Beaches, Leeches and Books

Taiwan isn’t really a place where you can afford to allow things like natures bad side stop you. Case in point, since I got to Fuhlong – a beach on the east coast of the island I’ve had to deal with some pretty big spiders, some pretty enormous cockroaches, and a very small leech.

I won’t tell you I’m brave about this stuff – cockroaches especially are a bit freaky (especially when they decide to make a beeline for the inside of the fridge when you open the door) but when you combine it with the remnants of a typhoon, leaky beach houses, hungry bedbugs, stray dogs and completely unusual food, you realise it’s all just part of the experience. I quite like it actually.

This is the first time I’ve been near a computer since I got here four days ago (Chris, who lives next door and speaks fluent mandarin, has been kind enough to let me use his mac) and quite happily I’ve discovered the world is not falling apart. This time up here alone in the beach house has allowed me time to read a couple of books (J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Michael Crichton’s Sphere), take it easy, do some hiking, do some mountain biking and explore the coast line.

No one here really speaks any English, so getting by can be pretty funny. My manderin is limited to saying hello, asking for chicken or pork meat and thanking people (or thanking them a lot). I’ve also learnt about five chinese characters, but it’s not particularly useful unless I something is big, in the middle and I want to go in to it or exit it.

This doesn’t stop people trying to talk to you. Usually the westerners who are here during the summer weekends do speak some (it’s a necessity if you are here for any period of time) but I think the locals expect that. One lady appeared at the back door of the house and spoke to me for a least five minutes after collecting the contents of my bin. I have no idea what she was going on about.

Nick stayed the first night we arrived here but as he had to work he headed back to Jungli on Tuesday, but not until we’d taken out a tandem bike. It wasn’t exactly the most masculine thing to do – two lads, riding a tandem, carrying a small sausage dog in the front basket while riding through the countryside. Thankfully, I’ve seen much stranger things here, so I can’t say I was that bothered. Chris thought it was funny though.

The weather has been steady – we’ve had a couple of bursts of rain overnight, but on the whole the days have been clear, and the last bits of the typhoon have fizzled out. It’s not exactly clear skies, but it gave me an opportunity yesterday to hike up to a monastery in the mountains behind the beach.

The place was pretty deserted, and the final ascent demanded some pretty ‘rural’ travel – through quite a lot of overgrown greenery. Flip flops were never the explorer’s footwear of choice, so it wasn’t entirely a surprise that I discovered that a leech had attached itself to my ankle.

From my experience in Nepal (where I had seen a guide remove one by ripping it from between his toes) I decided against that bloody course of action. With a bit of boy scout ingenuity, I headed into the Buddhist monastery and lit an incense stick and tried to burn the thing off (pretty much the only option unless you’re prepared to wait for it to get its fill and drop off naturally). Thankfully no one was around to witness the thing – it doesn’t hurt – that is the leech bite doesn’t. But what does hurt is if you manage to burn yourself with the end of the incense. Turns out it works like a dream, but it took three separate attempts to get the bastard, who initially recoiled, but then bit again. Twice. Eventually it worked though and I went on my way, burn marks, leech marks and all.

I’ve drunk more beer and played more chess than I’ve had in a longwhile, and it’s quite refreshing being in a place so deserted and empty. The Chinese who do live here don’t really venture outside at this time of year, and with no westerners around (because it’s not the weekend) I’ve pretty much had the place to myself.

Nick’s back tonight and we’re going to make a decision about what we will do over the weekend – either stay or head south to Taroko Gorge. Anyway, time to take the bike out…