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By this Author: spsadventures

Tarangire

Tarangire, Tanzania

In the morning, we tried to pick up some more water at a supermarket or convenience store, but nothing near the hotel was open.
We checked out and met our guide and representative from our safari tour company- Elyon Tours.
After a brief introduction, we hopped into our safari vehicle and were on our way.
The vehicle is well-outfitted. It has charging ports, a mini fridge, wifi and convenience pockets. The seats are relatively comfortable and the vehicle is spacious, at least for just the 2 of us.
First, we passed through the outskirts of town, where we saw busy markets teeming with people. I got excited again to see many carrying things on their heads. These markets had tons of good-looking produce. I hope our next hotel has a kitchen and that we can take advantage of that.
The first stop we made was at the Aim mall supermarket for more water. While they provide a liter per person per day, I know I drink way more than that. This supermarket was very clean, had wide aisles, and looked like a fancy supermarket from abroad. In contrast to the markets in town, they had a cheese section, a deli, and even fresh scooped ice cream, none of which we got.
With our additional water in hand, we were once more on our way.
We took a quick look at a coffee plantation while our guide, Eli, explained the coffee process to us.
The next segment of the drive passed lots of agriculture with an occasional industrial zone. We saw a bunch of guys making cement blocks, amongst other things.
The whole way, plenty of people walked the road shoulders, or biked, or ran. Some kids drove cattle.
half modern masai

half modern masai

The scenery was interesting. We passed over many places that were clearly dried riverbeds. I guess that in the rainy season they are full, but not now. We also saw some crazy trees that looked like they had cacti for branches. The guide said these are cacti, but they look very different than cacti I've seen before.
cactus tree

cactus tree


We stopped by some Masai lands to take a non-touristy peek from afar into their lifestyle. Per the guide, they don't mix with other tribes because they don't want to lose their culture. That's also why they generally don't send their kids to school.
The guide said they mostly eat from their cattle and don't grow anything, but that the government has been encouraging them to diversify their diet. The village was saw had some corn planted nearby, but did appear to be in more of a grazing area. It was a bit difficult to see details of the houses from afar, but they appeared to be grey-brown, round huts made from dried grass.
masai village

masai village


We passed several more Masai villages, each with mostly round mud and plant-based huts, although some also had rectangular barn-looking buildings made from brick or cement and corrugated roofs. And we passed several more herders with their herds of mini-goats with tinkling bells.
For the most part, the Masai wore their sari/toga-like wraps. But a few had modern clothes, like a kid with the adidas sweatshirt over his wrap, or guys with jeans sticking out from the bottom of their wrap.
The scenery was very yellow and dry, although spotted with lots of green trees and these plants that stuck up high into the air. the guide said those were sisal, from agave cacti, like the kind they make tequila from.
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Nanja is a Masai village that is a bit different from the others. It is a market town where Masai come to trade. So, non-Masai also live there. The buildings are all sturdy and look like they are made from painted concrete.
We saw a group of Masai boys that were wearing all black and had white painted faces. The guide explained that this group of boys is going through their circumcision ritual, which involves spending months separated from their families.
As we neared Tarangire park, we began to see wild animals. I wouldn't have known that they weren't Masai herds, but the guide has good eyes. We pulled over an in one spot saw a small group of wildebeest to the left and zebra to the right.
The main road we had been on was impressively well-paved. But once we turned off for Tarangire, it turned to gravel and it was good we were in a powerful vehicle. At points, the dust was so bad we had to pause due to the whiteout conditions.
Despite the dust kicked up by all of the vehicles, kids lined the side of the road, waving to us. We waved back. After several dozen, I asked the guide if there was a reason so many kids did this. It's because lots of people throw candy out to the kids. It's sort of like non-costumed , every day trick or treating. And it wasn't tourists that were throwing things. A school bus full of kids threw packages of cookies. And another bus of locals threw out some more treats.
We arrived at Tarangire National Park and took a quick bathroom break. It was free, but you were supposed to tip the attendant. The lady that was cleaning them was doing a very good job of making sure they were nice and had paper.
We looked around the entrance area. One clearing contained some skulls and bones from elephants, wildebeests, and other animals. I guess some park guides use the area for explaining something.
We climbed a large viewing tower to get an overview of the scenery nearby. The tower was full of students in their school uniforms also taking a look. Kids here are just like kids anywhere else. One was pranking his friends by walking around, holding his phone up and saying "selfie" and having people pose, then moving on to others to do the same. His phone was one of the old Nokia 12-button phones with no camera. But the modern instinct to pose for the camera when somebody says "selfie" is so strong that we noticed the phone only after we had smiled for the camera.
While we looked around, Eli put the top up on the vehicle. It pops up so that it still provides shade to the interior, but we can stand up and poke our heads out in order to see better. Really, they thought of everything with this vehicle.
One we had DEETed up, we were ready to go into the park.
About ten seconds into the park, we already saw our first animals- a herd of impala. We saw both a bachelor group eating in the shade, as well as a female group with their one male.
Next, we saw some bandit mongoose. They have stripes that make them look sort of like lithe armadillo from afar. Fortunately, we had both the binoculars that we brought and the really great ones from the tour company and so we got a really great look at them.
Next, we visited a watering hole and got super lucky. This spot had a wide variety of different animals, all happily drinking together. No species bothered the other and they each just kind of did their thing and ignored the other animals. Here, we saw our first elephants, as well as geese, wildebeests, impala, zebra, and giraffe.
zebras at waterhole

