Fuli to Donghe

Road 23 crosses a national forest and there is barely any car. I swing with the curves of the road and caress the surface of the beautiful mountains. From time to time, some wild animal comes to my sight and some unidentified waterfall appears in the distance. At the end, while descending, a strange sign gets my attention. It means “Danger: Monkeys?”. I did not know that there were monkeys inTaiwan and, for a second, I thought it was a joke. But after some meters, some monkey families show up playing nearby the road. They don’t pay any attention to me, not many cars disturb their joyful games. I take some pictures and continue towards the sea.

Chenggong is my next step, the fish market brings back the smell of the Ocean. Huge fish are put on sale while the fishermen start to enjoy a beer or some street food in the tinny food stalls of the port.

I must rush before it gets dark. Sansiantai is not far, and I cannot miss the chance to visit it. Some buses with tourists from Mainland China make it a bit crowded and noisy. But, finally, I get alone and feel how the sea pull the round stones in Pebble Beach, a bit like an earthquake feeling. Later, I cross the 8 arches bridge and walk the island in circles as if it was a Tibetan pagoda. The waves reach smoothly the shore. It is the ritual of every evening; the local fishermen pick up their catches and go home. Night approaches with its dark veil.


Tea tasting in Luye

Lienji Tea House is a beautiful place. “They pay a lot of attention to the presentation” told me a local. And, yes, the lace looks welcoming, traditional and full of knowledge. But, there was nobody to explain me about their awarded teas. In 2 days I stayed in the guest house I only saw a person who asked me for the passport and then disappeared. The room did not have key, and for 2 days nobody showed up in the house. So, I had to move to another place for tea tasting.

The Luye Visitor Centre has a tea shop attached. There I found Jack, a guy doing an alternative military service, who offered to translate the explanations about local teas. The lady in the shop show me their best teas. Unluckily they cannot show me the plantations since it has been already plucked and now they are roasting some varieties. She seems ready to show all her stuff, and start with a nice smooth Fulu Oolong Tea. The oolong can be found everywhere in Taiwan, only that here has this particular name. So, if I want something very local I should go for the Fulu Red Oolong tea. That is a fully fermented oolong whose brew has a reddish honey like colour. The flavour is quite strong compared to the previous Fulu, and has some floral notes. Miss Fu keeps the water only 40 seconds on each brew and tells me it is important not to make it too long, since the fully fermented can become bitter easily. These leaves can provide 7-8 times tea.

Last, but not least,  she shows me the Golden Tea (Jin Xuan). It can be found in other plantations around Taiwan, but they got a silver award and are proud of this last season product. Golden tea is half-fermented and has a milk after taste. It becomes immediately my favourite, and keep chatting with them about here and there, Spain and India, Taiwan and other daily life stuff for more than expected. They bring lunch and we stay together a bit more. And suddenly, I pay attention to a different box. The woman says “This is Kucha, have you ever tried?”. The famous Kucha, the bitterest of the teas. She prepares a bit for me, insisting that the bitterness can be controlled and that will cool down the body. And it is true, her brew is not that bitter (and has almost no colour), but the flavour still is not really nice with some resemblance to liquorice.

The next day I go to pick up some teas I decided to buy and they bring Buddha’s Hand tea. They are roasting it and they want me to try. They prepare one from the previous year and then brew the one they are roasting. I can feel the new one is not yet perfect, by the flavour and the face of the owner. “They would not dare to give to the clients like this”, tells me Jack, “but you are a new friend”. It is a nice gesture from their side. It was a great company and a lot of knowledge about tea.

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Unboring Taitung

Lonely Planet guide says about Taitung that it is a laid back undeveloped area with very local flavour. I don’t really know how was Taitung in 2006 when my guide was published, but at the moment it seems quite vibrant and lively, if you want with its own style. From the sea side bars to open air concerts, stylish cafés and all the elements of a modern Taiwanese city. After some days of mountains and sea shores, it was nice to have a touch of urban life. And, by chance, I ended in a super cute café, Cheella Café (395, Xinsheng Road) where I had super yummy cheese cake in a cosy atmosphere. A real good work of business, with lovely music and very kind waiters.

Later, I went to a local singer concert in Tie Hua Music Village, close to McDonalds in XinSheng Road. It is an interesting approach to a open air night club, with good prices, good music, good crowd. The singer was quite famous, apparently, and most in the public new her music. It is the second time in my life I see a singer crying while singing one of her songs. Really shocking, but in a way it shows how close to her music is she. As soon as the concert finished, I decided to go back to Luye, since the road was long and dark, but I loved the touch of city life of this southeastern cute capital.

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East Rift Valley

From Yuli to Luye, the road is wide and comfortable. We are back in the world of 7elevens and petrol stations, but it is the concession of the mountains for a while. Taiwanese grow rice and anything possible in this amazing valley walled between the Sea Range and the Yushan Mountains. When I reach Luye, I realize I forgot the small map of the guest house and I go to the Town Hall to ask for the adress. After a long discussion, one civil servant takes his scooter and drive me to the guest house where a young guy has been noticed of my arrival. The place looks beautiful and the plantations at the sides of the hills announce another interesting tea stop in my itinerary.

