Saturday, February 07, 2015

Lanyu. Because Goats.

The landscapes are littered with goats. 'scape goats, you know.

Haven't blogged because Lanyu. Again. Wanted to try the island during winter vacation. In the summer, Lanyu's predominant color is green, in the winter, silver. It was lovely, but in a more desolate, lonelier way. In the off season the shops are boarded up and the streets are under repair. Things are harder to find. But the people still want to have a beer with you, the sea, sky, and rock are still gorgeous, and the experience still worth it. And a free goat guaranteed with every picture! Click READ MORE to see the whole picture-laden post...

First stop before Lanyu was Taitung city. You can also get a ferry from Houbihu in Kenting, but it doesn't run in the winter. Instead, four of us, my wife, myself, and my friends Amy and Paul were flying both ways. We hoped. Here my wife and my friend Amy horse around in the little park that used to be the train station area. The lanterns in the back were made by local elementary school students.

Of course, have to have seafood in Taitung. We visited my favorite Taiwanese-style Japanese restaurant.

My wife at the airport. Fine day for flying, thank all gods.

This 19 seater aircraft is why I take the ferry. I hate airplanes. I hate small airplanes. And really really small airplanes? I really really hate them.

The pilots were used to being photographed. They handled their job with professional aplomb and we landed without incident, except for me screaming and crying.

We stayed at the Lan de Yu Minsu (Google Map link). Pros -- clean, nice sized towels, right next to ocean, and right next to decent restaurant serving a limited range of dishes, the only one I know of on the island. Food was ok. Owner was super nice. Cons -- no furniture in room except bed, is 15 minute walk to town of Imourod/Hongtou, though that was a pro for me, since Imourod/Hongtou has sudden outbreaks of noise at night. It's expensive for me, $5000 for 2/3 bdr room in summer, $3000 in offseason.

From our place, views south toward the Qingqing Grass Field and north towards Imourod/Hongtou were excellent.

My wife poses. There's nothing like Lanyu on a gorgeous day.

Like all places to stay, they had scooters for us, included in the room cost. These should be considered a must, unless you have a bike.

The fruit selection at the small supermarket in Imourod/Hongtou.

A family of pigs make a break for it on a Imourod/Hongtou street.

After settling in to the rooms and grabbing lunch we went off to the grass field to enjoy the afternoon sun.

Lovely views from the area.

Great rock formations.

A pair of local dogs appeared, following us around and then "treeing" the goats on a rock formation.

The man to the bottom right was engaged in walking around the island, an idea I filed away for future reference. Such interesting people are common on Lanyu. Thankfully, the island doesn't seem to attract the pouty, overdressed, pale-skinned, pink purse and poodle-equipped females with their well-coiffed, manly, sexually possessive boyfriends hovering anxiously by them that populate the tourist areas around Taiwan.


After we visited the grassy area, we popped in at the old village. You can find it -- by the bridge on the way back there's a couple of wooden signs. Turn in on the tiny road there -- the entrance to the path is only about twenty meters. Here Paul and Amy take pictures of each other.

Then we went back into town for lunch and beers. Amy and my wife went down to the beach to take pictures of the boats. The light was amazing.

Green Island and Taiwan were clearly visible in the orange glow of sunset.

Dinner. What kind of sea vegetable would you like?

Chinese style dishes were also on offer.

On Day 2, we headed out to circumnavigate the island. Imourod village in the local language, Hongtou (紅頭) in Chinese.

Alas, rain clouds gathered...

Amy and Paul decided to turn back, but my wife and I went on, adhering to the simple principle that the weather gods reward the faithful. Sure enough, as soon as we cleared this hole the rain stopped. It was only raining in a narrow band over the southern end of the island.

The silver land of Lanyu.

Bedraggled but happy, we rode on. We kept are rain gear on because you know the rule: as soon as you take it off, it starts raining. We felt humbled knowing that by the simple act of wearing our rain gear, we were keeping the whole north end of the island dry.

These walls are amazing. They are made of coral rocks set in dirt, and concreted in some places for stability.

Even in the tourist season it's as desolate as this.

We stopped often for pictures.

The rock formations begged to be shot from every angle.

When you get up on a small rise, the views are amazing.

The great bay on the other side of the island, from the small parking lot next to the Lover's Cave.

You thread your way through the coral rocks down to the water.

Past the bones of dead goats.

Where the sea crashes through the rocks with a mighty HOOM!

A lovely place. The turnoff is right past the concrete barrier as you come over the hill from the north.

We stopped by the cat house next to the great bay.

Any view of it is gorgeous.

We met our friend from the previous day, still walking around the island.

Boats at rest, waiting for their owners to use them.