zebras at waterhole


The elephant herds must be very fertile as there were tons of babies and medium-small elephants. Our guide says that a whole bunch will get pregnant at the same time. They have their babies and nurse around 3 years (until the babies have tusks that hurt the moms while feeding.) Nobody has babies during this time. Then, they'll all get pregnant again and repeat the cycle.
elephants on parade

elephants on parade


One elephant was left behind as the herd moved on. We got to hear him trumpet "wait up" to the rest of the herd, and watch him run to catch up. This is so cool. These elephants are nothing like the ones in a zoo.
At another watering hole, a group of elephants drank, played in the mud, and scraped themselves on trees. When they left the hole, another group came by for the same thing. I was enthralled by the babies splashing and playing around as the adults calmly splashed water onto themselves with their trunks.
elephant mud bathing

elephant mud bathing


This drinking hole also had a lot of dragonflies that looked like little helicopters and some lapwing plovers. (I didn't know what a lapwing plover looked like before today, but our guide is really good and knows all of the animals.) We spotted our first warthogs here.
Our guide was really good at getting us to animals that didn't have too much of a crowd around them. We got near some giraffes and were the only ones around to see them twitch. I'm guessing they have these muscle spasms to keep flies away. We were near enough that Eli could teach us how to tell females and males apart by the "horns" on the top of their heads.
giraffes

giraffes


We saw a family of baboons head for some shade. Several of the moms carried their children on their backs. As they walk on all fours, it looked like the baby baboons were play-riding a horse.
baboons

baboons


While lots of elephants travel in herds, we also saw quite a few lone elephants. Generally, these are bulls.
The spot we picked for lunch had a great view of a zebra herd. We chewed as we watched them chew. Zebra is also one of new favorite animals because they cuddle. We saw several zebra that stood up against another zebra, tip-to-tail and rested their heads on each other. They apparently cuddle for safety and to minimize flies.
cuddling zebras

cuddling zebras


Amongst the zebras we ate with was a lost wildebeest baby. It wailed for its mommy for quite some time as it was lost.
We saw waterbuck, some Lilac breasted rollers, starlings, vultures, heron, monitor lizards, ostrich, bee eaters, and white butterflies.
vulture

vulture


The termites here build very large mounds. Many of these are taller than a person. While they are intended as a termite home, some other animals have other ideas for the projects. We saw red and yellow barbets waiting on a mound to scoop up their dinner.
red and yellow barbet

red and yellow barbet


Some dwarf mongoose had turned one mound into their home as well, and were popping in and out of the mound.
mongoose in termite mound

mongoose in termite mound


Tanzania is in the dry season right now, and a lot of the riverbeds are empty. While this means that we get to see all of the animals easily just by visiting a few water holes, it also means that some animals get creative in their hunt for water. The elephants sometimes dig in the dried riverbed until they reach a layer of water below.
elephant and zebra

elephant and zebra


Several groups of tiny grassland pipers scattered in large groups as something disturbed them.
In addition to lots of safari vehicles carrying foreign tourists, we saw lots of buses full of school children in their uniforms. What an amazing school field trip!
As mentioned, our guide was able to keep us in quieter areas for the most part. But sometimes traffic was just unavoidable. Somebody saw a lioness and must have alerted others. We were some of the first ones nearby so we saw her in relative quiet for a minute. And then, the vehicles started pouring in. There was traffic jam caused by a lioness.
She was sort of watching a nearby river (that did have water) as some zebra came to drink. We were some of the first ones to go see the zebra, and then a half-dozen other vehicles joined. The zebra here jockeyed for good drinking positions. At some point, they must have seen or felt the lioness, as they all started barking. The sound they made was like a small dog's yap.
zebras

zebras


We went back to check on the lioness from another angle and saw that she was still just sitting in the shade, twitching her ears. Then, she stood up and we got excited! Were we going to see her hunt!?!? No. She sat back down and resumed her position.
animals in the road

animals in the road


As we moved around the park, the scenery was generally the same- tan dirt, savannah grass, and trees periodically providing shade for animals. And then, we were in an area where the dirt was a rust color instead of tan. Later, we saw ground that was blackened from a controlled burn. Even later, we were in an area with gray dirt. The guide explained that it's just different minerals, not some interesting geological reason.
One of our last stops for the day was a huge baobob called "Poacher's Hide." Baobobs are hollow trees. Back when there were more poachers, they would make a hole in a tree and then climb in to watch for animals. Today, it's one of the few places in the park where you can get out of the vehicle. We climbed into the tree for pictures. It was full of butterflies, but otherwise unoccupied. Two people who put their arms out side by side would still not touch the two sides of the tree.
For most of the day, there were a minimal amount of flies that found their way into our vehicle. I've eaten at restaurants with more. But whether it was the time of day or the section of park, after the big baobob, there were lots of flies in our vehicle. (It wasn't nearly half as bad as Uluru, but these flies are more dangerous.) The vehicle was equipped with fly swatters, so we had a go at them.
Now, some people may think it's not nice to kill animals when they are in their own territory. 1- the car is not theirs. We didn't leave the vehicle to find flies, they came to us. 2- these could be tsetse flies or other biting ones that carry disease. I'm not taking my chances.
In fact, one fly we swatted had clearly had a nice meal before entering the car. When we swatted it, it left a trail of red blood from some poor animal on the window. We cleaned that up.
Having already seen dozens of species, from blood-sucking flies to mighty elephants, we didn't expect to see much new on the way out of the park. We were wrong.
zebra face

