I Survived Yue Mei Kang: Bear Grylls’s Got Nothing On Me

 “I don’t think we’re going the right way” is how our real adventure started.

Mal and I had heard about a river trace in Jiaoxi and though it would be a great Sunday trip. We didn’t really know what to expect, or honestly, where we were going, but found a promising trail.

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The trail is steep and chalked with forks, so like any would-be Indiana Jones we started following the mysterious red arrows painted on rocks and trees. We had been meaning to get to the river but instead were climbing a mountain.

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That’s when we decided to back track and our story starts to get interesting. After winding our way back to the river, it was time to cool off. We split from the trail and found a great little fall to swim at. The water was fresh and cool and the perfect depth to do cannon balls off the fall.

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All of a sudden we were in the midst of forty Chinese tourists and the luxury of our secluded private pool was quickly lost.

They all headed back down on the path we had taken up, so we made the most obvious choice, leave the safety of the trail and follow the river all the way back down to the park entrance.

It started out easy enough with a few easy traverses down into shallow pools, but when we got to the third waterfall things got real. At this point it was still completely feasible to turn back and get back on the trail but being headstrong adventurers (idiots) we forded onward.

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This particular waterfall was beautiful but too high to safely leap, luckily for us there was a slippery mud soaked rope that went down, under a rock bridge and off a small overhanging boulder. While, this rappel wasn’t all that high, it was awkward and the rope was less than confidence inspiring.

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After that we were sure that we were on easy street…NO. Just past our treacherous abseil was an even gnarlier waterfall. Mallory uneasily pointed out that the rock bolts on the edge probably meant that it was going to be a rough climb down. She was right.

Getting down involved straddling the fall and then sidling up as close to the right side and jumping out as far as you possibly could, all the while hoping and praying that there wasn’t a hidden rock to break your fall.

I went first and to my great relief it was a deep pool with a relatively mild current.  Mal was getting ready for her leap of faith, and what do you know, her biggest jungle fear showed up to keep us company, a snake swam right down the fall and was wading in the pool.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do about it though and we splashed past it without getting bit (honestly it was probably harmless, but no sense in testing it out). After that we had a nice easy wade back to the trail to little the adrenaline settle.

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The main attraction, Yue Mei Kang Fall, is an awesome sight. It’s relatively tall with a wide, shallow pool at the bottom. This is a perfect summer time trek.

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If you go to the base of Wufengxi trail, instead of going up the stairs cross the river where all the kids swim and head up the dirt trail. Getting to the base of the fall and back down should take an hour or two. Safe travels!

This site has good instructions on getting up to the fall.

http://www.mandarintaiwan.com/2/post/2011/09/yang-mei-kang-waterfall-hike.html

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gAstronomical Adventures – Japanese in Jiaoxi

Yesterday we took an afternoon excursion in the hills of Jiaoxi near Wufengci Waterfall, which included a steep climb straight up a mountain, some bouldering, a bit of repelling, swimming, and at least one near death experience. Needless to say, I was ravenous by the time we arrived back at our scooter.

We had planned on going to a Japanese restaurant, Le Shan, which we had tried a couple of times before. We headed into town excited for sushi, but not so much for the restaurant itself, as the staff is horribly rude and there is no English menu. We figured we’d just use our rudimentary Chinese skill combined with menu roulette, and see what we ended up with.

Well, thank goodness they hadn’t yet opened for dinner because we tried out the place next door instead, and it was fantastic all around. Xiao Liu Restaurant is a must visit if you are in Jiaoxi. The menu offers sushi, sashimi, and nigiri, along with other 小吃 (xiao chi – literally, small eats).

Although they don’t have an English menu, they have lots of photos on the menu, as well as a sushi bar up front where you could easily point at the different types of fish you wanted. However, the owner’s English is impeccable, and he helped us find exactly what we wanted to eat. He also gave us some seared squid to try, which we both agreed was some of the most well prepared squid we had ever eaten.

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Happy eating seared squid!

The prices are a little steep compared to the general Taiwanese fare, but for the food and the service, they are totally reasonable. We had an assorted sashimi plate, seared salmon, and some rice-stuffed bean curd skin, totaling about NT660 or US$22. Pretty dang good if you ask me. I’m sure at home we’d have paid at least $40 for the same meal.

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Our spread (after the better part of it went straight to our bellies)

For me, Xiao Liu is a complete 180 from the place next door (which I think is a super famous restaurant in Jiaoxi – it’s always packed).  The sushi at Xiao Liu is just as good, if not better, and the service isn’t even comparable. Our experience here was a perfect example of the Taiwanese friendliness and hospitality that so many travelers and expats in Taiwan speak of.

