Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Baolai, in the mountains

On Saturday the fifth of July, a small band of intrepid adventurers set out on three motor scooters intending to travel from Tainan, the old capital of Taiwan, to Baolai in the lap of the mountains. Armed only with money, changes of clothes, some food provisions, maps, pre-booked tickets for the white-water rafting, pre-arranged accommodation, experience of having made the trip before, and a devil-may-care attitude towards the very real possibility of long-distance-travel-induced-sore-bottom-syndrome, these comrades in helmets mounted their 250cc steeds and headed out from their home base in search of that mythical land the Lonely Planet calls....

(photo shown above may not resemble Paolai)

Our posse, ready to rock outside Erin and Dave's apartment in Tainan. I was so pumped that immediately after this shot was taken I bit the head off a chicken. Note the tent attached to the back of the scooter that I shared with Andrea; it would not be used due to weather-related factors that I will discuss later.

Tea is the drink of choice in Taiwan and there are hundreds of variations, but probably fewer available from any one vendor. There's red (black) tea, green tea, barley tea, Oolong tea, other things I don't know the name of, and all of these are available with sugar or without, with milk or without, with tapioca balls or without, with gelatin chunks or without, with lemon juice or without, with grapefruit juice or without, and in combinations of all these and many more ingredients. Taiwan is truly home to a culture of tea and it grows on you. These days, a bit of travel soon induces in me an appentence for a large, cold, green tea of some sort. This photo looks too good to be natural but it was. It has only just occurred to me that we are wearing the four foundation colours blue, red, yellow, and green.


Baolai (sometimes Paolai). Population: 600. Location: southern central Taiwan. Claims to fame: western "gateway" to the south cross-island highway; hot springs; whitewater rafting.

We did go whitewater rafting but I couldn't take any photos as I had to leave my camera behind. I borrowed the photo above from Kaohsiung County website. We couldn't take our personal belongings on the rafts because you do get very wet and occasionally a raft will capsize. There were between twenty and thirty rafts each carrying between 6-10 people; that's a lot of rafters. After we were given the initial go-ahead, everyone took off in their raft and went crazy, splashing each other and racing down the river. However, it soon became apparent to me that there was real potential for danger in this activity. One of our crew-members fell overboard and was almost dragged under the raft. We saw others fall into the river. There were many stops along the way which became quite discomforting after a while. Being intermittently wet and dry and exposed to the wind caused a loss of body heat and after an hour or so I wasn't the only one feeling a bit cold and trying not to shiver. There were several other rafts fitted with outboard engines, each of these rafts being manned by two guys working for the rafting-tour company. These guys would basically do whatever they had to to prevent any serious injuries to their customers or to their rafts. This usually involved them ramming their raft into yours to knock you to where you should be and away from the more dangerous parts of the river. Nevertheless there were injuries and we saw the occasion customer being helped out of the river or being guided away from the river by rafting-tour employees. Overall the white-water rafting was an interesting and certainly exciting experience although I think the single best change that could be made to enhance the experience would be to remove all the other rafts and people and let us have the river to ourselves.

By the time we reached the end of the river-rafting ramble some of us were quite cold and hungry. The sky was quite overcast and the wind had picked up. We had 5 minutes to go to the bathroom before we needed to clamber on to buses which took us back to the rafting HQ in town. From there most of us headed down the road to the 7-11 where we got some hot, instant noodles and hot chocolate. By this time the heavens had opened and the sky was manumitting the lakes in the sky, most of which opted to fall straight to earth.

That night a barbecue ensued from which only a scant few vegetable kebabs, barbecued chicken wings, or barbecued bamboo (surprisingly good) escaped uneaten. From left: Jannie, Willy, John, me, and two of the people renting the room next door, returning to their den with bowls of instant noodles.

Scene 1: dogs belonging to friends at barbecue sleep in bed in room we rented.

Scene 2: I sleep in bed in room we rented. I have to admit that I was the first to go to bed and to sleep. Driving an unfamiliar scooter for hours on unfamiliar roads definitely contributed to my impuissance.

On Sunday we arose and found ourselves, not surprisingly, where we had been the night before. We proceeded to avail ourselves of one of the natural wonders of the Baolai area - the natural hot springs. Besides a couple of pools of different temperatures the "spa" is fitted out with some shower heads which deliver high-pressure jets of water. It's really good to be able to move your back (or head or other body part if you wish) around under the jet and use it to massage yourself. However, if you were to direct the high-powered jet of water to the wrong place you could possibly do some damage, for example, blowing your eardrum out. Not that anyone would be silly enough to do that. Surely.

After the invigorating hot spa DIY massage we went for a short walk into town. On the way we discovered where dragon fruit come from. We saw this plant and others like it bearing the odd fruit. I was surprised. The plant itself looks like a kind of cactus. Perhaps it is.

And then it rained some more. And more. And when the time to leave came, it was still raining. However, while rain-jackets were on our side, time was not and so we prepared ourselves as best we could and mounted our wet, motorised steeds and began the long journey home. This photo was taken as we stood in the rain-shadow of the arch in front of the main entrance of the resort and as we stood there we sought to master our collective resolve to start what was going to be a very wet and uncomfortable ride home.

Not only did it continue to rain: it stormed and thundered. In places along the road down from the mountain, small streams of water ran across the road. At one point the storm raged close by and the rain became torrential, forcing us to stop for a while at the local market in a small town on the highway. The amount of water pooling everywhere was impressive and John and I caved in the audience demand for some kind of rain dance, the rather unimpressive result of which you can see in this movie.

I was hugely relieved when we finally managed to get off the mountain and onto some more even countryside. And as the kilometres passed us by and the sun slowly ran its course across the grey and unhappy sky we drew slowly closer to Tainan where we would return to our always temporary lives and jobs, to our comfortably familiar, familiarly mundane day-to-day normality.


Tom Aarons said...

Go Adrian! This blog is pretty darn fine. Your writing rocks and your photography aint half bad either!

Adrian Brown said...

Thankyou very much.