zebra face


We spotted what we thought was a baby impala as it only came up to our knees. Eli identified it as a fully-grown adult dikdik. And then, he pointed out an Eland, which also looks similar to an impala. Our last new animal of the day was guinea fowl.
Today's animal summary: impala, wildebeest, elephant, geese, zebra, giraffe, bandit mongoose, dragonflies, lapwing plover, warthog, baboons, waterbuck, Lilac breasted rollers, starlings, vultures, heron, monitor lizards, ostrich, bee eaters, and white butterflies, red and yellow barbet, dwarf mongoose, grassland pipers, lions, flies, vultures, dikdik, eland, guinea fowl. Not bad.
ostriches

ostriches


On the way out of the park, we passed the same road lined with children as we did on the way in. The lunches provided to us had been very big and we hadn't been able to finish them. One item left over were packets of sweet crackers. Our guide pulled over at a few spots on the road and handed them out to the kids. The kids scrambled to get them. But, the older ones were nice enough to lift up the younger ones so that they could reach the window, or to pass them back so that everybody got some.
kids looking for handouts

kids looking for handouts


We also passed another group of the boys in black with painted white faces. This time, our guide pulled over to negotiate an acceptable photo price. We ended up paying 10000 Tanzanian Shillings (under $5) for the whole group to take a few pictures with us. They let us hold their sticks for the photos. The sticks are extremely smooth- they almost feel like glass. Eli explained that these sticks are used to control and direct the cattle.
On the way to our lodge, we passed a Masai church. They have their own religion and beliefs and very few have been converted to Christianity, so that was quite a rare sight. We also passed lots of women and donkeys carrying water from the various water holes to the dozens of Masai villages on the way.
We passed the Masai market again, but this time, it teemed with people, both Masai and non. The market is a hot trading spot for clothes, shoes, goats, cows, vegetables, blankets, barbeque, rice, and corn. Pop-ish music blared from some loudspeakers in one area and a man was speaking to a crowd through speakers in another. Everybody was wearing such bright colors and patterns. It looked like a very festive place to be.
One of our last views of the Masai areas for today was when we passed a bunch of Masai kids playing soccer.
Then, we were in a town called Mosquito River with more modern houses. Some Masai still roamed the streets, but most people wore more modern dress. From here to the lodge, we saw modern-looking people in modern buildings.
As this is the Lake Manyara area and near Ngorongoro, many of the businesses are lodges, guest houses, or hostels. While I wouldn't have been able to pick one out on my own, our tour company clearly has experience and had selected one for us- The Green Hills Lodge.
When we asked for the cheapest accommodations in order to save money, I did not think we would have ended up in such a nice place.
This lodge is beautiful. The gardens are well-tended and each little bungalow sits back on a cute little plant-lined pathway. Each is named after an animal, ours being Simba (lion).
The manager himself explained the different areas to us. I think they were going through some sort of power outage at the time we arrived and hadn't turned the generator on yet. When we got to our room, they told us to wait a minute and we'd have power. Sure enough, the power kicked in shortly. For this area, it's not unexpected. I think the manager was a bit embarrassed by it, but I work with enough communities in rural Africa to understand that power is not something you can count on.
In the meantime, they pulled the mosquito net around the bed. It looked like a fairytale princess bed with all of that gauze. I actually didn't see any mosquitoes all night, but it still felt fancy to sleep in the princess bed.
The room is huge and has two seating areas as well as a luggage stand and fridge. The ceiling is high, with air holes about halfway up for flow. (They are netted against bugs.) The windows are taller than a person and look out on the grounds and the other bungalows. The bathroom is quite spacious and their bath towels were a good size, not those tiny ones some places give when trying to be cheap. It's certainly not 5-star luxury, but it's nicer than a lot of places I've stayed.
After washing off the dust from the day, we ate dinner in their dining room. Here, the lights flickered romantically, like candles, although I'm betting that was less by design and more due to generator issues that were out of their control. The dinner was quite good- I particularly enjoyed a red okra stew and my partner really liked their pickled red onions. We did eat raw vegetables again here. I know that's generally against the health rules in a country with undrinkable tap water, but I trust that Elyon tours would only pick a lodge that knows how to cook for tourists and that if previous tourists had gotten sick, we wouldn't be here. (Update from later: we had no problems with the food here.)
The funny thing was that I think the kitchen was having issues getting our food ready due to the power problems. We were hungry and had asked for dinner at 7:15, having only arrived at 6:45, which didn't give them much time to prepare. The manager kept coming out to talk to us and stall for time, which was sort of cute since we really didn't care if the main meal took a while after we had gotten the appetizer. It was very relaxing to just sit and drink and talk after an exciting day. We were plenty comfortable and understood that making meals on short notice with intermittent power could be a challenge. I felt a bit bad for the manager as he was clearly trying to impress. We kept trying to assure him that we really were fine. Even though slow, the food was good and worth it.
After dinner, we stargazed for a while. We could see the milky way with our bare eyes. There were so many more visible stars than we usually get to see. Plus, the stars were bright dots on a dark contrasting background as there is no light pollution here. The sky is going to seem so empty and bland when we get home.

