charge it and I had to ask my brother to have hotel staff do it - and even then only so that my use could be limited on our return journey to Táibèi.

During the morning, we had a look at Kěndīng that proved considerably more interesting that what I saw on the beach the previous day. There were tropical rainforests that looked quite dry but were still recognisable, and some very good views of the sea at the southermost point of Táiwān. In the hot weather, we climbed a hill near Kěndīng but were already very tired for the return journey to Táibèi, which was complicated by the problem that we had a reservation for a 19:00 train back to Gāoxióng. The bus ride was rough but not as bad as the previous day, however, when we reached Gāoxióng, we had to wait a long time and thus we had a look around the city.

Although Gāoxióng is the second-largest city in Táiwān, it is only half the size of Melbourne and in terms of range of products exceedingly poor. We could find very little of value in the city's shopping centres, and I was more taken by the terrible air pollution - worse than Táizhōng and far worse than Táibèi ever was. We did not have that much trouble reaching Gāoxióng station wiht enough time to catch the train back to Táibèi. In the spare time, we had a quite conventional (for Táiwān) dinner. Not unnaturally, however, by the time we reached Táibèi, all of us were very tired and we were pleased to be back in the hotel, though this time we had a room in the top level.

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