Goatz rul.

This pig came out to say hello to us when we visited a local noodle shop. Our impression from the friendliness of animals is that they must be very well treated.

These little noodle shops (小吃) with very limited menus are pretty much the only restaurants available in the off-season.

We stopped by the village with the local houses next to the traditional concrete boxes.

Dug in against typhoons, these are sensible homes. My wife was quite interested in them.

We stopped a little further down and parked on the other side of the road. My wife posed for a picture. Suddenly I heard the terrifying sound of skittering spiders: landslide in progress! We ran to the other side of the road. The next day the side of the road was filled with softball sized rocks.

Stopping by the bus stop for a shot.

I climbed one of the little hills...

...but I was nothing compared to this goat.

A plaque declaring ROC territorial sovereignty over Lanyu. And also the Diaoyutai.

After we returned, we found that Amy's husband Paul wasn't feeling well, so the three of us headed up to the Weather Station. Don't miss this when you come to Lanyu. Because the roads were slick, we parked below and walked up.

And walked.

And walked.

Don't pee here.

A pair of rambunctious puppies assaulted us when we came into the weather station.

Amy and my wife inspect the old Japanese weather station, still bullet-holed from the US raid in WWII.

Looking down on the volcano, a puppy hides under the table.

Amy, energetic, adventurous, cute, and competent, took a ton of selfies.

A shot of Imourod/Hongtou.

Sunset enjoyed again.

I tried some long exposure night shots. Lotsa fun.

In the morning I got up early and spotted this hawk. He was flying up and down the seafront, obviously hunting.

Sure enough, he eventually took a snake from a nearby cove.

Day three: we got up to hit the road in anticipation of flying out in the afternoon.

Looking like a lovely day....

It alternated between silver and green.

Lanyu's only gas station opens at 8 AM, so we stopped for gas and coffee at the new 7-11.

Looking back.

Lots of lovely sea today, richly blue.

As a goat guarded its young, Amy and her husband Paul took pictures near the tunnel.

Rocks were glorious, as always.

The amount of trash strewn about Lanyu is distressing.

There are many many goats in this picture. I guarantee it.

The wind was brutal, and feeling cold, Any's husband Paul took a walk to warm up.

We stopped to image everything.

What a difference a day makes.

This area is my favorite set of rocks on the island.

It's evocative. I must have taken a hundred images here.

We stopped at the little souvenir shop.

Explored the cave.

Photo'd the coast.

Then into town.

Got some shots of the hole in the wall.

Amy went back for some more boat pics.

The southeast end of the island has a vast flat area covered with fields.

As you come around, Little Lanyu hoves into view.

The only structure on this side is the nuclear waste dump. This side is a beguiling desolation.

Wild and lonely.

A goat contemplates me contemplating Little Lanyu.

Lungmen port, for the nuke waste dump, is quite photogenic.

Amy had a great time taking selfies.

Alas, we hurried back to our minsu for nothing. The winds and rain had killed flights, so we couldn't get off the island on Wednesday. We resolved to try again on the morrow.

In the morning my wife and I got up early, went into Imourod and had breakfast at Yaken there, then walked around the little town.

With no place to put trash, piles of stuff are everywhere.

Boats in every nook and cranny.

I ran into one of the locals out and about early in the morning.

Then it was off to the airport to wait. And wait. And wait. Note the sign, complete with mistranslations. My favorite part is the information on ceiling and visibility. The vast accumulation of dust on the tape shows that the ceiling is always 1500 meters and the visibility is always 5000 meters.

Paul and I went out for a walk. We could've had a McCafe in the tourist season.

The airport is run with cheerful Taiwanese indifference to the convenience of those waiting. No computer tells you what is going on, the waiting list is handwritten -- more on that later -- there are no sockets for charging stuff (the police will let you use theirs), and no place to leave luggage. You just have to sit there, hour after hour, hoping your name will be called off the waiting list. Thursday was lost this way.

However, there is a copy of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep in Chinese, so I forgave the airport its transgressions.

Friday morning we enjoyed another morning of waiting at the airport. By then all the people waiting had bonded and we had become like family.

After examing, one plane came. But didn't take us. We gave up on the airplane, and headed over for the ferry.

We killed time by photographing every inch of the port area and enjoying coffee and a light lunch at 7-11.

I grabbed a position on the deck to await our leavetaking. This cute couple, students in Taichung, stayed up there with me the whole time. The young lady there had done a volunteer stint in Kashmir.