Posted by spsadventures 22:38 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Squished mochi and Arusha

Arusha, Tanzania

I am one of those people who would rather get to the airport at a decent time, having to rush a bit if something goes wrong rather than arriving too early. But, my partner is like my grandma- preferring to leave so early that if aliens attack while we are on the way and we have to walk there by foot, we'd still make our flight.
Today, the airport was busy enough that I was ok with getting there early. Apparently, there is some big exodus of religious people to some site in Europe for the holidays that makes this the busiest day of the year. I had never seen the airport so packed (both departures and arrivals) in all of the several dozen times I've flown here.
So, I was thankful for the mochi I had packed as a snack, even though they were squished. We waited a long time in the first security line, and then waited at the check in counter, because it hadn't even opened yet. We waited an unusually long time there, as the process was going really slow. We then waited in the regular security line before being able to pass through and wait at the gate.
Actually, the airport was so busy that even the flight attendants had to wait at the gate for some security guy to come open it for them. He apologized profusely telling them "you don't even know" about the level of busy-ness at the airport today.
An uneventful flight later and we found ourselves in the Addis Abbaba airport early in the morning before all the shops were open. Nice lounge chairs for sleeping were scattered throughout the terminal, but all were occupied. So, we grabbed a spot on a regular chair and another on the floor to sleep and read for the duration of our layover.
At one point, I ventured to the restrooms, where I saw a sign letting people know how to use the toilets.
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As I walked back to our spot, I checked the overhead monitor to see if our flight information was finally posted. I smiled, as the monitor was full of flights to cities I only know through Sporcle- places I've never been to and know so little about, like Kinshasa and Abuja, Nairobi and Lagos. I found it exciting to see the names of unfamiliar places instead of the standard list of places I've already made memories of.
I admit that I'm a little too over-traveled to get excited about flying anymore, but the other passengers helped me feel excited for adventure. Everybody had high-quality hiking backpacks because there are a very limited reasons to fly to Kilimanjaro. Seriously- I saw one rollaboard on the whole flight. Most everyone looked ready for adventure. One group was incongruously dressed- a suit jacket, nice pants and button down shirt with a hiking backpack with a neon blue drinking tube sticking out of it. But still, it was quite clear that they were coming for the hike and adventure, not business meetings.
I slept most of the flight, as usual, but awoke for food and the last portion of the flight. The meal on the flight to Addis Ababa had been ok, but this meal was really good. Like, one of the tastiest I've had on a plan in a long time. It was simple- rice with some mashed chickpeas and some vegetables, but it was a tad hot-spicy and very spiced.
I just finished Beryl Markham's West With the Night a day ago. Although I thought it would be about her record-setting transatlantic flight, a majority of the book was about her time in this part of Africa. As I looked out the window, I tried to see the landscapes as she had described them. Even 80 years later, there are vast tracts without a sign of humanity. As we neared Arusha, these turned into small farming plots, many of which seemed rather empty. Hopefully, this is related more to the season and less to the farmers' success rates.
Upon arrival, our yellow cards were checked. Really, they just made sure we had one and didn't look at details. We filled out the entry form, bought our visas, grabbed our luggage, and were on our way.
The internet said there would be a shuttle bus of some sort that would be relatively cheap. We saw a guy with a shuttle sign, but he said that it wasn't for our flight or something. In any case, we ended up having to get a cab to town. At first, 50 dollars sounded like a whole lot (even though that was the posted price, not some unwritten number some guy just made up. Then, we saw how long of a cab ride it was, and I wasn't complaining too much.
The first thing I noticed out of the cab window was a big mountain, but not Kilimanjaro, Mt. Meru. In front of the mountain, we saw a lot of dried up corn fields. Scattered amongst them were cattle, mostly cows and goats, and tons of people.
mountain

mountain


People walked on the side of the road, hitchhiked, rode bikes, and even drove carts pulled by oxen of some sort. Most of the men were indistinguishable from men anywhere else in the world, but we did see a few in traditional masai plaid garments. The women were much more exciting. Many also wore garments that anybody might wear anywhere. But, plenty of them also wore bright colors and bold prints that you wouldn't see anywhere else. Some even wore their bold prints in what I'm assuming is a traditional style. It's somewhat reminiscent of a sari in the way that it seems to be more or less a fancily wrapped cloth. I decided that I need something in those patterns.
guy walking on the side of the road

guy walking on the side of the road


I also got a little bit excited to see some of the people carrying things on their heads like in the movies. It's real!
We had plenty of time to look at them as the road was one lane in each direction and we regularly got caught behind slow moving tractors. Then, everybody would try to pass, often when there wasn't quite room to do so.
cow