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Wuhe Honey Tea

It seems rainy today. The clouds hidding behind the valleys start to wake up and, even thoush, it is not raining, I can feel it coming. After the breakfast, it is raining cats ad dogs, so I don’t think today is the day to visit tea plantations, but to taste fine teas. Mei, the owner of Wisdom Garden, will show me two famous tea shops in Wuhe, Ruisuei Township. The places are some 10 km from Yuli and we drive straight under the heavy rain.

In the first one, we meet Ms. Nian. She is an energetic lady proud of her discovery. Some years ago, the family decided to turn organic their oolong tea plantations. Upto here, no surprises, since Taiwanese are very concerned for the quality of food and there is a big trend in the country to move into healthy models of production. But, in Wuhe there was a leafhopper who started to eat the young leaves of the tea trees. The excrement of these insects were left in the older leaves leading to oxidation even before plucking them. The result is a tea with a sweet flavour and its honey colour. It is easier to appreciate when we infuse it for 3-4 hours in cold water. They named it honey tea or black honey tea and started to sell with good acceptance and a tea award in 2006. Nowadays, many tea farms are producing the honey tea in the area, but Ms. Nian wants to be recognized. She prepares for us hot and iced honey tea and offers some green tea homemade cookies. The experience is really interesting. They even bring a branch of tea tree with leafhoppers in action. For a perfect hot honey tea, we leave the tea brewing for 1 minut with water at 85 ºC. For ice tea, we can put the leaves in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Before leaving, she shows me the coffee trees now blooming, and even under the rain the scent of the white flowers fill the air. It is a shame we don’t have time to taste also these coffee beans, because she said I would get impressed by its aromas of dry fruits and its smoothness.

Later, we move a bit farther. In front of Princess Coffee, there is a farm with no English name. This is really a treasure. Ms. Su help me with the translation. The lady in charge is obviously a very professional woman. She explains every detail on the origin of the tea trees they have, how to brew and the properties of each variety. They have varieties growing from 200 to 1000 meters, including Spring and Summer Oolongs and Jin Xuan. She also offers honey tea, that here has a stronger aroma and a deepest orange colour. But her choice is a white tea, Pai Mu Tan. According to her, they are the only plantation in Taiwan producing these leaves. The government promoted the introduction of this variety, but the results seemed no good for them. The family left the leaves in a corner and after some days, they realized of a special scent coming from there. Pai Mu Tan is extremely aromatic before brewing, and after it is smooth and soft. The leaves are grouped in couples and they have some white hair. The tea infused becomes slightly grey. She tells us that is the favourite tea of the monks, since the vegetarians cannot drink a lot of fermeted teas. Pai Mu Tan is low in teine, and can be brewes as much as you want, since it won’t get the bitterness of other teas. To produce them, they dry the tea leaves in a controlled room at 25 ºC, sometimes using AC, making this tea quite expensive to produce (4800 NTD = 120€). Before leaving, she gives me a small box of Pai Mu Tan as a present. Definetely, she made my day.

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Wisdom Garden

From the seaside, the road climbs and in few minuts you cross a tunnel. The sea is far behind and you enter the East Rift Valley. The changes are fast. Mountains at both sides and a wide valley, some towns with more services (7eleven included). It’s time to find the accomodation and I follow the map to Wisdom Garden.

The owner of Wisdom Garden, Mei, has taste. The three rooms of the house are delicate and practical. Everything in its place for some reason. I decide to go posh and I take the bigger room, in Japanese style, with tatami and futon. It is my own gift after driving so much. Whenn I enter the room I realize two huge windows face the mountain range and the views are astonishing. I can’t wait to wake up next morning!

Breakfasts are real banquets here. Mei bring different dishes from Taiwanese traditional cuisine for me and prepare local things, she said I could not find easily in the street. A traditional tea of peanuts, sugar and beans is served. To me, it looks like a soup, of course it does not have tea leaves, but it is still called tea by them. Also, she prepares hakka tea for me to taste, since she knows I want to improve my knowledge of Taiwanese teas.

In the evening, Mr. Su prepares Alishan tea for me in traditional style and give me pineapple cookies, while we prepare the itinerary for the next day. They will introduce me to some friends growing tea in the nearby township of Ruisuei. It would be great to have somebody who can translate for me in case somebody is not good with English. Definetely a very welcoming people and place, strongly recommended.

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Drama or tragedy

I reach Hualien City and I got a scooter in PONY, just in front of the train station. The woman is not specially nice, but she gives me a discount for a 10 days scooter rent.

Leaving Hualien City is not difficult, just follow Zhongshan Road and in front of the sea turn right. The road takes its time to enter in the East Coast Scenic Area, but once it does, it drives you crazy. The mountains drop into the sea in a dramatic way and, at moments, it becomes really tragic. The road is very less crowded and whenever I stop, I feel lonely between the clouds, the sea and the mountains. The landscape is as breathtaking that at times I feel I could hear the sound of a huge rock sliding down into de sea after a storm thousand years ago, or breaking in thousand of pieces in the wide valleys that break the mountain range from time to time.

On the road, some B&B face the Pacific Ocean, there are some restaurants literally hanging over the waves with amazing sights, but not many petrol stations or 7eleven. It is a totally different Taiwan, where I could meet the sublime for a while. Imagine a pink piano played by a Hungarian musician, in love with Schubert.  Imagine a beach on the way, down the cliff, dark sand and a brave sea. Silence, wave, silence, wave, silence. Imagine!

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