Paul takes a pic with this blustering tourist from Beijing, bragging about how his camera, phone, etc, were all better than Paul's and how lucky I was to have a "Chinese" wife. Fortunately she wasn't present when he said that, or he might have ended up as a eunuch swimming back to Taiwan. He was such a caricature, I assumed his personality was a cover and he was actually an intelligence agent. No one could really be like that, right? Even better, as we waited at the pier for the boat to go, the captain lost the papers in the wind and they blew into the water between the ship and the pier. The harbor master was adamant: ship couldn't leave without proper papers. Finally some enterprising, or perhaps exasperated, crewman managed to nab them with a long hook. I guess the papers could not be redone, but briny, dripping papers soaked in engine oil and harbor garbage with a long hole ripped down the center of them are perfectly acceptable. The flexibility of Taiwanese bureaucracy is infinite.

Amazing people up top, a key reason I like standing on the deck. This girl had cycled round the island the day before, and took the boat back sitting in that spot, oblivious to the spray and the biting wind. We clustered in the center. The ride took 2:40. High point: a pod of dolphins cruising past us, with young. Was lovely beyond belief. I was so happy to see them. That's why I stand on the deck, to watch Lanyu recede and Taiwan advance, to watch for dolphins and flying fish, to survey the freighters by the score, to dream of whales...

The Taitung train station. We made the port at 5:10, earlier than I expected, which was nice, and so got an early train back to Taichung.

PRO TIP: In the winter there may be long stretches -- like a week, even -- when no planes come to the island due to the high winds. Hence, if you are flying to/from the island, the single most important document on Lanyu is the waiting list for the flights at the airport. If you are coming to the airport on a less than perfect day, the FIRST -- let me repeat that -- FIRST thing you do when you get in the airport is put your name on that document. EVEN IF you have tickets and have booked a flight -- there's no guarantee you will have a plane (goats, however, are guaranteed). Better to put your name again a little further down, everyone local writes it at least twice, sometimes more. Since the plane carries 19 passengers, they leave 19 empty spaces, then add their names. The list urgency is because the airline uses the system of whoever has booked a flight goes on it, then names are taken IN ORDER off the waiting list, and you must be there to hear your name called. You will soon join the ritual of constantly checking the waiting list like everyone else when you come in.

How the list works is simple: if you are on the 10:30 and it is cancelled, you are not bumped to the 11:30. You are CANCELLED. You do not have priority, have no guaranteed seat on any plane, and will be relegated to the waiting list. Hence, it is vital that your name be high up on that list if you want a seat. The 11:30 flight is first given to those who have booked at 11:30, and then if there are empty seats, the waiting list names are called. You must be PHYSICALLY present to answer. If you are not, they move on to the next name after calling yours out twice. The waiting list IS rolled over to the next day and even the next, so you do not lose your priority on that list if a new day dawns. Going on a plane as a waiting list member is all luck, say the locals.

On Thursday as we were waiting, there were lots of no-shows for the early flight, then no planes. The waiting list quickly dwindled to just a few names above ours. Finally a plane! The sound of its engines quickly waned, and it flew back to Taiwan without landing. The wind had damaged it slightly (news report). There were goats on the runway. The official explanation for the failed landing was wind shear, but in my heart I know it was the goats. We wasted a whole day at the airport, waiting for our names to be called, with no aircraft coming in, then wasted the following morning in the same manner.

The ferry, on the other hand, was almost empty and seats are easy to get, as usual this time of year. You can buy tickets at the pier a half-hour before the boat is scheduled to go. Best to call the ferry company and double check, it sometimes leaves early due to weather.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Dave Flynn said...

Cheers for the write up and great photos, I've never been there and hope to go in the future. A big thanks for the tips about the airport, very useful!

Linda said...

I really enjoyed the pictures. I've been to Lanyu several times. My godson (gan er) is Dawu from Lanyu.

I got a story from him about the concrete pens that are on the seafront in one of the pictures:

The government built the pens to try to get the people of Lanyu to pen in the pigs. But they wouldn't use it. A burial ground with unmarked graves is about 50 feet away. I asked him, would using the place as a pigpen be an insult to the ancestors? No, he said, it would be an insult to the pigs.

This highlights the very different attitude of Chinese and indigenous to ancestors. Chinese say the fortunes of the descendants depend on how well they treat their parents and ancestors, e.g. with commemoration -- they look backward. Indigenous people look forward -- in Lanyu, a person's name changes when they have a child, to "parent of xxx", then to "grandparent of xxx".

In contrast, the dead are buried the day they die, and told not to come back.


Michael Turton said...

Great comment. I heard about the name thing last time I was there. It also shows how the State forces identities on people instead of adapting to their practices...

Michael Turton said...

You are right. Next time you coming to Barbados give me a shout out

Mike Fagan said...

The hawk was, I think, a Black Kite. Well done for getting that shot with it carrying the snake!