cow


As we got closer to Arusha, the scenery got greener. We still saw dried up corn fields, but we also saw coffee plantations and mini banana forests.
Finally, we arrived at the hotel.
We got settled and then went out to see what there was to see. Arusha isn't much of a city. It's more of a spread out town as there are a very limited number of buildings higher than 3 floors. There is a shopping downtown area and then residential areas, and neither of these seemed too big.
We started at the tourist trap- the Masai Market. These narrow passageways are lined with locals trying to verbally pull you into their shops. They sell paintings, batiks, woodcrafts, jewelry, and tons of cloth items. For the most part, these seem to be locally made, but most shops tend to have items the rest of the similar shops have.
Masai Market

Masai Market


We did stop into one shop with a lady sitting behind a sewing machine. Dozens of bolts of the beautiful fabric lined her walls and we were told that she could make anything out of any fabric in just a few hours. I ended up liking a pre-made shirt, but it didn't fit so well. So, she just took some measurements, stuck it in her sewing machine, and made it fit better. I probably should have negotiated the price more, but I was impressed with her skill and am happy to support craftspeople.
Bright cloth

Bright cloth


We walked around town a bit, and a guy selling paintings latched on to us. I probably shouldn't have asked him how much they were. Oh well.
We made a stop at a supermarket to pick up some drinks and snacks. They only sold packaged long shelf life goods- no fresh fruits or vegetables and also no meats or cheeses. But their drinks were interesting and they had several kinds of banana chips, so we got what we needed.
We then went to find a restaurant recommended by the front desk. We had asked for something local, not like a pizza place. We were sent to George's Tavern, a Greek restaurant. As in gyros, slouvaki, moussaka Greek. As we were already there and it looked interesting, we gave it a go even though it was clearly for tourists. (You know because they accepted credit cards, albeit with a surcharge.) I got tacos, which ended up being more like Chinese stir fry in laffe than a taco, but it was still really good. So I had Chinese-middle eastern style Mexican food at a Greek restaurant in Tanzania. If that's not fusion, I don't know what is.

Posted by spsadventures 09:33 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

The rest of Taiwan

So, I tried to get out a bit, but we had a lot of work to do. One day, I was in the fab for 13 hours.

I did have a couple of days that started later, so I got a chance to go check out Hsinchu port. On a Monday morning, nobody is there. I saw a couple of shops set up to rent people these double-bicycles with shade, but only one pair of people using it my whole time at the port.
I saw a ton of boats in the harbor, but none moving. I didn't even see people working on the boats or getting ready to move.
I saw where they must have a really cool night market (at night), but it was completely abandoned in the morning. The character of the rides is certainly different when they're not lit up and moving. The food stands are much sadder without the smells and sounds.
I saw a nice-looking shady park area, but again, no people.
I did see some road construction happening, but that was the most exciting thing.

As it was hot and super-humid, I really didn't want to walk all the way back to town, but as there were no people, I realized that I didn't have much of a choice. Until I got lucky and stumbled upon a random cab. I have no idea why it was chilling in this empty area, but I took it.

I got downtown to see if I could see something new that I hadn't last time, but it started to drizzle. Keeping in mind what happened yesterday, I decided that I would go check out one of the places that the internet says is the "best place for a rainy day in Taiwan"- a famous book store. It was in the Big City mall. I usually don't like going to malls while traveling, but for a book store, I was willing.

Actually, the mall itself is pretty cool. The top floor has an ice skating rink, bowling alleys, an arcade, and a ton of other fun activities. Another floor is decorated like an outdoor pier area. (It's supposed to be San Francisco. I didn't see the resemblance, but I still thought it was nice.) And the food court is quite large and varied. I enjoyed walking around those areas. The stores were the same stores you'd find internationally, so I wasn't really interested in them. I didn't have time for a movie, but a different time, that might be interesting. I never quite made it to the book store, as I had to get back for a meeting before I found it. Maybe next time.

I also got out a bit Friday night. At around 9, I was able to go hunt for dinner. Unfortunately, most of the restaurants are not open at that time. Generally, what is open are convenience stores and what I'll call "fried protein."
The idea at these places is that you pick some raw protein from a display, they deep fry it for you or stick it in a hot pot, and then you eat it. you can pick from all sorts of recognizable and unrecognizable items- feet, tofu, fish, organs, thinly-cut beef, etc. Some places will give it to you with rice or noodles (especially the place where they put it in a broth), but a lot just give you meat on a stick. I didn't see a single vegetable at any of the places.

Which made me realize that I actually haven't seen mixed veg and protein almost anywhere. Even at other types of restaurants, you can get vegetable sides or dishes, and you can get protein dishes, but rarely together (except sometimes soup). I experienced this at the buffet at work, at the restaurants I've been to, at the hotel buffet- pretty much every where. This contrasts with my typical mental image of stir-fry as protein and veggies mixed together in a sauce (plus rice or noodles). That just doesn't seem to be a thing here.