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 Outside they even have a little hot spring bath for your feet. How luxurious!

How to find it:

Coming in from Yilan City, continue on Jiaoxi Rd into the main downtown area, and turn right on lane 108. The lane only has two restaurants so just look for the Xiao Liu Restaurant sign. From the train station, just head up towards Jiaoxi Rd and turn left; take another left on lane 108. Happy sushi!

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宜蘭縣礁溪鄉礁溪路5段108巷1-1號

Who You Callin’ Shrimp?

Has this ever happened to you? Your friend says, “what should we do.”

You respond, “Let’s hit the bar.”

He says, “Naw, let’s go clubin’.”

And then… “I know lets go shrimp fishing!!”

Well it happened to me. Shrimp fishing is exactly what it sounds like, catching shrimp. But it is so much more than that.

My friend Steve called me and asked if I wanted to go try it out. I didn’t have anything else going on and thought it might be a little fun, to my delight it was a shit load of fun. Five of us drove to Jiaoxi, a nearby, town famous for its hot springs.

We pulled into the parking lot adjacent to rice patties. If you can imagine an empty warehouse building with several concrete pools inside, you have a pretty good visual. We paid our NT$700 for a couple of hours, bait and “fishing poles.” I say “fishing” poles because it was really just a stick with a string on it.

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We got set up at the big daddy tank i.e. adult male shrimp. After a few minutes we were catching shrimp left and right. When we thinned out the pool enough the owner would come over and restock it. By the time we had finished 20 beers and a bottle of Whisbi we had about 20 jumbo shrimp in our nets and our time wasup.

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That’s not the end of shrimp fishing though. After you catch ‘em you cook ‘em. While the designated driver cooked for us Steve and our other friend Stephen got friendly with the owner and his pals.

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Things got a little fuzzy for me after we taught our new Taiwanese friends how to shot gun beer. I do remember eating a lot of shrimp, getting invited boar hunting and speaking the worst Chinese of my life.

Shrimp fishing is amazing, but make sure you have a DD and nothing to do the next day.

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I traded dirt paths for paved roads, but I found some things I think could help

Despite growing up a complete city girl in Seattle, living in rural Oregon for 5 years before I moved to Taiwan turned me into a small-town recluse, cowering at the sight of city lights. I was always able to escape and take a walk in the woods to help calm my nerves or soothe my worries. I became so accustomed to the comfort of being surrounded by nature, of not having to walk but 10 minutes up the road to find myself out of town and in the forest, that I started to forget people lived any other way.

Moving to Taiwan, I was a little bit saddened and a little bit terrified by the prospect of living in a big city like Taipei or Taichung, but the excitement about coming here pushed those little worries to the back of my mind. Lucky for me we didn’t end up in one of those Taiwanese giants. Although Yilan City is small, it is still a city, complete with towering apartment buildings, flashing lights, traffic jams, and bustling markets. I’m not afraid of dying while walking along the streets here like I sometimes am in Taipei, but I can’t escape the crowds or the noise within the mini-metropolis. It’s a way off from the idyllic mountain towns of Southern Oregon.

This brings me to my main point, which is that one of the amazing things about this country is that it’s so compact. Whether you are in Taipei or in little Yilan City, it is amazingly quick and easy to get out of town and into the mountains.  It’s not exactly a 10-minute walk, but it’s nothing more than a quick drive or bus ride.

Yilan City doesn’t have the convenience of public transportation like Taipei does, but we are so close to some beautiful mountain and ocean spots. We recently rode our scooter only 30 minutes from our apartment and found ourselves on a trail following a gorgeous clear mountain creek. Another short scoot to our neighboring town Jiaoxi brought us to the Old Paoma trail, an old logging road which offers some amazing views of the coast and Turtle Island as well as some really lush trails.

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The trailhead of the Paoma Trail. Check out that greenery in the background! You could totally walk here from the train station in Jiaoxi.
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Me on the trail looking way less happy than I was, I assure you. I want to eat that delicious looking forest.

Some of the more famous spots that we’ve visited are really developed, with paved open paths, and seem to be really busy all of the time. Our visit to Si Shou Shan in Taipei City, which we expected to be an epic hike, turned out to be more like a little stroll in a park. There was a ton of trash around and it was super crowded. It was definitely nice to get a little exercise, but didn’t really offer much in the way of scenery other than a view of Taipei 101, and this sign:

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Nevertheless, it’s really comforting to know that even though we are in the middle of the city, those uninhabited places that I treasure are not too far away. I know that I can escape for a day if I need to.