I didn't get to ask the guys about this to see if I was missing something, but I did have an interesting conversation with the guys about the Hakka culture that everybody in the area is so proud of. Apparently, there are a bunch of different groups that came to Taiwan from China. They all use the same written system, but everybody speaks a different language. Not a dialect, like somebody from Australia trying to communicate with somebody from Boston, but different language, like how Spanish and Hebrew are different. I hadn't realized, but the whole time they were communicating with each other, they were switching languages based on who they were talking to. (It all sounds "Chinese" to me.) When they spoke to a local guy, they spoke Hakka, to somebody from a different part of the island, Mandarin. I find that fascinating that they all use the same written language, but to read it out loud would sound completely different.

In any case, that's about the most exciting thing I learned about Taiwan for the whole second half of the trip. It wasn't much of an opportunity to tour around, but that's ok, we're headed to Mt. Kilimanjaro in a few days.

I'll post pictures when I'm back.

Posted by spsadventures 09:10 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Old Streets

Beipu, Taiwan

I woke up a bit later than I had wanted, had breakfast, and tried to get out of the hotel for the first bus, but that wasn't happening.
When I first tried to catch the second bus, I was wearing jeans and brought a sweatshirt in anticipation of the rain that was supposed to come today.
It was still early and not as hot as it was going to get, but already I could tell that jeans would not be fun, so I quickly ran back up to change, knowing that if the bus was on time, I might be really close.
As I stood on the street corner, waiting for the light to change so that I could cross the street to the bus stop, I saw 2 tourist-looking buses stop there. They then moved on to the light, which had now turned so that I could cross. Crap.
I crossed, and decided that since the light was very long and the buses were waiting, maybe they'd let me on. The first bus was not the bus to Beipu, but he pointed to the second one, which was. He gestured for me to go out into the street and try that one, honking to the other driver to help me. At first I was nervous, but there was plenty of time left on the light. Thanks to him, I was able to get onto the bus and didn't have to wait another half hour for the next one.

The bus is actually really nice. The seats are wide and comfy. There is enough legroom. It is decorated a bit funky- tassled orange curtains, textured seats, and overhead lighting that belongs in some 80s teenager bedroom- but that just makes it more fun.
The next stop was the Hsinchu High Speed Rail station. As we arrived, a recording came on over the speaker system to tell us about the architecture awards the station was eligible for and won.
The bus continued on past all of the skyscrapers and into an area of town with much shorter apartment homes, although they were still packed tightly together. As the bus went along, announcing the stops and informing as about them, we never quite seemed to leave the densely-packed housing. There were some agricultural areas interspersed in the city areas, but they were more like a football field in the city, than their own area.
Some seemed flooded. I'm hoping that they are rice paddies that are supposed to be that way, and not normal fields that have flooded due to the recent rains.
We finally left the city behind about the time we got to the agricultural park.
At that point, we were in the forest. We passed acres of woods or farmland, periodically punctuated with a cluster of houses. Still, I saw no individual homes, just densely-packed clusters of 3-story apartments or townhomes.
We arrived at the end of the line- Lion's Head Mountain park. The information center gave me a map and advice, and I was off.
I admired the many beautiful plants. The butterflies clearly liked them. And the dragonflies were out in full force too. I appreciate a locale that has pretty bugs and not the stingy itchy kind.
dragonfly

dragonfly

butterfly

butterfly


I started on a path towards some sort of cave temple. I found it, but it was not what I expected. The temple is new and modern and not covered in the gaudy designs like all of the interesting temples I saw last time. It is located under an overhanging rock that causes a waterfall. The whole thing is set in a forested gorge.
temple

temple


While the natural setting is quite serene due to all of the greenery and the sound of the flowing water (both from the waterfall and the nearby very clear stream), the temple wasn't much. I had wanted to continue on the trail to a bridge made of glutinous rice, but the ranger had mentioned that it was closed today.
running water so clear you can see the fish

running water so clear you can see the fish


I didn't really come here for hiking, and it was HOT and super humid. I was sweating up a storm and very glad I had gone back to change into sport capris. Jeans would have been hell. I decided to take the next bus back towards Beipu, which is what I was really interested in anyway.

The bus came by the well-marked stop and I piled on with a bunch of other tourists, although they seemed to be a more local group.
I hopped off at Beipu old street. This area is a touristy area where you can buy all sorts of traditional foods and souvenirs. Fortunately, there were plenty of free samples.
Beipu is known for their dried persimmon. I don't particularly like persimmon, but either these were better than ones I've had in the past or drying them improves them. I saw (and sampled) plenty of other dried fruits and even some kumquat juice. Everything was good, but I didn't taste anything I felt was super special.
persimmons

persimmons


Another food item Beipu is known for is Hakka tea. Hakka tea is definitely different from any tea I've ever seen. This tea starts with a collection of ingredients- anything from nuts and seeds to dried fruit and spices, even beans and grains are usually somewhere on the list. This seemingly random collection is thrown in a large wooden bowl with some actual tea leaves (maybe) and beaten with a stick. (Basically, this is their traditional version of mortar and pestle.) Eventually, it becomes a thick paste, if you have patience. If not, then it's just a collection of bits and chunks. Add hot water and viola! You have chunky, gritty tea! I'm glad they had free samples and I didn't have to pay to taste this.
But, if you have kids, grinding the tea is a fun activity. Lots of shops advertised DIY tea and at lunch, I saw several families order a bowl and mash their own. Or, you can make it at home. Here is an example of an ingredients list for "original flavor:" soybeans, corn, black sesame, black beans, barley, rice, sorghum, millet, green peas, oats, white beans, buckwheat, kidney beans, chickpeas, yam, ginkgo, soy milk powder, sugar. Tea leaves isn't even on that list.
grinding their own tea

grinding their own tea


I actually did try one that was good enough I bought a packet to take home. I was almond and very very smooth. This was not ground by an amateur and must have required a lot of patience.
As with all markets, there were some vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, although as many as usual. One guy had a food truck that only served freshly cut pineapple. The more exciting of the vegetables was bitter melon and of the fruits was dragonfruit.
There are a few craftsmen selling their wares, like a guy weaving sandals, but the majority of the goods sold here are food.
Personally, I loved the mochi samples. They could have used more sugar, but since the dough was rolled in a sugar and nut mixture, they balanced out in the end. Little old ladies stood by their tables full of loose, handmade mochi dough. It was looser and less stiff than what you can get in the store, but was equally chewy and delicious. They had little balls already coated in the powder or you could buy a bag of the dough and a bag of the powder and make your own balls. If I thought for an instant that I had the ability to transport that, I would have bought as much as I could carry.

In addition to the markets and restaurants, there are 2 temples in town. One is located right next to the bus stop. It is quite ornate and worth checking out. The other is the "big" temple and is also very ornate. You can go in and see all of the fun art, but this is also an active temple. People come in and burn incense, bow, and pray. I rather enjoyed watching people live their normal life, semi-oblivious to the wide-eyed tourist ogling the roof dragons.
temple

temple

temple

temple

temple

temple

temple

temple


For lunch, I stopped in a restaurant because it had air conditioning. It's hot and the air felt good. I also happened to enjoy the food. During college, a colleague at my internship gave me the best advice ever: if a restaurant has homemade pasta, order it. While intended for Italian food in New Jersey,this is also applicable to Taiwanese rice noodles. The soup containing the homemade noodles was ok- some sort of spicy curry and tomato broth with lots of cabbage, some tofu, and some other sort of dried tofu sheets. The noodles were a bit more exciting. They had a very different texture than store-bought rice noodles (less chewy, but thicker), and they were less sweet.
After lunch, a light drizzle had started to fall. It was good planning on my part to have done the hiking and nature area in the morning when it was dry (at least from the sky, the humidity could have fooled me) and leave the afternoon for more of the transport.

I got back on the bus and headed to Zhudong Station, which is where to get the train to Neiwan, another old street. This tourist shuttle is so easy and convenient! It's like a hop-on-hop-off bus except the route isn't contained in one city. They do a good job taking care of tourists here.

The Neiwan train only runs once an hour, so I waited a bit in the little train station waiting room before waiting some more on the platform. It may not run so conveniently, but it is super cheap- 20 Taiwan dollars, or about 65 cents.
It passed a few train stations that might have been neat to check out, if the train ran more than once per hour. Also, if it was a clear day. By this point, the drizzle had turned to full-on rain. When I got off at the Neiwan, a field of umbrellas was lined up to get on the train, and based on the number of bright yellow ponchos, some store was doing good business.
Neiwan Old Street

Neiwan Old Street


Despite the wet, tons of people were still out and about and shopping. I can't imagine how crowded it would be on a day with nice weather!
Neiwan Old Street is pretty much just that- a single street. It twists and turns a bit, but it doesn't really branch out and you can't really get lost. You really have no choice but to walk up one direction and then retrace your steps before doing the same in the opposite direction.
But, this street is somewhat like a night market or fair, only during the day. Like Beipu, there was plenty of food, but unlike Beipu, there was so much more.
Lots of shops sold mass manufactured goods- purses, plastic toys, clothing. But a lot sold locally made artisan items- wood carvings, soaps, or calligraphy.
In addition to the shops that sold items, the street abounded in entertainment shops- arcades, carnival games, and a poop house.
At first, I got excited when I saw a banner showing a lady wearing poop on her head. Then I saw what was in the building- a bunch of opportunities to pose with fake poop, toilets, and a cutout that makes it look like you are coming out of an elephant's rear. If I was with somebody, this would probably be hilarious! But it's hard to take selfies in those poses and less fun by yourself, especially for somebody who doesn't like being in pictures that much anyway.
And of course, the food here was different than in Beipu. The dried fruit was different- here there were more pomelas and less persimmons. (BTW, dried pomela is super-crazy-strong, like a breath mint.) There were more barbecued and fried dishes- things you might find at a night market. There was an abundance of bamboo- I saw a ton of different ways of serving bamboo shoots, and every other food stand seemed to have sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. The mochi here was a bit more refined. They were not just dipped, but filled and dipped. Some places had a wide variety and sold them in variety boxes like little bonbons.
Mochi "BonBons"

Mochi "BonBons"

Eventually, I had walked to both ends of the street. While my shoes are water repellent, they aren't water proof, so my feet were pretty wet at this point. I decided to grab the next train back to the bus to the hotel. I had excellent timing, as I could hear the train in the station as I approached. I quickly bought my ticket and was able to get on the train just before it left. Plus, while some cars were packed, I was able to move to one where I could find a seat. Lucky me!

The first thing I did upon arrival at the hotel was pull out the hair dryer to use on my feet and shoes.
The second was to grab dinner at the hotel because I was not going back out into the wet.
And then I needed to make plans for tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be the same. While I do really want to see Sun Moon Lake, I'm not thinking that it will be so beautiful and fun in the rain. I'll keep you updated...

Posted by spsadventures 07:21 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Back to Hsinchu

Hsinchu, Taiwan

overcast

In a startling decision, my company sent me back to Taiwan for a couple of weeks. In theory, I'm working in the fab during the days and having meetings at night, but as we're off to a slow start, I have been able to get out a bit.

After a very short first day of work, I thought that it would be a great idea to start with the one thing in Hsinchu that I really haven't seen yet- the Glass Museum. I went to the cab stand downstairs and told the guy there that's what I wanted to do. "Are you sure it's open?" he asked me. I told him that their website says their hours are 9-5, so I think they should be open. (It was about 3pm.) He quickly checked on his phone and came up with some important information- they were closed for renovations and wouldn't open again until September. Well then. I'm glad the Sheraton has such good service, but now I was without a plan.

I walked right.

I figured I'd just walk a while and see what there was to see.
It was super hot and muggy, so nobody in their right mind was out. That left the streets pretty quiet. I passed a bunch of shops with no customers. I passed an empty park. I passed an empty stadium. I passed some municipal buildings. Some sale of some sort was going on out front of the tax authority's building, but nobody was buying, and even the seller seemed to be behind the doors enjoying the air conditioning.
20180821_145743.jpg 20180821_150221.jpg
I was sweating and gross. It is so humid that the walk almost felt like it turned into a swim.

Eventually, I entered another area with shops, some of which had the air conditioning blasting so hard that I could feel it as I walked past. I walked past those shops much more slowly than the others.

I eventually grabbed a pizza for lunch. It was actually not bad. the crust was buttery and thick. The cheese was gooey, just like it's supposed to be. I also stopped in at Carrefour in order to do some grocery shopping.

For the most part, they had foods that you can get anywhere, although the ratio was different than what I'm used to. There were several aisles of noodles- one just for ramen, another just for rice noodles, another for other types, but there was only a tiny section for canned fruits and vegetables. Of course, they did have products that you only see in Asian markets, and not even in all of them. Pork floss, tofu jerky, and matcha candy are not easily found in many places. And of course, they had interesting flavors of "normal" items, like seaweed Pringles.
For me, the fresh section was just as exciting. They had a whole collection of durians, and there were several other items that I can't get at my local grocery store.
20180821_163846.jpg

The second day, I had some meetings, but I got out again for another afternoon walk. This time, I went left.

To the left, there are fewer shops, but the street is lined with many more trees. The residences are all skyscrapers, but quite a few of them appear to be overgrown forests- intentionally. I actually think it's quite neat to have so many plants keeping the buildings cool and keeping the air nice. But it must be hard to maintain all of these balcony plants.
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This whole section of town seems much newer, and there is also a lot of new construction still happening.
I stopped for lunch at a cafe-style restaurant and asked the person taking my order what was his favorite dish. He started his sentence with, "foreigners usually like..." and I cut him off. I don't want to know what foreigners like. I want to know that YOU like. He really struggled to tell me. Finally, he settled on "the pastas." So, I ordered pasta with some sort of spicy nut sauce.
It wasn't actually that spicy, and there were a lot of whole "nuts" (cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, dried peas) that were a bit hard to pick up with the pasta and a fork (nobody had chopsticks there, only forks). But, it was quite tasty and I enjoyed it.

I passed a small local temple that had a playground in it. Nobody was at the temple at the moment. It was just open to all.
DSCF1411.JPG

On my way back, I saw another supermarket and had nothing better to do, so I stopped in.

I entered to some guy with a microphone saying something in Chinese and a class full of maybe 3rd graders wearing aprons bowing to me. The kids' moms were taking pictures. I was a bit confused. Maybe I won some prize? Maybe I was their 100th customer of the day? I tried to express with facial expressions that I had no clue what was going on. They got it. I entered the store and started shopping. The next person who entered got he same treatment, although she seemed to understand what they were saying. The next person got the same treatment. And the next. Maybe it was just some sort of lesson in customer service.
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This store was much smaller than the Carrefour. It had a lot of similar items, although not 3 aisles of noodles. It did, however, have an entire section for mushrooms. I didn't even know there were that many kinds of mushrooms. I also saw interesting fruit vinegars- pinapple vinegar, anybody?- but for the most part, didn't see anything too crazy.

And then, the next couple of days were non-stop. I got up, maybe went to the hotel gym or pool, breakfast at the hotel, the fab, the hotel for dinner and meetings and bed.
So, I can tell you about the huge breakfast buffet or the lounge cocktail hour food, but not much else.

Tomorrow though, is the weekend. And I'm getting out to somewhere.

Posted by spsadventures 07:06 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

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